Doggy Bag: The Future of MMA

The Doggy Bag

Mar 1, 2010
Everyone answers to somebody, so we, the staff at, have decided to defer to our readers.

“The Doggy Bag” gives you the opportunity to speak about what’s on your mind from time to time.

Our reporters, columnists, radio hosts, and editors will chime in with our answers and thoughts, so keep the emails coming.

This week, readers weigh in on the future blueprint to MMA success, the UFC's use of a minor-league system, the rise of George Sotiropoulos and the outlook of Tito Ortiz against the best at 205.

Also, Jason Probst brews up a fresh batch of Probst Blue Ribbon for the thirsty fans.

With Cain Velasquez's pummeling of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, it has me contemplating the future of MMA's sportsmen. Velasquez, Jon Jones, Phil Davis, Shane Carwin and even Brock Lesnar. What do they all have in common? All are all elite college wrestlers that have made a seamless transition to vale tudo. Are we looking at the blueprint to tomorrow's champions? Which current (or recently graduated) wrestlers should we be on the lookout for?

Jordan Breen, FightFinder Czar: Firstly, while they were accomplished on the JUCO and Division II level, let us not lump Jones and Carwin together with two D1 national champions (Davis and Lesnar) and a guy (Velasquez) who might have been one if not for Steve Mocco and Cole Konrad. This may seem pedantic, but it's how we end up with Goldbergian flattery with no sense of context.

More importantly, I fail to see what’s new about this. Athletes with top-notch wrestling backgrounds have been filling up the MMA ranks for a well over a decade at this point in time. If anything is new, it is simply the volume of wrestlers getting into the sport, which is just a response to MMA's new-found status as a legitimate moneymaker.

It’s hard to single out every single former collegiate wrestler to pay attention to. After all, a junior-college champ like Jones gets almost no attention, while a D2 champ like Carwin would get only marginally more if anything, but that obviously doesn't impact their potential in a cage. But, as for the well-known D1 standouts, Ben Askren has gotten a ton of attention. Twice a D1 runner-up, twice a national champ, twice the Dan Hodge trophy winner for the most outstanding wrestler in the nation. He's one of the best collegiate wrestlers ever, and represented the U.S. in Beijing. His transition to MMA hasn't been super seamless, but he'll have a chance to show he can be an elite welterweight in Bellator's fantastic forthcoming welterweight tournament in April.

Another Dan Hodge award winner, Eric Larkin, who won his national title in 2003 for Arizona State, has unsurprisingly hooked up with Arizona Combat Sports to start his MMA career. Former Brock Lesnar conqueror, two-time national champ and Dan Hodge winner Stephen Neal -- who went on to win Super Bowls with the New England Patriots -- now wants to get into the cage, as well.

Cole Konrad is a training partner for Lesnar, but actually has two national heavyweight titles to Lesnar's one. Heavyweights are at a premium in MMA, and wrestling is a huge well to draw from, as we've seen.

This is just a small sampling of the elite D1 talent embarking on fledgling MMA careers. However, the coming years will bring drastically more talent into the sport. Plenty more NCAA champs -- like Jake Herbert and Brent Metcalf, to name just two -- may end up in the cage sooner rather than later, depending on how their attempts to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics shake out. The London qualifiers will be a major factor in who, when and where a lot of these wrestlers get into MMA.

However, it's important to remember that hardware at the D1 level isn't everything. Muhammed Lawal, one of MMA's brightest prospects, never got a D1 national title, but went on to be an elite, top-ranked international freestyle wrestler, which is a far greater accomplishment. Fellow Strikeforce signee Daniel Cormier only got as close as D1 runner-up at Oklahoma State, but went on to represent the United States at the Athens and Beijing Games. Joe Warren never won a national title at Michigan, but went on to win a world championship, and would have took a medal in Beijing if not for his pot-smoking proclivities.

Urijah Faber pupil Chad Mendes faltered his senior year and took a runner-up after being ranked numero uno all year, but it hasn't stopped him from looking like a future perennially elite featherweight. Meanwhile, a prospect like Tyron Woodley only got as far as All-American status, but his game translates perfectly to MMA and has him looking like a surefire top-10 welterweight.

Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not the mentality, physical skills and wrestling style of a particular athlete line up well with MMA. The positive part is that with MMA now being a viable and financially secure future for wrestlers, the well has gotten infinitely deeper from which to draw out the real stars.
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