It's become a commonplace that wrestling is the best possible base for a career in MMA. The ability to determine where the fight takes place -- standing or on the ground -- is a huge advantage. If a wrestler runs into a kickboxer he takes him down and beats him up or submits him on the ground. If a wrestler runs into a submission wizard, he beats up standing.
NCAA national champs from Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman in the early days to Brock Lesnar more recently have sauntered into the UFC and taken home heavyweight championship gold. If you weren't watching carefully, you'd swear they made it look easy.
Seems like it would be a sure thing to round up a few top tier NCAA wrestlers, arrange for their living and training expenses and rake in the dough when they inevitably ascend to the top of the UFC heap.
That's what the entrepreneurs behind Team Takedown thought when they signed up NCAA champs Johny Hendricks, Jake Rosholt and top contender Shane Roller to some unique management deals. From MMA Junkie:
Team Takedown took root in March 2007 when it signed collegiate wrestling standouts Jake Rosholt, Johny Hendricks and Shane Roller to seven-year management deals. In a model unique to MMA, team members earn a salary and have their living and training expenses paid in exchange for half of their fight earnings. It costs about $450,000 per year to support each fighter, according to Erhardt.
Erhardt said, theoretically, the company needs just one of its fighters to make it to the UFC's upper echelons in order to be profitable.
"Our hopes and our projections are starting to come around now, where the guys are going to start making enough money where they're paying for themselves and paying back to Team Takedown so that we can add on some younger guys," he said. "We're going to add on some really solid wrestlers in the future.
"There's a couple more investors, so we're really going to try to up the size of Team Takedown."
So far success is remaining just out of reach for Team Takedown. Rosholt washed out of the UFC and just lost to Matt Horwich in Tulsa last month. Shane Roller lost a WEC title eliminator bout to Anthony Pettis at WEC 50. Johny Hendricks was the one on his way, until he dropped a close decision to Rick Story at the Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale last Saturday.
BE contributor thisredengine wrote a post about Rosholt's career in which he takes a dim view of the Team Takedown model:
Jake Rosholt is considered one of the best wrestlers to enter MMA, winning the NCAA D1 championships in his Freshman, Junior, and Senior years at OSU. He was a 4x All American and in his Sophomore year, he won the Big 12 championships. Needless to say, his wrestling pedigree is phenomenal. He went 4-0 fighting in smaller shows in Oklahoma before his management received a call from the Zuffa offices. Initially they wanted him to be a cast member of the Ultimate Fighter, as his overall marketability would have increased from the exposure on Spike TV. His management team decides to forgo the opportunity and instead signed a very odd deal with the WEC to fight in their Middleweight Division. Jake's deal required the WEC to book him on the televised portion of the card, which isn't the norm for prospects. Jake had one fight in the WEC against a Hawaiian fighter named Nissen Osterneck. During this fight Jake had difficulty dealing with Osterneck's stand up and was only able to win after getting the takedown and getting the TKO stoppage. This fight should have been where his management saw that Jake was not ready for the WEC. Unfortunately, when the Zuffa dissolved the WEC MW division, Jake's contract was transferred to the UFC.
The UFC contract had the same "televised bout" condition which meant that Joe Silva had to bring Jake along faster than he normally would with a highly touted prospect. His first fight in the UFC was supposed to be against Alessio Sakara, who is notorious for having horrific takedown defense. Unfortunately, Sakara withdrew due to injury and Jake faced Dan Miller instead. Honestly, who at Team Takedown thought this was a good idea? Dan Miller is the former IFL champion who is one of the most well rounded fighters in the Middleweight Division. Why would you accept a fight against him for your most promising fighter's SIXTH fight?! I look at this booking by the UFC as a way to show the Team Takedown management that if you want special considerations in contracts, you better deliver when offered fights.
Continuing the trend of throwing Jake to the sharks, Joe Silva booked his next fight against TUF1 vet and fan favorite Chris Leben. Chris Leben was returning from a suspension from testing positive for steroids in his fight against Michael Bisping and fans expected fireworks. Unfortunately Leben, who has under-rated takedown defense, was unable to stop Rosholt's takedown in the third round and was put to sleep with an arm-triangle choke. He was then matched up with TUF 3 winner Kendal Grove at UFC 106 in a fight many considered to be Grove's last chance to fight in the UFC. Jake was able to get an early takedown but dove into a triangle choke. The UFC management decided to cut ties with the OSU wrestler after going 1-2 in the organization with a relatively high paying contract the required the organization air his bouts.
You might say that there's really not that big a difference between Josh Koscheck's relationship to the American Kickboxing Academy and the Team Takedown approach. AKA has a hand in every aspect of Koscheck's career, from his training to his sponsorship deals But unlike Team Takedown, they don't pay his living expenses and take their money as a percentage of his winnings rather than taking the whole thing.
On the career side you could say that the Team Takedown guys (with the exception of Rosholt) aren't doing any worse than Koscheck at a comparable point in his career. His early losses to Diego Sanchez on The Ultimate Fighter and Drew Fickett at Ultimate Fight Night 2 certainly presented serious speed bumps on his road to the title.
But something tells me that the Team Takedown formula won't prove as successful in the long run as AKA's more traditional approach to MMA management, training and career development.