Just before Logan Storley enters the ring on Friday for the biggest fight of his career, his phone will ping with a message from his former high school coach. John Schiley, 66, follows the same pre-fight protocol for all his old wrestlers.
The message will contain a few words of encouragement and remind him of what he does best. It will also serve as a reminder of home, over 4,000 miles away in the small town of Roslyn, South Dakota which has a population less than 200. Storley's rural roots are far removed from concrete jungle of north London's Wembley arena, but on Friday night he will be the talk of his hometown with a global audience of thousands, and out to prove MMA champions can come from anywhere.
The 29-year-old (13-1) will fight for the interim Bellator welterweight belt against home favourite Michael 'Venom' Page (20-1), 35, in what will be his first world title shot -- an opportunity that arose as Yaroslav Amosov is serving for Ukraine in Russia's war on his country.
"I'm excited to bring this belt back to South Dakota and show it doesn't matter where you're from, you can end up anywhere," Storley tells ESPN.
Paying close attention will be former coach Schiley who spent 21 years coaching varsity wrestling at Webster High School (the town next to Roslyn; population: 1,728), and created a powerhouse. There were many successes over those years as his wrestlers racked up state championship titles, and his two most famed athletes are Storley and former MMA fighter turned wrestler, Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar is 15 years older than Storley, and set the standard in Webster for what it means to be a world champion. Their family farms are just three miles apart. They first met when Storley was five years old and starting out, while Lesnar was on his way to the NCAA DI heavyweight wrestling title at Minnesota. Storley says he can remember being surrounded by his friends as they watched Lesnar win the UFC heavyweight title in 2008, and he hopes to re-create that local pride.
"It gives me a lot of joy to drive back home," Storley says. "I can see the farm silos from two miles away. There's not a lot of people up there. Most don't ever leave home, so for me to get to travel the world, and be one of the best in the world, has meant a lot to me and the folks back home."
The man who connects the pair is Schiley, who keeps in contact with all his old wrestlers. He taught the pair of them since when they first entered the sport and they have a close bond. Schiley says he knew Storley would be a champion from his very first session.
If they got in trouble in school, Schiley was called over their parents, and when Storley needed to diet ahead of a fight to make weight, he would stay at Coach Schiley's house. "His mum couldn't get along with him when he was being so hangry trying to cut weight," Schiley says. "He was never hangry with me. I just laughed at him."
Schiley travelled all around the U.S. with Lesnar, who kept his old coach close by for confidence and a root back to where he started. Storley followed in Lesnar's footsteps, going to Minnesota where he became a four-time All-American. But that is where their paths diverged: Storley opted to go straight to Bellator, and more private, training in Florida and doing his own thing: He joined Bellator over UFC, won his first fight in South Dakota and got on a mean winning streak.
But Schiley still sends text messages, letting him know his old teammates are rooting for him. On Friday, that comfort might be the confidence he needs.
The Bellator welterweight belt against Page is the peak of his career so far and his first shot at a title. He has just one blemish in his 14-fight record -- a split-decision loss to Amosov in November 2020 -- and he desperate to take on a household name in British MMA. Storley is the bookies' favourite.
Just two weeks after his most recent bout with Neiman Gracie -- which he won via unanimous decision -- he was at home in Roslyn when his agent called and said there was a 5% chance of getting the Page fight. Within two days, discussions moved forward. By the end of that week he had flown back to his training base at Sanford MMA Deerfield Beach, Florida. This fight, even at short notice, has a lot riding on it.
"It doesn't really matter to me [what the bookmakers say]," Storley says. "At the end of the day, in a fight anything can happen, and MVP is a dangerous fighter. So I know I have a tall task ahead of me.
"[If it happens] then we'll have two world champions from a town of less than 2,000 people."