Matt Betzold's MMA career may only need one leg to stand on

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Twenty-six year-old Matt Betzold isn't your average aspiring professional mixed martial artist. 

For starters, the Phoenix, Arizona native was forced to embark on his journey with only one leg. But it's how he came to this unfortunate circumstance that really gets your attention.

At the age of six, young Betzold, like millions of kids have done before him, ate a piece of candy. Only his sugar-filled treat happened to be poisoned with mushroom spores and intended for his dad's consumption.

In an attempt to seek revenge against Matt's father, an enemy of the elder Betzold laced the piece of candy with poisonous mushrooms, hoping he would ingest the sweet and the toxin along with it. After Matt mistakingly ate the candy, his life was immediately at risk. In order to preserve it, doctors had to amputate his left leg below the knee.

When Matt grew older and could better understand what had happened to him, his parents told him of the unfortunate turn of events that led to him being forced to live the rest of his life handicapped, and also filled him in on his father's troubled past including his time as a member of a motorcycle gang.

"My dad was wrapped up with some people he shouldn't have been wrapped up with," Betzold told ESPN.com.

 

Growing up and going to school was no easy task for Betzold, as one would easily assume. Kids of course routinely picked on him for being "different," so much so that the taunting eventually led to physical altercations. And that's just the way Matt wanted it.

"I grew up scrapping. When I fought a guy in school I'd always take him down to the ground and punch him," Matt said.

And along with only having one leg, Betzold was small in stature, as he currently weighs just 145 pounds.

"The littler ones are always the scrappy ones," he said.

As fighting became second nature to him and more of a necessity than a preference, Matt took to mixed martial arts training not only to develop as a fighter, but to stay out of trouble.

"I used it to grow up. And now people use me as an inspiration, you could say. I guess it's true, I hear it all the time. That's one of the main reasons I fight now. Plus, I love it. You've got to do what you love to do, I believe."

A 3-1 amateur record and a silver medal at the 2009 Grappling World Championships later, Betzold is on the verge of realizing his dream of turning professional. 

And if this story sounds somewhat familiar, it's because it is. 

Congenital amputee Kyle Maynard made competing in a mixed martial arts contest a dream of his, one that he accomplished last spring. Though it ended in defeat, his triumph was no less impressive. Betzold is just one fight away from doing the same.

The general guideline for amateurs to turn professional in the state of Arizona is to compete in at least five bouts, so says Arizona Boxing Commission Executive Director Dennis O'Connell.

"Five seems kind of a rule of thumb. I wouldn't say it's uphill [battle for him], but he's going into new territory."

If, and more likely when, Betzold turns pro, he'll have to adapt not only to stronger competition, but to some new rules as well. As an amateur in Arizona, strikes to the head are illegal on the ground, but they are of course allowed at the professional level. And as you would expect, Matt competes without his prosthetic leg and therefore fights from his knees, which technically makes him a grounded fighter.

But if you think it's a challenge that he isn't ready for, well, he's ready to prove you wrong.

"I've proved that because of my leg it's not going to hinder me running through people. I know that the boxing commissioner has to look at the safety of the fighters but the fact of the matter is I'm dominating all of these fighters on the mat. Why can't I fight?"

As a husband and a father of two kids, who's to say Matt Betzold's dream of becoming a professional mixed martial artist is unattainable? I sure wouldn't bet against him.

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