UFC 162 Factgrinder: The strange wrestling journey of Dave Herman

Ester Lin for MMAFighting

This Saturday, on UFC 162, Dave Herman faces Gabriel Gonzaga. The Factgrinder is here to tell the unlikely story of Dave Herman's wrestling career.

Indulge me for but a moment as we travel back to 1993. Two future NCAA Division 1 wrestling champions take the mat against one another in a battle for the ages. Both are seven years old. The match looks something like this:

The unfortunate lad with the mop of brown hair is Mike Pucillo. Pucillo, after his college career, could boast a resume including four All American finishes for Ohio State University, two appearances in the NCAA finals, and a national championship earned by defeating future Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner.

The munchkin in the headgear is named J. Jaggers. He would also wrestle for Ohio State, where he would achieve All American status three times and win two national championships (one of these would be won against Chad Mendes in a highly disputed NCAA finals match). As a seven year-old he possessed an absurd array of skills. Seriously, look at some of the stuff he pulls off in the video as a first grader. The same inside cradle he uses to pin Pucillo he made a living off in college, and he even used it against Old Dominion's Ryan Williams in the NCAA finals his senior year. I don't know about you, but I find this fascinating.

See below

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Now you might be wondering what all this has to do with Dave Herman. I have shown the above exhibits to illustrate that successful wrestling technique consists of years and years of repetition and refinement. Generally speaking, the better the wrestler, the longer they've been doing it. Just about any wrestler who experiences success on the NCAA Division 1 circuit has been on a mat since a young age, even the heavyweights. Rarely do we find wrestlers who achieve success on college's highest level when they entered the sport during their high schools or later. Mo Lawal placing third in the NCAA Division 1 wrestling championships, was a notable exception to the general rule. The fact that he did not start wrestling until well into his teens still serves as a topic of discussion.

We almost never hear of someone with essentially no wrestling background walking on to a high level NCAA Division 1 wrestling team and then finding a great deal of success; to do so would require an insane amount of athletic talent. Enter Dave Herman, who never finished an entire season of high school wrestling, but who nevertheless excelled on the Division 1 level.

Dave Herman wrestled three full years, and part of a fourth year, at Indiana University. At this time, IU was experiencing a good deal of success, finishing ninth in the 2005 NCAA tournament. He red-shirted during the 2003-04 season, his first year in Bloomington, and sat behind NCAA third place finisher Pat DeGain during his second year, while posting an impressive 28-9 record. Herman claimed the exclusive starting role in his third year at IU, and in the ultra-tough Big Ten conference, earned a 28-16 record and qualified for the NCAA tournament. At NCAAs, he went 2-2, beating future All-American Payim Zarrinpour of Sacred Heart in the process.

This third season was enough to garner himself the attention of national ranking services. In a 2006 preseason ranking, one respected wrestling ranking service placed Herman as high as eighth in the nation. This means that at least some legitimate wrestling journalists projected Herman as an All American in 2007. Based on this writer's opinion, they were justified in doing so.

Dave Herman had ascended to the elite levels of NCAA Division 1 wrestling, with no appreciable high school career. This never happens. For a person to achieve this would require athletic ability on a rare level. Wrestlers hone their craft over a lifetime in order to achieve the level of a Division 1 All American, Dave Herman achieved this level of ability in a mere three years. I cannot overstate the prodigiousness of Herman's natural abilities.

Unfortunately, Dave never made good on his potential. He wrestled flawlessly at the beginning of his fourth season as an Indiana Hoosier, in November of that season he won a championship at a very respectable open tournament with a field that included future NCAA champion Mark Ellis. The week after that, he was gone, down the road in a cloud of dust. I cannot find any information which explains his departure from the Indiana University wrestling program, but I infer from the deletion of his name from the 2006-07 statistics sheet, that his leaving wasn't one that made the coaching staff happy. No matter what, however, the fact that Dave Herman competed so successfully on college wrestling's highest level amazes me, and should amaze you.

Factgrinder Final Analysis

I'm rarely critical of fighters, and I acknowledge my bias towards wrestlers, but something about Herman rankles me. In becoming an elite college wrestler with no appreciable high school background, Dave demonstrated that he won the genetic lottery-a recipient of as many physical gifts as anyone in the UFC not named Jon Jones.

I would have given every single non-essential organ in my body for even half of Herman's talent. Herman, by birth became the beneficiary of a bonanza of God-given natural ability, but it appears that he intends to do nothing with it but cling by the fingernails to a UFC tenure that will probably soon end. Dave Herman's UFC career, thus far, has been little but a tragic waste of talent, and his college wrestling career proves this.

Here's to hoping things change.


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