by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
James Clark earned renown as a physical phenom in his 20’s through early 40’s by setting a series of world records in sit-ups and pushups.
Well into middle age but eternally buff, the former Elk River wrestler took it up a notch by entering the savage world of Mixed Martial Arts two years ago, and at 47 has shocked the sport by earning a title Brutaal tour title shot.
The 5-foot-7, 180-pound athlete upset top-ranked 185-pound contender Josh Erdmann, 21, of Rochester, in a three-round unanimous decision Feb. 24 before 1,000 fans packed into a Holiday Inn arena in Austin.
“I was a huge underdog,” said Clark, “and they thought it must have been a fluke for somebody as old as me to beat him. They made me fight another guy before I got a title shot.”
Brutaal set him up with John Melina, 20, from the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy, and Clark won that one by knockout in the second round March 3 at the Hyatt Hotel in Minneapolis before about 1,200 fans.
Clark will get the title shot that had been earmarked for Erdmann, in June, against the winner of Joe Sullivan vs. Thomas Herrerra on April 28 at Target Center.
Promoter Nick Gamst said Clark is the oldest man to earn a title shot; previous record was 37.
Clark, who lives in Champlin, and owns and operates a flight club, MMA Gym, in Crystal, has a 7-3 record as a pro. The guys who beat him earlier in his brief career “are not as good as Erdmann,” he added.
In the bout against Erdman, he said his opponent threw a kick at his head immediately after the touching of gloves, a breach of etiquette that angered him. He landed a right hook behind the ear when Erdmann tried a shoot-in, and took him down with a couple lateral drops. In the second three-minute round he threw some head punches while Erdmann kicked at his legs and got ahead in points.
Against Melina, Clark said, he locked his knees on the guy’s armpits and “rained down a lot of punches” with the match ending by TKO in the second round.
“What makes Jim good is that he is a lot more mentally prepared than most fighters,” said Gamst. “He is very good at grappling. He comes from a family of wrestlers.”
Clark grew up on a hobby farm near Rogers and started boxing at age nine, tutored by his dad, John, a Chicago native who was a semi-pro boxer with over 100 bouts. John turned the barn into a boxing arena with a 24-by-24-foot ring, and had fighters from Mexico or Cuba to train during summer months.
Clark wrestled for the Elks and placed third in the state his senior year, 1983. He has a jiu jitsu background as well. After college he began an assault on the Guinness Book of World Records in the fitness categories and held 30 of them at one time or other, such as 751 pushups in 27 1/2 minutes; 1,001 pullups and 1,001 sit-ups in an hour and 17 minutes (beating fitness legend Jake Lalanne’s record); 33,000 pushups in 24 hours; and 44,001 sit-ups in 24 hours which got him a spot on the David Letterman show.
He took a break from record-setting to earn advanced degrees in theology, Spanish, Greek philosophy and Platonic metaphysics. His jobs have been as varied as teaching classics at a private school and an online college, and moving furniture. In 2010 he published a book called “Platonic Superman” (amazon.com) to tell about his “spiritual journey and show how a metaphysical awareness gave me what may be considered superhuman strength.” He currently offers hypnosis to help people with their pains and their fears.
Clark, married with two school-age kids, started his gym in 2009 with “three thousand euros, or five thousand dollars, I earned fighting in Ireland” and currently has 30 members, of which 25 are fighters.
Brutaal is a five-state organization that sends most of its champions to the Ultimate Fighting Championship circuit.
“I can’t do that. The UFC won’t take someone as old as me,” said Clark. “But I’ve still put myself in position to fight for a title.”