It would be easy to guess that Logan Storley was a former All-American wrestler even if one didn’t already know. The telltale signs are all over the way the undefeated Bellator MMA welterweight talks about himself and his mixed martial arts career -- sincere and completely without pretense.
But if “Storm” has no interest in boasting or trash talk, he does not care for false modesty either. Leading up to his fight with A.J. Matthews in the co-main event of Bellator 204 on Friday, the 25-year-old South Dakota native knows what he’s good at and is perfectly willing to claim it.
“I know that with pretty much everybody in the 170-pound division in the world, I can dictate where the fight takes place,” Storley told Sherdog.com.
That might seem like a bold or even reckless statement, since the welterweight division is a hotbed of accomplished wrestlers, some of which come to MMA with amateur credentials superior to Storley’s own. However, the nuance of Storley’s explanation shows that he may have good reason to believe as he does.
“I think my MMA wrestling is actually better than my regular wrestling,” Storley said, a startling thing to hear from a four-time NCAA All-American. “In collegiate wrestling, there are some guys who are great wrestlers, but it doesn’t translate that well [to MMA]. Because it’s different. Even in folk-style wrestling, it’s about controlling the wrists, turning guys, putting guys on their backs. But then guys are getting off their back and getting back to a referee’s position.
“Meanwhile in MMA, everything is different,” he added. “The distance is different. Guys are throwing elbows at your head [while defending a takedown], throwing knees at you, rolling for leg locks, rolling for this and that. You’ve got to watch your neck. Not a lot of [college wrestlers] understand that when they first go in and try to play around [with MMA].”
Storley believes that his advantage over the latecomers comes from having learned MMA-focused wrestling at the same time he was developing his scholastic wrestling chops.
“I started in MMA and had my first fight when I was 16,” Storley said. “I’ve gotten to be in there, using my wrestling in real live competition. Because of that, I think my control, my ability to use my hips and use my pressure [in MMA], is better than my college wrestling game where it was about turning and riding.”
Thus far, Storley’s skill set has served him well. He started his professional career with six straight TKO wins, only one of which made it out of the first round. His last two fights in Bellator MMA, unanimous decision victories over Matt Secor and Joaquin Buckley, were near-complete shutouts; it’s arguable whether Buckley landed a single strike in the first 10 minutes of their fight.
Matthews, Storley’s upcoming opponent, is 16-fight veteran who has fought at both middleweight and welterweight over the course of his career. However, Matthews is also 1-4 in his last five fights, with the lone win a decision victory over a very shopworn Kendall Grove. On paper, Matthews might not seem to offer much more than Storley’s other opponents have. Nonetheless, Storley refuses to dismiss the threat Matthews brings to the table.
“He’s a smooth striker,” Storley said. “He throws good leg kicks, good hooks. He’s long. And he always shows up in shape, from the fights I’ve watched. And he fights hard. He never quits. So those are problems [I] have to find a way to deal with.”
Those problems will be dealt with one way or the other on Friday, and then it will be time to think about the overall arc of his career once again. While Bellator has an excellent track record of developing prize prospects sensibly, there are also criticisms that some fighters -- Michael Page comes to mind -- are being brought along too slowly, to the point of coddling or protecting them. In light of this, it seems fair to ask Storley, who is 8-0 and has never been in serious trouble in any of those eight fights, if he is happy with his career track so far. Storley maintains that things are on schedule.
“That was [Bellator’s] plan all along,” Storley said. “I’d actually had a year off because I hurt my hand, and when I came back I had one last fight in [Legacy Fighting Alliance], and I fought a few months later in Bellator. And they were like, ‘We’re going to have you fight this tough veteran, and now we’ll have you fight another up-and-comer, and then maybe another veteran.’
“I think it’s somewhat of the same thing they did with Ed Ruth, Joey Davis, [Aaron] Pico,” he added, naming three fellow high-level college wrestlers who signed with Bellator in the last few years.
Ruth, a fellow welterweight and a three-time NCAA wrestling champion from Penn State, was selected to participate in Bellator’s upcoming welterweight Grand Prix in spite of having fewer pro fights than Storley. Bellator made waves when it announced the Grand Prix, featuring sitting champ Rory MacDonald and a star-studded field including the likes of Paul Daley, Jon Fitch, Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov. When asked if he wishes he were in that tournament, Storley explains that the timing did not quite line up, but sounds just a bit wistful even as he professes to be focused on the tasks ahead of him.
“[Word about the Grand Prix] came out when I was already four weeks into a training camp,” he said. “I mean, it would be nice to be in there, especially if I were sitting [without a fight coming up], but… I have a fight in front of me. That’s what I’m worried about. If I were sitting here on August whatever and didn’t have a fight lined up, of course I would be upset about not being in the tournament.”
Storley is also aware that exclusion from the Grand Prix does not exactly leave him out of the division’s competitive ebb and flow. The field of eight quarterfinalists and two alternates contains most of the fighters ahead of him in the divisional pecking order, and he is likely to find his next few opponents as that field begins to sort itself out. He even admits the possibility that an early-round upset might leave a legend in the sport -- a Fitch or MacDonald -- suddenly out of the bracket and in need of a fight. Until he takes care of business on Friday, however, it’s all idle talk.
“I’ve got to take care of A.J. Matthews on Aug. 17 before I can bat an eye at something else,” Storley concluded. “That’s always been my approach: you’ve got work in front of you, and you don’t start making plans for something else until your work is done.”