In July, we wrote a post on How Not To Spend the Week Before the Bar Exam. A University of Minnesota law grad, Nick “The Goat” Thompson, had been featured in a Sports Illustrated article on an ultimate fighting EliteXC tournament broadcast on CBS. Thompson had lost his match, but had a good excuse: studying for the bar exam had likely cut into his training time. He took the Minnesota bar two days after the match.
We forgot about this article until last month, when his wife e-mailed us to share the good news that Thompson had passed the bar (as did 89% of test takers.)
We talked to Nick last weekend about what’s it like to be a professional mixed martial arts fighter, esquire. Find out how he’s combining ultimate fighting with a law degree, after the jump.
Thompson wrestled in high school and as an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. During his junior year of college, he went on a date to see an ultimate fighting match, and he was hooked. (On the ultimate fighting and the girl — they got married in October 2007). He started driving two hours to Milwaukee each week to train with a coach there, as well as working with an amateur group in Madison.
Also called mixed martial arts (or “human cock-fighting” by John McCain), ultimate fighting is a full-contact, combat sport that combines kicking, kneeing, punching, elbowing, stomping, holding and throwing. Victory is decided by judges based on points, or awarded after one fighter concedes or is knocked out.
“I was terrible for the first two years. But in my third year, I started getting good. The coach pulled me aside, and said I should think about fighting seriously,” Thompson said. This was around the same time Thompson became a 1L at the University of Minnesota Law School, a natural next step for the philosophy and economics major with a family tradition in law — his mother is a public defender and his stepfather is a judge.
During law school, he spent 20-30 hours per week at the gym training for ultimate fighting, and the rest of the time studying. No bars. Few friends. And no summer associate positions. He used an Excel program to keep track of his days down to half-hour segments. In April 2007, he had to skip his Advanced Corporations final exam to fight in a match in Russia. He won the BodogFIGHT Welterweight title, and got an “A” or “B” on the makeup exam.
“Nick would walk down the hallway with black eyes and a broken nose. The students who didn’t know him would say, ‘Whatever firm he works for, I don’t want to go there,’” said Adam Hansen, 28, a classmate who is now clerking for Minnesota Supreme Court chief justice Eric Magnuson.
Thompson says: “When I tell people I am a ultimate fighter, I have to hear about every bar fight they’ve ever been in. If they met Randy Moss, would they tell him about their high school football days?”
Thompson currently fights in the Japanese Sengoku league, often in front of 50,000 person crowds in Tokyo. With 4-6 fights per year at $20,000 to $80,000 per fight (depending on whether he wins or loses), he’s been faring better than he would have in first year Biglaw.
But that law degree was not for naught. He is being courted by Henson & Efron, a Minneapolis law firm with a burgeoning sports entertainment practice. If he takes the job, Thompson wants to work part-time, representing ultimate fighters and other athletes in contract negotiations and promotions. He still needs time for matches, not to mention six hours daily at the gym six days a week.
There is a lawyer-athlete precedent at the University of Minnesota. Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Alan Page attended the law school full-time in the 1970s while playing professional football for the Vikings. After retiring from football in 1981, Page went on to become Minnesota’s assistant attorney general, and is now an associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Law and ultimate fighting are not so different, says Thompson. “In both, you’re looking for weakness in your opponent. One’s physical, and the other’s mental.”