Decorated collegiate wrestler Chris Honeycutt hopes to make waves in Bellator. | Photo courtesy of Bellator MMA
The parallels between former UFC title contender Josh Koscheck and Bellator MMA prospect Chris Honeycutt are undeniable.
Both had decorated collegiate wrestling careers at Edinboro University; Koscheck was a national champion and four-time All-American, while Honeycutt was a two-time All-American. Both currently compete at welterweight in prominent mixed martial arts promotions. And most importantly, both are driven by tenacious work ethics forged through years of mat work.
Honeycutt, who is currently anchored at Dethrone Base Camp, a Fresno, Calif.-based gym founded by Koscheck, will face Clayton MacFarlane in a featured main card bout at Bellator 133 on Feb. 13. Approximately two weeks later, Koscheck will return to the Octagon for the first time in more than a year when he meets Jake Ellenberger at UFC 184.
Koscheck was more coach than training partner when Honeycutt was preparing to make his Bellator debut last September, but having “The Ultimate Fighter 1” veteran in camp with him this time around has been beneficial for the 26-year-old fighter.
While there might have been questions regarding Koscheck’s will to compete after three consecutive losses in the UFC, the last of which was a devastating KO at the hands of Tyron Woodley in November 2013, Honeycutt claims that “Kos” is as hungry as ever. The proof can be found when the two men go head-to-head in the gym.
“We spar and we go at it pretty vigorously. He’s hungry. He wants to win too. The more I grow, the harder he wants to go,” Honeycutt told Sherdog.com. “We’re both so competitive, and we’re both the same breed, all through college. When I go hard, he goes harder and then I go even harder. It’s literally just a ladder until our coach [tells us to pull back a little bit].”
That friendly competition is part of why Honeycutt was drawn to MMA in the first place. Both he and Koscheck developed at Edinboro under the guidance of Tim Flynn, a former All-American wrestler himself and the all-time winningest coach in program history. During Flynn’s tenure, the Fighting Scots have produced 33 All-Americans, including Koscheck and Honeycutt.
Although he arrived at Edinboro some 10 years after Koscheck, Honeycutt immediately felt a connection to the Octagon veteran.
“I moved out here [to California] because of Josh and the relationship he had with Tim Flynn, because we both had a similar relationship,” Honeycutt said. “We both have the exact same work ethic and what it takes to be a champion and to be successful, so we clicked real quick.”
Honeycutt was drawn to MMA before the conclusion of his wrestling career, but in order to make sure that it was the right move, he spent some time training at the American Kickboxing Academy alongside Koscheck. After testing the waters, Honeycutt announced that he would transition to MMA just prior finishing second at the 2012 NCAA national championships.
When Koscheck parted ways with AKA, Honeycutt followed. He made his professional debut in 2013 and garnered four consecutive victories -- and a title belt -- with the California-based UPC Unlimited promotion. He stopped “TUF 12” alum Aaron Wilkinson via second-round technical knockout in his initial Bellator foray on Sept. 19.
As a relative MMA novice, Honeycutt says he has already experienced significant gains in terms of experience and skill, and it’s showing in the gym. While he says his wrestling transitioned nicely to MMA, in the past few years, Honeycutt has sharpened his boxing and improved his ground game, the latter to a point where he’s confident in his ability to advance and escape on the canvas.
“The guys that I train with now that were pretty much beating me up a couple years ago are now struggling to keep up with me,” Honeycutt said. “The work ethic a wrestler has and the ability to control someone when they’re on top is phenomenal. I’m using my ability to further experience myself in other aspects of the ground game.”
Honeycutt wrestled at 197 pounds in college, and he began his MMA run at middleweight. Bellator 125 marked his first try at 170 pounds. For someone who once walked around at 210 pounds, getting to welterweight was a gradual process.
Honeycutt says he hadn’t seen that number on the scale “since I was a sophomore in high school.” However, with a little more than a month to go before his bout with Wilkinson, he found himself checking in at just under 180 pounds.
“It wasn’t too bad because I wrestled at 184 for four years prior going up to 197. It took time to shred off some of that excess muscle and mass I didn’t really need for the sport of MMA,” he said. “In wrestling you only need to go gung ho for about seven minutes. In MMA you have to do that three times. I had to lengthen my cardio out. Muscles demand oxygen, and I had to get rid of all the ones I didn’t need.”
With that said, Honeycutt expects to be on the larger end of Bellator’s welterweight division. Come fight night, he hopes to be in the neighborhood of 190 pounds, but no heavier.
“I think I’ll be a big welterweight no matter who I fight at any level of MMA. ..I don’t think anyone can cut more weight than I do without really hindering their ability to fight,” he said.
Honeycutt, hopes to fight four times in 2015 barring injury, but he still has a ways to go before he can match the resume of his mentor and training partner. Before his recent slump, Koscheck was a perennial resident of the UFC welterweight top 10, nearly reaching the division’s apex before falling to Georges St. Pierre in 2010.
Honeycutt knows that if he falters on his journey, he’ll be sure to hear about it from one of the sport’s most reviled figures. He also knows that it’ll be exactly what he needs.
What I’m sure most people know about Josh is he doesn’t tell you nicely. He doesn’t try to make you feel OK about it,” Honeycutt said.
“He tells you [how] it is, exactly from the heart. He gives you the honest truth... That’s the best thing about him....I think that plays a huge factor in how fast I grew. I didn’t have someone there trying to hold my hand and take me step-by-step on how to be a fighter. He was there to be the bigger brother a little bit, to rush me into being great.”