Shawn Bunch, former Olympic hopeful/ NCAA runner-up, makes his debut in Bellator tonight


The lure of getting paid to do what you are good at has been too much to resist for the Olympic level American wrestlers who have found success in Bellator. After all, there isn't much money in an Olympic quest if you never end up with a medal around your neck. Shawn Bunch is the first of the 2012 Olympic hopeful wrestlers to sign with Bellator. Tonight is his first fight.

Doing what you love, despite the fact that you make no money, is great, at first. You are the one who isn't getting taken for a fool. While the rest of the world is running around being miserable building their financial future - taking out mortgages, making down payments on trucks, going on vacations in vehicles that fly - you chuckle to yourself in the knowledge that the value of these things is spurious. After all, the only true wealth is spending your days doing something you enjoy. When you love what you do, your life is a vacation. You don't need a new truck so long as your current clunker still rolls, and mortgages are silly when you'd be willing to live in a medium sized box or shipping container if necessary.

If you decide to eschew material possession and pursue your scantily paid passion for a living have indeed made a wise choice. Of course, one day, in your late twenties, you wake up one morning actually living in a box, and this box is filled with people who have real needs. There's a wife who would actually like a vacation and maybe a car that works. There's a baby crawling around with a hunger for tuition money and possibly some yams.

Finally, there is you. You have a growing recognition that perhaps it isn't a good thing that you still wear the same clothes you had in college. You are becoming painfully aware that some of your sucker, rat race friends have stuff, stuff like finished basements, 401-k's, and actual beds where the metal railings don't show. A chill runs up your spine. This is the touch of the spectral hand of adulthood, a hand that is about to choke the shit out of you. You need money, a bunch of it. You now realize that you haven't permanently avoided the rat race, you're just a late entry, and you have miles of running to do if you want to get back on the lead lap.

At one point or another, this is the situation where most Olympian/ Olympic level wrestlers arrive. For years they have been lost in the romance of dreaming the impossible dream, of striving beyond their limits, of living out their love affair with wrestling. Now this is over, and cruel life is forcing them to go out and earn money in a world where their accomplishments on a mat mean comparatively little. This is a world of probable boredom, possible pot bellies, and no more of the sweet thrill of competitive combat.

Or is it? There just might be a way out. A way to continue winning matches along with bread, if only for a while longer. This escape from a life of business casual banality is called MMA. More specifically, it is called Bellator.

Three times now, Bellator has served as a way for newly retired Olympic level wrestlers to apply their considerable wrestling skills and earn sizable and quick paychecks. Two of them, welterweight champion, Ben Askren and Joe Warren, are still getting paid by the organization. The third, Cole Konrad, would almost assuredly still reign as the heavyweight champion had he not decided to go full time into the dairy industry. With this track record of success, it was only a matter of time for the newly retired 2012 Olympic wrestling hopefuls to start calling Bjorn Rebney's number (Note, I excluded Mike Chandler from this list as he never was a real Olympic aspirant).

Tonight, Shawn Bunch, the first of these 2012 Olympic hopefuls, takes to the cage as a bantamweight in Bellator. I wrote extensively about Shawn and his wrestling when his signing to Bellator was announced. Now we get to see if I was right.

Shawn will win tonight, and he will do so by relying largely on his wrestling. This is a simple and safe prediction. I doubt he has been practicing other martial arts long enough to finish the fight on his feet or by submission. The arc of Shawn's career will likely resemble that of longtime UFC welterweight, and fellow Edinboro Fighting Scot with a comparable level of wrestling skill, Josh Koscheck. Shawn's early fights might not be aesthetically pleasing, but he will win early and often, with only a couple of setbacks. In a couple years, Shawn will have rounded out his skill set enough to be considered one of the world's best MMA bantams.

While Bunch has accomplished so much as a competitor, he always came maddening close to fulfilling his ultimate goals only to fall heartbreakingly short. Shawn was a runner up at the NCAA championships and the Olympic trials special wrestle off, losing in both to opponents he had beaten in the past. At least Bellator might provide him the opportunity to earn the title of champion.

At a minimum it will give him a chance to maintain the life that he loves and earn a sizable check or two in the process; it will also provide him the chance at true wealth, a job he actually enjoys.

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