March Madness is here, and sports fans have already begun losing their minds. Office pools are flowing and bosses seem to turn a blind eye to the increase of ESPN page views that occur during business hours. Yet mixed martial arts fans should take time to familiarize themselves with another tournament that’s going on in St. Louis, Missouri, the NCAA wrestling championships.
Ask experts from the world of MMA which background is the best to have when building a fighting career, and no matter their personal background, many will point towards wrestling as the best foundation. High level wrestlers bring a number of qualities to the table that just can’t be found in other disciplines. Where else will you find athletes that may have been cutting weight since their early adolescent years? Where else will you find athletes that are used to endurance training that is created to make you physically ill and unable to continue? Where else do you find athletes that are used to competing in high intensity contests, in one-on-one situations each and every time out? Time and time again we have seen collegiate wrestlers walk into the sport of mixed martial arts and solidify themselves as prospects to watch.
Look at the top of many weight classes across mixed martial arts and you will find athletes who used collegiate wrestling as the first brick of their career foundations. Johny Hendricks, Josh Koscheck, Phil Davis, Brock Lesnar, and Ben Askren are former NCAA champions. Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes, Jon Fitch, and Chael Sonnen are all former collegiate wrestlers as well, and each are top contenders in their respective weight classes. Now we look at an athlete such as Bubba Jenkins and expect great things from the former champion just because of what others with the same credentials have done.
With the emergence of more weight classes in mixed martial arts, we can now look at all of the weight classes in collegiate wrestling and speculate who will become prospects in the MMA world. Names such as Cam Simaz, Zach Rey, and Kellen Russell are competitors that everyone will be watching over the next few days. However, with any other professional sport the potential goes well beyond just the individuals who are even competing this weekend.
Mixed martial arts has become a viable option for collegiate wrestlers who are looking to continue in a competitive environment after graduation. Do not be surprised if high level trainers such as Greg Jackson are watching what is going on this weekend to see who the next big star will be. While you may have your college basketball bracket in place, don’t forget to do one for the NCAA wrestling championships as well. You may get the opportunity to say you “called it” when a competitor comes out as an eventual MMA champion.