Don Frye has one heck of a résumé.
He wrestled at Sierra Vista Buena High School, Arizona State and Oklahoma State. He's been a fireman in Bisbee and Sierra Vista and a professional boxer. He has held five title belts in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and was voted the No. 4 UFC fighter of all time by the league's viewers.
He has wrestled for four years in Japan, where he was ranked as the top gaijin — or foreign — fighter in the country. He has voiced a computer-animated ant in "The Ant Bully," and starred in "Godzilla: Final Wars," a Japanese-language movie where he spoke only English. He was in the "Miami Vice" movie and will be featured in a Rob Schneider film this upcoming year.
But his latest challenge is as close to home as Japan is far.
He is the coach and trainer of the Scorpions, a Tucson-based team in the 12-team International Fight League, a mixed martial arts league aired on Fox Sports Net.
The Scorpions are about to begin their first season; the league expanded from eight to 12 teams after its first year. Southern Arizona received a team mostly because Frye lives here.
Frye's team of mostly Southern Arizona fighters trains at the Rincon/University High School wrestling room, where he has been practicing for more than a decade.
"I've been watching Don Frye forever. That's a legend right there," said Gabe "The Hitman" Rivas, a 36-year-old welterweight who drives from Eloy every day to train. "You're honored and proud to say you trained with this guy. There's no comparison to the honor it is. Words can't even explain."
Frye, 41, isn't sure what to think when he hears those compliments.
"Guys who are world champions now tell me they used to watch me as kids," he said. "It makes me feel old — real old."
Frye's been there before.
After growing up in Sierra Vista and wrestling at two colleges, Frye took a job as a fireman after moving home.
"I got a divorce and had to vent," he laughed. "I took that opportunity to take up a career that changed my life."
In 1995, Frye took time off from the fire department to drive to Casper, Wyo., where Dan Severn, his old ASU assistant coach, was participating in a UFC event. Frye soon became Severn's training partner and began fighting in UFC in February 1996.
Frye has trained with judo instructor Steve Owen, whose classes are also in the Rincon wrestling room, for years. Five years ago, when Tucson fighters found out Frye trained there, "they just started showing up," Frye said.
Frye still fights in mixed martial arts events; his latest fight was Oct. 9.
He fights the urge to try to make the Scorpions in his image. The one trait he wants them to adopt is his refusal to "tap out," or quit when put in a submission hold. Frye has never done that, even when an opponent dislocated Frye's elbow.
The Scorpions — who will have five fighters in different weight classes — have another month to get ready. They fight the Tokyo-based Sabres on Feb. 2 in Houston. The Scorpions will also have bouts in Lakeland, Fla., on April 13 and a site to be determined on June 23 before the league's semifinals.
Between now and their first card, the Scorpions are working on becoming a team. The IFL bills itself as the first-ever mixed martial arts team sport.
The fighters are thrilled to have a team environment in what has always been an every-man-for-himself sport.
"Training yourself will only get you so far," said Ed West, a lightweight fighter who takes classes at Pima College. "You're used to being around people who don't share your same goals or your mind-set.
"Here, I know I'm coming into an atmosphere where every dude in the building is working toward the same thing. I can always come and feed off them."
Shane "Battlecat" Johnson, a Tucson High School graduate and middleweight fighter, has trained in the wrestling room at Rincon for about five years.
"No one man is more important than any other," he said. "We help each other. We make each other strong."
Said Rivas: "The minute I walked in that door, they embraced me like family. Everybody took me in like I was one of theirs. In the past, there had been a lot of hatred and jealousy involved."
The Scorpions have day jobs — Johnson owns an auto glass company — but hope the league will enable them to focus on fighting full time.
The success of the IFL will hinge on its television success. Compared to the UFC, IFL fighters wear better padding and fight in shorter rounds. Rules restricting elbow strikes and low blows make it safer for television. The league has a Fox Sports Net contract.
"To gather great sponsors, you have to clean up the sport and not make it human cockfighting," said IFL commissioner Kurt Otto. "Our goal is to change the sport."
Said Frye: "This is a smarter product. We're doing it in a ring, not a cage. There are no elbows. Most of the guys in UFC couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag. But they can take a guy down with an elbow, cut him and end the fight.
"That's what sold it, and almost destroyed it, too."
The IFL gives Southern Arizona fighters a chance to change the thinking about the sport.
"It started off as a hobby," West said. "Now, I'm blessed. This is my job. We're just starting to make money. It's just starting to make money.
"Now when people ask me what I do for a living, I say I'm a professional athlete."
What is the International Fight League?
• The IFL bills itself as the world's first mixed martial arts league. Composed of 12 teams from around the world, the IFL features five-man teams that compete in five weight classes. The first team to win three takes the match.
The IFL's rules are different from those of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a mixed-martial arts league formed in 1993. Elbows to the head, kicks to the head, groin strikes, eye-gouging and strikes to the spine or back of the head are outlawed.
Fighters wear padded gloves and fight in three four-minute rounds, one minute shorter than UFC rules. They fight in a boxing ring with five ropes, not an octagon or cage.
What is mixed martial arts?
• Mixed martial arts is a catch-all term for a hybrid sport that features elements of boxing, kickboxing, martial arts, grappling and wrestling.