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January 17, 2018

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Photos: Olympic hopeful Natasha Wicks + UFC fighter Kyle Kingsbury = running lovers in L.V.



Kyle Kingsbury and Natasha Wicks.

Kyle Kingsbury and Natasha Wicks

Kyle Kingsbury and Natasha Wicks. Launch slideshow »

There will be two noteworthy runners to watch for when Mayor Carolyn Goodman fires the starter’s pistol for the annual Las Vegas 5K run Saturday. Natasha Wicks, who is working toward a spot on the 2016 Olympic running team, has signed up her MMA and “The Ultimate Fighter” boyfriend Kyle Kingsbury for the run, and, as he weighs retirement from the ring, he concedes that she will beat him on foot this weekend.

The 3.1-mile Ryno Running challenge with its $5,000 prize for the top male and female finishers loops from Town Square to the Strip to the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign back to Town Square in the YMCA fundraiser. Our “America’s Got Talent” Season 5 victor Michael Grimm is the post-race headline entertainer.

The power couple of Las Vegas athleticism is going through an interesting, almost role reversal, transition, as Natasha wants to become a full-time runner, and Kyle is pondering a retirement from fighting to become a firefighter.

He awaits physician reports after multiple face fractures he suffered at his last UFC fight; he sustained a frightening series of blows to his eyes. His stats stood at 11-5 after the brutal battle live on Fuel TV from England.

Natasha told me: “I actually just signed him up this week for it. He got a new pair of awesome shoes that’s helped motivate and excite him. So, yes, we are both doing it now.”

Said Kyle: “My race will just be a finish and hers will be to smoke everyone else. I have no problem with her beating me. She is the runner. I don’t feel bad about her beating me. I wouldn’t feel proud about beating her in MMA!”

I asked Kyle, an American Kickboxing Academy fighter, if he’s debating the career change because the injuries from his UFC fight were so bad: “They are the biggest factor, but also turning 30 this last year, 31 now, you just realize it is a very small window where you can do that, where you can get hit in the head and be able to go about your normal life and function properly.

“I think just hitting that 30 mark made me realize that maybe I should switch gears and start looking toward something more, to have a 20- to 30-year career, have a pension set up, and have medical and dental for my whole family. Obviously, those are the things you think about more when you are in your 30s then when you are 23 to 24, invincible and without facial fractures.”

Natasha chimed in: “I was there that night watching him fight. It is never easy to watch. It was my third fight watching as his girlfriend. Being there in England and not having a cell phone work was the hardest part because I didn’t know where he was. I didn’t know if he was going to the hospital. I couldn’t find anybody.

“It was kind of my fault because I switched seats on them, so they thought I was in a certain seat, and I went and sat with a bunch of the fighter wives. So I wasn’t in the right place for them to find me. I definitely cried a little, but it is not like I beg him to not do it because I know he loves doing it. It is a passion of his, and he trains very hard.

“He gets beat up at practices, so it is not like it is necessarily unusual for him to come home with black eyes and soreness. It was kind of funny because we had a trip to London planned for three days after because we were in Nottingham for his fight, walking around with this giant grape on his eye. All of our London photos, he’s got a nice shiner in every photo. We have to go back sometime and redo them.”

It took Kyle six weeks after his loss to Jimi Manuwa for the fractures to heal, but there was a bigger, continuing problem: “I had an orbital blowout originally about three or four fights ago, and then the last fight I had another orbital blowout on the same side. And in addition to that, I had a break in an eyebrow, and that is what concerns the doctor right now. They just want to make sure that my sinus is draining properly, so I am going in for a follow-up MRI next week. Hopefully everything is draining properly, and I won’t need surgery.”

Click to enlarge photo

Fabio Maldonado hits Kyle Kingsbury with a left during their bout at The Ultimate Fighter Season 13 finale Saturday, June 4, 2011. Kingsbury won by decision.

Natasha Wicks

Natasha Wicks. Launch slideshow »

I had to ask when Kyle would make the decision on retiring. “A lot of it is based on if I can move on and move forward with my life and become a fireman,” he replied. “It is a hard process, and it takes some people several years to be able to get on with the department.

“If you can get on, you have that great career ahead of you, but if it takes me five or six years to do it, I am certainly not going to sit on the shelf and waste my early 30s when I am still training hard, my body feels great, and I, obviously, thankfully, still have a contract with the UFC. I would like to get back in there if I am not able to move on.

“It depends really what the doctors say in the next couple of weeks. It really is big. I don’t want to end up with a glass eye. There have been some complications already with the same eye, and certainly everyone in my division hits hard, so that is not going to change. There are many things to consider.”

Model Natasha, who was the winner of the Maxim UFC Octagon Girl Search, commented: “I want him to do whatever he wants to do. As an athlete myself, I understand the passion for it. I don’t understand liking getting hit in the face — I will never understand that — but I get it. Whatever his decision, when he started considering it, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, yea,’ or ‘oh, no,’ it was just whatever you want to do, whatever makes you happy.

“I know he has been wanting to be a fireman even before he was fighter. He was working toward that and actually made it through a lot of the process, but getting black eyes is like the one-year probation. I don’t want him to give up the Ultimate Fighter deal and then lose his bid to become a fireman. I support everything that he does and wants to do 100 percent. It’s great that he wants to go from fighting in the ring to fighting fires.”

Natasha is still training in the hopes of making it to the 2016 Olympics. “It is definitely not an easy process, and I really won’t know until that year comes for trials,” she explained. “But as far as the improvements I have made since we last spoke, it has been a dramatic improvement. Not necessarily that I am going to come out and win and run 17-minute 5Ks, but I am stronger. I feel like I am definitely faster. It is just improving on the speed; as far as my balance, everything, I feel very strong. I feel actually the best as an athlete I have ever felt.”

In her race last weekend over a hilly course, she ran a 6-minute-mile pace, crossing the third mile of the 4-mile course at 18 minutes.

“My goal on Saturday is 18 minutes. I think I am definitely capable of that. I will try out for the 5K and 10K Olympic trials. For 10K, it has to be around the 30- to 31-minute mark, so you have to run 5-minute miles for the 6.2-mile course,” she said. “The distance is not my problem; it is just getting my feet back and working on all that because I took so much time off.

“I was still running, but I wasn’t training and keeping that speed. I wasn’t going out and doing speed workouts. I am doing that now. I feel I am capable of it. It is just putting in the hard work and getting it there, and that means I become a full-time runner.”

I wanted to know if their love match was stronger because of the fact both are athletes. Said Natasha: “It definitely helps because there is an understanding of the time involved in training and being tired and taking on when someone has a busier day or they are more tired or have had harder workouts. The other one cooks, or we’ll switch doing laundry. I definitely love dating an athlete!”

Said Kyle: “It does make it a lot easier because of the understanding that you have for the other person, what they are going through on a day-to-day basis. Also, your goals are there and you are on the same page with what you want to work toward, so turning down bad food at the movies and things like that is a lot easier when you are both on the same page and you both are working toward your goals and things you want in life.

“We have to keep one secret for now. My sister just got proposed to, so she is obviously putting the full-court press on Natasha and asking her, but then again there are so many things going on. … I see it here in the near future, everything falling into place. We’ve obviously talked about it; that’s natural.”

Natalie had the last word: “I don’t put the pressure on. I am totally OK; we are both very much like when it happens, it happens.”

We wish this truly nice couple good luck with Saturday’s run, Natasha’s Olympic training and hopes and Kyle’s medical clearance.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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