Erick Correa: The Pastor Who Packs a Punch in the MMA Ring

It would be fair to say that many of us fall victim to being stereotyped on a regular basis. People will make broad assumptions about us just based on our appearance or what we do. If you are tall, then you must have played basketball. If you are from the inner city, then you will like rap music. If you work at Walmart, some people will assume you probably didn’t graduate high school. While stereotypes can be accurate depictions, most of the time they are a gross misrepresentation of a person based on our flawed assumptions.

Take the stereotype of a church elder: gentle, peaceful, well-educated, good with words, and one who loves God deeply. Now, consider the stereotype of a mixed martial artist: aggressive, violent, a jock, good with their fists, and a person who probably isn’t very loving. These two generalities seem to be polar opposites. Yet, what if I were to tell you that these roles are compatible with each other? Not only are they compatible, but both of these roles are being filled by a man named Erick Correa.

Erick is a 30-year-old man from Chicago who fills many roles in his life: Christian, husband, daddy, personal trainer, MMA fighter, and church elder. In his eyes, he is not defined by his many roles. He’s also not defined by his MMA win-loss record, which stands at an impressive 4-1. He is not an MMA fighter who happens to be a Christian. Erick Correa is a follower of Christ who is defined by Christ and Christ alone. Correa says that the calling of his life is summed up in Romans 14:6, “Anything I do, I do for the glory of God.” Everything he approaches in his life is an act of worship, from fighting in the ring to serving his church. Even as I interviewed Erick for this piece, he was taking his daughter to the gym with him to give his wife a break as she cared for their one-week-old son. This hulking man on the outside, 6 feet and 262 pounds, reveals a gentleness that only comes through the work of the Spirit. He shows that a man can fight for a living and still love God, love his wife, and shepherd his family.

Erick is a man who was created by God to lead. “My gift is to shepherd, and it has always kind of been,” says Correa. He has been a natural leader from being a kid in little league sports to being a successful Golden Gloves boxer. The leadership of Legacy Christian Fellowship recognized not only Erick’s leadership qualities but also saw that Correa fit the qualities of a church elder. Since stepping into the role of elder, he has been a faithful and loving shepherd to the congregation at Legacy.

Correa says he sees no disconnect between being an elder and an MMA fighter. While visitors at Legacy can sometimes be standoffish to Erick when first discovering his MMA lifestyle, he allows his life and love for God to show who he really is. Some people may say that MMA is incompatible with the Christian life because of the violence. Yet, that same thinking could be applied to the violence we find in football, but we have no problem elevating Tim Tebow and Kurt Warner to the level of Christian role models. MMA can be a picture of something greater. As Correa says, “I feel that my MMA career is a metaphor for the Christian life.”

MMA is a sport that takes an incredible amount of discipline and preparation. A fighter has to eat well, train hard, be coached well, and make a number of sacrifices. The Christian is one who must feed on the Word of God, is always at war with the flesh, is sharpened by other believers, and is called to give of themselves sacrificially. Paul makes a direct tie to fighting and the Christian faith as it says in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27:

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Fighting the flesh and fighting for the faith are essential parts of the Christian life. We have to remember that fact before we assume guys like Erick Correa live and fight in a way contrary to Scripture. We should see the living picture of the Christian life. A call to be both strong and gentle, fierce and gracious, passionate in victory and resilient in defeat.