A once-in-a-lifetime meeting between two of MMA’s brightest stars will take place on a wrestling mat at Sunday’s Grapple at The Garden event.
In the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden, two-time UFC lightweight title contender Gray Maynard and surging World Series of Fighting lightweight contender Ozzy Dugulubgov will return to their grappling roots and compete in the sport that started it all.
Maynard, a two-time state champion and collegiate All-American from Michigan State University, credits his wrestling years for molding him into the man he is today.
The chance to perform in front of millions under the bright lights of the UFC is a unique opportunity, but nothing could ever trump the nostalgia gained from throwing on the old wrestling singlet and stepping back onto the mat.
“It’s the sport that created who I am,” Maynard told Bleacher Report. “I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t do that sport, so it’s a good opportunity. Of course, I’ll keep doing it whether it’s coaching or whatever it is my whole life. It’s good to get back and compete for sure.”
The overused moniker of blood, sweat and tears is often tossed around with little meaning for nearly every sport. But few athletes understand sacrifice like those involved in wrestling.
There are no multimillion dollar contracts or blue-chip sponsors. For wrestlers, only the priceless title of self-fulfillment lies at the end of the beaten path filled with broken bones and crushed dreams. It’s a sport that is known to turn young boys into men.
Dugulubgov was one of those young boys.
Born and raised in the war-torn Russian region of North Caucasus, the WSOF star cut his teeth in wrestling by getting into street fights. He once told MMA Junkie (h/t NBC Sports) that it wasn’t out of the ordinary for the average street fight in North Caucasus to turn into a wrestling match, where guys were actually trying to score points on one another.
As the son of Anatoli Dugulubgov, a wrestling legend and national champion, Ozzy never had the option of losing street confrontations. He has carried the many lessons taught by his father into adulthood.
Like Maynard, Dugulubgov is overwhelmed by the nostalgic trip down memory lane that Sunday’s wrestling match gives him.
“Wrestling is one of the sports that I loved in my childhood,” Dugulubgov said when speaking with Bleacher Report. “It’s an amazing art in my eyes. It’s the sport that I believe that every man who’s able to do it should do it and have a chance to try. It’s an amazing art, not just physically but mentally as well.
“Honestly, I’m never excited for my fights. It’s always like, ‘Let me go and complete my task.’ I’m always looking at it like I have a task to complete. The wrestling for me is like a big game, like a big excitement. I’m very happy to be there, and I can’t wait to be there, and I’m really looking forward to Sunday.”
Grapple at the Garden is a major event that will feature a plethora of familiar faces from the MMA and grappling community, including Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, Bellator bantamweight champ Joe Warren, Olympic gold medalist and five-time Russian world champion Khadjimurad Gatsalov and Armenian world champion Arsen Julfalakyan.
The event will also feature collegiate competition between 25 teams representing NCAA Divisions I to III, as well as NJCAA junior colleges and NCWA club programs.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon.