The 20 Greatest Wrestling Matches Between Future MMA Stars, Part VIII: 4 & 3

Alexis Cuarezma

Before they obtained fame in mixed martial arts, many great fighters competed in amateur wrestling. Sometimes, amateur wrestling matches have even featured two future prize fight combatants. Bloody Elbow wrestling specialist Mike Riordan ranks the 20 greatest wrestling matches between future MMA stars.

Welcome to the penultimate entry in Bloody Elbow's epic ranking of the 20 Greatest Wrestling Matches between MMA Stars.

4. Daniel Cormier vs. Mo Lawal- 2007 World Team Trials Final Wrestle Offs.

After the 2004 Athens Olympics, and Cael Sanderson's retirement from competition, Mo Lawal bore all the marks of the USA's future in freestyle wrestling at the 84 kg (185 pounds) weight class. In 2005, the prodigiously gifted Oklahoma State product represented the United States at his first World Championships, where he showed immense promise by placing seventh. The sky appeared to be the limit for young Lawal, and a long run at the top of the American depth chart seemed imminent.

As history would have it, however, Lawal would never again represent the USA in world-level competition. In 2006, he lost in the World Team Trials challenge tournament to Andy Hrovat in a shocking upset, and in 2008, in the final, best of three, wrestle offs for the Olympic team, Lawal lost twice more to Hrovat, proving that the 2006 loss was, perhaps, not as surprising as it seemed.

In 2007, Lawal tried his hand at the next weight up, 96 kg (211 pounds). Things went well for him at the World Team Trials, where he won the challenge tournament, and the right to face his good friend Daniel Cormier in the final wrestle offs. Unfortunately for Lawal, the Cormier proved too much, and the two-time Olympian downed Lawal in straight periods, and straight matches. Cormier would win the bronze medal that year at the World Championships.

Heading into the 2008 Olympics, and with Lawal back down at 84 kg, the USA's prospects in freestyle wrestling looked promising with a potential lineup featuring both Lawal and Cormier. Such a lineup would not materialize and, sadly, neither Lawal nor Cormier would actually compete in the Beijing Games. Both retired as wrestlers after 2008, and embarked on successful MMA careers.

3.Cain Velasquez vs. Cole Konrad- 2006 NCAA Wrestling Championships Semifinals

Before Velasquez became the most dangerous, and dominant, heavyweight mixed martial artist in the world, and Konrad retired as the undefeated Bellator champion, the two met in the semifinals of the 2006 NCAA Wrestling Championships.

I must admit that I was unable to watch the 2006 bout between the two big men, but those who did see it  claim that Velasquez should have won and moved on to face Steve Mocco in the NCAA finals. Now, for the first time on the interwebs, we can view Minnesota's Conrad and Arizona State's Velasquez's NCAA semifinal match in its full glory, thanks to Earl Smith at, who was kind enough to give me copies of a bunch of old wrestling DVDs at last weekend's NCAA Championships (visit his site). See below.

I have now had a chance to watch this a few times, and will list my observations:

  • Outside his NCAA semifinal wins over Velasquez and Oregon State's Ty Watterson, as well as his two finals snorefests against Oklahoma State's Steve Mocco, Konrad was actually a pretty active and exciting wrestler. You wouldn't know from the above video.
  • In the first period, Velasquez miraculously avoids the takedown in a cradle situation, due to the camera angle, I can't see how (blame Earl).
  • In the second and third periods, both wrestlers choose neutral, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why.
  • In the first series of ride outs, Velasquez twice comes awfully close to scoring takedowns, only to have Konrad roll the action out of bounds. Under the current ruleset, this would receive a stalling warning.
  • If you are unfamiliar with the tie-breaker procedures at the end of matches, I do not have space here to explain the process, but suffice it to say, that at the end of the ultimate tie breakers, Konrad won because he had accrued more riding time. In the next round, Konrad won his first NCAA championship in tie breakers.

Finally, and most importantly, while I do not believe Konrad was guilty of stalling for most of the match in the sense that he did not try to score points; however, I think that the ref should have penalized Konrad at least one point for stalling due to the aggregate number of true shoots taken by Velasquez and left unanswered by Konrad (just to clarify, the first stalling call is a warning, the second is a point to the active wrestler). Referees should not change the standard of stalling for big men, and had this sort of action occurred at a lower weight, the non-offensive wrestler would have given up a point. For this reason I have to agree with wrestling fans who believe the referee robbed Velasquez of a win here.

Also, interestingly, had Velasquez won, he would have almost certainly lost to Mocco in the finals, and Mocco would hold the title of the statistically greatest heavyweight wrestler of all time (shared with Oklahoma State's Dick Hutton).

Join us next time, for the final installment of the Greatest Wrestling Matches Between Future MMA Stars.

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