If life is about choices, Josh Rettinghouse has some interesting career options.
M.B.A. or M.M.A.
The cubicle or the cage.
Crunching numbers or crunching bodies.
For now, passion trumps practicality for Rettinghouse, an Eastern Washington University student who has an accounting degree in hand but also has the chance of a lifetime in his grasp.
Saturday night in Las Vegas, Rettinghouse will face Marlon Moraes in a nationally-televised World Series of Fighting bantamweight title bout that could put him in the mixed martial arts limelight.
Or put him on his back, according to the experts, but the 2008 Ferris High School graduate already has overcome longer odds than he’ll face against the third-ranked Moraes.
Last October 17, while taking 20 credit hours at EWU and working 35 hours a week at the JC Penney store in Spokane Valley, Rettinghouse got a surprise phone call from some desperate promoters in Las Vegas.
The offer was ridiculous: Can you fill in for a fight against a former Olympic bronze medalist – nine days from now?
Rettinghouse had every reason to decline: His schedule was already crammed, midterms were looming, and despite winning a pair of CageSport fights earlier in the year, Rettinghouse admits that “I wasn’t in the best shape.”
Naturally, Rettinghouse accepted the offer, figuring the chance was too good to pass up.
Nine days later, Rettinghouse shocked Alexis Avila, taking a unanimous decision. “It definitely was a win-win situation for me,” said Rettinghouse, who’s won seven of his last eight bouts en route to his MMA nickname, “The Finisher.”
Not bad for a kid whose biggest athletic highlight in high school was placing at the 2008 Tri-State Tournament.
Never the biggest kid in his South Hill neighborhood, Rettinghouse figured he was the baddest.
“When I was 10 or 11 years old,” Rettinghouse said, “I was always thinking in the back of my head, “I’m the baddest dude in school.’ I was the toughest dude in my grade school, I was the toughest dude in my middle school, I was the toughest dude in my high school.”
Rettinghouse got a reality check in the winter of 2007-8. He failed to place in the Mat Classic at 130 pounds, which Rettinghouse said “left a sour taste in my mouth.”
Worse, he didn’t receive any athletic scholarship offers. He debated joining the military until his grandmother offered to pay for tuition at Spokane Community College.
He discovered a passion for accounting, transferred to Eastern and worked on his degree while putting himself through school.
“I virtually have no social life,” said the 5-foot-6 Rettinghouse, who still lives on the South Hill and commutes to class and work.
His only outlet was martial arts; he discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu and now trains with kick-boxing specialist Daniel Zarate at Toyama Karate School in north Spokane. Along the way, he’s trained with local MMA fighters Mike Chiesa, Sam Sicilia, Lyle Beerbohm and Cody McKenzie.
“I think he’s one of those guys who likes to be in the gym, training and getting better,” said Zarate, who is in Vegas this week with Rettinghouse.
“What’s not to like about a guy like that?” Zarate said.
By early 2013, Rettinghouse traveled to Las Vegas for try out for “The Ultimate Fighter” television show, but wasn’t chosen. Undaunted, he landed a 135-pound CageSport bout with Cory Vom Baur – and lost that too before winning a pair of CageSport fights and getting the surprise call to fight Avila in his WSOF debut.
“He was at his best in that fight,” said Zarate, who likes Rettinghouse’s solid repertoire, especially his takedowns and jiu-jitsu abilities.
He also has experience. Only 24, Rettinghouse (10-2) has already competed in six organizations during his 12-fight career, including WSOF, CageSport, Northwest Fighting, King of the Cage Spokane Showdown and Intense Cage Fighting.
And in contrast to the Avila bout, he’s been preparing since late January for Saturday’s fight.
It may take the best performance of his career to beat Moraes (12-4-1), the No. 3-ranked bantamweight in the world. “According to the experts he has no chance, but he always does well under pressure,” Zarate said of Saturday’s contest, which is the penultimate bout of an 11-fight card at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
The bouts can be viewed on NBCSports.com, which is live-streaming the event.
Win or lose, Rettinghouse will keep fighting, and at the same time finish his finance degree.
“Fighting is what I’m most passionate about and it’s most definitely my Plan A, but I’ve always been taught to have a Plan B,” said Rettinghouse.