Jim Alers is a husband, father and teacher who’s adored by people around him for his gentle nature. But when he steps into the fighting cage, he transforms, demanding respect as “The Beast.”
“There are so many thoughts that go through your head before a fight,” Alers said. “I mean you are locked in a cage with another human being who has also been training hard and wants his hand raised as the winner just as I do.”
The UCF alumnus earned a bachelor’s in elementary education in 2011 and has been a professional mixed-martial artist in the Ultimate Fighting Championship since then. He’s currently training for a UFC fight on Dec. 19 at the Amway Center against Cole Miller (21-9-0 in the UFC).
Alers, who is 13-2-0 in the UFC with wins coming by nine submissions, two knockouts and two decisions, began fighting in 2008 while enrolled in UCF and won his professional MMA debut at what is now the CFE Arena.
Although he has trained in jiu-jitsu for more than 10 years, he didn’t make the choice to compete in the UFC until after he graduated.
UCF grad Jim Alers, also known as "The Beast," trains for an upcoming fight at Tough As Nails gym in Oviedo. Video by Daniela Marin, Central Florida Future
“I decided to give MMA a shot and work my way up from local to international shows, and now the UFC,” Alers said. “I guess I made the right choice.”
Yet, the epiphany of his doppelganger persona as an educator and fighter didn’t occur in the fighting cage — it happened while he was in class. One of his education professors at UCF, Todd Broadway, branded him “The Beast” after the mutant X-Men character who would transform from a loveable teacher to a strong, dominant beast when he was angry.
“Aside from the fact that most fighters never interned as kindergarten teachers, Jim is very real. Most people who meet him would think he’s just a cool guy you would want to hang out with, until they see him in the cage,” said his wife, Melisa.
Making the choice to go pro didn’t only benefit his transition into the UFC. Alers has a 1-year-old son and a newborn daughter with his wife, who said her husband’s endurance extends far beyond the fighting ring.
“As a result, he gets to spend a lot of time with our children. Our son is almost 2 and is a total daddy’s boy. It shows when I see them playing wrestling together,” said his wife, who is a math education graduate.
Knowing all too well the difficulty of hard knocks from his high school wrestling days, Alers will be dedicating more time to training in South Florida in order to prepare to win another championship title in December.
“Training for a fight is not easy at all. You just don’t wake up one day and say, ‘OK, let’s fight,’” he said.
Leading up to a match, Alers usually trains six to eight weeks at a fight camp, which is where fighters of the same team train.
His persistent training consists of a strict diet and daily workout routines for grappling, boxing techniques and strength training. His goal is usually to lose 30 pounds by the end of his training to meet the requirements of his 145-pound weight class.
His wife even recalled a time when she had to buy her husband sashimi to eat on Christmas Eve while the rest of the family partook in a holiday feast: “I know that part sucks.”
His disciplined training to be a successful fighter doesn’t just translate to the ring; it influences his other aspirations.
Alers and his friend, Erik Abreu, teach jiu-jitsu training classes to children ages 4 to 13 at Tough as Nails in Oviedo.
Abreu, a senior criminal justice major at UCF, recognizes his friend’s tentative agenda from training to being a father and an MMA instructor, and he hopes that audiences can also witness the tenacity Alers has.
“Normally, the guy that works hard and pushes harder than anyone else is the one who wins. I think, for Jim, what he wants to convey to people is he’s a really hard worker,” Abreu said.
Although Alers may be preoccupied with his career in the UFC, he always finds time to tap into his educational background to mentor young fighters.
“I also want to help up-and-comers in the sport achieve their goals as well,” he said. “There are many young fighters who need guidance. It is very easy to put your career in the hands of someone who doesn’t have your best interest at heart.”
Remaining dedicated and humbled to his goals of training hard to become a stronger athlete, the ambitious UFC fighter will continue to prove his abilities in the cage to those who underestimate him.
“They said, ‘I’m cool, calm and collective,’” Alers said. “But when that cage door closes, I turn into ‘The Beast.’"
Shanae Hardy is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Email her at ShanaeH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.