Fighters who rely on their foundation as decorated wrestlers rarely appear on the UFC's international cards, but UFC 180 in Mexico City features two such fighters in one bout as top featherweights Dennis Bermudez and Ricardo Lamas face off. I suppose that the UFC needs to keep its featherweight wrestlers occupied while the division's golden goose, Connor McGregor, marches unimpeded to a title shot.
Both Bermudez and Lamas enter the octagon aided by several years of successful college wrestling experience. In Lamas' case, he wrestled for Elmhurst College, where he earned NCAA Division III All-American status by finishing in sixth place at the 2005 Division III NCAA Championships.
Bermudez, on the other hand, spent his years in college competing for Pennsylvania's Bloomsburg University on the NCAA Division I level- college wrestling's top level. Like many colleges in Pennsylvania, Bloomsburg doesn't have much in the way of national name recognition, but it boasts a rich wrestling tradition, and in the past has produced some of the country's very best wrestlers.
In his first two seasons as a college wrestler, Bermudez experienced mixed results, but improved at an impressive rate. During a red shirt season in 2005-2006, he notched a record of four wins and three losses, and the following year he finished the season with twenty-three wins and eighteen losses.
Bermudez's third year wearing a Bloomsburg singlet, 2007-2008, saw the wrestler begin to excel. Wrestling primarily at 149 pounds, Bermudez racked up a record of 20 wins and 10 losses as the Husky's starting wrestler. Early in this season, Bermudez hit the high point of his career with a first place finish at the Navy Classic and a win over Delaware State's highly regarded Matt Cathell. With two years of eligibility remaining, the future UFC star looked poised to do big things in college wrestling; a top 20 ranking and NCAA championship bids looked like real possibilities in the coming seasons. Unfortunately, neither of these would come to be.
Ten matches into his fourth season at Bloomsburg, Bermudez stopped wrestling. I won't speculate as to why his career ended at this point, but his exit from the Bloomsburg team coincided with the emergence of Matt Moley as one of the best Husky wrestlers in recent memory. Moley earned All-American status in both of 2008 and 2009, and wrestled at 157 pounds, then the same weight as Bermudez.
[Note: This author quit college wrestling based on the realization that he would never start, so if that is what motivated Bermudez's departure, then there is no judgment from me.]
In addition to accomplishments as an NCAA wrestler, and exactly like fellow UFC fighter John Moraga, Bermudez finished in sixth place at a University Freestyle National Championship. The Factgrinder has spent some time in the past discussing the meaning of "University All-American" status, and while finishing in the top eight at Universities is a nice accomplishment, it shouldn't earn a wrestler the title of All-American, at least not without qualification.
Factgrinder Final Analysis
If I believe various bios on Bermudez, the current UFC featherweight contender only started wrestling in high school. This means that in roughly seven years, Bermudez went from a wrestling novice to the fringes of the top-20 in Division I wrestling. Progression at this rate only occurs at the intersection of immense natural talent and focused hard work, two attributes which suggest that Bermudez has only just started to actualize his potential as a combat athlete.
As for Bermudez’s potential as a wrestler, had he finished his last two seasons of college wrestling, and not had to wrestle behind someone like Moley, I would expect that Bermudez would have achieved a top-15 ranking in NCAA Division I, and gone to the 2011 NCAA championships with an outside shot to become an All-American.
Bermudez was a very solid NCAA Division I wrestler, and could have ended up as a genuine stand out.