Spotlight: A psych major & fighter


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Shane Burtzlaff, in his own words, is “5-foot-5, 140 pounds, and 20 years old with braces.”

The University of Iowa sophomore admits that isn’t the most intimidating description and says it brings the occasional taunt on weekend nights from Iowa City partygoers.

“I like to be friends with everybody,” he said with a laugh. “It definitely goes through your head sometimes, but I’m not going to start anything.”

Which, most of the time, is fortunate for the ones doing the taunting.

Burtzlaff is a psychology major and a Cambus driver. According to roommate and friend Ben Radke, he’s a “normal, very social kid with a good sense of humor.”

But he’s also a mixed martial arts and Muay Thai fighter.

On Feb. 5, he won a unanimous decision over Cedar Rapids fighter Marc Tong Van, pushing his record in amateur Muay Thai and mixed martial arts events to 6-1.

The Dubuque native wanted to box growing up, but never had the chance. He started wrestling in high school, where he said he was “mediocre at best.” But Burtzlaff, after his junior year, made up his mind: He was going to make the state tournament as a senior. He spent the off-season training harder than ever before.

A jaw injury then kept him on the sideline for his entire senior season.

With his wrestling season lost and competitive drive unfulfilled, Burtzlaff’s thoughts turned toward something that had always been in the back of his mind: mixed martial arts. While he couldn’t practice with the wrestling team, he started training with punching bags. It started out as a hobby.

“Then it really got addicting,” he said.

Burtzlaff pursued his new passion by joining the ICOR gym when he arrived in Iowa City. It was a mile from his dorm, so he often ran to practice and back.

ICOR fighter and UI senior Cody Mixon said he often partners with Burtzlaff for sparring sessions because they push each other to their limits. Mixon also said he didn’t expect so much fire from his partner upon first seeing him.

“He’s this little tiny kid with braces, and then he comes out and lights up the ring every time,” Mixon said. “I think he’s the hardest worker in our gym. A lot of people end up underestimating him, and that hurts them.”

Burtzlaff said his drive for fighting comes in part from the wrestling season he lost. But he also admits he might simply be “a little crazy.”

“When you step back and think about it, it’s such a simple, stupid concept,” he said. “But the feeling you get when you’re in the cage or the ring, and you’ve just gone three rounds with a guy and beat each other up, and your hand’s the one that’s raised… It makes you want to come back for more.”

He’s experienced that feeling in every fight except one, in a loss in May 2010 to a fighter who Burtzlaff said was simply much better than him. He said he was determined to learn from the defeat, to avoid the feeling of losing.

He’s won all four fights since then.

Radke said his roommate doesn’t give off the appearance of “some big, bad fighter.” But he’s had big, bad success in the ring.

And if an opponent were to point out his orthodontics or lack of size before a fight?

“Then,” Burtzlaff said, “I’d be happy to oblige them.”

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