Local athlete joins MMA fighting in honor of best friend and grandfather

Published 4:21 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

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By Ayanna Eckblad

Two years ago, if you were to tell Hunter Burkart of Albert Lea that he would eventually go undefeated in a mixed martial arts fight, he would not have believed it. However, the 23-year-old has been training in the sport for about eight months, and has done just that.

Burkart played hockey throughout high school but did not give much thought to participating in MMA fighting. His best friend, Jake Cornick, was an avid MMA athlete, and Burkart often helped him train.

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“I never had any aspiration to do it, I just loved the sport and loved to help him out,” Burkart said.

Cornick died in February of 2022 at age 21. Burkart started to shift from an MMA fan to an athlete himself.

“I knew it was a big dream of his [Cornick’s], and I started to fall in love more and more with the sport, so I decided to carry on that legacy and fulfill our dreams,” Burkart explained.

Not only did he have a connection to MMA through his friend, but his grandfather, Donnie Sickels, also participated in fighting. Sickels was a Golden Glove boxer before joining the military during the Korean War.

“I’ve always just looked up to him,” Burkart said. “It just kind of hit me — hey, I’ve got boxing in my blood, my best friend was a good MMA fighter. Maybe I can incorporate the two.”

He began training at Impact Martial Arts in Austin with coach Troy Williams. The training has two main components. The first, Muay Thai, involves boxing and conditioning the body. The second, Jiu-jitsu, focuses more on takedown defenses.

“It’s really hard and intense but you get the results,” Burkart said.

The results speak for themselves. Burkart competed in his first MMA competition, Brutaal Genesis Fight Night: Fort Frenzy 21 in Fort Dodge, last Saturday.

He describes himself as feeling “nervous but comfortable.”

“I’d never been in that kind of situation before where I had a big crowd around me cheering me on,” he said. He also felt confident in the training he received and in his abilities.

During the competition, Burkart took down his opponent using a rear naked choke hold in 58 seconds. This led to him earning the submission of the night, which celebrates the fastest and biggest submission.

According to Burkart, he talked with his opponents before the fight, and he has still kept in touch with them as friends.

“Everyone’s just there to help each other out and get better,” he explained.

Burkart said that the most challenging part of MMA fighting for him is weight cutting. For younger kids interested in the sport, he said that it is good to do so safely as soon as possible.

“If you can start maintaining your weight and getting into shape now, I think that’s a really big head start in the MMA community,” he said. He also advises people to never give up.

“It gets really hard and really tough,” Burkart said. “But the moment you give up is the moment you bow down and kind of say, ‘I can’t do this.’ But I’ve never been one to, you know, bow my head. I’ve always wanted to put my nose to the grindstone and just get the hard work out of the way … so we can have the fun.”

Right now, Burkart works as a distribution specialist at Larson Manufacturing. His future goals involve continuing to train and fight in MMA competitions.

He hopes to go undefeated, hold an amateur belt and eventually go pro.

“If you set your mind to it you can do it … I know it’s a little cliche but never would I have thought that my first fight would last under a minute … Nothing’s impossible.”