MISSOULA — Once a hardscrabble land rife with brawlers, western Montana has become something altogether different.
Yet the grit and toughness of the old cowboy lives on in a select few. Like 22-year old MMA fighter Dylan Schulte, a relentless homegrown prospect revered by a sizable local fan base.
"It blows me away the amount of support I've gotten from where I come from," said Schulte, a former Missoula Sentinel wrestler who moved to Denver to chase a professional dream. "It definitely keeps me motivated to make it to the top. Give these people something to root for I guess."
Schulte is a man's man with a rare level of confidence that has compelled him to make the biggest leap of his sporting life. After posting a record of 7-1 as an amateur MMA fighter, he's turning pro next Saturday in Lincoln, Nebraska.
He'll battle Nebraskan Nate Morrow in an Elite Fight League 3 clash of professional newcomers. The stakes are higher than ever for both lightweights because there's money involved and the spotlight is bright.
"Now it becomes a career thing," Schulte said. "If you rack up a bunch of losses, you're not going to make much of a career.
"It's a step up in competition but I feel like a lot of people overthink it. I've been fighting on a professional level for a long time. The only difference is I'm signing a contract and getting paid now."
Dylan trains up to 25 hours a week. Moving to Denver opened the door for sponsorship support, but he still helps his father with his car-hauling business to make ends meet.
For Schulte, winning is just part of the objective Saturday. He wants to dominate, pouncing at the opening bell like he's done so many times before, attacking like a mountain lion with an empty belly.
"I think the pressure I put on him is going to be too much," he said.
"I truly feel I'm training to fight the best guys in the world. I'm not saying this guy is the best in the world, but I'm going to bring that sort of intensity into the fight, as if he was. We'll see how tough he is. I truly think he's done in 1 (round). I don't see him making it outside the first round. If he does, he's tough."
I like the candor. Speaking as a veteran sports columnist who grows tired of all the tiptoeing in press conferences, it's nice to know there's still somebody like Schulte out there. Someone who speaks his mind and doesn't sound like a programmed robot.
Dominating will not be easy for Dylan. The 24-year-old Morrow has more than twice as many amateur fights under his belt (12-7 record) and "he's scrappy and solid, all the way around," according to Schulte.
Regardless of how you feel about Dylan's professional endeavor, you have to admire his determination. Too many of us refrain from chasing a dream because we're deathly afraid of failure.
Not only is Schulte chasing his dream. He's doing it on his opponent's home turf, so to speak.
This is going to be good.
"If you finish people, you're tough and you're a likable person, that's huge in this business," Schulte offered. " If nobody likes you, you still might sell fights but ... You have to be somebody for people to root for."
Seems to me Schulte already has that part down pat.