It was a packed arena as he walked up to the cage. The referee looked him over making sure there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary or illegal that could be used against his opponent. Once he was clear the cut man put Vaseline on his face to make sure his cheek bone didn’t break. Finally he walked into the cage ready to face his opponent. Fifteen minutes later and three rounds later Jake Thornton came out victorious.
Thornton is just the latest in a number of wrestlers who have found a career in mixed martial arts.
This is not an old trend as wrestlers such as Dan Severn, Randy Couture, and Mark Coleman all made the transition during the early UFC no holds barred style tournaments.
At a time when wrestlers amateur wrestlers didn’t make much money, fighting in a sport where they could utilize their wrestling and make money seemed like the good route to go.
“It is a solid option once the athlete is done wrestling competitively,” says Brian Jackson, head wrestling coach at Missouri Baptist University.
Another inspiration for the current generation of transitioning athletes is the show The Ultimate Fighter which features up and coming fighters competing for a contract in the UFC.
“Josh Koscheck showed how successful a wrestler could be even without a lot of MMA experience,” said Thornton.
It is the perfect sport for some when they already have the basic skills that a MMA fighter needs to be successful in the sport.
“They are used to the concept of working hard and drilling repetitively to master a certain skill. They are also good at weight cutting,” says Jackson.
Jackson also says that as many as 5 percent of his wrestlers make the transition, a significant number in the long term.
MMA is also unique in that unlike a sport like boxing, there is actually a middle class. Middle range fighters in the UFC are able to make a comfortable living with around three fights a year equaling out to around six digits a year.
Wrestlers also have the discipline to excel in a sport like MMA with a work ethic that allows them to constantly evolve in the sport and the results show it. Many top MMA fighters today are former wrestlers including the likes of UFC champions Daniel Cormier, Robbie Lawler, T.J. Dillashaw and Demetrious Johnson.
Needless to say it will be exciting to see how the sport continues to evolve.