Tyrell Fortune is MMA's next great heavyweight

Jak Keyser

Tyrell Fortune, a young and decorated wrestler, will enter the world of prize fighting. Bloody Elbow wrestling specialist Mike Riordan explains Fortune's unlimited potential as a mixed martial artist.

I first saw the name Tyrell Fortune on the 2008 Asics Boys Team poster. High school coaches laminate these and hang them in wrestling rooms throughout the country, mostly so their athletes can point at the listed names and say, "Gosh, I'm glad I didn't have to wrestle that guy." The Asics Boys Team functions as wrestling's version of Parade's football All-American team. If a wrestler shows up on the Asics poster, then he can look forward to a bright future in college wrestling and beyond.

On the 2008 Asics Boys Team alone, six wrestlers went on to win NCAA Division I championships, one has make a Senior World Team and one wrestled in the Olympics. Fortune, the number three 215 pound wrestler on that team, may very well end up as the most accomplished combat athlete of them all.

Earlier this week, mixed martial arts-focused agent Glenn Robinson announced that he signed Fortune, indicating the young wrestle from Oregon would begin training in Florida with the Blackzillians.

Make no mistake about it, Fortune's move to MMA is a big deal. Just how big? We will find out by applying my LEASER system, used to predict an amateur wrestler's potential as a fighter. LEASER measures six factors: level of achievement, evidence of growth, age, style/mentality, experience in other combat sports, and raw talent/athleticism.

Level of Achievement-

In scholastic wrestling, Fortune has excelled at every level. He won state championships in high school, a pair of junior college national championships, and an NCAA Division II national championship. While in junior college, Fortune accepted an offer to wrestle for Division I power Ohio State, but never suited up for the Buckeyes, and found his way to Grand Canyon University's program. In his last year of college wrestling at GCU, Fortune experienced decent success on the couple of occasions he faced the top end of Division I competition.

Fortune's true area of expertise lies in the Olympic wrestling styles. Since high school, Fortune has won nearly every national age-group championship in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. In 2008, he won a double Fargo championship, placing first in the USAW Junior National Championships in freestyle and Greco-Roman. Fortune placed first at the 2009 U.S. FILA Junior World Team Trials in two styles, competing at both Junior World Championships, and placing seventh in freestyle.

In the last couple years, Fortune grew from the 96 kg weight class into a 120 kg wrestler. In 2013, he flourished at the new weight. He represented the United States at the World University Games in both freestyle, where he placed third, and Greco, where he placed fifth. He then achieved the rare feat of placing in both styles at the U.S. open, finishing freestyle competition in third place, and Greco in sixth. He capped off his break-out year with a runner-up finish in freestyle at the World Team Trials, losing in the final wrestle off to world medalist Tervel Dlagnev.

Right now Fortune leaves wrestling as the number two freestyle wrestling heavyweight in the United States, and he doesn't sit that far from the top of the ladder in Greco either.

Evidence of Growth-

Fortune has shown continual improvement throughout his wrestling career, and in the last year he truly blossomed. In a short time, he went from a talented young wrestler with great age-group success and some decent college wins, to the number two spot on the US Men's Freestyle Wrestling National Team at the Senior level (no age restrictions). Right now Fortune finds himself riding an arc of exponential improvement. This bodes well for his potential in MMA.

Age-

At 23, Fortune has the time to develop high-level striking and submission grappling skills while still in his athletic prime.

Style/Mentality-

We want to see wrestlers who embrace the combative aspect of the sport, and almost all world-class level wrestlers do. Fortune is no exception. He shows a willingness to bang with opponents, though he always maintains a calm and controlled demeanor, never placing physicality before good wrestling.

In terms of specific techniques, Fortune has the mobility and versatility to successfully perform a wide variety of attacks, even at his large size. The two moves he uses that jump out are his double leg and his lateral drop.

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Unlike most big men, Fortune shoots quality double legs from open space. I hate to say something hackneyed, but he moves like a much smaller man. He enters his doubles with a true penetration step, and finishes in a variety of ways. In the match above, he drives the shot back up to his feet and runs through his opponent's legs.

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Fortune also hits a simply gorgeous lateral drop, and he does it against enormous, strong and very skilled opponents. Above, Zach Rey drives into Fortune, who throws him so hard he bounces off the mat. Rey is an NCAA Division I champ built like a dump truck with limbs. I didn't think anyone could toss him like this; I thought wrong.

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In this past year alone, Fortune decked two different NCAA champions in the same manner. Below, during the University World Team Trials, he chucks and pins Tony Nelson after Nelson slides up off a stymied double leg.


Fortune actually beat Nelson twice this past summer. Final wrestle offs for the University National Team consisted of a best two out of three series. Fortune won the first two matches and advanced to the World University Games. While he won the first match with the previously discussed quick pin, his second win was even more impressive.

Anyone can get caught. Lat dropping someone and flash pinning them doesn't necessarily demonstrate comprehensively superior wrestling skills. On the other hand, outscoring an opponent over a six-minute often does. In the second match against Nelson, Fortune overcame an early deficit, winning convincingly as the bout went the distance. Fortune has developed the ability to wrestle smart, strategic matches, an ability on full display against Nelson

The high point of Fortune's second match with Nelson came with the takedown pictured below. To appreciate this move, you should first understand the difficulty involved in taking Nelson down with a conventional leg attack. A hulking 260 pounds of corded muscle, Nelson has won two consecutive NCAA Division I titles, and may very well win a third, based largely on his uncanny resemblance to a brick wall. Almost all wrestlers, even some of the very best, fail spectacularly when they attempt to take Nelson down by shooting on his legs . Yet, in the sequence below, Fortune drives Nelson to the mat with relative ease.

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Fortune's flashy double legs and explosive throws don't wow me nearly as much as this subtle piece of technique. Above, Fortune scores on Nelson with a misdirection inside step. He starts by dropping his trail knee to the mat, and feinting slightly to the right. Nelson anticipates an attack to his left leg and adjusts his weight accordingly. Fortune then shifts direction, powering a penetration step with his left leg between Nelson's legs and popping his head to Nelson's right hip. Fortune then wraps his left arm around Nelson's right leg, and knocks him to the mat.

Misdirection shots are highly sophisticated techniques, and a province of the sport's true students. A takedown like this requires the coordination of many moving parts in an incredibly small window of time, and you almost never see wrestling this complex with men this big.

The wrestling style of Fortune contains everything you would look for in a successful fighter. It features aggression, a willingness to dominate opponents with unusual physical gifts, clinical technique, and the intelligent execution of strategy. Stylistically, he is the blueprint for a successful wrestling to MMA conversion.

Experience in Other Combat Sports-

I honestly don't know if Fortune has any substantive experience in any other combat sports, but I don't think it matters much. With his attention to technical detail and physical abilities combined with his youth, he should pick up any necessary skill and rapidly develop into a well-rounded fighter.

Raw Talent/Athleticism-

Fortune cuts a pretty imposing figure, sporting the dimensions of a true heavyweight. His height lists at over 6 feet (185 cm), and at the 2013 U.S. Open he weighed in at the limit of 265 pounds(120 kg), while maintaining a powerful and fairly lean build of an athlete. He doesn't sport the cartoonish muscles of a Brock Lesnar, or quite the same sort of violent explosiveness, but he makes up for it with superior grace and fluidity. Fortune wrestles with a natural ease of motion, giving the appearance of a great wrestler who happens to have amazing athletic gifts, rather than a superior athlete who has learned to parlay his physical abilities into wrestling success.

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Fortune boasts elite speed, strength and balance with great burst in his upper and lower body. Above, he finishes a head-outside single by rather effortlessly lifting a decently large Nick Gwiazdowksi.


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The above sequence provides deep insight into Fortune's lavish physical gifts. Gwiazdowski, a talented big man in his own right, achieves a low-lift position, and stands to his feet with his head between Fortune's legs. Fortune maintains complete body control, and when Gwiazdowski attempts to fling him backward, Fortune balances on his hands, and performs a round off from his opponent's shoulders. When Fortune lands, he finds himself in perfect position to go behind Gwiazdowski for the takedown, impressive stuff to say the least.

Final Analysis

At his current rate of development, Fortune, if he continued wrestling, was not just one of the front runners for the 2016 Olympic team, but also a serious medal threat. Modern mixed martial arts has never received a commitment from a wrestler of this quality in such a vital part of his developmental life. Sweetening the pie, Fortune is a heavyweight, a division with a dearth of true athletes with elite skills.

In the last few years we have welcomed a number of highly regarded wrestlers into the world of fighting, including multiple NCAA Division I champions and finalists, as well as four of the seven members of the United States 2008 Olympic Freestyle Wrestling Team. Let me say this clearly so as to eliminate any possible ambiguity: Fortune is a much bigger prospect than any of them. In fact, he has the highest MMA upside of any wrestler that has converted to the sport, ever. I fully expect him to establish himself as the best MMA heavyweight in the entire world within five years.

Quote me on that.

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