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Local mixed martial artist Greg Hopkins was scheduled to fight Saturday night in Soddy-Daisy, but that bout joined the long list of sports events postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

French fries dipped in a Wendy's Frosty.

OK, so it's not exactly the classic go-to diet for an elite athlete. But these aren't exactly classic times for anyone. So while Greg Hopkins II had planned to spend the past four weeks eating lean meat and vegetables in preparation for his fourth mixed martial arts bout as a professional on Saturday night at Soddy-Daisy High School, COVID-19 had other ideas.

The novel coronavirus pandemic — as it has done with almost everything else that might draw a crowd of five or six or more, from the NCAA basketball tournaments to the Masters to Major League Baseball to your kids' youth league games — postponed that MMA event until a later undetermined date, which means Hopkins has a little more time to indulge his favorite guilty culinary pleasure.

"I've been eating that since I was a kid," he said Thursday. "I'll dip anything in a Frosty. A hamburger, salad, anything. My friends tell me it's 'pregnant women's food,' but I love it."

Like any top-level athlete — Hopkins was a three-time Georgia state champion in wrestling from 2004 to 2006 at Ringgold High School — he has not loved being locked out of his Agoge Combatives martial arts gym in East Ridge the past couple of weeks due to the pandemic. He's also not happy losing the money he would have made Saturday night, when he hoped to run his MMA pro record to 4-0.

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Staff photo / Ringgold's Greg Hopkins, top, wrestles Franklin's Bradley Felix during the championship finals of the McCallie Invitational in December 2004.

"I don't like it," he said of the cancellation or postponement of so many sporting events. "I think we need to live our lives. And I think sports helps take us away from so many negatives in the world right now. But I also know how dangerous the coronavirus is and how many unanswered questions there still are. I just hope it gets better soon."

He first became interested in MMA as a college wrestler at Carson-Newman.

"I knew that there would never be a professional circuit for real wrestling," said Hopkins, who most often fights as a middleweight (185) or welterweight (170 pounds), but has dropped as low as lightweight (155) after winning his high school wrestling state titles at 140 and 145.

"My parents were both in the military and both knew taekwondo," he said of the Korean martial art. "So they knew how to defend themselves. When I first got into it, I thought my wrestling would get me through, but it didn't. I had to learn jiu jitsu. But wrestling has helped me deal with the grind."

He has grinded well enough to currently be ranked fourth in Tennessee's MMA middleweight professional standings.

A large MMA event currently rescheduled for May 16 at Cotton Eyed Joe in Knoxville could boost that ranking even further, though the 5-foot-9 Hopkins also said of his preferred classification, "I feel most comfortable at welterweight."

He didn't feel comfortable anywhere for several years after first embracing MMA during college.

"I started going down the wrong road," he said. "Hanging out with the wrong people."

His father Greg and mother Denise helped steer his life back on course.

"My parents have been so supportive," Hopkins said. "They've always been there for me. I owe them both a great deal."

Indeed, his father has often given him work at the family's business — GH Asphalt in Ringgold — to help keep his son afloat financially. Already 32, Greg II knows his remaining years to succeed financially in the fight game are somewhat limited.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Greg Hopkins II, with G H Asphalt Maintenance, works on lining Lyndon Avenue on Feb. 3 in Red Bank.

"I've got friends who are my age who say their glory days are behind them," he said. "They're sitting on their sofas every day, watching TV and gaining weight. I'm not ready for that. I feel like I can go at least five more years, or till my body says no more. But right now, I feel good. It's like they say, 'You're as young as you feel.'"

That doesn't mean his body hasn't been tested.

"You get hurt a lot," he said. "I've cracked a bunch of ribs over the years. The longest I've been out was when I broke both hands in the same bout in 2017. That took several months to heal."

Nor does success necessarily lead to wealth, despite none of Hopkins' first three professional matches going to a third and final round.

"It's all about marketability," Hopkins said. "Can you sell tickets? I've made as little as $400 for a fight and as much as around $1,900. But there are also a lot of expenses. Coaches. Gym rentals. Most of us aren't doing it for the money."

So why climb into the octagon knowing you're going to hurt without the probability of sizable compensation?

"There's no politics," he said. "They lock the cage, and you either win or you lose. Just being mano a mano is what I love most. And if you lose, I feel like you always learn something from it."

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Staff photo / Ringgold's Greg Hopkins, left, and Soddy-Daisy's Tyler Farris wrestle in February 2004 at Ringgold High School.

We are all learning a lot these days that we never expected to learn about the fragility and uncertainty of life. And too much of it has to do with losses, be they human, social or financial.

But we're also learning to look deeper into what drives us, what rewards us, what scares us.

Asked what he most enjoys about being an MMA fighter, Hopkins said: "Just the respect factor in the gym (when you work out). There's fellowship and companionship. Just the passion we all have for what we're doing."

And, if we're lucky, what we'll continue to get to do in these challenging times. Right down to dipping french fries in a Frosty.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

 

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