Pay It Forward: Chris Gruetzemacher Following In Ben Henderson’s Footsteps

November 7, 2011
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Chris Gruetzemacher (photo courtesy of The Lab)

It’s a pretty customary gesture after winning for a fighter in the UFC to talk to commentator Joe Rogan and ask for their next match-up or opportunity.

Georges St-Pierre made a pretty famous speech to ask for a world title shot, and Chael Sonnen once again took the spotlight when he called out UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva after his win at UFC 136.

It was for that very reason that Benson Henderson’s plea was so much different and special. After defeating Jim Miller at UFC on Versus 5 in August, instead of asking for a title shot or a rematch with someone like Anthony Pettis, Henderson grabbed the microphone and made a passionate call for the UFC to sign some of his teammates and training partners from The Lab in Arizona.

Call it selfless, call it being a good teammate, but Henderson certainly made the case for his team, and now one of them is hopeful that UFC matchmaker Joe Silva is keeping his eye out.

Chris Gruetzemacher is a featherweight fighter who has trained alongside Henderson for several years, and has helped him get ready for past fights just like the one he had against Jim Miller.

A natural athlete and former high school wrestler, Gruetzemacher actually fell into mixed martial arts almost by accident.

“To be honest it almost sounds like fate. I don’t know if you believe in everything happens for a reason, or everything happens for a purpose, but I wrestled in high school and pretty much after high school I was working at a Bally’s Total Fitness, just working at the gym, being a meathead and lifting weights,” Gruetzemacher told MMAWeekly.com.

“But I wanted to get lean again like I was in high school wrestling, but just working out wasn’t making me any leaner and it definitely wasn’t satisfying that hunger to want to compete.”

To satisfy that hunger, Gruetzemacher sought out a jiu-jitsu class that would allow him to use his wrestling roots while learning a new art to stay competitive. It was around that time that he discovered The Lab in Arizona.

There, Gruetzemacher was able to take some morning classes with jiu-jitsu instructors, and about a year later a coach by the name of John Crouch joined the gym along with a future WEC champion named Benson Henderson.

It was once the professional fighters started training more and more at The Lab that Gruetzemacher started to branch out from the jiu-jitsu classes he had started with.

“I got into it just to wrestle and do jiu-jitsu, but I just kept coming back. I was one of the only guys that was asked to keep coming or invited to come and I just stayed,” said Gruetzemacher. “I just kept coming to different classes and they were like ‘so you want to fight’. I was like well I’m putting this much time into it, I wasn’t really trying to be a fighter, I was just having fun. It kind of got bigger and bigger and it never really clicked in my head ‘this is what I want to do’. I just started living the lifestyle and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

As he started working more and more with Henderson and training partners like former ‘Ultimate Fighter’ winner Efrain Escudero, Gruetzemacher not only noticed he wasn’t getting killed in the gym, he was actually competing. It was his ability to hang with some of the best fighters in the world that gave him his confidence to try out this whole fighting thing.

“For me being an athlete I wasn’t thinking how much money I could make out of this, it was how good could I be? That’s what clicked. Maybe I could be great? Maybe I could be recognized for being great, for something I love, as an athlete,” Gruetzemacher stated.

For somebody that just kind of fell into MMA, Gruetzemacher seems like a natural. He’s now 8-1 as a pro with seven wins in a row including six by stoppage. He feels like he’s ready to make the jump into the big show and compete with the best at 145lbs, but Gruetzemacher isn’t trying to call out Jose Aldo just yet.

He’s also smart and realistic about where he fits in a very deep and tough division.

“I want to be smart, I feel like I could be the best, but you have to walk through the fire first. I don’t like to jump into waters that I don’t necessarily know,” said Gruetzemacher. “As far as skill wise, I feel like I could jump in tomorrow, but that’s not the same for experience, the right fight, and kind of for me right now I want to make this a career. I want to fight the best, but the reality is I want to fight whoever is next so I can build my career.”

To build his career, Gruetzemacher signed on with former MMA fighter Jason Chambers and his management team at Apex Sports Agency, and they are hopeful to land him a spot in the UFC as soon as possible.

And just like in August, his teammate Benson Henderson is in his corner and he believes he should already be fighting alongside him in the Octagon.

“He’s a bad dude and past due for his shot under the UFC lights and cameras,” Henderson told MMAWeekly.com.

It’s all part of the plans ahead for Gruetzemacher, Henderson and The Lab. They are a team that supports their teammates. If Greutzemacher makes it into the UFC, he’s hopeful that one day he can repay that same kind of favor to one of his teammates, the way Henderson did for him.

“I feel like as a teammate you help Ben and you help Efrain and you do what you’ve got to do for what they need to prepare for, and then hopefully down the line you get your opportunity,” said Gruetzemacher.

Now it appears opportunity may be just around the corner for Chris Gruetzemacher.


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  • michaelnorris

    Hell yeah some more fighters out of AZ