Today sees the start of the 2012 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship at the Scottrade Center in St Louis, Missouri. The USA’s top college talent will meet across 10 different weight classes in a tournament to crown the best American Folkstyle wrestler of the year.
Historically collegiate wrestlers have found a great deal of success in Mixed Martial Arts, and some have even become champions at the highest level, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Here’s a quick run down of past NCAA champions that have had the most success in the UFC thus far.
Brock Lesnar – No heavyweight burst onto the UFC scene quite like this Minnesotan Man-Mountain. Originally from South Dakota, Lesnar became a stand out for the University of Minnesota ‘Golden Gophers‘, and even then had an imposing physique when competing in the 285lbs class. He was a Big Ten Conference Champion 2 years in a row, and NCAA runner up — losing to New England Patriots star Stephen Neal –, and an NCAA Champion in 2001.
Lesnar made his MMA debut after a storied Pro Wrestling career, by fighting Judo Silver Medalist Min So Kim at a K-1 Dynamite! USA event in 2007. Lesnar would finally make his UFC debut against Frank Mir at UFC 81 in 2008, losing by kneebar in the first round but putting on enough of a show that Dana White was willing to give him another chance. Lesnar ran the gauntlet of Heath Herring, Randy Couture and Frank Mir, picking up the UFC Heavyweight title along the way and looking unstoppable until a debilitating bout with diverticulitis halted his career. Lesnar made a dramatic comeback to defeat Shawn Carwin a year later, but would lose quickly to challenger Cain Velasquez before being sidelined yet again with diverticulitis. Lesnar came back one last time and lost emphatically to Alistair Overeem before calling it a day, and retiring.
Related Stories – NCAA 2012 Division I Wrestling Brackets And Who To Look Out For
Josh Koscheck – One of the most polarising fighters at Welterweight, Koscheck’s MMA career consisted of 2 fights at the regional level before making it onto the cast of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter.
A 4 time All American, 1 time NCAA runner up and 1 time NCAA Champion out of the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Koscheck went 42-0 in his championship year and competed at 174lbs throughout.
Koscheck brought a great double leg takedown to his MMA fights and like many wrestlers of his caliber in the earlier days of MMA, relied on his single discipline base and his athleticism to carry him through to decision wins, going 7-1 in the UFC before his first fight against champion Georges St. Pierre.
Outwrestled by the Canadian, Koscheck began putting more of the pieces together and has shown an ability to garner a fight ending Knock Out in a few of his fights since, as well as submission skills in the form of a Rear Naked Choke against Anthony Johnson. Koscheck went 6-2 before getting another shot and Georges St. Pierre, but a broken right orbital bone suffered during the fight sidelined him for nearly a year until he made his successful comeback by knocking out legend Matt Hughes. Fresh off a split-decision win over Mike Pierce, Josh Koscheck’s next fight is against a fellow NCAA champion in Johny Hendricks.
Mark Coleman – The ‘Godfather of Ground ‘n’ Pound ‘, Coleman was the first wrestler to show complete dominance in the early UFC’s and proved Gracie Jiu Jitsu wasn’t the only game in town. Coleman smashed his way through the UFC 10 and UFC 11 tournaments, before submitting Dan Severn at UFC 12 to become the first ever UFC Heavyweight Champion.
Initially a Freestyle wrestler as a teenager, Coleman represented Ohio’s ‘Miami University’ (aka the RedHawks), before transferring to Ohio State when he won his championship. Coleman was a 2 time All American, 1 time Big Ten champion and 1 time NCAA champion and wrestled at 190lbs. He also found success at Freestyle, taking 1 gold at the National Championships and 2 golds at the Pan Am Championships, a Silver at the World Championships and 7th place at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
After winning the UFC Heavyweight Champion, Coleman went on a skid where his one dimensional fighting style and lack of conditioning caught up to him, having the title wrested away from him by Maurice Smith, suffering a highlight reel head kick KO loss to Pete Wiliams, and losing by split decision to Pedro Rizzo before entering the Pride Fighting Championship.
After losing by submission to Nobuhiko Takada in what many believe to be a worked fight, Coleman found a career resurgence and went on a tear, winning the 2000 Pride Openweight Grand Prix and beating all but the very best of his opponents during his Pride run. It would be to only the top heavyweights of their time in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic and Fedor Emelianenko that Coleman would lose before Prides doors would close forever.
Another chance in the UFC came a little over 2 years after Pride’s demise, where Coleman would lose to Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua in a rematch, a decision win over Stephan Bonnar, and a submission loss to fellow legend Randy Couture.
Phil Davis – Still one of the most promising fighters in the UFC’s Light Heavyweight class, this Penn State alumnus has one of the most ridiculous mesomorphic physiques in all of professional sports.
Competing at 197lbs throughout his college career, Davis is a 4 time All American, 1 time NCAA Runner Up and 1 time NCAA Champion. Under the coaching and tutelage of Alliance MMA and Team Lloyd Irvin, Davis has adapted the submission game effortlessly to his high caliber wrestling and has shown off wins using a Rear Naked Choke, an Anaconda Choke and a One Armed Hammerlock. Davis has also shown he can TKO opponents in his pre-UFC career, and was thought to be the most competitive opponent to yet face champion Jon Jones until a knee injury kept him out of action for most of 2011.
Coming back in January of this year and suffering the first loss of his career to former UFC champion Rashad Evans, Davis still has several years left in his career to continue to improve and evolve, and perhaps only has Jon Jones standing between him and some UFC gold in the future.
Mark Munoz – ‘The Filipino Wrecking Machine’, Mark Munoz has some of the most vicious Ground’n’Pound the middleweight division has ever seen, and may be one of only a select few that stands a chance of dethroning the greatest champion the sport has known in Anderson Silva.
Starting his career at Light Heavyweight, Munoz steamrolled his way through his first 5 opponents including two stoppages in the WEC before being transferred to the UFC, only to lose to NCAA Division III Champion Matt Hamill in Munoz’ first fight.
A 2 time All American and 1 time NCAA Champion at 197lbs for Oklahoma State, Munoz wisely chose to cut down to the UFC’s Middleweight division where he has found success against some of the best in the class, including wins over C.B. Dolloway, Damian Maia and Chris Leben. Winning 7 of his last 8 fights, Munoz was scheduled to fight Chael Sonnen for a possible title shot until Munoz sustained an injury during training camp less than 2 weeks out from the fight.
When Munoz returns he’ll likely have to fight one or two more at the top of the division for the chance to compete for the championship, however the Black House Friends-not-fighting-Friends policy may have to be contested first.
Johny Hendricks – There might be no one currently in the UFC’s Welterweight division that has as much raw Knock Out power as one Johny Hendricks. Set to face Josh Koscheck at UFC on FOX 3, Hendricks has had a dominant MMA career barring one anomaly in a decision loss to Rick Story.
A 4 time All American, 1 time NCAA Runner Up, 3 Time Big 12 Conference champion and 2 time NCAA Champion at 165lbs for Oklahoma State, Hendricks brings a ferocity to the cage that has seen 7 of his last 12 opponents separated from consciousness. Hendricks punched his ticket into the top of the division by being the first Welterweight to KO the perennial second best in the world Jon Fitch in just 12 seconds*, and has notable wins over Amir Sadollah, TJ Grant, Charlie Brenneman, TJ Waldburger and Mike Pierce.
(* Jon Fitch has been KO’d before in his career, against Wilson Gouveia when Fitch unbelievably used to fight at Light Heavyweight in 2002).
Special Mention: Mark Schultz – Schultz only ever had one MMA fight, and it was against Gary Goodridge at UFC 9 when he stepped in as a replacement for Canadian Wrestling Champion Dave Beneteau, whom Shultz had been training for the fight just 4 months after his brother, Dave Schultz, had been murdered by John E. duPont.
Before UFC 9, Mark Schultz had been 8 years retired from Amateur Wrestling. Winning 3 NCAA championships for Oklahoma State, Schultz went on to have success in Freestyle Wrestling that included 1 Olympic Gold Medal, 2 World Gold Medals, 1 Pan Am Gold Medal, and 4 US National Open Freestyle championships.
A combination of money problems, back problems and a staph infection that nearly cost him his arm, Schultz never competed in MMA again officially, but did have what was meant to be a predetermined Pro Wrestling match with Leopoldo Montenegro at a Jungle Fight event. Montenegro decided to make it a shoot, double-crossing Schultz and submitting him.
Outside of wrestling, Schultz studied BJJ initially under the famed Rickson Gracie, but mostly under Pedro Sauer who awarded Schultz his black belt after just 4 years of training.
Schultz may have only had one fight in the UFC, and one can never tell how well he would have done had he been able to continue fighting, but without doubt Mark Schultz is the most accomplished Amateur Wrestler to have ever set foot in the Octagon.
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