Sherdog Prospect Watch: Bryan Travers

By Joseph Zigler Jun 23, 2009
California’s Great Central Valley consistently produces some of the country’s best up-and-coming fighters.

Billy Evangelista -- fighting for Team Buhawe in Fresno -- was featured in the main event at the ShoMMA “Strikeforce Challenger Series” premiere that aired live on Showtime. Oakdale MMA pumps out tough guys like they grow on trees. And any halfway informed fight fan knows of the army of miniature warriors coming out of Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male in Sacramento.

At the opposite end of the valley, 289 miles to the south in Bakersfield, Bryan Travers climbs the mixed martial arts ladder. Never heard of him? That comes as little surprise, but Travers and his coaches believe the MMA community will know him soon enough.

Travers grew up in the small town of Escalon, Calif., and started training in freestyle wrestling in elementary school, even though he did not choose that path himself. It was a cheap alternative to daycare. Travers’ father died when he was 6. His parents had just purchased their dream ranch, and his mother found herself facing the daunting task of paying a sizeable mortgage and raising three sons on her own.

“She had to find a way to work three jobs and take care of us,” Travers says. “My mom played the role of mom/dad. She was a provider. She was a caretaker. She was everything.”

Working three jobs and volunteering as a fire fighter kept Travers’ mother away from home, but she could not leave her two youngest sons alone. She came up with an alternative and enrolled them in freestyle wrestling.

“Me wrestling was a complete accident,” Travers says.

Accident or not, wrestling came to define Travers. Through wrestling, he developed and honed the discipline, toughness and work ethic for which he has become known. Travers continued wrestling through high school, placing twice in the state finals. His accomplishments as a high school wrestler earned him a scholarship to Cal State Bakersfield.

Travers enjoyed some success as a collegiate wrestler, once placing fourth in the Pac-10 Conference and becoming a NCAA Div. I national qualifier. However, the choice to wrestle at Bakersfield had long-term ramifications. There, he met the people who would help transform him into a well-rounded mixed martial artist.

After college, Travers found himself with no competitive outlet. MMA seemed a logical choice.

Testing MMA Waters

Travers began his MMA career as a pure wrestler. He also tipped the scales at more than 200 pounds. In, 2005, he signed to fight another debuting competitor at a Gladiator Challenge show. Thanks to injuries and last-minute changes, Travers instead faced an infinitely more experienced foe -- Anthony Ruiz, who was 9-5 at the time. Travers choked out his larger opponent in a little more than three minutes.

Still, Travers had no idea his debut would serve as the first step toward a promising career. He did not yet possess the extreme confidence his sparring partner, former Palace Fighting Championship lightweight titleholder and UFC veteran Brian Cobb, believes now defines him as a fighter.

“I was either gonna do this, enjoy it and keep doing it, or I was gonna go in and get my butt kicked and be, like, ‘Well, I got a story or a video to show my grandkids, right?’” Travers says. “I didn’t even start taking it seriously until the light heavyweight belt fight [six fights in].”

A few years ago, Travers met the man who would take the helm, begin his transition from wrestler to fighter and help ease his move to lower weight classes.

Eric Nolan was known for training world-class kickboxers, but he had given up training professional fighters. Then, a former employee told him she knew a local wrestler who was competing in MMA and looking for a striking coach. Nolan was skeptical but decided to take on Travers, and the Californian proved he was 100 percent driven toward success.

“Everything I’ve ever asked him to do he’s done,” Nolan says. “Everything I’ve asked him to work on, every lap, every stadium, he’s busted ass on. I suspect if I asked him to kick the s--t out of a building, we’d have dents in the side of my gym.”

In fact, Travers moved into Nolan’s gym, living, working and training there. For close to three years, he slept on a cot in a tiny corner room.

“Nothing can deter him,” Nolan says

The hard work Travers put in on his striking shows, as he has become feared for his stand-up skills and hand speed. Those who watched Travers win the PFC welterweight title against Jeremiah Metcalf in September might have a hard time believing he had a base in wrestling. However, a third piece to his arsenal soon emerged.

A Bull at 155

Travers attributes a significant part of his success to his jiu-jitsu coach, Dan Camarillo, brother of famed American Kickboxing Academy trainer and guerilla jiu-jitsu creator Dave Camarillo.

Currently a purple belt, Travers may soon earn his brown belt. Camarillo has tremendous faith in his student’s potential.

“At 155, he’s ready for the UFC now,” he says. “We all saw Diego Sanchez’s fight [against Joe Stevenson]. I think he would give Diego a run for his money, possibly knock him out. I really think he might be able to ruin Diego Sanchez’s night.”

Nolan agrees.

“We’ve kind of been holding back his progress to the bigger shows until I thought he could not just go there and compete but go there and win,” he says. “I think in two years he can be as good as anyone in the world at 155.”

His coaches may have declared him fit for UFC competition, but Travers seems content to wait his turn.

“I’m more than happy to be the tortoise and not the hare, and I’m just gonna keep kicking ass and taking names until the right people notice and the right opportunity shows itself,” he says. “But it’s got to be right. I’m not going to make stupid, rash decisions that end up hurting the longevity of my career.”

Until said opportunity arises, Travers plans to stay busy. He expects to fight for the War Gods lightweight championship in July and has staked his claim as the number one contender for the PFC lightweight strap, which will be will be up for grabs in December.

Travers keeps the faith that his time will come, and he credits his mother -- who remains his strongest influence and most ardent supporter -- for that inner confidence and strength. His mother has battled breast cancer into remission, and Travers calls her the strongest person he knows.

“It’s easy to get into a ring against anybody when I can look into the stands and see my mom, and she’s screaming her lungs out, but she can’t clap because she has giant sutures under her arms because she just had a double mastectomy the week before,” Travers says. “She’s not gonna let that stop her from supporting her son.”


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