Craig Feistner had a storied, and very successful, career on the wrestling mats during his career at Polson High School. He was part of the Class of 2013, capped by his fourth straight divisional championship as a Pirate.
According to his records, Craig still holds the school record for career pins, at 99, from 2010-13. He is tied for second on the season-pin list at 30 with Aaron McArthur at 30, behind only Parker Adler, who had 32 pins. On the 100-Win Club, Craig is fourth with 136 wins and only 27 losses. Kevin Owen is first (150 wins), Brock Picard second (142) and Adler third (141). He is second on the records chart for career takedowns. Craig played in the top five at state all four years.
Craig, who is not 24, attended North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene for one year after high school graduation on a wrestling scholarship. “My main reason for going to college was for wrestling,” he admits.
He “didn’t want to work a job,” so he created a clothing line, Fortified Physique, which still exists online. It was successful, and Craig also worked sales jobs and built websites for companies.
Craig is about to become a mixed martial arts professional, with his first pro bout this Friday night at Northern Quest Casino at Airway Heights, just west of Spokane, Wash. Here is how he got there
Craig got involved in the martial arts — specifically jiu-jitsu — and traveled to Hawaii, looking to compete in freestyle tournaments for six months. He went back to Coeur d’Alene for a wedding and learned that there was a new coach at his former gym. It was Pablo Alfonso, an MMA guru whose specialty was Brazilianjiu-jitsu. He was a high-level black belt and ranked in the top 10 in the world — a multiple world champion and ranked in the top 40 in the world in MMA.
“I started training with him part-time. I did a jiu-jitsu tournament and won,” he said. He was selling cell phones, and his girlfriend encouraged him to go full time into the martial art. He did, and ran his perfect amateur record to 13-0 — earning a blue belt. Then he was encouraged by his trainer, Alfonso, to transition into MMA, and won his first two amateur bouts — the second to win the 155-pound title at the Cage Combat Championship.
“Now I’m going pro on February eighth,” Craig said, part of a 10-bout card at Conquest of the Cage at Northern Quest Casino. He found out just Monday that his Friday opponent had changed. He will now face Chris Ensley in the next-to-last bout of the evening, just before the “main event.”
“He’s definitely a veteran in the sport (of MMA). He has more than 20 wins, but I’m not too worried about it,” Craig said confidently. “My standout is getting better and better. We’re going to finish it.” That is, he expects to win by either KO (knockout) or TKO (technical knockout). He would be the first to agree that confidence in “the cage” goes a long way toward getting a victory in this sport.
Physically, and mentally, he’s ready for the pro ranks. “I’ve been working for that for a long time. I’m always in the development mode with my body. I keep with it,” he said.
Craig has had to “cut weight” many times before either wrestling, jiu-jitsu and MMA, trimming as much as 17 pounds from his frame — over the span of about a month. He’s now a personal trainer and knows how to do it effectively, and safely. “So I’m not physically drained when it comes to ‘go’ time,” he said. “My endurance, stamina, trimming down body fat and development of muscle mass, it’s all part of it.”
MMA is “everything all in one,” Craig said. It’s wrestling, jiu-jitsu, all your stand-up styles, plus boxing and kick boxing. “Not everyone I fight knows how to wrestle,” he said.
He talked about use of the hips and legs. “Everything generates from the ground up,” he said. “With ‘leg power’ you have more explosiveness, you’re more well-balanced.”
MMA bouts are by rounds, similar to boxing. The results can be a unanimous decision by the judges, a split decision, TKO or KO. Or a disqualification if a fighter breaks the rules of the game. A winning total of 25 to 27 points is common.
“It definitely comes down to skill set and your mind,” Craig said. Goes to show: he was on top of his last opponent, in the title bout, throwing punches. “He wasn’t protecting himself,” he said.
An MMA bout can be as long as 7 minutes, depending on the promoter. For this Friday, that is Rick Little.
Craig did not make any money as an amateur. He did get some perks, but no cash. As a pro, he expects to make a modest sum of $600 to $700 for his first pro bout. As he progresses, the payouts are higher and higher.
Alfonso is more or less Craig’s manager as well as trainer, but he is seeking a separate person to handle his scheduling, etc.
Craig comes from a family of eight kids, and only a couple of the others did any wrestling. The sport got deep into his blood while at Polson High School. He attributes the Pirate coaching staff with giving him the basics of the sport.
“The Owens were kind of my foundation for wrestling,” Craig said. He was speaking of Bob and Bill Owen, as well as assistants Eric Huffine and Bucky Cheff.
MMA is not only the use of wrestling skills, but they have gone a long way to get Craig Feistner. His dad and mom, Craig Sr. and Stacy, still live in Polson. Dadd said recently he could not be more proud of his son, and supports his choice to become an MMA pro.
So it’s “game on” for Craig at the Northern Quest Casino on Friday night for Conquest of the Cage.