Josh Hinger insists he isn't a violent person.
He spent two years in the Peace Corps after college, helping people in a Turkmenistan village. Most days, he eats the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He has a great girlfriend.
On the mat, Hinger - a trainer at Undisputed Fitness & Training and a professional jujitsu fighter - goes out of his way to keep from seriously injuring his opponents.
"I don't like hurting people," he said. "When I get people in submission (holds), I give them plenty of time to get out of it.
"I don't choke anybody unconscious, unless they want to be choked unconscious. … I like helping people."
Last month, the Tucson trainer helped himself.
Fighting in the Grapplers Quest U.S. Nationals at the Ultimate Fighting Championships Fan Expo, Hinger, 28, took third place in his weight class.
Rather than go home, Hinger entered into a no-weight-class tournament the same day. He advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to star Jeff Monson.
Hinger's a rising star in a sport that receives far too little attention. Here are four reasons to root for him:
1. He's got a great back story. Rocky Balboa has nothing on Hinger, a fighter who's back story seems the stuff of a Hollywood script. He withdrew from the California Interscholastic Federation state wrestling tournament as a high school senior because he was unable - and unwilling - to "cut" the weight necessary to compete.
The story made headlines. The New York Times even wrote a story about him.
Hinger learned no-gi jujitsu while attending UC-Irvine - there was a gym near campus - before enrolling in the Peace Corps. For two years, Hinger lived and volunteered in a Turkmeni village. He even took part in a few wrestling tournaments.
"I wrestled a few guys out in a dirt field," he said. "If you won, you got a goat."
2. He took a chance. Hinger returned to Orange County, Calif., in 2008, just as the economy was collapsing. Fearing for his financial security, he took a job as a teller at Bank of America and spent extra time in the gym. During that time, despite the economy, Hinger resolved to become a professional fighter and trainer.
Hinger connected with Jason Bukich, a no-gi jujitsu blackbelt who moved to Tucson to work at Undisputed. The two nonviolent fighters were kindred spirits.
Bukich "is a very Zen Buddhist kind of guy - and he looks like Jesus," Hinger said.
When Bukich left Tucson for a job in Taiwan last year, Hinger was chosen to replace him. He arrived in the Old Pueblo in March 2009; within months, the California fighter had a stable of students and a surging pro career.
"It was a dream come true," he said.
3. He has great nicknames. Hinger's official biography lists him as "The Candyman," "The Hurricane," "The White Rabbit" and "The Nap-Sack."
A few of the monikers are easy to explain. Hinger adores sweets - he has a cinnamon roll every morning - and is extra-intense in the ring. A sparring partner nicknamed him "The White Rabbit" because he was so fast when they fought.
"The Nap-Sack" is a little more complicated - and probably Hinger's favorite.
Hinger likes to jump on his opponents' backs so he can "choke them out," a move that typically leads to submission. At 5 feet 10 inches and 170 pounds, he can look a little bit like a knapsack - a small backpack.
"The pun is, with 'The Nap-sack,' you're going to sleep," he said.
4. He's tangled with the best. Hinger was tested by two of his sport's top fighters at Grapplers Quest. Surprisingly, he fared well against both of them.
He faced Bill Cooper in his weight class semifinals - "and I gave him hell," Hinger said - before falling short.
"Still, it was basically the best match of my career," he said.
Hinger squared off against Monson, a fighter "who's like grappling a rhinoceros," later that day.
Hinger took Monson down early, earning two points. Hinger set the fighter up for three moves - a triangle choke, a guillotine choke and an arm-bar - but couldn't execute. Monson won 5-2 on points.
"He just bulled right out of all of them," he said. "You can't choke a man with no neck."