In 2006, two unstoppable forces collided in the NCAA tournament semi-finals, a collision we might see repeated in the cage two or three years down the road. Cain Velasquez was different than a lot of other heavyweight wrestlers. Smaller, lither, leaner, quicker, Velasquez was admired for his ability to outwork opponents. He might not have had the advantage against bigger men at the beginning, but just like today, his legendary work ethic helped him when other wrestlers started sucking wind. Against University of Minnesota standout Cole Konrad, Velasquez kept waiting for Cole to get tired, to slip, to make that fatal mistake. It never happened.
"Cain was a little bit of a different problem for him," coach Marty Morgan said. Morgan coached Konrad and his teammate Brock Lesnar at Minnesota and now oversees their MMA careers. "He was so low to the ground and hard to get underneath. Cole wanted to use his upper body techniques and wasn't able to and Cain wanted to get to Cole's legs and couldn't. They battled it out. Cole was always able to keep his head during competition and did it there to pull it out. It was a great, great match."
Konrad beat Velasquez several times over the years, winning two NCAA championships along the way. But there is a camaraderie among wrestlers, and Velasquez is happy to see another of his brethren joining the sport. "I think it's good," Velasquez said. "Cole is an amazing wrestler, one of the best out there. And it's great to have these good wrestlers like Cole come in and start fighting. Wrestlers are the best in the sport as far as adapting to it."
Like Velasquez, Konrad had a lot of problems finding a fighter willing to meet him in the cage. After struggling to find bouts, with fighter after fighter cancelling once he realized who Konrad was, Bellator seemed like a gift from heaven. With a fight card every week, Bellator President Bjorn Rebney says he has plenty of room on his cards for a developing fighter like Konrad. And despite his impressive pedigree, Konrad realizes that he has a long way to go to reach his full potential.
"It's foolish to think that because you are good at wrestling you're going to be great at MMA," Konrad said. "It would be no different than them thinking because they were good at MMA they would be good at wrestling. They're not the same thing. I knew I had to develop all areas of the game, and I still have to. I have a long way to go before I'm where I want to be."