Thursday, March 31, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The first time Clinton Williams stepped inside a cage, he walked away seven seconds later after knocking his opponent out with a kick to the head.
Mixed martial arts started as a bucket-list item for Williams, but he went undefeated as an amateur and won a middleweight belt in a regional promotion to earn a three-fight contract with World Series of Fighting. The second bout comes Saturday night at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel against Rex Harris at WSOF 30.
Everything has appeared to come easily for Williams, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The 32-year-old has built an impressive résumé fighting inside the cage, while fighting for the U.S. Air Force outside of it.
The 13-year Air Force veteran retired from service last May, but now works on aircraft with aerospace juggernaut Lockheed Martin. Williams juggles working a full-time job with being a professional fighter in one of the sport’s top promotions.
“My typical day starts at 4:30 a.m.,” Williams said. “I’m at the gym doing my morning cardio and doing my strength and conditioning.”
He then jumps in the shower and hops on the 215 Beltway to head over to Nellis Air Force Base.
“As soon as I clock in at 6 a.m. I get with the maintainers and make sure there aren’t any problems from the previous day,” Williams said. “I update the laptops that they work with, and from there, I troubleshoot any problems that they have had, or make any updates that are needed for the equipment they have.”
Williams is a technician at Nellis, working specifically with the brand-new fighter jets — the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II —0 to make sure everything runs smoothly.
“If they’re having trouble getting things to connect, they come get me and I’ll go out to the aircraft and actually help them sync data back and forth to the servers that we manage,” Williams said.
Williams punches out at 3 p.m. and heads straight to Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts, where he trains. He works on wrestling and grappling on Monday and Wednesday. Striking and sparring are on Tuesday and Thursday.
Saturday, he gets one-on-one training.
He tries to get out of the gym by 6:30 p.m. to get home to his two children — Keyshon, 11, and Kareem, 8.
“He’s a father and he’s a family man all while trying to make a career while having a full-time job,” said Ron Frazier, a longtime coach at Xtreme Couture. “It’s difficult but he’s managing it and he’s fighting his way through it.”
Williams’ debut at World Series of Fighting on Dec. 18, 2015, was an awkward one. He only had 12 days to prepare after filling in for the injured Tyrone Spong, and spent much of that time moving from Utah to Las Vegas.
He lost the fight to Jake Heun via razor-close split decision.
“I wish I would have pushed it sooner,” Williams said. “That has always been my thing with short-notice fights is knowing when to push and when not to push because you’re not at your optimal condition.”
Williams’ professional record is 7-3 with two knockouts and three submissions, but all three losses have been on short-notice fights.
Fights without a training camp are difficult enough, but to do it while serving full-time in the military is nearly impossible.
Nevertheless, Williams has no plans of quitting his day job.
“I don’t think I will ever quit,” Williams said as he lifted up his left sleeve to reveal an Air Force tattoo. “I enjoy it, and the position I’m in, a lot of people would love to have this opportunity. I get to work with the newest jets from the ground up and I get to be one of the experts leading it into the future. Plus, I don’t have to worry about food because I have a job. MMA is not feeding me, so it’s still fun and it’s still a hobby. “
As much strain as the Air Force has put on his career, Williams feels its positive impacts far outweigh the negatives. Stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany and Korea, Williams has experienced a lot.
“I didn’t have any direct fire but the typical bombings and things like that I have been a part of it all,” said Williams, who now steps into the cage on fight night with unwavering confidence. “What can happen to you in there when you have already put yourself in more danger than that before? After so many years of being over there it’s definitely an advantage and not nearly as nerve-wracking being in the cage.”
His military mindset also benefits Williams’ preparation.
“He has a great attitude and works really hard, so he’s the total package,” said Nick Pettit, who cornered Williams in his WSOF debut. “As long as he keeps on track and keeps improving, the sky is the limit for the kid.”
With a full fight camp behind him, Williams is feeling better than ever as he heads into his fight with Harris. Williams says there will be plenty of support for him in the crowd from his fellow airmen, including members of the Thunderbirds.
“I can’t thank the Air Force enough for the mentality that they have instilled in me,” Williams said. “We have a no-lose mentality. If we go to war we can’t lose. The American people are depending on us to do the right things, depending on us to come back, and depending on us to defend their freedoms. I bring that same mentality into the fight.”