The cage is a dungeon of sorts.
A pair of opponents accept the consequences of the cage.
Pain, punishment, vicious brutality, unmerciful physical violence — and in the end, one conquering victor.
It is indeed the modern-day Roman Coliseum. These gladiators enter the cage knowing the repercussions.
However the Mixed Martial Arts cage is defined, there’s no denying the reality: There will be pain, punishment, victory and defeat.
Elsie Zwicker is an MMA fighter. She understands the vicious nature of the sport. She knows that without an unmerciful and ferocious mentality, she will receiving the beating.
To punish or be punished. It’s the simple code of the cage.
But Elsie Zwicker is an intriguing contrast in this purgatory of physical brutality and violence.
Zwicker with her soft features, kind brown eyes, a 1,000-watt smile that’s as soothing as a summer day, it’s nearly impossible to imagine that she’s a ruthless fighter in this violent sport.
A single mother of four, the lean — and yes mean, when she’s in the cage — McElmo Canyon woman with powerful shoulders, broad back and thick muscular thighs, loves the sport. She loves the accountability of the sport and the physicality required to succeed.
But she’s a contrast.
Inside the cage, she’s the punisher. A ruthless 29-year-old warrior ready to strike and inflict as much physical damage as possible with her fists, elbows, knees, feet and strength.
Outside the cage, she’s a calm, soft-spoken mother, daughter, sister and friend.
Inside the cage she is the raging hurricane, outside she’s the eye of the storm.
It’s who she is. It’s the philosophy that comes from the foundation of the martial arts she loves. Her father, Sheldon Zwicker, helps train her. He appreciates the brutal fighter his daughter becomes in the cage and the kind woman she is away from the cage.
“She’s a vicious fighter but she’s a very sweet, tender person until she gets in the ring,” he says. “She doesn’t get keyed up before the fight. She’s calm and relaxed and confident, and that’s how I want her to be, that’s how I train her.”
The contrast is eerie, almost unnerving and a bit frightening. Two different people — polar opposites; contradictions.
She has mastered the switch. Shifting from 125 pounds of frenzied fury to the sweet, tender woman away from the cage.
Following her brutal domination Saturday night at the Ute Mountain Casino where she left Jessica Kennett bruised and battered, Elsie stood in the center of the ring accepting the cheers from her loyal fans.
In a sport where winners thump their chests and preen for the crowd, in a well-earned celebration, Elsie graciously accepts the accolades with a humble modesty.
Cage fighters are often branded as mean, vicious people who relish their sinister role of pain and punishment providers. Victory is only earned from that ferocious brutality. But for Elsie, the sport is about so much more.
“To me, it’s about self-discipline, it’s about honor, it’s about respect, it’s about sportsmanship, it’s about so many good things in life that are not negative things. These are positive things. To me, disrespect has no place in this sport,” she says.
After her savage mauling of Kennett, Elsie sought out her defeated opponent, who was holding an icepack to the side of her bruised face in the backroom. Elsie, who had already embraced Kennett in the cage, went to her again and gave her another hug, congratulating her for a gallant effort.
Elsie has been the battered one and the loser before. It’s all part of the sport and why respect is so important to her.
“You treat people with kindness and if you don’t have respect for your opponent, then I hope you do get beat,” she says.
Sweetheart of a fighter
Outside the cage, Elsie is a sweetheart. And that’s her nickname inside the cage.
She laughs about the nickname.
“I was born on Valentine’s Day and my mother made me do that,” she says.
She laughs again.
“My mother begged me to take it on and I said, ‘Well, Mom, that’s not very intimidating.’”
Mom chooses not to watch her daughter — Elsie “Sweetheart” Zwicker — fight. The brutality is too much. But she supports her daughter.
“I felt that I owned it to her and I wanted to honor her with that,” Elsie says.
So the nickname stayed.
There’s a nickname but there are no tattoos. Yet another contrast. In a sport where ink rules, Elsie’s skin is an untouched canvas.
“The family raised me to not do the tattoo thing,” she says with a smile.
Training is key
There are no shortcuts to success in MMA fighting. Success begins long before the cage is assembled.
“I love to train,” Elsie says. “I started to fight because I love to train. I love the (martial) arts and I’m passionate about them.”
She smiles, maybe a little embarrassed to be the center of attention.
Dad has practiced martial arts for most of his life and taught his children the art of self-defense. His calm, soft-spoken nature serves as a window to where Elsie’s personality comes from.
Without even a hint of a grin, he says, “Elsie and I aren’t the bragger types. You have your day in the sun and you move on.”
They respect the sport, martial arts and the hard work and long hours that are necessary to succeed.
Family is top priority for Elsie. Dad’s in the corner, Mom’s in charge of watching the kids and coming up with nicknames, and Elsie says her older brother serves as her inspiration.
Dallon Zwicker was killed in an ultralight accident about 10 years ago.
“When I was 15 years old, he told me I should become a professional fighter,” Elsie pauses to gather her emotions. “He’s been gone for 10 years now and he would have loved to see this right here.”
She grip the King of Cage belt that’s around her waist — her first belt — earned from her first-round TKO of Kennett.
As a mother of four — ages 10, 8, 6 and 4 — who holds down a full-time job, finding the time and energy to train is a challenge.
But to bring intensity to the cage, a fighter must train with intensity.
Even when life’s priorities punish her, she knows excuses will only lead to pain in the cage.
“If I don’t train, I’m not going to do well, I’m not going to take the win and I’m not going to perform the way I want to perform,” she says.
Punish or be punished. That harsh reality serves as a powerful motivation.
Be prepared, or be prepared to be punished.
A painful lesson plays in her mind like an instructional video. A year after giving birth to her fourth child, Kawai, she wasn’t in peak condition when she climbed into the cage.
“I took a pretty good beating and I decided then and there that I would never step in there without being ready,” she says.
Elsie’s training shows in her stamina, her powerful shoulders, arms and thighs. She trains in the gym and in the mountains at 9,000 feet above McElmo Canyon. At the family ranch, she pounds a heavy bag that hangs from a huge cottonwood tree until her hands ache. She trains hard. She works tirelessly so she can be the punisher.
Three of her kids watched her Saturday night. It made the victory even more sweet for Sweetheart Zwicker.
“Being a mother is motivation in life. To do your best. They make me try harder than I would normally try,” she says smiling at Lily and Eva as they hovered around Mom.
She left her youngest at home, not sure “if he could handle” watching mom fight.
But if any of her kids decide to tackle the brutality of MMA, Elsie Zwicker will be in their corner.
“My son (10-year-old Kekoa) says he wants to do that, and if he or any of them want to do that, then I will encourage them, because they need to be who they want to be.”
Four days after her vicious victory, Elsie was back training. She doesn’t like to “skip a beat.” Her love of training keeps her focused. She calls fighting “the cherry on top.”
When Saturday night’s brawl began and the frenzied fray grew ferocious, Elsie was filled with fiery intensity punctuated by brute force; 125 pounds of power, aggression and searing savagery.
Four-and-a-half minutes later, following a vicious 10-punch barrage, the referee restored order to the cage and stopped the beating.
After a short celebration, Elsie gathered her three kids in attendance, posed for photos with fans, accepted handshakes, hugs and praise, and turned her back on the cage.
The contrast is as clear as Elsie’s smile and modesty.
The cage doesn’t define Elsie Zwicker. The cage is just part of life.
Life is about respect.