Former Red Devil Bryce Scanlon an MMA Champ


EVANSTON — “Family, friends, fishing, food. I’m always doing one of those. I like to keep it simple,” Bryce Scanlon told the Herald. He recently added one more f-word to his life-describing array -- fighting.

Athletics have always played a part in Scanlon’s life. 

“My dad played sports. My grandpa played sports. It became second nature to me to be active in sports and it kept me focused on the things in life that were important to me, being around friends and family”

And success competing became second nature for the 2003 graduate of Evanston High School. He was an all-state and Super 25 selection in football in his senior season. Scanlon was also a state champion wrestler at 215 pounds as a senior, and narrowly missed out on being a two-time champ from his junior season, losing the 4A title 215-pound by a single point, which incentivized his senior campaign. He also won the Rocky Mountain Nationals in wrestling in Denver.

Scanlon and his family relocated to Evanston from Los Angeles when he was 10 years old, where he had played baseball and learned the joy of fishing. He would continue to play baseball in Evanston and added wrestling and football to the mix. Ironically, it was a sport in which he did not necessarily excel that set the course for his future success in those he did. 

“I made the basketball team in my freshman year,” Scanlon explains.

“But I was a little too aggressive. Coach (Larry) Wagstaff told me that wrestling would make me a better football player and those words couldn’t have rung more true,” Scanlon avowed. 

“I’m not much of a finesse type of athlete. I like to use the power I’ve been blessed with.”

While he was familiar with family names of athletes who had come before him in Red Devil lore, those who enjoyed success on the mats and gridiron, in particular, members of the Poppinga and Schofield families, Scanlon was focused on forging his own path and making a name for himself.

“I would see those names on the walls of the strength room and tell myself I want to leave behind something I’m remembered for as a dedicated and hard-working athlete,” Scanlon said.

While originally from Los Angeles and currently residing in Ogden, with other stops along the way, Scanlon’s heart is in Evanston.

“Evanston became my hometown. It’s a special place I’m proud to say I grew up in. It made me who I am today. I couldn’t have asked for a cooler place.”

A big part of his Evanston experience surrounds the coaches who influenced him and who Scanlon said helped shape who he has become.

“Coach (Roger) Schrad always supported me 100 percent in football and everything else. He even came to my college games,” Scanlon recalls.

“Coach Wagstaff and coach (Chuck) Nixon were amazing wrestling coaches and coach (Mike) Lonsway really taught me a lot, too. Those four coaches challenged me to become the best I could be and I will always appreciate them for inspiring me,” Scanlon said.

Following his illustrious high school athletic career, Scanlon had options on the division one level, though some doors closed.

“I wasn’t even looking at the University of Utah. I wanted to go to Wyoming or BYU, but my goal was to attend college. I didn’t want my parents to pay for my education. I wanted to earn my own way by becoming a good student-athlete.”

The University of Wyoming and Brigham Young University decided Scanlon was not the right fit for their programs after all, but he was recruited by Urban Meyer at the University of Utah. The former Ute head coach attended Scanlon’s high school graduation celebration in Evanston.

“I spent two good years at Utah under both coach Urban Meyer and coach Kyle Whittingham. 

Scanlon was recruited as a linebacker at Utah. He went from about 220 pounds in high school to 270 while at Utah and was switched to defensive end. He then opted to transfer to Weber State in Ogden where he put on more bulk to play defensive tackle for the Wildcats and former Ute head coach Ron McBride, who had initially recruited Scanlon out of high school. 

“I played at right around 305 pounds at Weber State. My body handled adding the additional muscle and I kept my speed,” Scanlon explained.

Things worked out nicely at Weber State as the Evanston product started for three years and attained All-American status.

Fishing continues to be one of Scanlon’s passions. He recalls going fishing with his grandfather and uncles as a kid. prior to relocating to Evanston and it just stuck with him.

“I find peace on the water. It’s my release,” Scanlon affirmed. In his “keep life simple” philosophy, fishing is something he can share with his kids and friends and can be a lifelong pursuit.

He is proud of his Samoan heritage.

“We are genetically blessed to be bigger people and are fast for our size,” Scanlon stated. 

“Plus, we’re nimble from all the dancing in the Polynesian culture,” he continued. “We’re explosive and powerful with a warrior mentality that seems to be ingrained in us, but I believe Samoan people to be some of the nicest, most kind in the world. We are taught respect and family is everything.”

Scanlon only ever fought if he had to defend himself or those for whom he cares deeply.

“I never set out to be a tough guy. It’s just not who I am. People who know me would describe me as a relaxed, mellow guy,” Scanlon said. 

Fighting, in a controlled circumstance, such as a ring or a cage, was just something he had long desired to attempt as a challenge to himself and again, to accomplish something not many others will try.

“When they lock that cage, there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”

A buddy from work got Scanlon involved with a mixed martial arts gym know as KOA. It’s a Hawaian MMA gym. Scanlon proceeded to drop a lot of weight and put himself into terrific shape. His coaches believed he was ready and his first MMA bout was scheduled.

Scanlon would rely on his wrestling background and skill as well as a sense athletic of wisdom. 

 Of his undefeated MMA opponent, Scanlon said, 

“I knew I was fighting a boxer. I was smart enough not to stand toe-to-toe to discover who had the stronger chin. Wrestling had brought me far and I knew my striking was not as advanced as my ground game,” he explained.

“And you have to use your brain. If you loose your cool, you’ll get knocked out.”

Scanlon picked up and body-slammed his first opponent, before tapping him out with a choke hold that led to submission, to shock the Utah-MMA world, as he was certainly the underdog, as a first-time competitor taking on a seasoned and undefeated fighter. 

The winner of that first bout earned the right to square off against the No.1 ranked super heavyweight in the Beehive State, and Scanlon employed much the same strategy in his title match, utilizing his newfound jiu-jutsu training and innate wrestling skills. He said believed the advantage would be his if he managed to get his opponent on the ground. Both fights can be viewed on YouTube.

“I came in quiet and humble and I went out quiet and humble,” Scanlon said.

“Not every fighter needs to be a cocky, tough-guy type.”

Scanlon credits his own hard work and perseverance, but is especially complimentary of his gym and fight camp, including KOA Gym owners Bobby King and Emily Shaw, his striking coach Dave Castillo and Jiu jitsu coach Anthony Lobato.

“I had missed that bond of being part of a team, but anything is possible with hard work, dedication and having great people to support you.”

He offered advice to anyone with unfulfilled dreams or bucket list items.

“Nothing good or worthwhile is ever easy, but I encourage anyone to take the opportunity to tackle challenges in the here and now rather than looking back 10 years later. Take the steps to change your life for the better, no matter what that might be,” he added. 

“Because regret is the worst thing to live with.”


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