Laporte, Ind., Local 531 wireman and professional mixed martial arts fighter Jonathon Appelman (center, with fists raised), poses with some fellow members attending one of his bouts.

After working all day, many IBEW members look forward to going home, having dinner and relaxing. But not Laporte, Ind., Local 531 member Jonathon Appelman.

“I’m going to take it as far as I can and as far as my body
will let me,” says Jonathon Appelman, Laporte, Ind.,
Local 531 journeyman inside wireman and professional mixed
martial arts fighter.

I might work 12 hours a day and still go to the gym after,” said the journeyman inside wireman, who has kept such a brutal schedule for his side gig as a professional mixed martial arts fighter.

The “mixed” refers to the range of self-defense and combat techniques that the sport draws from, such as boxing, wrestling, judo and karate.

Appelman credits his friend and fellow MMA fighter Henry Huff for sparking his interest in the sport. “I was like, if this guy can do it, I can, too,” Appelman said.

The challenge was that the experienced Huff had made MMA look easy, while Appelman was coming into the sport with zero fighting experience.

In high school, Appelman had learned welding, but after his brother-in-law helped him get an electrical job, Appelman found his way toward an apprenticeship with Local 531 and, eventually, a solid union career.

Once he was in the apprenticeship a couple of years later, Appelman would work during the day and take evening classes — and then still go to a gym for MMA training and conditioning afterward. But because he was getting into the sport in his 20s — much later than most MMA fighters do — it took almost two years for Appelman to get to where he felt ready to compete, he said, and to lose enough body fat to reach his goal of 135 pounds to fight in the bantamweight class.

“For the first few months, [Huff and I would] go to the gym every night after I would get off work,” Appelman told Northwest Indiana Business Magazine. “He told me that if I wanted to do this, I had to have the determination to want to do it. And I had to do something every single day, no matter how tired I was from work.”

Appelman topped out of the apprenticeship in 2015 and had his first MMA fight as a bantamweight amateur that December. His hard work and commitment paid off: He won that bout in the second round, using a judo and jiu-jitsu choke maneuver that can render an opponent unconscious within 10 seconds.

Over the next six years, Appelman’s day job as an IBEW wireman would put him on a variety of projects at places like schools and hospitals. In his free time, he continued to train and occasionally to fight, racking up an impressive record of seven wins — including two competition titles — and just three losses.

Since he turned professional last year, Appelman has fought in three more MMA bouts, winning two of them, including his last fight March 18. In that match, he claimed victory in just over a minute after employing a “Von Flue choke,” driving his opponent’s shoulder into the floor of the caged ring while putting pressure on a carotid artery.

The wireman remains grateful to have the kind of union job that allows him to pursue his interest. “I wouldn’t be able to be where I’m at if it wasn’t for the help of all the people that were my journeymen when I was an apprentice,” he said in the magazine article.

One of those journeymen was Jim Clarida, who is now Local 531’s business manager. “Jonathon is a great worker. What a success story,” said Clarida, who, along with several others from the 450-member local, has been spotted proudly cheering on Appelman from ringside.

These days, Appelman is a traveler, working as a general foreman with Cupertino Electric on a solar farm job outside Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “This job has really let me learn a lot and broaden my experience,” he said.

As this article was being prepared, Appelman wasn’t sure when his next fight would take place.

“My days are full and I’m still trying to work out, but it’s been hard to find a gym,” he said. “I can still work on my grip strength and do some flexibility drills.”

Appelman said he feels healthy, but he admits that he’s picked up a few knee injuries along the way. “Nothing I can’t get fixed,” he said. “I’m going to take it as far as I can and as far as my body will let me.”