As we have seen, amateur wrestling is one of the best bases a modern mixed martial artist can build off of. Sean Sherk, Gray Maynard, Matt Hughes, Georges St. Pierre, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Randy Couture, Mark Coleman, Brock Lesnar... the list of fighters with a strong base in wrestling who have been and continue to be successful is staggering.
I wrestled my junior year of high school, and while I was never very good (in my defense I wrestled at 160 lbs but my natural weight was right at 155 lbs), I have been a fan of collegiate wrestling ever since. Right now, collegiate wrestling is witnessing two phenoms competing against each other in the same weight class. N.C. State's Darrion Caldwell and Brent Metcalf of the storied Iowa Hawkeyes both wrestle at 149 lbs. Brent Metcalf is currently 72-2 over two years, with both losses coming to Caldwell. In 2008, Caldwell lost in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, while Metcalf proceeded to win the championship in dominating fashion. All of this lead up to a highly anticipated rematch, this time for the title, at the 2009 NCAA Tournament, with both competitors sporting perfect 37-0 records for the season. Caldwell again prevailed, winning in stunning fashion by a count of 11-6.
In 2010, both wrestlers will be seniors, and both will be the top ranked wrestlers at 149 lbs. It wouldn't be surprising to see a third match between the two, and once again for the 149 lb title.
However, this article is not about their collegiate accolades. As we have seen over the past couple of years, collegiate wrestlers are choosing to transition to MMA after their careers in the U.S. and internationally are finished. Koscheck (Edinboro), Johny Hendricks (Oklahoma State), Ben Askren (Missouri), and Jake Rosholt (OSU) are all perfect examples of multiple time collegiate wrestling champions - and in Ben Askren's case, Olympic qualifiers - taking their base and adapting it to the MMA game. Darrion Caldwell and Brent Metcalf, if they so choose, are certainly two of the most exciting crossover talents this sport has ever seen. They truly have the "it" factor. Caldwell has an unorthodox style reminiscent of Jon "Bones" Jones; rarely are his takedowns simple double or single legs. In their first match, Caldwell caught Metcalf in a spladle... which, for the uninformed, is not supposed to happen at that high of a level of wrestling. Ever.
Where Caldwell may be called an unorthodox or finesse wrestler (if such a thing exists), Metcalf truly embodies the spirit of Iowa wrestling. He is what the wrestling world calls a "goer". He is relentless. As his coach, Olympic medalist Tom Brands says "he doesn't have an off switch." He pushes until his opponents break mentally.
Obviously, nothing in this sport is a given. But seeing how far both Hendricks and Askren have progressed in a little under two years, it excites me on personal level to think of how good both Caldwell and Metcalf could become in this sport. Caldwell, as I previously stated, is comparable to Jon "Bones" Jones. He is unorthodox, athletic, and naturally gifted; he just seems to have that feel for the game, whether it is wrestling or possibly fighting. Metcalf is a double leg takedown machine, and is comparable to Georges St. Peirre in that respect. Wrestling at 149 lbs, you would assume both will fight at 155 lbs, unless the UFC institutes 145 lb and 135 lb classes in the near future. Hendricks wrestled at 165 lbs in college, and now fights at 170, so it would seem safe to say that instead of killing themselves on the cut to 145 (and that would only be if it was a class in the UFC), both Caldwell and Metcalf would choose LW over FW.
Both of these guys still have another year of college left. Right now all we can do is speculate, but I sincerely hope that both choose MMA over international wrestling after their collegiate careers are completed. They are the dynamic, ultra-competitive athletes this sport needs.
Note: what follows is purely fiction, I have no inside knowledge of either of these two mens future, and I have no idea whether they will actually choose to train and compete in MMA professionally, or if the thought has ever even occurred to them.
With that being said, here is the scenario: upon completion of their senior seasons, both Caldwell and Metcalf announce they will start training for MMA. Caldwell chooses American Top Team as his camp, while Metcalf goes to Minnesota Martial Arts Academy. After six months to a year of BJJ, Muay Thai, and Boxing training, both fighters start competing in local promotions, eventually making their way to the WEC where they continue to fight for a year or so, amassing undefeated records while building their skillsets. Over the course of three years, they have now fully transitioned from amateur wrestler to mixed martial artist. The UFC takes note of each fighters exciting and relentless styles, and calls them up to the big show, assuming the WEC hasn't already been absorbed by then, in which case they would already be in the UFC. By now it has been four years, and BJ Penn has since retired, leaving the LW division up for grabs. This is where it gets truly exciting. After the rivalry they shared in college, which could possibly include not one but two NCAA title bouts, both are now stars in the making. What could be more compelling, especially if Metcalf got the better of Caldwell the third time around for his second NCAA title?
Although this FanPost is a bit premature, I thought I would take the time to introduce you to two of the more exciting prospects (even though at this stage they aren't even really prospects) this sport has seen, or will see, in a while. I believe they both have what it takes to get to the top of the MMA world, and am excited to see if they choose that path.
This picture was taken during the 2009 NCAA Championship bout. With time still on the clock, Darrion Caldwell ran across the mat and nearly completed a standing backflip, but as Brent Metcalf states in this interview, Metcalf saw that there was still time on the clock and that his opponent turned his back to him.