Eric Schafer once dreamed of being a doctor.
He was on his way, too, after graduating Magna Cum Laude with a biology degree from UW-Oshkosh.
As is the case with many college graduates, his dream took a detour.
Now, as he likes to say, "I get hit in the face for a living."
Schafer, a 31-year-old native of Fond du Lac whose nickname is "Red," is under contract with Ultimate Fighting Championship, a professional mixed martial arts organization that has gained a huge audience through live and pay-per-view fight cards, DVD sales and the old fashioned word-of-mouth that makes marketing and advertising executives salivate.
In Milwaukee and Wisconsin, the local scene is very strong.
"We're very blessed that Wisconsin is becoming a very up and coming state for this sport," said Duke Roufus, a retired world champion kick boxer who helps train Schafer and other fighters at the Duke Roufus Academy, 320 N. 76th St.
"There are a lot of fighters going to the big organizations. It's fantastic. Red has been a big part of that. He's a homegrown guy. He's had the longest stay in the UFC of any other fighter from Wisconsin. He has kind of led the charge for all our new guys. He's carried the flag and helped us build our whole program."
In 18 MMA fights, Schafer has posted a record of 13-3-2. At 6 feet 3 inches and 205 pounds, his specialties are grappling and Jiu-Jitsu, which allow him to put competitors in "submission" holds that prompt them to "tap out" during fights.
"He's the Sultan of Submission," Roufus said. "He's the Chairman of Choke; the Ambassador of the Armbar."
Even if you don't know what those terms mean, they sound more exciting than working as a lab technologist who screens biological samples for infectious diseases.
Schafer thought so, anyway, and medicine's loss was MMA's gain.
"It's not the smartest career move I chose, but it's fun," Schafer said. "My parents aren't very happy. I'm addicted to it. I can't stop yet. Maybe when I'm 40, I'll go back to medical school. Not right now. I can't stop."
Schafer became interested in MMA after watching UFC fights on video. He started Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai training under Henry Matamoros and won dozens of championships on his way up the ladder, which included a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu.
He came to Milwaukee to pursue medical school and train with Roufus, whose expertise in kickboxing helped make him a more well-rounded fighter.
"Duke is the king of kickboxing," Schafer said. "Jiu-Jitsu is the ground step. Once you take them down, you go for submissions. You go for "ground and pound." My speciality is submissions. Once I get them down, I can choke you. I can arm-bar you -- whatever makes you say "uncle" lets me win a fight."
Though the fights can seem savage to the uninitiated, Schafer said there is plenty of technique involved. Controlling temper is a critical skill.
"Emotion is bad," he said. "You want to be like "The Terminator" out there. You want to be stone cold. Anyone that gets angry out there is just wasting energy.
"You'll see some of the UFC guys come out that look really mean. Usually, they'll either knock you out or they kind of blow their wad and you'll come back and beat them.
"Two fights ago, I fought a really tough guy who just tried to tear my head off. I survived two or three minutes, he gassed out and I came back."
Where most boxing matches end in a knockout or a decision, UFC fights end when one competitor submits, or "taps out."
"Even in practice, everyone taps out dozens of times," said Schafer, who works as a coach at the Roufus Academy and as a referee. "You get to a point where your arm is going to get hurt, you tap out.
"It's actually a very safe sport. You can get chokes, leg locks and all sorts of crazy stuff, but you've just got to tap out and say "Uncle" and it's over."
What about guys who don't take that step?
"Most people do," Schafer said. "Some people are pretty crazy. They'll fight until something bad happens. When there is a million dollars on the line, you might think twice about tapping. I'm gong to survive and be ready for the next fight instead of being a tough guy."
Despite the violent nature of the sport, Schafer said that competitors usually get along well.
"Every guy i've ever fought, we've gone out and had a beer afterwards," he said. "I've fought friends -- guys i've trained with before. Sometimes, you've got to turn off the emotions and say ‘It's a sport.' It still sucks. It still sucks to hit a guy that you know and get hit back. But, you've got to turn that off. it really is a sport. It's not like we're fighting in the street. It's a sport first."
Schafer's next fight is June 20 against Tomasz Drwal (15-2) at the Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.