WINCHESTER — Former Strasburg resident Michael Capone said that he has always been goal-driven.

“Having an opportunity to give myself a new goal that betters me as a person and helps me grow as an individual was something that always spoke to me,” he said.

Capone, 25, and now living in Winchester, has been training and fighting as a mixed martial artist for the past three years. Capone wrestled at Strasburg High School, but after he graduated, he didn’t have any plans for his future.

“I wanted to go into the military, but that door got closed for me,” he said. “I became obsessed with doing my old routines and that kept me going. I found wrestling was what kept me grounded.”

Capone said he started looking into other sports, including jiu-jitsu, to fill the hole left by wrestling before discovering MMA.

“One day, I was out partying with one of my friends and he did MMA and he used to wrestle as well,” Capone said. “He told me to come to watch him fight and I went and watched and thought I could do this.”

Capone saw mixed martial arts as a way to “reboot his life.”

“I didn’t really keep my friends because to be in this sport, you’ve really gotta revolve your life around training, eating properly, sleeping properly, protecting yourself and doing what you need to do,” he said. “People who say they’re your friends won’t always stick around for that kind of adjustment.”

Capone said that his family has been supportive of his MMA journey.

“My mom wasn’t exactly all for this for a while,” he said. “She really likes it when I do MMA because I can still apply certain characteristics from wrestling and that’ll keep me safe. When I do boxing or muay thai fights, she gets a little worried. She doesn’t like me getting punched in the face.”

Capone trains with his girlfriend, Kelsey Gilmore, who is also an MMA fighter. Capone said that he and Gilmore help improve the other’s fighting game.

“Being polar opposites definitely made our relationship stronger,” he said. “Helping her where she’s weak and her helping me where I’m weak have made us a killer couple.”

When he isn’t training at Winchester Boxing and Fitness, Capone works full-time to help pay to stay in fighting shape.

“For the first two years we were training, Kelsey and I were bouncing back and forth between factory jobs,” he said. “We were working 12-hour days. Some days five days a week. Other weeks we were working between 60 and 80 hour weeks.”

Capone said that he and Gilmore had to sacrifice many luxuries, including going out to eat and going on vacation, in order to train for his fights.

“It’s about what you’re willing to sacrifice to meet your goals,” he said.

While Capone said that the training and cutting weight took some getting used to, he also discovered that the politics of the sport was also something he had to grapple with.

“I never understood how this sport would be more than just showing up, training, putting your time in, and competing,” he said. “The longer I’m in the game, the more I learn everybody has their own agenda. People who say they’re there for you aren’t always there for you.”

Capone said that the people and trainers at Winchester Boxing and Fitness have helped keep the politics to a minimum and to help him realize his goal of being an MMA fighter.

“We’ve been so blessed to find this gym and find these people,” he said. “Their goal is to build us up so we can reach our goals. You don’t find a lot of people willing to help you work on your goal just with the sole purpose of getting you there. This gym has definitely been there for us.

Capone, whose record currently stands at three wins and three losses, will fight George Billy in a flyweight championship bout for Cagezilla MMA Saturday in Ashburn.

“It’s going to be a really good fight,” Capone said. “I don’t really know how it’s going to go. I just know that I’m going to go in there and I’m going to make it a show. I’m going to put on 110% and I know he’s not going to be able to hang with me.”

– Contact Donald Lambert at dlambert@nvdaily.com