AUBURN — Jesse “The Viking” Erickson has survived more than 30 Maine winters and whole bunch of professional fights. 

What chance does a grizzly bear stand against him? 

We’ll soon find out. Erickson, 32, of Auburn will be seen Saturday night on the Discovery Channel going to battle with a grizzly bear — actually three grizzlies — as part of Discovery’s new show “Man vs. Bear.” 

Jesse Erickson of Auburn faces off in a tug-of-war with a grizzly bear named Bart, who is also known as “The King of the Mountain,” on the new Discovery Channel show “Man vs. Bear.” Discovery Channel

The show is described this way: “Each week, three human competitors will go up against grizzlies in challenges based off the bears’ natural instincts and predatory skills. There is tug-of-war, tree climbing and an eating contest — think of it as American Ninja Warrior, but with bears.” 

Sound horrifying? You have to “bear” in mind that Erickson has been fighting all his life, including roughly 17 professional mixed martial arts scraps. Grizzly bears are tough, but so were some of the brawlers Erickson has faced in the fighting cages. 

So how does one prepare to duke it out with one of nature’s most ferocious beasts with a weight approaching 1,500 pounds? 

In a word, one doesn’t. 

“It’s kind of naive to think that there’s something physical that you can do or some way you can train that’s going to prepare you for a grizzly bear,” Erickson said Friday. “All I did was just continue to do my normal kind of day-in-day-out things — keep exercising and stay healthy. And maybe I ramped it up a little bit, kind of like I would like for a fight camp, making sure that I’m getting two or three workouts in a day. Other than that, there’s not really much you can do — it’s a bear, you know?” 

Yup. We know. And while it might be tempting to automatically put your money down on the grizzly, don’t count out Erickson just yet. The man is a lifelong student of traditional martial arts, after all, with a reputation for ferocity in the ring. 

Jesse Erickson of Auburn, right, puts a foot into the face of his opponent at a mixed martial arts fight at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston in 2013. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

He’s been a fight fan his whole life and when he discovered Jiu Jitsu as a kid, he went all in. Erickson began training at Central Maine Brazilian jiujitsu under the tutelage of martial artist Travis Wells around 2008. Now he coaches mixed martial arts there and he works out at gyms all over the place, getting himself in peak physical condition for brawls. 

And don’t go thinking that Erickson started this fight, either. He didn’t approach the Discovery Channel, they approached him. 

It’s kind of a funny story. Erickson was just doing the usual: training, keeping himself in shape and minding his own business. Occasionally he’d post on Instagram about hiking trips or other activities he and his family were involved in. 

That’s when the three bears came calling. 

“I got a weird message on Instagram from somebody,” Erickson recalls, “and they’re like, ‘Hey, I’m casting for this show called ‘Man vs. Bear’ and I thought you’d be a good fit for it. Could you do an application?’ 

“I completely blew it off,” Erickson said, “because I thought it was a crazy person. That doesn’t sound like a real thing, you know?” 

For sure. But the Discovery Channel and it’s brawling bears really wanted Erickson for the show. So they called the gym and talked to Wells, the owner, who provided Erickson’s phone number once he realized this was not some sort of scam. 

“They called me and I was like, oh, this is real?” Erickson recalled. “And I said, ‘well, do I fight the bear?’ And he was like, ‘oh, no. But I like your attitude.'” 

“Man vs. Bear” co-hosts Casey Anderson, left, and Brandon Tierney, right, stand with contestants, from left, Christina Tabasco, Bruce Jones and Jesse Erickson. Discovery Channel

Attitude is part of any fighter’s approach to a match, no doubt. But Erickson’s opponents this time are not like any he has ever met in a ring or cage. The monstrous grizzly bears are not apt to quiver in the face of a menacing stare or some tough talk. 

The Discovery Channel describes its bears thusly: 

“Bart is the largest, most powerful grizzly on the mountain with no other bears matching his strength and versatility. Topping the pack as the fastest is Honey Bump, who is the only female on Bear Mountain. She brings a level of ferocity and predatory instinct that her male counterparts cannot beat.”

And then there’s Tank: “Known for his voracious appetite.”

Each  “Man vs. Bear” episode includes five distinct challenges inspired by what bears do naturally in the wild, “pushing these brave men and women to their  absolute limits,” according to the Discovery Channel. 

In the final round, the top two competitors will come face-to-face with Bart, who stands 8 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 1,400 pounds. The human competitor who earns the most points of the day will be named champion.  

At the end of the season, the top three competitors with the most points will return one more time for the  super-human showdown against the bears. 

“Grizzlies are extremely clever and lightning-fast animals,” according to the show producers. “Do these humans stand a chance? And will the humans be able to prove that they’re the ultimate predators — or simply prey?”

The filming of “Man vs. Bear” is done at a wildlife sanctuary in Utah. The episode featuring Erickson, who has lived in the Auburn area his entire life, has already been filmed. Of course, Erickson and the show producers were not giving any clues as to how he did against the trio of grizzly bears before the episode airs. 

We know he survived the wilderness scrap and he must have done all right, since he’s invited all his friends to watch the episode with him at Lewiston’s Orchid Restaurant on Saturday night. 

Erickson, who describes himself as “happily married” to his high school sweetheart, is scheduled to return to the fighting cages against a mere human Feb. 8. 

“For the most part,” he said, “I’m happy competing close to home whenever I can.” 

In addition to watching “Man vs Bear” the series on Discovery Channel, viewers can:

Stream new episodes each week on the Discovery GO app.
Get to know the bears and discover more about their lives on Bear Mountain.
Find out which bear matches their own personality with an interactive quiz.
Join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #ManVsBear.
Follow Discovery on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates.


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