Josh Boyd isn't a mixed martial arts fighter, or an MMA coach or trainer or official, either. So, there's no particular reason that any of the fighters gathering backstage for a recent Tuff-N-Uff MMA event at the South Point should recognize him.
Yet, Boyd, a boyish-looking guy of 35 with spiky hair and the kind of personality that immediately puts you at ease, turns out to be a pretty popular guy here.
Fighters smile and nod a greeting to Boyd as they pass by. A few come up to shake his hand or trade a fist bump or a quick man-hug. Some fighters talk quietly to him for a few minutes. Then, when they all head off to do whatever it is they need to do to prepare for their fights, it's with a sincere smile from Boyd.
Boyd is a missionary of sorts, a man of God who works in the violent world of mixed martial arts. As chaplain to MMA fighters and MMA fighter hopefuls, Boyd meets athletes on their own turf to pray, worship, counsel or just offer a few encouraging words or a bit of practical help.
Two years ago, Boyd founded a nonprofit organization called Fight Church (www.fightchurch.com) to assist in his ministry. Boyd's congregation is found in valley gyms and at fights, where Boyd usually can be found lugging crates, taping hands and doing whatever needs doing, all in an effort to get fighters to know him and then let them know that, if they ever need him, he'll be there.
Boyd makes "a huge difference" in fighters' lives, says Kerry Hartney, Tuff-N-Uff's fight coordinator, who met Boyd about five years ago.
"A lot of people think fighters are all about violence and they're out for blood," Hartney says. "But, honestly, they are very religious, spiritual people. He helps them prepare themselves mentally for what they're getting ready to do. He gives them spiritual guidance, and that's something fighters need from outside of their immediate realm.
"He's phenomenal," Hartney says. "I mean, when you see him, you think, 'No way,' but when you get to talking to him, he just gives you a calm peace. He's a good person. Everybody knows about him and everybody knows what he does."
Boyd, who was born in northwest Indiana, says he felt called into ministry when he was about 16.
"I just knew I wanted to do this," he says. "I was mentored by a youth pastor, and I was inspired by him, and I thought, 'Maybe I'll go into youth ministry.' I saw how kids were at my school in high school, growing up, and I thought, 'Man, these kids really need help, and teenagers especially.'
"I could tell the culture was kind of shifting, and I just felt in my heart that I should help young people first, I guess."
After attending Bible college in Forth Wayne, Boyd spent several years serving as a pastor - most often as a youth pastor - at Assemblies of God churches in Indiana. By then, Boyd had married his high school sweetheart, Rebecca. They have three children: Josiah, 14, Rachel, 12, and Joel, 11.
Then, during the early '90s, Boyd discovered mixed martial arts.
"I'd go to Blockbuster Video looking for the next VHS tape, and go to every Blockbuster and Box Office Video three towns over, looking - 'Oh, here it is, UFC 3,' " Boyd recalls, laughing. "Then I started ordering pay-per-view and inviting some guys over. By the time we left Indiana, we were having some pretty big fight parties at our house with guys from the church."
After working in full-time ministry in Indiana for about 10 years, Boyd and Rebecca felt a desire to, he says, "do something different, something out of the box."
"We knew it was going to be relationship-driven and all about loving people and taking care of practical needs," Boyd continues. "Obviously, we were inspired by the faith aspect of it and, ultimately, that would be our goal. But when people are hungry, their first instinct isn't to reach out to God or religion. They want someone to help pay the utility bills, they want to keep the water running and the gas on.
"We thought we'd, maybe, end up going to Africa and doing a clean water project or something like that. We were doing a 40-day fast, just kind of trying to seek God and figure out what was next for us, and a friend of ours said he was going to Las Vegas to start a church and would we care to come along.
"It sounded exactly like what we were looking for," Boyd says.
In June 2007, the family moved to Las Vegas. And although that particular church project wasn't quite what Boyd and Rebecca were looking for, "we knew we were supposed to be here," Boyd says. "Whether we went walking down the Strip or walking at Red Rock (Canyon National Conservation Area), we knew this was home."
The Boyds ran a house church for a while with some friends from Indiana, while Boyd worked at an Albertsons supermarket. But it wasn't until he attended an MMA fan expo that it all came together.
Boyd saw a booth from a minister in Washington state who pastored to MMA fighters and called himself "fight pastor."
"I was like, 'Fight pastor! That's me!' " Boyd says with a laugh. "I love fighting and I love being a pastor."
Boyd spent a year ministering here under the wing of an existing ministerial organization before striking out on his own with Fight Church. It's an unusual ministry, in part because there's no church for fighters to attend and no structure of the sort found in a physical church.
Instead, Boyd's is a ministry of presence. He visits gyms, introducing himself to fighters, dropping off cards and explaining what he does. In addition, he volunteers to help out at fights as another means of becoming acquainted with fighters.
And, Boyd says, it works. While volunteering at that Tuff-N-Uff event almost two weeks ago, Boyd received a text message from a fighter who wasn't at the event but who told Boyd that "it's good to know you're there."
Before a fight, Boyd may offer up a prayer with fighters who wish for him to do so, and will wish fighters luck. After a fight, he'll stop by to offer congratulations to winners and consolation and encouragement to losers.
"I'm just trying to lay the groundwork," Boyd explains. "Then, if their life starts to go off-track, if the wheels start to come off, they can say: 'Hey, I know that guy. He's not just some stranger,' because no one's going to start to spill their guts to someone they don't know.
"So, a lot of the stuff most people would think is not productive here, I'd say is the foundation. And, for me, personally, this is a major part of what I do."
Boyd notes that MMA is a demanding sport that can require hours of training every day. The time demands, coupled with the lack of income from a regular, or just low-paying, job can cause financial pressures and marital strains, Boyd notes.
Boyd says he has had fighters over to his house for dinner and has passed out grocery store gift cards to cash-strapped fighters. "I try to partner with as many different companies that I can so I can get them apparel and gear."
In addition, MMA fighters tend to be young, and many arrive in Las Vegas with no church, no pastor, no family and no social support system. That, Boyd says, can make them susceptible to bad influences, lead them to make bad choices, or just leave them feeling adrift and discouraged.
Tom Morales has been competing in MMA for about two years and says he met Boyd when the chaplain "just approached me and told me what he's doing and (asked) if I wanted to take prayer with him."
At the time, "I was going through some trouble myself," Morales says. "I just called him and talked to him, and he kind of helped me out. He invited me to dinner, and we've been working together since then.
"Everybody he meets and talks to seems to be lifted, or at least cheered up, by his presence," Morales says. "He makes a real big difference."
Fight Church still is a small ministry. The organization's entire 2013 budget is projected at just more than $28,000, and Boyd says financial support for it comes from a few valley churches and a handful of private donors.
"Most of them send just 20 bucks a month," Boyd says. "I have a couple of very generous people who send $100 a month. But we have a bare bones budget and we're just trying to make it happen."
A few weeks ago, veteran Las Vegas trainer Lance Foreman offered Boyd the use of his private gym for Fight Church gatherings and its first official office. Boyd - who until now worked mostly with small groups of fighters, usually in gyms or at his home - hopes to conduct Fight Church's first worship gathering there in a few weeks.
Foreman says he offered the use of his gym to Boyd because "I see the need.
"Everybody I talk to about Fight Church thinks it's great," he says. "It's very well-received."
Still, for some - including, Boyd says, ministers - the mere idea of combining mixed martial arts with religion seems, well, odd, if not contradictory.
"The biggest struggle I have - the biggest antagonists, I guess - are church people," Boyd says, many of whom aren't familiar with the sport and some of whom object to it once they find out about it.
"Yeah, it's a hard sell," Boyd admits. "But, for the most part, if pastors would give me the time of day and let me have a conversation with them, at the end of the conversation I'm able to educate them."
Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.