When Spencer “The Rhino” Woodland took his first amateur fight, he didn’t last a minute before losing by TKO. Now, three years and three fights later, he still hasn’t needed more than a minute to get the job done — except now he tends to be on the victorious side.

Woodland, a law enforcement officer in Eastern Idaho, intends to go as far as he can in MMA. In a perfect world, he would make a living off of it. While MMA doesn’t pay his bills at the moment, his tactical expertise does come in handy at his day job.

“In terms of law enforcement, when you’re dealing with someone who’s maybe aggressive or wanting to fight you, having this knowledge here on the mats translates directly to that. I’m able to keep myself safe and keep others safe,” Woodland said.

Isaac Payne, a former sergeant in Eastern Idaho and Woodland’s coach, spent many hours training officers on defensive tactics.

“He’s the archetype we want to model,” Payne said. “We want every cop to train in jiu-jitsu, to be good at boxing, to be so proficient that wherever they show up, people are safer because they’re there.”

While Woodland isn’t at liberty to share specific stories of times when his MMA skills have come in handy, he said he uses them often.

“Most interactions, you show up and people want to resist or fight with you. It ends up being anticlimactic,” Payne said. “It’s not even a workout for a guy like Spencer.”

Woodland’s next task is to find more fights and gain more exposure. Three of his four fights have been at the Fierce Fighting Championship in Idaho Falls, while the other was in Helena, Montana. He wants to find fights in other parts of the country to build his reputation and sharpen his abilities.

Fight Preparation

To prepare for his fights, Woodland does fight camps, which can range from eight to 12 weeks. They include both skilled and cardio-based workouts, as well as a diet that helps him to cut weight before his fight.

His days during fight camp usually consist of going to class at PAC Jiu-Jitsu, going home to run a mile, working out and then running another mile.

The last week of fight camp mainly consists of weightcutting. He sits in a sauna, runs in a plastic suit, bathes in Epsom salts and eats nothing but light meals.

“It is brutal,” Woodland said, adding that in his most aggressive weight cut, he lost 22 pounds in a week.

Spencer Woodland and Isaac Payne spar at PAC Jiu-Jitsu.

Spencer Woodland and Isaac Payne spar at PAC Jiu-Jitsu. Photo credit: Brogan Houston

He receives help from his sponsor, Teton CrossFit, in terms of meal planning. His pre-fight diet typically consists of fruit, yogurt, salad, fish — especially salmon — and other light foods.

Woodland also mentioned that Payne is particularly savvy with plant-based meals, so he gets lots of help there.

With as much structure as there is to fight camps, Woodland said it’s ultimately up to him to ensure they get done.

“A lot of it is integrity-based,” Woodland said. “You have to be able to do it when no one’s around … It all depends on how good you want to be in the cage.”

Woodland accepted his first fight with less than six months of training — a “terrible idea,” according to him.

“When you start thinking you want to fight, you should start preparing right then and there,” Woodland said.

Fight Day

Spencer Woodland and Isaac Payne spar at PAC Jiu-Jitsu.

Spencer Woodland and Isaac Payne spar at PAC Jiu-Jitsu. Photo credit: Brogan Houston

The night before his fights, Woodland is like a kid who’s about to go on vacation: sleepless, thinking about the impending adventure.

“I’m like, I gotta go fight somebody tomorrow,” he said. “I’m gonna get punched in the face. Great.”

That being said, he knows he’s prepared. He lounges around the house, watching TV and hanging out with his family until it’s time to leave.

When he gets to the venue, he continues to rest and stretch until it’s time to wrap his hands and go.

“Fight day is super, super mellow,” Woodland said.

That being said, there’s still plenty of stress.

“Anyone who says they’re not stressed or not scared or not worried, they’re either stupid or they’re lying,” Payne said.

Woodland’s pre-fight playlist is as unique as they come. Yes, it has the typical heavy rap, such as Eminem, Future and Kendrick Lamar, but it also includes African tribal music.

In his late teens and early twenties, Woodland served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Eastern Africa. While there, he spoke Lusoga, Luganda and Kinyarwanda — not a common array of languages for blonde-haired people like Woodland.

Ahead of his most recent fight, Woodland reached out to a friend in Rwanda to ask for some tracks. He played them in the gym the week leading up to his fight and ultimately chose one to walk out to ahead of his bout.

In the Ring

Spencer Woodland enters the ring ahead of his January 2024 fight with Valiami Kulu.

Spencer Woodland enters the ring ahead of his January 2024 fight with Valiami Kulu. Photo credit: Hannah Brown

Woodland never goes into a bout expecting to only fight one round, although that’s what has happened every time so far.

“I think that speaks a lot to the power we have and what we can do in a short amount of time, but it’s never expected that I’m gonna go in and do this as fast as I can,” Woodland said. “I’m ready for a war. I’m ready to get hit. I’m ready to get beat up. I’m ready to beat somebody up.”

His last fight was a quick defeat, but he came out of it with a new perspective on what he had to do to accomplish his goal.

“Unfortunately this last time around, he just hit really hard and that’s all it took,” Woodland said.

Next Steps

Woodland is now trying to build his presence within the MMA world, accepting every possible interview — even those with student journalists.

What’s more important, though, is maintaining a professional public image. Payne says that’s something that Woodland does well.

Spencer Woodland poses with his coach, Isaac Payne, at PAC Jiu-Jitsu.

Spencer Woodland poses with his coach, Isaac Payne, at PAC Jiu-Jitsu. Photo credit: Brogan Houston

“With every win, it’s easy to build that ego,” Payne said. “In a sport that kind of rewards bad behavior and being that less-than-likeable person, kind of a heel, Spencer’s not that guy. He’s still a good man. That’s hard to do in our sport, and he’s achieved that.”

Woodland is preparing every day for his next shot.

“We’re training,” Woodland said. “We haven’t stopped. We’re always going to be ready to get back in the cage.”