David "Bulldawg" Michaud grew up in Pine Ridge, and as a teenager came up through the ranks of the mixed martial arts world during the industry's wild west days.
He caught the national spotlight for a while with a stint in the MMA world's highest profile fighting league, the UFC — including a season on the UFC/Fox Sports serial,The Ultimate Fighter. Nowadays, he lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona. This weekend he's back for the "Rage in Rapid," his first Rapid City fight in three years.
SDPB spoke with the Bulldawg about the old days of fighting-for-pay at the Sturgis Rally, and how it feels to come back home.
SDPB: How did you get into mixed martial arts?
DM: I grew up in Pine Ridge and grew up wrestling, then playing football. I was always kind of interested in MMA. My dad would order the pay-per-views and stuff, or if there were local fights around we’d go watch them. Then, between my freshman and sophomore year in high school, he asked if I wanted to go up to Sturgis and test out some of the fights at the Busted Knuckle Saloon [now The Knuckle]. During the Rally, they’d have fights every year. I said sure why not.
My first time I ended up winning against a bigger, older guy. After the fights, all the bikers would throw money in to the winner if they thought you had a cool fight. So my first fight, they threw in like sixty bucks and I thought I was ballin’. After that, I just decided to keep going with it.
[A local promoter] was getting started, just as I was starting to fight. It was pretty big. We’d fill up the Barnett Arena at the Civic Center. That was mostly where I fought in high school. You know, I didn’t want to travel too far, and those were the only fights in Rapid.
SDPB: Now that the fighting business is more organized, would you still have those kinds of opportunities today?
DM: Now, in South Dakota — once the commissioning came about, there’s been a lot less shows. But I think that’s for the better, because a lot of the shows weren’t doing things the right way. Before the commission, they didn’t require blood work or physicals or eye exams. If you’re gonna hold a fight, you actually have to be invested in it and put a lot more work into it, you can’t just go in, set up a ring, sell tickets the day of, and hope that it goes well.
When I was first starting it was anything goes. You’d have a pro fighting an amateur, or a guy that just showed up, never trained before. They’d just ask anyone from the crowd if they want to fight.
I’m not saying that wasn’t fun when I was doing it, but it’s definitely a lot safer and better [now] for everybody involved.
SDPB: Where is home base nowadays?
DM: I live in Phoenix now. I train at the MMA Lab. I still miss South Dakota all the time, but I got a lot of good guys down here to train with.
SDPB: What's it like to come back to Rapid City, back to the Civic center?
DM: I haven’t fought West River at all for like three years now. So it’s good to be able to get back there and be a little closer to home. I’ve always felt like everyone from the reservation has really supported me. Even when I first started, we’d have five or six guys on a card and we’d get like fifteen hundred people from the rez up to the Civic Center. And it’s a good time. I really enjoy it. I’m definitely hoping that it.s the same like it was. Because the crowds used to get pretty wild, and I hope it’s just like that. I hope nothing’s changed from the first time I fought there till now.
David Michaud squares off against Tyler Milner Saturday night at the Rapid City Convention Center as part of the Sparta Combat League’s “Rage in Rapid.”