Six of the Ten UFC Champions have a background in American Folkstyle wrestling (Renan Barao's inteirm title is the tenth title). Cain Velasquez, and Chris Weidman were NCAA Division 1 All Americans, Jon Jones was a Junior College national champion, and recruited to a very solid Division 1 program, Iowa State before he decided to pursue a career in MMA. Ben Henderson wrestled for Dana College at the NAIA level where he was a 2 x NAIA All American. Demetrious Johnson, and Dominick Cruz had very successful High School Wrestling careers, but never took their game to the college level. This list does not even include Georges St. Pierre who did not come from a traditional High School, College, or International wrestling background, but has trained extensively with members of the Canadian wrestling team and is identified by many as having the best MMA wrestling in the sport. In addition to the champions, three of the confirmed next challengers for UFC belts, John Moraga (NCAA D1), Johny Hendricks (NCAA D1 Champion), and Miesha Tate (High School) got their start in combat sports wrestling.
While some may argue, the debate over the best combat sport base for MMA revolves around Wrestling. MMA is seeing a trend where athletes from specific universities are more likely to make the jump to MMA after their college careers are complete. In the near future will the term MMA, or even UFC factory attached to some of the most successful wrestling programs?
The first one that could earn that moniker is Oklahoma St (OSU). OSU has a legendary wrestling program, and claims 34 team national titles in a history dating back to the 1920s. Numerous NCAA National Champion contenders, and Olympic caliber athletes are part of the program year in and year out, and their fan base loves the sport. Here is a look at the former OK St. wrestlers who have, or currently are competing in MMA.
Randy Couture - 3 x All-American, 2 x National Finalist. 19-11 MMA. UFC LHW, and HW Champion, and one of the true legends of the sport that bridged the gaps from the early unregulated shows into the monster events of the 2005-2010 era.
Don Frye - Started his college career at Arizona State, but finished with Oklahoma St. on the same team as Couture. Don was one of the early legends in MMA, compiling a 20-9 record in MMA. He started his MMA career 16-1, with most of the fights coming between UFC and Pride. The only loss in that early stretch was to Mark Coleman
Mark Munoz - 2 x All-American, 2001 National Champion. 12-3 MMA, with most of the fights coming in WEC and UFC.
Daniel Cormier - 2 x All-American, National Runner up, 2004 and 2008 Olympian. 12-0 MMA, and likely would be fighting for the UFC HW title, if it wasn't held by his friend and training partner Cain Velasquez.
Mo Lawal - All-American. 9-2-1 MMA. Mo only wrestled at OSU during his senior season, after winning a Division 2 National Championship. Lawal was a 3 x US Freestyle National Champion and had a successful career wrestling internationally, but fell short of the Olympics in 2008. Mo is a former Strikeforce LHW champion, and fighting in the Bellator LHW Tournament finals on July 31st.
Jake Rosholt - 3 x National Champion, 12-5 MMA. Some consider him a failure at MMA, due to early hype that said he would be the next Randy Couture. He never lived up to the early hype, but he did make it to UFC and holds a submission win over long time vet Chris Leben. He isn't listed on the Team Takedown web site, so I believe he is retired now.
Johny Hendricks - 2 x National Champion, 4 x All-American. 15-1 MMA, and will be the next challenger for the UFC WW title in November. Hendricks was one of the first Team Takedown members, and to this point is by far the most successful member of that team.
Shane Roller - 3 x All-American, 11-7 MMA. Another of the Original Team Takedown guys, Roller had a long run in WEC/UFC but was never more than a mid-level gatekeeper before he retired last year.
Jared Rosholt - 3 x All-American, National Runner up. 7-1 MMA. One of the top HW prospects in the sport and will be in action again on August 2nd.
Jerrod Sanders - All-American, 2 x National Qualifier. 13-1 MMA. Sanders became a coach at North Carolina State before pursuing MMA. He is now signed with WSOF fighting as a Featherweight, and picked up a win on their June card.
Steve Mocco - 2 x National Champion, 2 x National Runner up, 2008 Olympian. Mocco spent his first two years at Iowa, winning a National title, and placing second, before moving to Oklahoma St. to finish out his career. He is 2-0 in his MMA career, and one of the top HW prospects around. He will fight on the next RFA card, on August 16th.
Jamal Parks - All-American, 4 X NCAA Qualifier, 2-0 in MMA. The latest OSU alumni to make the jump to MMA, his pro debut was in April, and he will fight again on August 2nd.
Tyler Shinn - 2 x National Qualifier during his Freshman and Sophomore seasons, but was then hampered by injuries, and the emergence of 4 x All-American, and 2 x National Champ Jordan Oliver who bumped him from the lineup. 5-1 MMA.
Kyle Griffin - Griffin was never a major player at Oklahoma St. After transferring in from junior college he redshirted a year, and then complied 10-4 record in 2008-2009. He is 1-2 in MMA, and was most recently scene grappling at the UFC fan expo.
This list of fighters has legends in the sport of MMA like Couture, and Frye, mixed with top contenders like Cormier, and Hendricks, and rising prospects like Jared Rosholt, Mocco, and Parks. OSU will be well represented in the sport of MMA for years to come, and it will be interesting to see if the flow of talent continues to increase as more and more alumni find success. Hendricks mentioned in some recent interviews that he stop by OSU practice to work out with the team from time to time. That gives anyone on the team with questions about MMA a resource, and sounding board.
Who is next?
The obvious choice for the next OSU wrestler to make his way into MMA is Blake Rosholt, who could follow his two brothers into the sport. Blake has not reach the same level of success as Jake, and Jared at OSU yet, but with one year remaining after he earned All-American honors in 2013, he is likely to leave the school with an impressive NCAA wrestling resume. I'm sure he will have every opportunity to train with the guys at Team Takedown like Johny Hendricks, Jared Rosholt, and Jamal Parks.
Alan Gelogaev is another potentially interesting candidate for the world of MMA. He had tremendous success at HW during his time in Oklahoma, becoming an All-American in 2013. He saw his career riddled by injury as he was sidelined during the 2011 and 2012 NCAA tournaments. He is a native of Russia, and was a youth boxer before he took up wrestling seriously after watching the 2004 Olympics. During a training camp in Russia, Daniel Cormier, struck up a friendship with Gelogaev, and helped convinced him that Oklahoma St. was a good place to wrestle, and attend school.
Current OSU rising senior, and 3 x All American Tyler Caldwell is another viable candidate. He took an Olympic red-shirt for the 2011-2012 season to train for the 2012 Olympics, and that will likely remain his goal in 2016. The problem for him is that he competes in a stacked weight class at the Senior US level. Ahead of him on the USA depth chart are impressive guys like 2012 Olympic gold medalist, and 2011 World Champion Jordan Burroughs, 4 x NCAA Champ Kyle Dake, and 2012 NCAA Champ, 3 time NCAA finalist David Taylor, and Andrew Howe
Every MMA fan would love to see recent OSU grad Jordan Oliver make the jump, but he is finding success in Freestyle wrestling and almost certainly will not even consider a jump to MMA until after the 2016 Olympics... if he considers it at all. Oliver was a 2 x National Champion, and 4 x All-American during his time at OSU.
It is hard to guess who will be the next in the growing line of Oklahoma St. wrestlers to try their hand at MMA. Only a handful of the guys listed above started fighting in MMA right after leaving college. Many pursued international wrestling, or coaching before getting in the fight game. The next name we see may have already graduated, and be competing like 2012 Olympic Bronze Medalist Coleman Scott, or Obe Blanc, or could be out of the sport completely before getting the itch for competition again.
No matter who makes the jump to MMA next, they will be part of a growing tradition at Oklahoma St.