Welcome to the seventh installment of the 20 Greatest Wrestling Matches between MMA Stars. In this edition we take you way back to classic mixed martial artists while mixing in a bit of the contemporary.
7. Kevin Jackson vs. Yoel Romero-1997 World Cup of Freestyle Wrestling
After a gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 1992 Olympics at 82 kilograms, and a couple of wrestling world championships, Kevin Jackson had a pretty successful run in the early UFC. A year after failing to make a second Olympic team in 1996, Jackson won the UFC 14 Middleweight Tournament. Though he would lose his next two fights in the UFC, and never fight in the promotion again, Jackson's short MMA career went fairly well.
After a silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Olympics at 85 kg, and a world wrestling championship, Yoel Romero is having a good run as a middleweight in the UFC, right now, in 2014.
Considering the almost 17-year gap between their UFC stints, it's crazy to think that Romero and Jackson once met in a high profile wrestling match. The two wrestled each other at the 1997 World Cup with Jackson coming away the victor. I recently had a chance to ask Jackson for details regarding this match, but he would only divulge that Romero was "young".
6. Mark Coleman vs. Mark Kerr- 1988 NCAA Championship
These two massively muscled original masters of taking someone down and punching them in the face might have been MMA contemporaries, but they experienced little overlap in their best wrestling years. However, in the first round of the 1988 NCAA tournament at 190 pounds, the two did meet. I wish that their match involved high drama as two true monsters locked horns, neither willing to concede an inch, but it did not. Coleman, simply put, tore Kerr apart, beating him by technical fall (wrestling's version of a mercy rule) 17-1. After dispatching Kerr, Coleman would move on to dominate the rest of his opponents at the tournament, rather easily claiming the 1988 NCAA title.
This result should not shock anyone. At the time of the match, Kerr, a college freshman in 1988, only had a win/loss record of 8-10. Frankly, I'm shocked that he qualified for the national tournament at all. Meanwhile, Coleman came into his final NCAA tournament in 1988 with a 45-2 record, and the top seed in the 190 pound weight class
It always fills me to see with sadness to see the word "Syracuse" next to Kerr's name on a bracket sheet. Of all the hundreds of dropped college wrestling programs throughout the nation, the loss of Syracuse University's team stings more than just about any other. The University had a storied wrestling program, a prestigious reputation and a location in a region very important to the sport.
Coleman spent time wrestling for a now defunct college wrestling program as well. Though he won his national championship for (The) Ohio State University, he only officially competed for one season at the Columbus, Ohio institution. For his first three years of college, Coleman wrestled for Miami University (the one in Oxford, Ohio, not to be confused with the University of Miami, a private school for rich kids from Long Island, in Florida). In 1986, his junior year at Miami, Coleman placed fourth at the NCAA Championships for his first All-American finish, then, for reasons I do not know, transferred to Ohio State to finish his college wrestling career.
In 1997, little more than a decade after their meeting in the NCAA tournament, both Kerr and Coleman would both fight on the same card in UFC 14.
5. Jake Rosholt vs. Phil Davis- 2006 NCAA Championship Finals
Jake Rosholt claims a 12-5 record in mixed martial arts, and a win over Chris Leben in the world's biggest promotion, the UFC, but I, more than anyone, am still shocked that he never turned out to be far better.
As a college wrestler, Rosholt had everything necessary for a smooth transfer to a highly successful prize fighting career. The Oklahoma State star wrestled with speed, strength and ferocity, but more than anything, he showed the magical ability to perform at his best when it mattered the most. In his four years wrestling varsity, Rosholt suffered 20 regular season losses, but only one at the NCAA tournament, which he won three times. When the bright lights shined at the National Championships, Rosholt became a different person, and wrestled like a man possessed.
Rosholt notably pinned current UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman in the semifinals of the 2006 NCAA wrestling tournament at 197 pounds, but for ranking purposes, I am using this slot for Rosholt's next match, a 10-3 thrashing of UFC light heavyweight contender Phil Davis in the national finals.
I chose the match with Davis here because a championship match has greater meaning, I have video of it to show and the then dreadlocked Davis wore his Penn State singlet backwards. I am not making this up. In the biggest match of his career, on national television, Davis took the mat wearing his uniform the opposite side in front. 'Penn State' should have appeared on his chest, see below.
Join us next time for part VIII in this ranking of the 20 greatest wrestling matches between future MMA stars.