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Feb 25th
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Home MMA ASU Wrestling: a hotbed for MMA talent
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ASU Wrestling: a hotbed for MMA talent

asu_wrestling_programBack on May 13, 2008, ASU announced that it was terminating the sport of wrestling, due to the cost associated with operating a 22-sport varsity program.   Just when all seemed lost, a group of loyal supporters pledged a multi-million dollar endowment, temporarily saving the program, and ensuring that these dedicated athletes could continue their quest of competing at the collegiate level.  And perhaps, granting those dedicated gladiators, a shot at fame and fortune within the growing popularity of MMA.

Widely recognized as the world's oldest and most honored competitive sport, depictions of wrestling have appeared on cave paintings dating back over 15, 000 years. The sport has been a cornerstone in the development of most ancient cultures athletics and wrestlers have been highly revered in both the Babylonian and Egyptian empires.

But it was the ancient Greeks who most developed the sport and when the Olympics Games opened in 776 BC, wrestling was the featured attraction.  Back then—the sport was much more brutal and violent.  The Romans; however, helped evolve the sport by adopting several new rules, which eventually became today’s Greco-Roman wrestling.

Wrestlers from all across the United States (and World) have found tremendous success in Mixed Martial Arts. Both current and former champions littler the various MMA organizations including: UFC, WEC (World Extreme Cage fighting), PRIDE, Strikeforce and Bellator Fighting Championships. 

From the current UFC Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar (NCAA Champion-University of Minnesota, MN), to #2 ranked Shane Carwin (NCAA Div II National Champion-Western State, CO), to Josh Koscheck (NCAA National Champion-Edinboro University of Pennsylvania), to former UFC legends Randy Couture (3 x NCAA Division 1 All-American and a 2x NCAA Division-I runner-up -Oklahoma University), to Matt Hughes (2x Division I All-American All-American-Eastern Illinois), these are just a few former collegiate wrestlers that have found success in the UFC, but an entire page could be devoted to the hundreds of fighters—from every other organization—with a deep wrestling pedigree. 

Where is the ASU connection to the MMA you ask?  Well, ASU has become one of the nation’s top collegiate feeder programs for MMA talent.  The ASU wrestling team competes in the Pac-10 conference and has created eight individual national champions, a staggering 100 All-Americans, and won a  NCAA Division I national championship in 1988, all since launching a varsity team in 1962.  The following are a few ASU wrestlers that have become household names for MMA fans worldwide:

Dan Severn: (1977-80) A pioneer of MMA, Dan was a finalist in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic trials, and holds an astonishing professional MMA Record of 93–16–7 (only UFC Triple Crown Champion).  Severn was a 4 time All-American at ASU and has both International and National accolades that are too long to list.  His notable wins include a who’s who of MMA legends:  Ken Shamrock, Forrest Griffin and Tank Abbott.

Cain Velasquez: (2003-05) Cain is a two-time 5A AZ State Champion, compiling a record of 110-10 for Kofa High School (Yuma, AZ).  He was a Junior College National Champ at Iowa Central Community College and a two-time PAC-10 Champion, and a two-time All-American wrestler at ASU. Cain currently sports an undefeated record at 8-0 (7 KO’s) with notable wins over UFC veterans: Cheick Kongo, Ben Rothwell and the legendary Minotauro Nogueria.  Cain will fight the current heavyweight UFC Champion (Brock Lesnar) sometime in 2010

Aaron Simpson: (1996-98) Aaron was a 4x AZ High School State Champ with 140 plus wins and a two-time All-American with the Sun Devils, placing fourth at the 1998 NCAA’s and 8th in 1996.  His career as a Sun Devil was packed full of honors including: 110 career wins (12th all-time & 8th in career dual victories with 53).  He earned Pac-10 All-Academic honors three times (1996, 1997, 1998) and mentored six different wrestlers to All-America honors, including current MMA standouts: Cain Velasquez (fourth), CB Dollaway (fifth) and Ryan Bader (seventh).  He was the 1997 Pan-American Games silver medalist at 187 pounds, and competed for the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club, competing in both the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Team Trials.  Though his recent loss to UFC veteran Chris Leben ended his undefeated record (7-1 (6 KO’s)), many MMA insiders agree that Aaron is a gifted fighter, with a well-rounded attack, and that he will no doubt compete for a title shot in the near future.

Dan Henderson: (1992-93) Dan was a 2 time Olympian (1992 & 1996) is also the only fighter  in MMA history to hold two consecutive titles, in 2 separate weight classes, at the same time (PRIDE Middleweight & Light Heavyweight).  His 25-8 record contains a litany of classic fights with some of the world’s most elite fighters, including wins against: Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, Rich Franklin, Renzo GracieKazuhiro Nakamura, Minotauro Nogueria, Murilo “Ninja” Rua, Renato Sobral, Gilbert Yvel and Carlos Newton.

Ryan Bader: (1996-98) Ryan won 3 Pac10 Championships and was twice named an All-American while wresting at ASU. Currently Ryan has a perfect MMA record of 11-0 (5 TKO’s) with a recent knockout of UFC Keith Jardine in February.  The Ultimate Fighter season 9 Winner will have the opportunity to greatly elevate his career when he fights UFC veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, at UFC 119, in September.

Don Frye: (1984-88) A true warrior and MMA celebrity, Don was a member of three PAC-10 championship teams as well as the 1988 NCAA wrestling team championship.  His National and International experience could fill an entire page and his fights with Ken Shamrock and Takayama—while fighting in PRIDE—have given us some of the greatest bouts of all-time.  His professional MMA record is an impressive 20-8-1 and he continues to coach, act and give back to his fans and his community through multiple USO visits to US troops abroad, as well as his contribution to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

asu_wrestlingOther notable ASU affiliated fighters:

CB Dollaway: (2004-05) CB earned All-American status at ASU, in 2006, taking 5th place (184 lb). The Ultimate Fighter Season 7 Finalist is currently 10-2 in MMA fights and steadily moving-up the ranks.

Eric Larkin: (2000-03) A 4 x All-American, a 4 x PAC-10 Champion and winner of a National Championship in 2003.  Eric was selected as the Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year in 2001, 2002 and 2003 while also receiving the Pac-10 Medal of Honor in 2003. He also was nominated for the prestigious 2003 ESPY Award, for Best Collegiate Male Athlete.  Eric is currently 2-0 in MMA competition and turning many heads.

Townsend Saunders: (1988-90) A two-time All-American and a two-time Pac-10 champion and Olympic silver medalist. Townsend fought in UFC 16 & 18.

Chance Farrar: (currently 8-3 in MMA).

Though today’s MMA fighter is a true hybrid—versed in many different forms of combat sports and martial arts—including: Boxing, Judo, Ju-Jitsu, Muy Thai, Submission Grappling and many others, wresting remains a vital base for success inside the octagon.

Both Arizona MMA fans and those nationally & internationally should be grateful for those passionate and deeply committed fans that rose to the occasion and saved the ASU wrestling program.  Hopefully the monumental success of the UFC and its connection to the sport of wrestling will assist in packing the stands for all collegiate wrestling programs across our great nation. 

PS-To those “endowment folks” whoever you are, or wherever you may be, I wanted to offer you a collective “Thank You” from one grateful fan representing America’s fastest growing sport.

Jay McMahon

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