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Alexandria Mixed Martial Arts champion hangs up the gloves

Thomas Herrera of Alexandria fought and won his first and last pro-MMA fight against an eight-fight pro veteran on Sept. 10. His first child, Caroline Ann Herrera was born the next day.

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Thomas Herrera won his first and last Mixed Martial Arts fight at the pro level on Sept. 10. A day later, he became a first-time father.
Contributed photo.
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ALEXANDRIA — Sixteen-time amateur Mixed Martial Arts champion, Thomas Herrera of Alexandria, entered the fighting octagon for the last time on Sept. 10. This time, at the pro level.

For the last 11 years, Herrera has had 20 total fights at the amateur level with 16 wins, but his fight on Sept. 10 was his first at the pro level. A little over nine months ago, he knew it would be his last.

Thomas Herrera raised and donated a grand total of $32,981 in all of 2021 to various nonprofit organizations, which include Tap Cancer Out.

Last January, Herrera found out his wife, Kelly, was pregnant and he made the decision to end his MMA career after a fight that took place a week prior to the news.

"MMA can be a very barbaric sport. I wouldn't ever want to put my wife and child in a situation where they're being left alone," Herrera said.

Throughout his career as a fighter, Herrera has been knocked out, suffered broken bones from his hands to his feet, and dealt with torn ligaments. But, calling the January fight his last seemed to leave things unfinished.

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"I wanted to end my career officially as a professional fighter," he said. "I've always competed at an elite professional level in all aspects, but I've never had that title be officially branded on my name."

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Thomas Herrera takes down Matt Lagou during the A-Town Throwdown XVIII in Austin, Minnesota for a "ground and pound" session.
Contributed photo.

On Saturday, Sept. 10 Herrera, at 215 pounds, fought against eight-time pro-level fighter, Matt Lagou of Las Vegas. Their match was the headlining event for the A-TOWN THROWDOWN XVII and it lasted less than two minutes.

"I remember us touching gloves, and me circling so I could face in my corner — my coach and my teammates — which was the plan," Herrera said. "As soon as I saw them in my peripheral, I threw a combination to be able to lock up with my opponent and then push them to the cage, go for a takedown, and then ground and pound until the fight is over. It went exactly as planned."

Herrera wanted to finish the fight as soon as he could to avoid any "devastating
blows" that could result in serious injury, for his sake and his wife, who was in the audience.

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Thomas Herrera earns the championship belt at the 18th A-Town Throwdown in Austin, Minnesota.
Contributed photo.

"I didn't want her to watch me get beat up too bad," he said. "The mentality was hyper-focus. Make sure he's not throwing anything that I can't see and stick with the game plan."

Herrera finished Lagou by TKO — technical knockout when an opponent taps for submission — in one minute and 53 seconds during the first round of the bout.

What Herrera didn't expect was the big event the next day.

On Sunday, Sept. 11 at 8:33 p.m., his daughter, Caroline Anne Herrera, at 6 pounds 15 ounces, graced her parents with her presence two weeks earlier than expected. Right after her father's final fight.

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Caroline Anne Herrera was born on Sept. 11, 2022, at 8:33 p.m. in Austin, Minnesota.<br/>
Contributed photo.

"I was just so happy for both of us, especially (Kelly) because she had to carry Caroline for nine months. We've been waiting for this day for a very long time," Herrera said. "Just watching something that I've been wanting to feel, and that's being a father, for a very long time finally happened. It was a very proud moment for us both...being a father means more to me than all of my success in MMA."

Herrera finds it funny that his daughter was born in Austin, Minnesota but will be raised in Alexandria while he was born in Alexandria and raised in Austin.

He said he has been practicing his dad talk like, "No touching the thermostat," "No boyfriends," "Go ask your mom," and "Because I said so." He said he is even working on his "dad bod" and will make sure any future boyfriends know he was an accomplished MMA fighter.

Will he ever fight again? he says no, he is done for good. Although, he may participate in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu events every now and then. It's like wrestling but with submissions rather than pins. He has won over 120 Jiu-Jitsu tournaments and earned 40 gold medals and six championship title belts in the last 11 years.

Alexandria resident surpasses his fundraising mark for nonprofits combatting veteran suicide rates, mental health struggles

Herrera said it is the fighter inside of him that has brought him to where he is today — from a hungry child in impoverished conditions to a National Guard sergeant, nurse at Knute Nelson, and successful MMA fighter and fundraiser.

He has used his platform as a fighter to raise over $150,000 for various non-profits in the last 11 years. Herrera is third in the Tap Cancer Out fundraiser hall of fame . Herrera says since 2021, he has raised nearly $40,000 for the Jiu-Jitsu based 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which raises awareness and funds for cancer-fighting organizations.

In the past, he has contributed to:

  • Warriors Next Adventure, an organization that engages veterans in recreational activities after they’ve left active service.
  • Freedom Fishing Foundation, which provides fishing trips for veterans.
  • We Defy Foundation, a nonprofit that hosts Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and fitness training for veterans with military-related disabilities.
  • The Alexandria VFW.
  • Operation Freedom Outdoors, a nonprofit that organizes hunting trips for veterans.

He has also personally delivered Christmas presents to 300 children in Austin, purchased by Herrera through fundraising and selling rare sports memorabilia.

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Last year, he brought awareness to 22Kill, a social media movement now called One Tribe Foundation that raises awareness about suicide rates among veterans. The 22 comes from the average daily amount of veteran suicides. Herrera helped promote the foundation with the motto “Fight for 22” on the shirts he sells to raise money.

While he will not be fighting anymore, Herrera says he doesn't ever plan to stop fundraising and bringing awareness to important causes.

"There are lots of methods to fundraise that don't include fighting and ticket sales and beating people up," He said. "It'll be a challenge, but it'll be fun to kind of rediscover another method."

Until then, Herrera will be enjoying time with his daughter, Caroline, and his wife, Kelly.

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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