Cole Konrad was one of the most highly credentialed heavyweight wrestlers ever to cross over into mixed martial arts, a four-time All-American at the University of Minnesota who had won his last 76 matches in a row on the way to capturing two national championships, knocking off future MMA standouts Cain Velasquez and Jared Rosholt along the way. His promise was based on more than just his gaudy amateur record, however. Konrad was a massive 6-foot-5 man whose doughy physique—he was definitely of the Rulon Gardner, rather than Aleksandr Karelin mold—belied his shocking agility and balance.
Best of all, Konrad had embarked on his fight career in good time; unlike many amateur wrestling standouts whose amateur careers extend for years as they pursue Olympic dreams after college, Konrad was training in MMA right away. He settled in at Team Death Clutch, where he served as a primary training partner for future UFC champ and fellow ex-Gopher national champion Brock Lesnar. The time Konrad spent helping prepare Lesnar and other UFC heavyweights such as Chris Tuchsherer was apparently like a dragster spinning its tires at the starting line, because when he finally made his own MMA debut in January 2010, he took off like a shot, winning a ridiculous seven fights in less than nine months.
By the time Konrad faced Eric Prindle at Bellator 70 on May 25, 2012, in the first defense of his Bellator MMA heavyweight title, it was not really accurate to call him a prospect anymore. He was 8-0, a divisional champion in the second-biggest promotion in the world and ranked No. 12 in Sherdog’s heavyweight rankings. Nonetheless, the speed with which he had risen to elite status and the way in which he had continued to develop—he had calmly gone toe-to-toe with veteran striker Paul Buentello for three rounds in his last fight—gave the 28-year-old the feel of a work still in progress. In a heavyweight division constantly starving for youth and new faces, Konrad felt like the future.
On that night in New Orleans, the fight itself was utterly anticlimactic. Despite cutting one of the most imposing figures in the heavyweight division, Prindle was helpless against the wrestling and grappling onslaught. Konrad took the hulking striker down within seconds, grabbed a kimura and cranked it to elicit the tap at 60 seconds of the first round.
A few months later, Konrad announced his retirement from MMA, going to work as a commodities broker. Whether his departure was primarily due to money concerns, frustration with the business—the brisk pace of his first year had slowed to a crawl, as Bellator struggled to find him suitable opponents—or he simply found he didn’t enjoy it, Konrad does not appear to have given fighting so much as a backwards glance. His early promise remains a tantalizing reminder of what might have been; even now, eight years removed from his last fight, Konrad is still younger than over half of the Top 15 heavyweights in this site’s official rankings.