St. Michael Alumnus Qualifies for UFC
Alumnus AJ Fletcher ‘15 reached a competitive milestone that not many athletes can attest to by joining the Ultimate Fighting Championship league in August of this year.
As a life-long football player, Fletcher had hoped to play collegiately but switched gears when recruiting seemed to flatline during his senior year of high school. “Once I realized I was not going to play football in college, I started exploring mixed martial arts because I still wanted to do a sport that was physical,” he explains about how he gained interested in the sport. “After my first class, I fell in love with it.”
Having taken up MMA at the end of his senior year of high school, he continued his training as he entered LSU for college. Choosing to major in biology, Fletcher had originally planned to become a doctor. But after his freshman year, upon finding a passion in MMA, he took a leap of faith and transferred to the University of Lafayette where he could be closer to a gym that was more in line with his long-term fighting goals. “I took the advice of one of my training partners at Russel Jones Kickboxing who told me that if I was serious about making a career out of MMA, then I needed to go to a gym where they actually trained fighters. So, after my freshman year at LSU, I packed up and moved to Lafayette,” he explains. “In 2019 I had my first professional fight and graduated from ULL with a biology degree.”
From there, Fletcher moved up quickly, winning a local Lightweight Amateur Title in the Battle of New Orleans, as well as a Professional Belt in the Atlas Fights. And, on August 31, 2021, he signed a contract to fight in the UFC. The UFC is considered the ultimate goal of any MMA athlete, as it is the highest level of competition that one can achieve in the sport. “By my late 20s I am hoping to have my UFC belt and become the champion of the 170 lb. division,” he shares about his goals in the UFC arena. “But I am going to have to check off some boxes along the way. For now, I am trying to stay focused in the gym and respect the game. I have found that the accolades come when you are doing the right things both inside and outside the gym.”
Fletcher attributes his current success to numerous factors, particularly adept coaches and mentors who he says became his family-away-from-family once he moved to Lafayette to train at Gladiators Academy. “Tim and Josh both taught me more than just technique. The unseen side, or the mental side of MMA, is just as important, and they have been instrumental ever since I moved to a new city,” he shares.
Head Instructor and Manager of the Gladiators Academy, Josh Artigue, coaches Fletcher and says that he is one of the easiest athletes to train. “When AJ started at Gladiators Academy, I was really impressed with him,” he says. “It was his humility and coachability; he is one of the easiest athletes I have ever had the pleasure of coaching. He listens and applies techniques advancing his development in the sport.” When it comes to the next level though, Artigue says that having the right mentors is another factor in an athlete’s success story. “We have mentorship between AJ and Tim Credeur and Dustin Poirier, who show him how to be a professional athlete. They help him understand that there is a little more to it than just showing up to fight. We achieved our first goal of getting into the UFC and now all we do is start stringing together wins to get the recognition and keep moving up,” explains Artigue.
Fletcher says that one of the best parts of being involved with MMA is not only the physical side of it, but also the mental aspects as well, particularly the morale that it can build. “Martial arts have a way of giving people what they need,” he asserts. “There are young guys that come into the gym pent up and they have trouble understanding how to not let certain things boil over. MMA gives them a handle on controlling emotions and thoughts. I have also seen kids come in with low confidence, or maybe they are dealing with anxiety issues, and it is rewarding to see that as they learn certain techniques, or the technical part of their game improves, it goes hand-in-hand with their mentality. You can see them open up, and you see an increase in self-confidence in the way they carry themselves.” Along with training at Gladiators Academy, Fletcher also teaches private lessons and children’s classes as well as coaches both age groups.
Another factor in Fletcher’s success, he mentions, has been the presence of positive role models since his time in high school as a Warrior. “St. Michael does a really great job of placing positive role models in front of young people,” he shares. “When you do this for kids, it gives them a better idea of what to look for in terms of mentors. When you have positive role models in front of you at a young age, it makes it easier to identify who you can learn from in the future.”
Lastly, Fletcher mentions his foundation in faith, indicating that he knew his leap of faith into the sport would not necessarily be an easy ride. “When you take a chance on doing something in life that you did not plan to do, you face physical and mental challenges along the road,” he explains. “Having a good foundation in faith and scripture to draw from during low times helps you understand that things come in waves, but you have to keep moving. St. Michael did a great job of instilling this value in me.”
Fletcher is hoping to have his first professional UFC fight scheduled by the end of 2021. He will compete in the Welterweight (170 lbs.) division.