Nick and Rebecca Sperling are similar to many young couples in Nevada County.
The two have been married for nearly five years and wed after just six months of courtship. Rebecca is a nurse at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, and Nick was a carpenter but now relishes the role of the stay-at-home dad, taking care of their 22-month-old son.
The thing that separates the Sperlings from most everybody else in Nevada County is what they do after the work day is done.
Nick and Rebecca are both Mixed Martial Arts fighters who train and compete out of Grass Valley. Nick is a part-time trainer at Powerhouse MMA Training Center in Grass Valley, where he and Rebecca also train for upcoming matches.
“I couldn’t do it without her. She pushes me more than anyone,” Nick said. “It’s actually how we met — was a kick boxing class. We spar, and sometimes it gets a little crazy.”
For both Nick and Rebecca, MMA is a way to stay in shape, strengthen their bond to each other, relieve stress and further a passion they have for competing in the ring.
“It’s the truth of it, I guess. There’s just something pure about it,” Nick said of why he competes in MMA. “You can say all the things you want, but it’s an art form you just have to see. I do it for the sport of it, and it makes me a better person I think. Everything you do, you just want to simplify it. It keeps everything tight and simple. You can practice a jab over and over again and still get better at it. It’s the same with life — you can do anything and go anywhere a long as you work hard at it and stay positive.”
For Rebecca, MMA provides an opportunity for deeper connections with those she trains with and competes against.
“I like the relationships you build with people,” Rebecca said. “Nick is friends with every guy he has fought, and I’m friends with every girl I’ve ever fought. It’s a unique bond because you push yourself to such an extreme, it puts yourself in this vulnerable position, and you’re doing this with these other people, and they understand it like nobody else, and you end up building these unique relationships.”
Nick and Rebecca’s time spent on the mat only increases their bond to each other, they said.
“For him, fighting at his level, he runs in the mornings and trains at night,” Rebecca said. “He trains like it is a full-time job, and being a fighter myself, I understand that struggle and understand when you’re dieting that hard and pushing your body that hard, you’re irritable and you’re tense, and I can have that tolerance for him, and he does the same for me.”
Nick, who fights with the nickname “Little Ninja,” is coming off a November victory that improved his overall record to 2-2, and Rebecca currently stands at 1-0 with a fight scheduled for April. Rebecca will be fighting on the same card as her cousin, Kyle Zerbel, a trainer at Powerhouse MMA Training Center, said Powerhouse owner Lisa Jeanson.
Jeanson, who is an MMA fighter herself, has known the Sperlings for more than five years. She said it’s not uncommon for women fighters to gravitate to men in the same sport.
“Women fighters are not common at all, but when you do see women fighters, they’re often married to or dating fighters,” Jeanson said. “I would say that’s pretty common.”
Jeanson, who is married to a former fighter, said like all other marriages where people work in close proximity for much of the day, being married to a fighter has its pros and cons.
“There’s a couple of different ways you can think about it,” she said. “The fact that we are both involved in it is a good thing for the relationship because they know intimately what the other is going through, and they know how to support the other person in what they are doing. Also you are spending time together, and it adds to the relationship rather than doing separate things all the time.”
Jeanson does warn that a partner in life may not be the best sparing partner in the gym.
“If I’m training with my husband and he hurts me or says something, I might get angry at him, and I’ll let him know,” Jeanson said. “Versus if somebody else hurts me or tells me something, I probably won’t react as badly. I try to avoid the person that is that close to me being in that part of my training. But as far as being involved, we like to go to fights together. We train in other ways together. It’s a together thing.”
Nick and Rebecca said they love to share anything and everything they learn about the sport.
“(Nick) will come home and be like I just learned the coolest move, and we will end up practicing on the floor,” Rebecca said.
Whether it be fighting or anything else, Jeanson said she believes couples who share a hobby are on the right track.
“We all have our own things we do for a living, but we do have the commonality that on most nights, we are training,” Jeanson said of her relationship with her husband. “We do have a lot to talk about that we are both experiencing with a hobby we do so much together. I think it’s important for all couples to do a hobby. It might not be fighting but a hobby, and it’s their passion.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.