10 Jun 10 Best Wrestlers in MMA Today
Wrestling has been regarded as a mainstay in the sport and it has been that way ever since the conception of MMA. We would watch how powerful wrestlers with extensive amateur background– like Dan Severn, Mark Coleman, and Mark Kerr— run roughshod through the competition using wrestling techniques.
As such, elite amateur wrestlers that aim to transition in MMA virtually has an easier time than other disciplines, thanks to their ability to stay on their feet and keeping their opponents from standing on them. That’s why wrestling skills translate very well into MMA and to those with extra talent and motivation to come around, it’s probably enough to at least put a belt around your waste when everything is said and done.
This list, while putting some weight to their achievements on MMA grounds, is dedicated to the best amateur wrestlers that chose to take their talents in this sport.
10. Muhammad Lawal
King Mo is a polarizing figure in MMA but make no mistake about it, the former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion is as good as it gets when it comes to smashing people on the ground.
He was a three-time U.S. National champion (2005, 2006, 2008), a US NCAA Division II national champion (2002), and an All-American in Oklahoma State (in 2003). Lawal was once the United States’ number-one ranked wrestler in the 84-kg division and before narrowly missing a spot at the US team for the 2008 Olympics, has won a gold in the Pan-Am games and silver in the 2007 World Cup.
9. Johnny Hendricks
Before the receding hairline and the recent, albeit short-lived, run as the UFC Welterweight champion, “Bigg Rigg” makes a killing in the national amateur wrestling scene.
He was a 3-time state champion in high school and one of those times he went on to win a national championship. He continued that run in college winning two national titles in 2005 and 2006 but settled for the runner-up finish in 2007.
Still, Hendricks has an amateur wrestling record of 159-13 and the distinction of one of the best wrestlers to ever step foot in the Octagon.
8. Joe Warren
We can call the self-proclaimed “Baddest Man on the Planet” a late-bloomer in MMA but when it comes to wrestling, he is anything but. He may have added “Olympic champion” in that already long wrestling resume if he wasn’t popped in 2008 for weed, just before the Beijing games.
Warren has topped the World Championships in Guangzhou (2006) and was a three-time U.S. national champion from 2005-07. He set high goals for himself and that would be making it as a dual champion– holding gold in MMA and then the Olympics. The latter never happened and may never happen EVER but at least he still got Bellator’s 135-lb title.
7. Alexis Vila
See, this is one of the reasons we have MMA: Old wrestlers got to work, too.
You know what, let’s just forget what “The Exorcist”‘s record is in MMA. What we need to know is that he was a Pan-Am and World Championships gold medalist in freestyle wrestling at 48 kg and a bronze medalist at the Atlanta Olympics in ’96.
6. Ben Askren
Askren here may lack the international pizzazz a wrestler of his caliber should have, but hey, the guy’s got MMA now. His wrestling pedigree is very evident in his smothering ways and the best part of it all– he got so good in wrestling now that everything’s coming together, including fight finishes.
While “Funky” Ben was often criticized for “laying and praying”, he is now in the middle of a four-right streak of early stoppages, none bigger than the knockout victory over Nobutatsu Suzuki to become the ONE FC Welterweight champion.
Yeah, it feels a bit off, but we’ll see him in the UFC soon. Mark me on that.
5. Daniel Cormier
Wrestling is mixed bag of happiness and source of anguish for the charismatic Cormier and rightfully so. Few will ever approach what DC did in his extensive amateur wrestling background but he also felt the disappointment of never becoming an Olympic medalist due to a.) losing in the semi-finals in the 2004 Olympics and b.) training so hard that his kidney malfunctioned keeping him out of Beijing in the 2008 games.
However painful those experiences were, Cormier was still looked up by everybody as the team captain of the U.S. National team. And it’s not that those gold medals in two Pan-Am games, the silver in 2005 Wrestling World Cup, and the bronze in the World Championships in Baku will be put to waste because of the Olympic failures.
4. Dan Henderson
Yep. Dan Henderson is old. When I say Dan has been grinding his ears on his opponent’s rib cage for the better part of the last 30 years, you have got to believe me.
But on the right side of the story, you don’t last long in that sport if you’re not good and Hendo is plenty good. Like Cormier, the glory of having an Olympic medal escaped Henderson, but everything else he already got.
He was a national champion in 93, 94 and 97 and went on to become a silver medalist twice in the World Cup in 94 and 96. In 2000, he got gold in the Pan American games but narrowly missed representing the U.S. three times in the Olympics. Old man settled for two.
3. Sara McMann
What every single men before her on this list covets, Sara has: An Olympic medal. McMann was the first-ever American woman to win a medal in Olympic wrestling history. Her accomplishments are too numerous to recount so let’s just put it this way: She’s just so freaking good.
2. Yoel Romero
The last two guys are those with Olympic hardware to show and “Soldier of God” is just one of two. It’s unknown if they have like an NCAA system their in Cuba so we can get a hand only on Romero’s international games.
Romero won the 1999 World Championships in Turkey and got the bronze and silver in 2001 and 2002, respectively. However, Romero is a two-time medalist in the Olympics, a silver in 2000 at Sydney and then a bronze in 2004 at Athens not to mention a gold, too, in the Pan American games in 2003.
1. Henry Cejudo
Cejudo is so good that he skipped college wrestling to train at the U.S. Olympic facility to compete internationally. That’s just unheard of!
At 21, he was already an Olympic gold medal winner, defeating Japanese Tomohiro Matsunaga to complete an improbable run where his four previous matches had to be come-from-behind.
With that much pedigree going for him, it’s only a matter of time before Cejudo makes his mark on MMA as well. At only 28 years old, he still got a lot of opportunity to do exactly that.
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