Following a two-year, injury-induced layoff, Factory X middleweight prospect Josh Fremd (6-1) returned to action in a big way this summer, notching two highlight-reel knockout victories in the LFA cage in short order.
For Fremd, 26, the relief of once again having his hand raised inside the cage was palpable.
“Oh, man, it was amazing. And one of the photographers caught the perfect picture of how I felt because I let out just this animalistic roar because it was such a long time being on the shelf,” Fremd told MMA-Prospects.
“I had a lot of personal issues come up during that time; it wasn’t just injuries. Moving cities, I’ve had jobs [where the employers] just went out of business, my car’s broken down a ton of times; I had to deal with walking to work for a couple of weeks, I had to deal with being broke,” continued Fremd.
But Fremd, and those around him, never lost hope.
“I always told my girl, like every day, just ‘Stick with me. Bare with me. It’s all gonna work out; it’s gonna come to fruition. I believe in it.’ And for it to come to fruition [in the LFA], I couldn’t ask for a better way to come back.”
Fremd defeated the previously undefeated Lamar Gosey (3-1) in short order, brutalizing the light heavyweight with a series of fight-ending knees to the head of his opponent at August’s LFA 89.
It was not the first time that Fremd, his family, and his longtime girlfriend took a leap of faith in pursuit of his mixed martial arts dream.
A native of the “little, blue-collar town” of Connellsville, Pennsylvania, Fremd did not gravitate immediately toward mixed martial arts.
“I played baseball most of my life; that was my first love… I wanted to play football really bad [in high school], so I started playing football and baseball. I ran track for a little bit,” recalled Fremd.
In ninth grade, however, Fremd took his first foray into combat sports.
“My freshman year, I wanted to wrestle. My first wrestling practice, I actually got the crap beaten out of me. These kids made me cry, like, in a ‘shark tank,’ and ever since then, I don’t know, I was drawn to it. I just really wanted to be good at it.
“I was always mediocre as a wrestler. I didn’t really start putting it together until my senior year, and then boom, it was over.”
Fremd would try to continue his wrestling career in college, but financial issues forced him to transfer from NCAA D-III school Thiel College (Greenville, PA) to Slippery Rock University, which discontinued their wrestling program years prior, effectively ending Fremd’s wrestling aspirations.
But fate intervened.
“I found a kid named Steve Mowry, and I found a gym not too far from school, so I was like, ‘You know what? I’ve always wanted to do this, so I want to jump into this.'”
Mowry, 28, now fights for Bellator MMA as one of the sport’s top heavyweight prospects. The undefeated Sanford MMA product grew up in Butler, Pennsylvania, just an hour from Fremd in Connellsville.
Once he made up his mind to try to pursue a career in MMA, Fremd gave himself a fixed set of expectations.
“I’m gonna give myself ten amateur fights, see how I do, and if it’s still there and I still want it, then I’m gonna pursue it. I would say, once I gave up football and decided to pursue MMA, after my first kickboxing match, I was hooked. I was in love with it. I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I want to try and make money out of it; I want to try and make the best career I can out of it.”
True to his word, Fremd fought as an amateur ten times, compiling a record of 8-2 replete with three knockouts and three submissions across promotions like King of the Cage, Pinnacle FC, and Iron Tiger Fight Series.
“I’d say it definitely made me ready for turning pro. I definitely wanted to learn as an amateur, and I was in college as an amateur, so I wasn’t really pushing – I mean, there were a couple of times, being a broke college kid, [when] I’d be on my coach like, ‘Ah, I want to turn pro; I need to start making money,’ – we all know mid-level pros don’t make so much money, so it was smarter to stay amateur and gain the experience and knowledge that I needed,” said Fremd.
Fremd would have to rely on that experience and knowledge sooner than expected, as he would receive a call to fight for Bellator in just his second pro fight as part of Bellator 186, which took place at Pennsylvania State University.
“It was really a blessing amongst a scary time in my life. At that time, I had just gotten out of college and made my pro debut not too long ago. I had tried to make a move out to Florida, because like I said, I’m friends with Steve, and my first goal was to get to Florida, but I ran into some legal issues, [and] there was a hurricane that flooded out our Airbnb, so I had to go home and deal with some stuff.
“[But] my coach just hit me up out of the blue and said, ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity for Bellator.’ They were having a card on State College, and I was close to it, so they were willing to put me on. I think, originally, I was supposed to fight [CFFC champion, Contender Series winner, and UFC fighter] Kyle Daukaus, but that fell through.”
Fremd would go on to face Ryan Parker (4-3), scoring a second-round rear-naked choke to remain undefeated as a professional.
“The experience was amazing. Getting to fight for Bellator, and being there when [Bellator heavyweight champion] Ryan Bader fought and all these big names [competed], it was just awesome. It was kind of addicting, because I saw low-level fights [and] the production they had, and then Bellator, obviously.
“I was just drawn to it. I was like, ‘If this is what it’s like, I can get used to this.’ I loved the lights, I loved the crowd, I loved everything about it. It was just so much adrenaline pumping through me. And to be able to win, it was just even more of a blessing to me.”
Fremd would suffer a unanimous decision loss, the lone defeat of his career to date, in his next fight for Pinnacle FC. However, he would bounce back in a big way, closing out 2018 with two wins in a successful return to form.
Fremd had just picked up and moved to Englewood, Colorado, to join the ranks of Factory X Muay Thai, a premiere MMA gym led by coach Marc Montoya that harbors UFC veterans Brandon Royval, Ian Heinisch, Alexander Hernandez, Yousef Zalal, and many other top fighters.
“It was weird how it all played out,” said Fremd of the move to Factory X. “As I said, I had always wanted to train down in Florida [alongside Mowry at Sanford MMA, formerly Hardknocks 365].
“But a teammate back in Pennsylvania, [UFC lightweight] Devonte Smith, came here a year or so before, and I saw the success he was having and the way he talked about the coaches and everything. And my girlfriend’s in the Air Force, so we were both talking and discussing [the move] because she wants to build up her G.I. Bill to go back to school, and there was an opportunity for her here in Denver. So… let’s give it a try,” concluded Fremd.
“It was tough, at first. When you join a bigger gym, they’re not going to be like, immediately, in the first couple of months, ‘Alright, yeah, we’re gonna get you a fight.’ I had to see if it was a good fit for me, I had to see if I fit in here, and if I was able to handle such high-level pros out here,” said Fremd.
“There was a learning curve, so I had to take time to adjust, especially to the altitude, the training, everything out here… but being surrounded with people like [UFC veterans] Chris Camozzi and Ian Heinisch, they took me in. They’re real cool. The culture out here is just amazing… we all take it seriously.”
But just as things began looking up for the 6’4″ standout, the perils of the fight game reared their ugly head.
“It was in jiu jitsu practice one day, toward the end of the day. I was having one of my better jiu jitsu days; I was feeling good. Literally last round, something in my knee just – I don’t know, something happened. I really couldn’t explain it very well – but, I couldn’t move my leg,” remembered Fremd.
“It ended up being a bucket handle meniscus tear,” said Fremd. According to Healthline, bucket handle meniscus tears account for nearly 10% of all meniscus tears and are considered “traditionally more difficult” to treat than their counterparts.
“I didn’t have health insurance at the time because I had just moved here, and my other health insurance ended a couple of months before I moved, so I wasn’t able to get any [extensive treatment]. I was just working with a limp for about a month or so until I could get that all figured out.
“Then, I finally got surgery on it, and it was a decent amount of recovery time because, still, it was weird how the insurance played out. I didn’t get to go to my [physical] therapy as much as I needed to and whatnot, but I’m thankful that… one of my friends back in Pittsburgh, my coach, is a physical therapist, and he kept in touch with me and helped me out a bit.”
Once his knee had finally healed to the point of returning to the gym, Fremd did so, taking practice slow as he rebuilt his strength and mobility. Then, disaster struck.
“I was helping one of my buddies, one of my teammates, get ready for his fight, and it was going well for me. But toward the end of the round, I got lazy, and I shot in… not a very good shot, there was probably like ten seconds left in the round. He threw a knee – he wasn’t wearing kneepads or anything, and it caught me right here, flush,” Fremd pointed to the right side of his face, “and busted my orbital. I knew it immediately. I could feel — I was able to push it in, and I was so upset.”
While he nursed the broken orbital, Fremd stayed in the gym as a “practice dummy,” desperate to get back to training and competing. Just as his medical clearances came in, the COVID-19 pandemic began, causing gym and promotional shutdowns and uncertainty.
“I just kept believing, ‘It’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen. I’ve put so much work, and effort, and sacrifice into this that I can’t stop now.'”
So when the call came from Legacy Fighting Alliance, a promotion known throughout the mixed martial arts community as the sport’s top developmental league that streams on UFC Fight Pass, Fremd was thrilled.
“I was ecstatic. When I got the call, I was just super elated. That’s a stage where I believe I can show my skills. I believe that I have the fighting style that’s gonna attract people to watch. I’m exciting. I like to throw caution into the wind and go for things, and I was just super happy.”
Fremd did just that at LFA 89, stopping the aforementioned Gosey after a barrage of knees opened a serious cut on the forehand of his opponent, leading to a first-round finish.
Just over a month and a half later, Fremd was back in the LFA cage for LFA 93, where he flattened Bellator and Contender Series veteran Antonio Jones (7-4), ending the fight with hellacious ground and pound.
As a pro, Fremd has gone the distance just twice. With three knockouts and two submissions among his six victories, Fremd has shown off impressive finishing instincts in his young career, earning wide acclaim from hardcore MMA fans in the process.
For Fremd, that comes down to his mentality inside the cage.
“My style is: I just like to be exciting. I like to go for the finish. I feel like my gas tank is one of my greatest assets; I feel like I can just go for days and I have a really good output. When I was back in Pittsburgh, [my game] was a lot more ground-based, but when the cage door closes, we understand what we signed up for, you know?
“‘You signed on the dotted line, and I signed on the dotted line.’ We’re gonna lock the door, and we’re going to get after it. My one buddy used to say back home, ‘It’s the ref’s job to stop me from killing you.’ I want to go out there, and I want to be as mean and as brutal as possible, and I expect the same from my opponent. I expect him to want to hurt me, and I expect him to have bad intentions coming after me. That’s what I signed up for,” said Fremd.
“That’s what I like. I like that fear. Montoya always says, ‘You gotta make friends with that fear, with that feeling.’ And I do, every single time. I think about it every time: this could be my last fight. I’ve broken my face before; something like that could happen, but I’m okay with it. Mentally, I’m okay with it. I’ve come to terms with it, and may the best man win.”
Following his two back-to-back wins, Fremd is eager to get back in the cage.
“It was awesome to get back in there, but it happened so fast to where I didn’t get to enjoy the moment. As soon as I got back in the hotel, I was talking to my coach like, ‘Alright, I want to do it again. We need to get back in there,’ and I’m the same way now after this fight. I’m healthy, and I can fight. I texted all my coaches and managers, ‘I’m ready to go. Let’s do it again.’ I had all that time off, so I have to make up for lost time. I want 3-0 in 2020, if possible.”
As for what’s next for Josh Fremd, the LFA middleweight title – a championship that has seen all five of its past holders (the aformentioned Heinisch, Eryk Anders, Brendan Allen, Anthony Hernandez, and Markus Perez) go on to the UFC – looms large.
In the main event of Fremd’s last appearance, LFA 93, Canada’s Aaron Jeffery reasserted his status as the top North American middleweight prospect with a defeat of Andre Petroski, a friend of Fremd’s. The Factory X standout would welcome a chance for revenge.
“I’ve seen A.J. pretty much my entire career because he’s fought in Pittsburgh as an amateur. I’ve seen him fight in Ohio, maybe. I know of Aaron Jeffery, and I saw how that fight went. Hats off to Petroski – just a couple of things that if he could’ve changed, he could’ve pulled that out, for sure; that’s a tough dude. I love him, he’s been nothing but a great training partner to me,” said Fremd.
“But, yeah, LFA gold. I want that, for sure. I don’t care who I have to fight for it. I would love to fight Aaron Jeffery because he’s, like you said, one of the top prospects in the U.S., and after watching the fight, I think I have a better skillset than he does. I think it would be a good fight. He might get picked up by the UFC, so who knows if he’ll even still be around, but it’s a fight I’m interested in. But LFA gold, of course I want that.”
The LFA also recently signed two-weight GLORY Kickboxing champion Alex Periera (2-1 MMA, 40-6 KB), known to many MMA fans as the lone man to defeat UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya twice, and also the lone man to knock out the undefeated Nigerian-New Zealander.
In a text to MMA-Prospects, Fremd welcomed a fight with the Brazilian striking star, adding, “That fight would be awesome to be able to step in and test my standup against one of the best!”
Like most fighters, however, Fremd’s ultimate ambitions are set on the UFC Octagon.
“I want to get to the UFC. I want to put my name in the hat; I feel like I belong with some of the best fighters out there. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m the best because I have such a long way to go, but I believe that I belong amongst the best,” Fremd said.
“I think that I can really make a run. I want the gold. Obviously, I’m gonna try my damnedest for that. I would love to get that, but I just want a seat at the table. I want to be amongst the best because I believe I’m there. I’m gonna be there.”