Three years ago Eli Wyse changed his life.
He was staring down a life of crime, constantly in trouble with the law, and involved with gangs on the Snuneymuxw First Nations while developing an alcohol problem.
Then he found out his longtime girlfriend was pregnant with his daughter.
It was his wake up call. He started getting into mixed martial arts, and this spring joined Island Top Team Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This weekend he earned provincial gold medals in the blue belt gi division and in the middleweight no gi division in Langley.
"I couldn't do it anymore," said Wyse, 23. "My wife stood with me through all of the bad times, so I thought it would be good to start a new chapter before my daughter came."
The transformation has been a dramatic one.
His daughter Aliann is now three years old and he has been married to his wife Sarah for two years.
He still lives on the reserve and works for Coastland Wood Industries. In the meantime, he trains two or three times a day, six days a week in mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
It is about keeping busy and staying out of trouble, as much as it is being a living, breathing example to others.
"I want to try and help them too, but at the same time I have to walk my own path and solidify my own stuff," he said.
Heading into the B.C. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu championships, Snuneymuxw Chief Doug White tweeted out encouragement to Wyse and his brother Martie Wyse. It was something that meant a lot to him.
"I do this to try and encourage my nation," he said. "They all know me, they all knew me growing up and so I try and bring them back some pride, knowing that I came from where we all grew up and bringing something back to them."
Wyse has come a long way in a short time.
He does have a boxing background, which made him a weapon on the streets and in gangs. He was constantly getting into trouble with law enforcement when he was given the news about his daughter.
"It was either get into MMA or go to jail," said Wyse.
He found refuge in the wings of local MMA stars Nick Hinchcliffe and Graham Spencer who brought the 20-year-old Wyse into their world and mentored him early on.
Wyse has had nine amateur fights with Battlefield Fight League and carries a 5-4 record, earning several fight of the night and knockout of the night honours.
It was his ground game that was hurting him.
He joined Island Top Team in April in hopes of fixing that, and so far it has worked.
In August he gained a lot of momentum at the Washington State Championships, earning gold in middleweight no gi and silver in white belt gi. But this past weekend he really got to see the advancement in his skill.
He submitted his way to gold in the no gi competition, then fought up a belt to win the gi blue belt division - he carries just a white belt.
In the blue belt final, he had to rally from an early cheap shot - instead of the opening shake, his competitor went straight for the take down - and still managed to fight back and submit his challenger with a Japanese necktie - his signature move - to win.
"It was really upsetting to me, because I like to keep things at a professional level," said the five-foot-11 Wyse, who fights at 155 pounds. "So it was very upsetting for him to do that to me, but at the same time it made me want to focus on catching up, because the take down put me down in points, seconds into the fight. It was very good to take him out in the end."
His coach with Island Top Team - which celebrated its one-year birthday on Tuesday at the Nanaimo Athletic Club - says his development to this point has been remarkable, but says it's his heart and determination that carried him on the weekend.
"The guy just will not quit," said Robert Biernacki, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. "After he won gold in the gi division, he competed in the no gi division and was absolutely exhausted. At the end of some of the matches we had to rush him out and get his puffer to him because he has asthma. .. but he still finished every match by submission, because he has that much drive."
Wyse was not the only success story for the Island Top Team at provincials.
Local fighters Gary Gilbert and Ty Son met in the featherweight gi white belt final with Gilbert winning a close match on points.
He submitted his way to the gold medal bout.
Gilbert also added silver in the no-gi division.
Cal McDonald brought back the fourth gold medal in the nogi medium heavyweight division. "We've had a great summer. .. and we're starting to have some phenomenal results," said Biernacki, noting the club has already grown to 65 members, far outpacing his expectations.
Wyse also works with John Punt his coach at Impact MMA, and carries several sponsors like Range Full Contact, Dragon Impact, Relegation Tattoos and Popeye's Supplements in Nanaimo, who have jumped on board with the local fighter.
He plans to have at least one more match with Battlefield in November, and is hoping to eventually jump to the Maximum Fighting Championship.
"The UFC, everybody has the big dream, but I'm just looking to get out there and have fun doing it," he said. "The MFC is more of a realistic goal, it's something you can touch. That's where I would like to go because that's the biggest promotion in Canada."
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