File Photo: Trevor Williams/Sherdog.com
Another one of the United States' most decorated wrestlers is set for his MMA debut.
Tachi Palace Fights announced the signing of former Olympic silver medalist Stephen Abas on Friday. Abas will debut for the Central California-based promotion on its May 5 “Cinco de Mayhem” card in Lemoore, Calif., against a yet-to-be-named opponent.
“As I started winding down my wrestling career, I started to really have the desire to compete in a fashion where there wasn't as many rules,” said Abas. “MMA really brought that. I've always been a fan, and appreciated it for its purity.”
Abas, 32, wrestled for California State University, Fresno, from 1998-2002, where he earned All-American honors four times. The gifted upstart won three national titles at 125 pounds and went undefeated over his junior and senior campaigns for the Bulldogs. Abas went on to take a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
In 2005, the Fresno State star was also named to the NCAA 75th Anniversary Wrestling Team, which is comprised of the 15 greatest NCAA wrestlers in history. Abas’ fellow honorees included Olympic gold medalists Dan Gable, Cael Sanderson and Kurt Angle, as well as NFL All-Pro-turned-MMA fighter Carlton Haselrig.
“It’s great for the promotion to have a wrestler of this caliber,” said Jeremy Luchau, the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino's entertainment coordinator. “More importantly, he wrestled at Fresno State. This is his backyard. Central Califoria is a national hub for high school wrestling, so this is going to be great for all the wrestling fans in the area.”
In 2008, Abas failed to make the U.S. Olympic team, after losing a best-of-three series to eventual Beijing Games gold medalist Henry Cejudo. He retired from competitive wrestling after the Olympic Trials, and took up a position as a wrestling coach with MMA gym “The Arena” in San Diego, Calif., working with the likes of Diego Sanchez, Cristiane Santos, Karl James Noons and Rani Yahya. Abas began intensive MMA training this past January in order to prepare for his eventual debut.
The contract is a two-fight deal, with Abas' second bout in the promotion scheduled for July 9. The standout freestyle wrestler will compete at 135 pounds tentatively, but isn't ruling out an eventual drop to the weight in which he dominated on the mat.
“The 135-pound division is more popular and has more openings in some of the bigger events, so it's a great place for me to start,” said Abas. “I know that WEC is maybe going to open up a flyweight division next year. It’s a possibility that I'd be able to drop down for something like that.”