You probably don't know Kruchten. Despite his impressive MMA record of 11-3, he's not what you'd consider a 'big name.' In the grand scope of society, Kruchten is a hero.
You probably should know him.
Life hasn't been easy for Shane Kruchten. You'd probably expect nothing less from a guy nicknamed "The War Rhino.”
“It was by pure accident I even ended up in a cage to fight,” Kruchten told me.
Kruchten first fought nearly a decade ago, and lost a couple of his first pro fights. In a bit over his head, he started his career against eventual UFC fighters Luke Zachrich and Gerald Meerschaert. He later excelled in Xplode Fight Series -- a company known for it's one-sided matchmaking. That really wasn't any different for Shane. He was out of their league. It's been the case of many of his fights. Now in World Series of Fighting, the competition has increased, as has the pressure. Kruchten lost his last fight and spent over 30 months out of the cage.
Those losses were nothing to Kruchten, he'd fought and lost more important battles before and after. The cage, addiction, weight, and the battlefield.
“In 2009 I almost succumbed to the dark side of PTSD attempting to kill myself in June of ’09. It’s something that rides on my heart every day. You know, survivor’s guilt is no joke but at the same time since that day, switching teams and having a solid core individual group of individuals that support me 110% with my coaches and my training partners has allowed me to propel my career and myself in a positive direction in life,” said Kruchten.
PTSD because Kruchten spent years in the military. Now, Kruchten is battling to erase the stigma associated with it.
“Right out of the gate somebody hears 'Oh man that guy has PTSD' the biggest misconception that is heard 24/7 is always that people are crazy, that they can’t function in daily life, that you shouldn’t get in relationships with them, you shouldn’t even—almost treat them like lepers, literally,” Kruchten said. “I’ve heard this and the Marine Corps ostracized me when I got diagnosed with PTSD in the beginning, it’s gotten much better over the years thank goodness but unfortunately Marines like myself—and there were about 35,000 others that were just thrown to the wayside. At the same time people like us being thrown under the bus, it allowed other Marines that now suffer from it to get the proper care. It also allowed civilians to really learn what PTSD is. It is debilitating at times. To this day I suffer from it and my daily life is a roller coaster. Some days are so horrible but I’m always on like a upslide of life if you would, like on that climb of a roller coaster going doing loops but sometimes I hit deep pits that just shut down everything. The biggest misconception that people really see when they see me hit a pit is, 'Oh man we’re gonna lose him. Oh man he’s gonna go crazy' I’m not I just need space or I just need a positive shoulder to lean on at that time.”
Kruchten hasn't fought in two and a half years. He hasn't won in three and a half. Who knows how he'll look? A soldier, a fighter, a warrior, from San Diego landing all the way in the mecca of Madison Square Garden in New York City on New Year's Eve. However, Kruchten was originally supposed to compete in Denver earlier this year.
“Ray Sefo has always been a very stand up man I respect that man I’ve never had a boss in a fighting organization treat me with so much respect. I mean most bosses in a fighting organization would just shove it off to low man on the totem pole 'call this guy and tell him he’s not fighting.' Ray called me directly. I was at the gym, I had just finished a very hard training session, I was already starting to peak in my training and basically I was ready to go. He called me and he goes 'Hey I’m sorry we’re going to have to cancel your card in Denver' and literally my heart sunk so hard. My teammates said I looked like I was about to start crying in the gym and all of a sudden he goes but…we’re going to move you to Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve is that ok? Instantly I got so happy and I thanked him for not only the opportunity not only to represent World Series and the decagon but I said thank you very much for allowing me to put my brothers on the big platform. I have two dreams left in MMA and one was to fight in Japan and one’s always been to fight in New York and I’m chopping that off the bucket list. I’m an avid boxing fan so you know…Muhammed Ali, Jack Dempsey--the greatest of the greatest—Mike Tyson, Joe Frazier have fought at Madison Square Garden and now I get to share and walk through the hallowed gates. I think when I hit the tunnel it’s going to become real.”
Kruchten faces Jeremy Mahon, a Bellator and Legacy Fighting veteran who has won five of his last six fights. Mahon competed under the bright lights of Bellator's Shamrock vs. Gracie card earlier this year, and finishes his 2016 at Madison Square Garden.
The more you talk to Kruchten, the more you see his willingness to make a change. To help. To relate. A man who almost took his own life knows it was spared to affect others. To say that he affects others is an understatement. Despite having Mahon in front of him, “The War Rhino” has plenty on his plate.
“I'm on the national campaign team for Wounded Warrior Project," Kruchten told Fightful. "It’s been very amazing. I’ve been able to travel and I’ve been able to share my story of overcoming and triumphing from this. Trust me, like I said again just because somebody hears me say I triumph from it doesn’t mean I don’t deal with demons. I deal with demons every day but I’ve learned to deal with them in a positive way versus the negative, chasing my answers at the bottom of a bottle or doing any narcotics. Speaking to these other veterans with Wounded Warrior Project and being on the national campaign team, being able to share my story and people being able to hear my story is so amazing and it’s such a blessing to just sit there and see the face on these warriors and these warriors want to hear your story, it’s amazing. Like I said in interviews, I said it in my documentary 'If my worst day can be somebody else’s saving grace then it was all worth it at the end of the day.'”
Kructhen saw a major leap in competition in his last fight, which he dropped to Mike Corey. An eye poke hindered him, and he dealt with a plethora of additional distractions. He returns after many speculated he was done with fighting altogether.
“I had some difficulty in my fight. I got a really bad eye poke in my last fight, in the first round. I fought through it and unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know, my infant daughter was in the stands and my daughter was only 3 months old and she was in the stands that day. It was causing a rift in my family at the time. I was working a full time job, working 70 hours a week, training full time. I wasn’t really able to have a solid camp. I fought the #22 featherweight in the world. Hats off to Mike Corey, he won he was the better man that night. When I walked away from that fight I knew in my heart that God wanted me to take a step back. It was time to take a step back. I had an 11 fight winning streak at the time. I had rattled off 11 fights in about 3 ½ years. My body was tired. My brain was tired. I couldn’t give it anymore my gas tank was empty. World Series stood behind me and Ray always said when you’re ready we’ll have you back. I said thank you. Unfortunately family life has settled out, I am no longer married and it’s unfortunate. Now I’m a single father and I’m able to balance both very diligently and now I’m back and War Rhino is ready and refueled. There’s a fire inside of me that people are not going to expect when the see me back in the decagon,” said Kruchten.
The ups and downs of a fight career don't compare to those of the military life. For Krutchen, that experience advantage won't be one only he has. Mahon actually went to Iraq with him over a decade ago.
"He’s a standup individual," Kruchten said of his opponent. "I got a lot of respect for that dude. He and I actually invaded Iraq together in 2003 with the 5th Marines. We were both 5th Marines. So it’s kind of funny. I know his background. I know a couple of his training partners, he knows mine. A lot of people are asking me to spice it up and talk down upon him but he’s a man of God. He’s a family man and great father as am I and there’s a high level of mutual respect there. We both see eye to eye on pretty much every issue in our life. It’s going to be a respectful fight that we know what we are going in there to do. We know we are going in there to throw down and him and I text each other now and then…we were goofing around one time and we said basically people are going to see what a barracks brawl is all about. We are gonna go into the cage, beat the crap out of each other, give each other a hug, f*cking probably kiss on the cheek and go buy each other a drink afterwards."
PTSD, a marina, the cage. You'd think that the uphill climb and adversity associated with those -- both positive and negative -- would be enough for one life. Kruchten also fought weight issues -- he was 262 poounds in his first fight. He'd go on to compete at light heavyweight, middleweight, lightweight and featherweight. His fight at Mahon will be contested at 150.
"There were some problems. I wanted a 155, he wanted a 145 and finally World Series said hey screw it would you guys just do a catch? I said yes screw it I’ll just do a catch weight, no big deal. I got to give my hats off. World Series is allowing me to come in and display my skill again. That’s a huge opportunity. Not only is it a huge opportunity but they put me on one of their biggest cards they have ever thrown. To do that after almost a 2 ½ year layoff people are starting to question who the hell I am. They are wondering if I’m married to somebody in the organization," he said.
Kruchten has a lot going for him. Former UFC Bantamweight Title challenger Liz Carmouche is in his corner, and he trains with a number of UFC veterans. He's been profiled by NBC, featured on Netflix, and overcome a mountain of adversity. On New Year's Eve, he looks to further his career -- but he's not just doing it for himself.
"I’m sponsoring a Marine out of my fight purse to attend the Mighty Oaks Warrior Program. They going to be able to go to a week-long retreat for PTSD all-expense paid by me," Kruchten said, admitting it's a large portion of his purse.
You should really get to know Shane Kruchten.
WSOF 34 takes place December 31 from Madison Square Garden in New York City.