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Talking with Sailors

Mindset Is Everything

Former SEAL Becomes MMA Fighter

It's time for the main event: "MITCH 'THE SMASHIN' FROG' AGUIAR!"


Aguiar dances to his entry music for the fans. When the referee yells, "Round 1, Fight!" the fighters touch gloves, and, after a few seconds, Aguiar throws a left hook hard enough to be heard over the screaming audience as his opponent is jolted to the side from blocking it.

Mixed martial artists (MMAs) are modern-day gladiators, waging war in a harsh environment called the octagon. MMA is considered an extreme combat sport, which permits two contestants to use the fighting techniques of not only wrestling, but also various martial arts, such as kickboxing, jiu-jitsu and muay-thai, among others.

"I love fighting," said former Special Operator 1st Class Mitch Aguiar, a U.S. Navy SEAL turned professional MMA fighter. "Some people go kayaking on the weekends, some ride a motorcycle; fighting, for me, is an extreme thrill."

For a while, Aguiar found this thrill in the Navy. He decided to enlist in January 2008 at the age of 18.

"A recruiter walked in and said, 'Hey, do you wanna join the Navy? You look like you're in good shape; do you want to be a SEAL?'" recalled Aguiar. "My mom was there, and she said, 'They were the rock stars of the military. If you were going to join the military, I could see you being a SEAL.'"

His mother, Maureen, is a former Sailor herself.

"I raised him," she said. "I know what he's capable of, and I knew he would just flourish in that [environment]."

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Aguiar then called his dad to tell him he had decided to be a SEAL.

"'Hey, Dad, I signed up to be a SEAL,'" Aguiar recounted. "And he said, 'Do you have any idea what that is?' and I said, 'Yeah, they're the rock stars of the military.' He just said 'Aw man, you don't know what you signed up for.'"

After boot camp, Aguiar graduated from the six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) program, part of training class 273. According to the Navy, BUD/S is the hardest military training in the world, and is designed to test each candidate physically and mentally with a variety of challenges.

"Luckily, my mindset was solid going into it," Aguiar said. "I had it in my head, 'It doesn't matter how hard this is; it doesn't matter what they do to me. I'd rather die running on the beach than have to call my parents and friends and tell them I quit because it was too hard.'"

That desire to succeed stemmed from his personality. Aguiar has always been a protective person. Growing up with a younger brother, he felt like it was his job to protect him from bullies.

"It just transferred into my adult life," he said. "Being in the SEAL teams, now these are my brothers, and when we go out, if anyone messes with them, they mess with me."

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Assigned to SEAL Team 10, Aguiar deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 for 11 months. He then worked as a multipurpose dog handler for a year and deployed to Europe for six months. He finished his 10-year career teaching combatives and close quarters combat.

Because of his protective nature, Aguiar is always subconsciously looking for a threat, especially when he is with other people.

"When I fight, that threat that I'm subconsciously looking for is right in front of me," he said. "So it has my full attention, and in a way, that is relaxing."

Fighting became a hobby for Aguiar while he was still on active duty, an outlet for his innate desire to fight. In fact, he had gotten into so many fights that his supervisor recommended he join a fight gym.

"I didn't plan on making a career out of it," he said. "At the time, it was just fun."

Aguiar was soon invited to Black House MMA, a well-known fight gym in in Los Angeles. There, he had the opportunity to train with some successful UFC fighters, such as Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva.

"I saw that these were just normal people, but they've just dedicated to this craft and put in a lot of hard work," he said. "This is something that's attainable; I could do this."

Aguiar had come to the point in his Navy career when he needed to make a decision: Did he stay in and retire, or get out and pursue a fighting career?

"At the time, I had just done some soul searching: What's going to make me happier?" he said. "I had already gotten to experience being a Navy SEAL, and I was happy with it. I just wanted to try a new chapter, and once I made that decision, it felt good."

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Aguiar was discharged in January 2018, but he is still a SEAL at heart.

"I'm happy for what I've done, he said. "I appreciate everything the SEAL teams have done for me, and I'm thankful for that community."

Even Aguiar's MMA nickname, "The Smashin' Frog," derives from his SEAL heritage. Among themselves, SEALs are known as frogmen, a term that originated from the underwater demolition teams (UDTs) of WWII, which later became SEAL teams.

"The average person, when they see a bone frog or they hear my name, they probably think 'That's weird; does he smash frogs? I don't get it,'" said Aguiar. "But if you know, then you know. It's just a subtle little part of me."

As for smashing, well, that's just what he does. According to Aguiar, there can be two different mindsets during a fight. Some fighters may have to trick themselves into being angry with their opponent. Others, like him, just fight for the sheer pleasure of fighting and competition.

"MMA is an individual sport," said Aguiar. "It's only you in the cage, so there's no excuses when you lose; it was you who didn't prepare enough. I enjoy the competition, the intensity and the one-on-one gladiator warrior aspect of it."

Fights are broken up into weight classes so that fighters and their opponents will always be relatively the same size. According to Aguiar, making the weight-cut is always harder than the fight itself.

Before he started training for his first professional fight, for example, he weighed 210 pounds. He had to lose 40 pounds over a three-week period.

"I basically just drank water, wheatgrass and some other super foods in just a green blend, Monday through Friday, and ate clean on the weekends," said Aguiar. "The last two days, I cut close to 25 pounds of water just dehydrating myself and doing jumping jacks in the sauna all day - no water."

On top of extreme dieting, he also prefers to do unorthodox exercises to get fight ready. He built a "slosh pipe" that is filled mostly with water and has heavy ball bearings that move side to side, always maintaining an uneven balance. He shoulder presses it one side at a time.

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Aguiar receives a lot of support from his mother, and Mark, his brother. They handle much of his scheduling and ticket sales so he can focus on preparing for his fights. Maureen has also attended all of his fights except one.

"I'm not nervous that he's going to get beat up," she said. "It's more the anticipation. I have a lot of confidence in him."

To date, Aguiar has participated in 11 amateur fights and one professional, winning all of them. He plans to pursue the UFC. After that, he's not sure.

"Even if you want to stay in the SEAL teams, you can't," he said. "At some point, you have to get out, and there's a whole life ahead of you; you got to take on something else. It's the same thing in fighting: You can't fight forever. I don't know what's next after that, but I'm sure it'll be fun, and I'm looking forward to whatever it is."