Chasing chickens isn't for everyone. But Ogden's Eric Tillotson sees some advantages.
On a clear day in west Weber County, Tillotson went after a flock, running hard here and there, making sharp turns, and keeping his legs moving as he bent down to reach the birds. When he finally paused to rest, he had captured two of the birds.
It's an unconventional training exercise, to be sure, but then Eric Tillotson is an unconventional addition to professional mixed martial arts. He's 43 years old, and still a prospect, with hopes to advance in the fast-growing sport, which has become as popular in Utah as in other areas.
Tillotson, an 185-pounder, is a self-described "gym rat," pushing his body three to four times a week in Ogden's Foley's gym, and two days of running, jumping, and sometimes chasing chickens, outside the gym in order to compete against guys who on average are in their twenties.
The training paid off in October, when Tillotson scored a 27-second submission by strikes victory over Tim Lund at the Total Mayhem card in West Haven's The Gym. Tillotson will looking for another win down south next year when he fights RJ Richter in St. George on Jan. 28.
"I always wanted to be a pro athlete as a kid," says Tillotson, who is a native of Everett, Wash., and moved to Ogden as a child. He graduated from Weber High School in 1986 and has logged a couple of years at Weber State University, majoring in sports science. However, he spent eight years in the U.S. Navy between 1986 and 1984.
About six years ago, when he was looking for sports activities for his sons, Tyson and Cooper, Tillotson became acquainted with mixed martial arts on more than a spectator basis. "I was invited by one of the trainers to work out," he recalls. He quickly learned to love the sport, which mixes several styles of fighting into competitions that usually are set for three, five-minute rounds.
For Tillotson, the sport provided an opportunity to live a dream and be a pro athlete. "(MMA) challenges the body as much as my spirit, because guys my age aren't supposed to be doing it," he says.
Tillotson's enthusiasm, as well as his talent, has earned his credibility among his peers in the sport. Gym owner Dave Foley, who boxed and fought MMA professionally, has included Tillotson in his corner for a couple of bouts, citing his enthusiasm -- more than corner experience -- as the chief reason.
Another MMA professional, Ogden's Justin Roberts, is impressed with Tillotson's dedication. "He's always willing to take the time to help out fighters who are new to the sport," says Roberts.
Tillotson describes his style as "strength, ground and pound." He admits that although he was always in shape before starting MMA, it takes a completely different definition of "in shape" to compete in the sport. "It's a whole different level of training," he says, adding that it involves decisions outside the gym that include soaking, icing, eating and other lifestyle choices. As for the tough training sessions, Tillotson is careful not to push his 43-year-old body too hard. "I can't train every single day. I let my body rest."
Despite his age, Tillotson harbors dreams of moving beyond the Intermountain West sphere of MMA. He'd like to progress further, and get a chance to compete at higher levels, including Bellator, StrikeForce and other MMA organizations. As of now, the future holds promise. He trains with good fighters, including Bill Bryan and Foley, and is handled by SteelFist's Kevin Patton. He also has a corporate sponsors, Garage Door Utah and Constant Evolution Design.
"I don't think we've seen the 'best of the best' yet in the sport," says Tillotson. He looks forward to MMA evolving as a sport, and while his sons are his top motivation for his success in the cage, he's also dead serious about getting better, and getting a chance to fight on a national level.
"I'm going to keep competing as a professional fighter until my body can't do it anymore," says Tillotson. As far as he's concerned, that's still a far way off.