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The Best MMA Writing of 2011: Luke Thomas and Tommy Messano Explore the Future Between Wrestling and MMA

Jordan Burroughs with a title that could bode well for his future 'elsewhere'. Photo by Tony Rotundo at
Jordan Burroughs with a title that could bode well for his future 'elsewhere'. Photo by Tony Rotundo at

When you look at some of the world's best prospects in MMA, you'll inevitably find yourself exploring the world of college wrestling. How intimate is the relationship between mixed martial arts, and wrestling? What does that relationship mean for the future of both sports?

The management company of Team Takedown is a good example of what this revolution has meant for both sports. Although you could say they've been a mixed bag. Jake Rosholt left the UFC with a 2-2 record and is currently undefeated in his last 6 fights. Shane Roller is on a two-fight losing streak. Jared Rosholt is a HW prospect currently 4-0. And then there's Johny Hendricks who needs no introduction for the viewers of UFC 141 (or people that were never fans of Jon Fitch).

Hendricks took part in the NWCA All-Star Classic, and as Sherdog's Tommy Messano reports, the event has been a hot bed for MMA talent scouts. But what makes Messano's piece stand out is that we get to see two different reactions to this merging of interests between both sports.

On the one hand, you have a DIII two-time national champion from Wartburg College in Byron Tate, who is already training MMA. In Tate, we see how in MMA, wrestlers now have an outlet to make proper money. On the other hand, the silence of Oklahoma State's Jordan Oliver:

Oliver is a transcendent talent, but one who has thus far shown little interested in a future MMA career. When approached by on Sunday, Oliver declined to be interviewed and offered a simple "no comment," further confirming that his goal lies in acquiring multiple NCAA titles before becoming a key cog in Team USA’s Olympic medal hopes.

Oklahoma State assistant coach Zack Esposito put in perspective his team’s current view towards MMA.

"To tell you the truth, the guys on our team are Olympic-made and coaching-made," Esposito said. "Right now, it’s not likely [for them to transition to MMA]. We are pushing our Olympic hopes and we want them to reach that goal before they make that choice whether they want to go on or not.

"We encourage our guys, ‘don’t forget your childhood dreams.’ This thing [MMA] is new and appealing, but don’t forget your dreams. And then, after that, don’t forget your decision."

Oliver's silence, in its own way, speaks to what some consider a burden onto wrestling and the lack of reciprocity between the two sports. For an articulation of this position by the participants themselves, Luke Thomas at MMA Nation interviewed Jordan Burroughs (winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy), and Henry Cejudo (Olympic Gold Medalist).

Cejudo gave a very nuanced answer when asked whether or not MMA is hurting or helping wrestling:

Henry: Well, this is a difficult one. I would say it's probably hurting, to be quite honest with you. A lot of our best guys are going into mixed martial arts. At the same time, it's sort of pushing the sport of wrestling to increase their stipends, their winnings. So, yeah, it is a bummer because the sport is losing good guys like Daniel Cormier, Mo Lawal, Ben Askren, they almost lost me for a bit. It's happening because guys are seeing MMA, I hate to say it, but it's an easier sport than wrestling. Wrestling is a sport, just like boxing, it's been around for hundreds of years. It's easy. It's flashy. Cameras, you become famous. You become rich. And you have the best base which is wrestling. 75% I think of all fighters are wrestlers or former wrestlers.

Burroughs gives a similar answer, though both seem interested in eventually venturing into the MMA world. Perhaps just as interestingly, Burroughs answers the question: 'why do some wrestlers falter at their own game against MMA fighters with very little experience?' If there's a reason to think not every wrestler can make the transition, consider their styles, Jordan argues. For some of us who know very little of wrestling itself, we often just assume that all great wrestlers can power out a double leg like nobody's business. This is obviously not the case (in response to Luke's question about Yoel Romero during a Strikeforce fight that saw an Olympic medalist struggle to find takedowns):

Jordan: I'm not sure. I mean, other people excel at different positions. Maybe that wasn't a strong point, sticking on his feet. Maybe just because he was an Olympic medalist doesn't mean he's great on his feet. He might keep good positioning and be hard to score but wasn't very offensive. It's one of those things, we've got guys that are very offensive and can take down anyone and we've got guys that don't shoot at all but are very hard to take down. It's one of those things, you've got to decide what you're good at.

I didn't like putting both writers in one entry, but they explore such similar themes, I couldn't avoid it. Both put up fantastic work, and I suggest you read each in full.

Again, Tommy Messano's article can be read in full here. He can be reached on twitter @ULTMMA.

Luke Thomas' interviews with Jordan Burroughs and Henry Cejudo can be found, here and here, respectively. You can reach him on twitter @SBNLukeThomas.