Another talented wrestling convert has joined the stable of Bellator Fighting Championships, as the promotion Monday announced the signing of former U.S. National and Pan-American champ Shawn Bunch.
The news comes just two weeks after 29-year-old Bunch failed to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team at the national trials in Iowa, though the decision to trade the mat for the cage is nothing new. The onetime Edinboro University standout has long seen MMA in his future, he explained in a statement.
“I’ve had my sights set on Bellator for a long time,” said Bunch, who last May told Sherdog.com that a lack of MMA experience kept him from the company’s inaugural bantamweight tournament in 2010. “While I’ve been training in MMA for over four years, I’ve never been able to fully focus on the sport with my wrestling obligations. After watching guys like Ben Askren and ‘King Mo’ [Lawal] -- guys I really look up to in this sport -- have success, I knew the time was right to make the move to Bellator.”
Bunch’s commitments to his base sport also prevented him from being courted by now-defunct Japanese organizations Dream and Sengoku, leaving him with a focus on winning 132-pound gold in London this summer. With that option out of the equation, the time was right for the transition to MMA. While no timeframe was given for Bunch’s MMA debut, Bellator noted that he is “focused on a future Bellator bantamweight tournament” and is currently training at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.
“Shawn is one of the best athletes I’ve been around, and he isn’t to be played with,” said Lawal, a training partner of Bunch’s as part of their own Team Thirsty. “Shawn has been at the top of everything he has competed in, and MMA won’t be much different. He lives off of hard work and dedication, and I expect him to be a Bellator champion.”
Bellator has a history of signing star wrestlers: three of the promotion’s current champions -- welterweight Askren, heavyweight Cole Konrad and lightweight Michael Chandler -- had decorated NCAA careers before moving to MMA.