Gretchen Roufs' portraitYou would never guess that Collin Carney — one of the kindest, most soft-spoken guys in the industry — likes to punch and kick and choke people for fun.

Collin is the owner and president of Great Western Supply, a distributor with locations in Davenport and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In his free time, he’s a fighter. Literally.

Collin is a devotee of “Ultimate Fighting,” a relatively new sport that combines kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, judo and wrestling. The fights take place in a cage — a 30-foot-wide octagon designed to protect the fighters from getting thrown out of the arena.

“I’m a contact sport kind of guy. I’d play golf if I could hit the ball and then tackle someone,” Collin said. A former college wrestler, he got involved in fighting about four years ago. He started lifting weights at a gym, and noticed some fighters training in the basement. “I watched a couple of matches, and decided to join in.”

Collin trains about four times per week, “It’s the highlight of my day,” he said.

I wondered exactly what happens in a fight. Collin said there are rules that keep participants from being seriously injured; but that wasn’t always the case. When the sport first started, the rules were: “Anything goes. You could head-butt and other dangerous things. Now it’s very regulated and there are fewer injuries than there are in football.”

The fighters often start the match with kickboxing. A typical fight goes for three five-minute rounds (a championship fight is five rounds). Choking is allowed, but eye-gouging is not; nor is hair pulling, stomping, or unsportsmanlike conduct. A fight might end in a knockout, or by the ref calling it off if one fighter is not properly defending himself. Unlike television wrestling, Ultimate Fighting is “as real as it gets,” Collin says.

According to Collin, getting choked is not that bad. “With the ‘wind choke,’ you stop the oxygen to the lungs …but it’s ineffective,” he says. “So, we choke off the blood flow to the carotid artery, which happens in about seven seconds.” This choking business isn’t without problems. Collin ripped a disc in his back, not because somebody hurt him, but because he hurts himself when he does “the triangle choke” to an opponent. You don’t want to know what that particular move involves, but Collin reports, “95 percent of the time a guy taps out in five seconds.”

Fighting has changed Collin’s life in more ways than one. “I had been active in the sport for about two years, and the gym was sold,” he said. “The new owner kicked the fighters out. The team leader didn’t know what to do, so I bought a 12,000 square-foot building and created a health club/training facility. We opened Champions Fitness Center in Bettendorf, Iowa, over a year ago. It’s going well and we have a nice place to grapple and kickbox.”

As for the other athletes, Collin said, “One thing I have found pretty interesting is that the fighters are about the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. As a group, I would classify them as much nicer, more genuine, and more willing to help than the average person. They’re very self-confident and have a different perspective on life.”

Collin certainly fits the “nice guy” description. It’s just hard to imagine that he has such a large repertoire of chokeholds.

Gretchen Roufs, a 15-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns Auxiliary Marketing Services of San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “freetime,” contact her at (210) 601-4572.