Wrestling team creates pipeline to UFC

11-25-09 Wrestling
The ASU wrestling program has developed a reputation for producing UFC fighters.(Branden Eastwood | The State Press)
Published On:
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Printer-friendly version

Shawn Charles wants to sell his product.

With Ultimate Fighting Championship’s growing popularity across the nation, Charles said ASU wrestling has provided a foundation for a number of UFC fighters, making the Sun Devil wrestling team an exciting one to watch.

“I guarantee they will be entertained. I guarantee they will become loyal fans of the Sun Devil wrestling program,” he said. “We just have to get them in there.”

There are at least four former ASU wrestlers that compete with UFC, posting an overall record of 49-7.

Former Sun Devils Aaron Simpson, Cain Velasquez and Ryan Bader are all currently undefeated. C.B. Dollaway is another former Sun Devil making noise in the octagon.

“Arizona State has a strong history of having great wrestling, but then also producing great UFC fighters,” Charles said.

Most great UFC fighters wrestled at some point during their career.

Former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar was an NCAA national champion wrestler in 2000, former UFC world light-heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz was a two-time California state wrestling champion and UFC hall-of-famer Randy Couture was a three time All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State.

Charles said they were successful for a reason.

“When you talk about the UFC guys and how a lot of them seem to be the best MMA fighters right now, it’s because of four or five years of training in that combative style,” he said. “They’ve been there, they’ve done this before; everyone can punch, everyone can kick, but not everyone can wrestle.”

The fundamental elements of mixed martial arts require a fundamental ground game, Charles said, making wrestling an advantageous background.
“It takes years of training your mind and body to be able to grapple,” Charles said. “That’s why wrestlers, time and time again, will always have the upper hand in this sport.”

Former ASU wrestler Curtis Ray said that fans can feel the emotion and passion that is shown from a UFC fighter and wrestlers.

“Fans love the fact that every fighter gives it his all, and because the sport is so hard and so difficult [for] people who fight competitively, you can tell they have a passion like no other sport,” he said.

Ray, who wrestled at ASU from 2002 to 2005, has competed in the octagon before and said that there is no other feeling like being in the cage and having thousands of people cheering just before the fight.

He also said his background in wrestling has not only helped him in fights but also in his career.

“Obviously wrestlers have the advantage over anyone with our ability to control our weight and balance, our strength and takedown abilities,” he said. “I also learned extreme discipline.”

Because the fights are based off of “natural instincts of survival,” UFC and mixed martial arts are the fastest growing sports in the world, Ray said.

It’s that “pureness” combined with the fact that the fighters always give it their all that fans appreciate, he said.

“Wrestling in my opinion is still the greatest sport there is because of the one-on-one nature of it,” Ray said. “There is no other sport that is as hand-to-hand, all combat as wrestling.”

In a sense, wrestling is UFC without the punching and kicking. It’s about technique, strength and conditioning on the mat.

ASU journalism junior David Vega, who wrestled at Chandler High School for four years, said that UFC feeds the public’s desire for violence.

“We have a giant blood lust, and UFC caters to that,” he said.

Being a wrestler himself, Vega said he greatly appreciates the hard work and time the UFC fighters put into a bout.

He also said that having a wrestling background is a key ingredient to the success of today’s fighters.

“If you don’t have wrestling in your background, you are not going to win,” Vega said. “It’s very difficult to teach wrestling and get that basic nature and concept down.”

Charles said people need to see firsthand how hard wrestlers work and view the physicality of the last true “one-on-one contact sport left in college athletics.”

“They have to come and see it so they can understand why the wrestlers are so good at it at the next level,” he said. “They have to come and watch to see how hard it is.”

Unlike boxing and other one-on-one sports, where athletes compete only several times a year, wrestlers are required to compete up to three times a day.

This conditioning is a building block for many UFC fighters throughout their careers.

“Wrestling and MMA are the hardest sports in the world, so a strong work ethic is a must,” Ray said.

Due to the fact that there is no “real” professional wrestling, UFC and MMA is the next best thing for athletes, he said.

“Watch the ASU wrestlers because a lot of them will probably be in the UFC soon,” Ray said.

In the end, Charles just wants to sell his product.

“I am guaranteeing when [people] come and watch us wrestle, they are going to see some work,” he said. “They are going to see wrestling, hardcore wrestling.”

He is trying to hook the public.

“Once we get them in [the arena], they are going to come back.”

Reach the reporter at nathan.meacham@asu.edu.