It won’t make me sound like an MMA swami if I say that wrestlers have been a part of MMA since the beginning. In the old days Dan Severn was suplexing people on their head and Mark Coleman was out there head butting from the top position. After that came Randy Couture who used his dominating clinch to bring the “‘Phenom”, Vitor Belfort, back down to earth.
There are currently a number of highly touted collegiate wrestlers who have transitioned into an MMA career with the UFC. On this weekend’s Fight Night 17 card, former Arizona State All-American, Cain Velasquez (4-0) will take on Denis Stojnic, while Oklahoma State’s multiple time NCAA champion, Jake Rosholt (5-0) will also see action.
Since making his UFC debut in April of last year, Cain Velasquez has become one of the hottest heavyweight prospects in recent history. After a high school wrestling career that saw him capture two 5A Arizona state championships and compile a 110-10 record, Velasquez continued his wrestling career at Iowa Central CC.
During his one year at Iowa Central, the same community college that produced UFC fighter, Jon Jones, he was a Junior College National Champion. After just one year he transferred to Arizona State University. He earned All-American status in both his junior and senior year. He is most remembered in wrestling circles for his competitive matches against two-time champion, Cole Konrad, and US Olympian Steve Mocco.
Knowing that he had the tenacity for MMA, his coaches set him up with San Jose’s American Kickboxing Academy. His career started with two first round TKOs in the now defunct Bodog fight promotion. After a move to the UFC, he is yet to make it out of the first round, with two more first round TKOs. This weekend he will take on Denis Stojnic, a kickboxer from the acclaimed Dutch gym Golden Glory.
There are very few fighters out there who have a more impressive collegiate wrestling resume than Jake Rosholt. During his four years competing at Oklahoma State University, he was a National Champion three times – dominating fellow MMA prospect Phil Davis in the final his senior year. The one time he did not win the national tournament he came in third.
In both his junior and senior seasons he lost in the finals of the Big 12 tournament, but was still able to come back to win a National Title and his team needed it both times. During his four years at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys won four straight National Team Titles.
After college he signed on to be a part of Team Takedown, which is a management group designed to help former wrestlers compete in MMA. He is given a base salary and money for training while he makes his way in the sport. So far in his career he is undefeated through five fights, but once again had to come back in his WEC debut against Nissen Osterneck. The competition will only be stronger form here on out as he makes his UFC debut against former IFL middleweight champion Dan Miller this Saturday.
Moving up the coast to New Jersey and fighting for the World Cagefighting Alliance this weekend is Paul Bradley (9-0). After earning a state championship in high school, Paul Bradley chose to attend the wrestling powerhouse that is the University of Iowa. While wrestling with the Hawkeyes, Bradley was a two-time All-American and finished with a career record of 77-37.
Once his wrestling career was done he turned to MMA. After dominating his first few fights he was invited to be a part of the cast of The Ultimate Fighter season 7. Bradley won his preliminary fight despite being compared to copulating turtles by Dana White, but was forced off the show due to an infectious skin disease.
Since the show he has continued his winning ways. Most recently he stopped UFC veteran, Dante Rivera with strikes 34 seconds into the fight. The victory brought his record to 9-0 with 6 finishes. This weekend he will fight Nathan Coy as a part of the WCA: Pure Fight card in Atlantic City.
Last but not least in our look at a few of this weekend’s collegiate wrestling stars turned MMA fighters, we have Chad Mendes (1-0) who will be fighting in Lemoore, CA for the Palace Fighting Championship. Although he was not heavily recruited by any college, Chad Mendes still made his mark while wrestling for Cal Poly. It was in his senior year that he made his biggest mark. During that season he was undefeated up until the national final. Although he came up short against Jeff Jaggers from Ohio State in the final, it had been a great season and he was awarded with ‘Pac 10 Wrestler of the Year’.
Mendes met Urijah Faber while working at a wrestling camp where he made the decision to get into MMA once his wrestling career was over. Soon after the national tournament, he began to train with Ultimate Fitness. In his debut fight he defeated Giovanni Encarnacion with a first round rear naked choke. This Friday he will take on Leland Gridley on the PFC: Best of Both Worlds card.
By: Richard Mann