When George "Comanche Boy" Tahdooahnippah steps into the ring against junior middleweight Delvin Rodriguez at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., on Friday (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 9 p.m. ET), he'll be a big underdog on by far the biggest stage of his professional boxing career. But it won't be the first, or even necessarily the most important, fight he has undertaken.
When he isn't lacing up the gloves, Tahdooahnippah spends much of his time working to address a rampant health epidemic that's even more pronounced among his people than the rest of American society.
According to the American Diabetes Association, American Indians and Alaska Natives are more than twice as likely to develop diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. The prevalence of the disease in those communities among youth age 15 to 19 increased by 68 percent from 1994 to 2004.
That's a tide that Tahdooahnippah, a fitness instructor for the Comanche Nation's diabetes program, hopes to stem.
"One hundred and fifty years ago, my people were wild. We lived off the laws of nature," he said. "We went from hunter-gatherers to being able to pull up to a store, buy our food and supersize it if we want it. It's very tough. Even for me as a fighter, I go through portion control, and I've had to train myself to eat right. It's hard. I can't do it all the time, but you just have to practice it."
Education, he points out, is the key, as is exercise.
"I do different programs to get our people to exercise, just to get them to do any kind of physical activity," he said. "We provide incentives -- anything we can do to get people moving."
If Tahdooahnippah can be a shining example, so much the better. It's something that he has striven to be since he was an All-American wrestler at age 15. Although he recognizes he doesn't have anything like the depth of experience in boxing that most 34-year-old televised main eventers might be expected to have, he argues that, to some extent, his lengthy wrestling career helped steel and prepare him for a sport he didn't take up until he was 23.
"I went to international tournaments; I've been to Japan," he said. "Having that competition -- the nerves, being one-on-one, having to make weight, having to perform in the spotlight -- I have all that from wrestling. Not only the experience from that but also the strength and the balance. I've brought all of that to boxing."
But, he points out, that was wrestling, and that was then.
"It's boxing now."
Which is all that will matter when the bell rings Friday. Whereas Rodriguez is no stranger to "Friday Night Fights" or the big stage, Tahdooahnippah is a virtual unknown who has fought 31 times in his native Oklahoma and just once as far afield as Texas. That aspect of his biography earned something of a derisive snort from ESPN's Teddy Atlas last week, but it's something about which Comanche Boy is unapologetic.
Being an Oklahoma-based fighter with no amateur experience and few contacts meant his options were limited, he argues. Besides, "Oklahoma has a lot of Indian casinos, and I'm an Indian fighter. So I had a lot of opportunities to fight and make good money. I've got a family to support. You're putting your head on the line, so you may as well try to make some money from it at the same time."
We'll find out soon enough whether that will count against him when he takes a huge step up in class -- in another casino, but one far from home -- against Rodriguez. In any case, Tahdooahnippah is exultant in advance of the battle, perhaps befitting of his heritage.
"The world's going to see a real-live Comanche Indian that's coming to full effect, just like in the 1800s," he said. "I'm coming to win, and I'm coming to represent all my Native American people. We're here to compete, and we're here to win."