Chael Sonnen and the 25 Best NCAA Wrestlers in MMA History
Although a true mixed martial artists must draw from many disciplines, wrestling is arguably most important.
The pros to having a great wrestling pedigree are as numerous as there are fighters who stake the claim to being a great wrestler. For example, it allows a fighter to control where the fight goes and the manner in which their bouts are scored.
While some of the fighters on this list didn't achieve greatness, all of them owe their individual level of success to their NCAA wrestling background.
Rashad Evans took a successful high school wrestling career and turned it into a national championship at the Junior College level.
Evans would then move on to Michigan State University, where he didn't have the best record but undoubtedly gained a wealth of knowledge.
Evans' wrestling record was nothing more than average at best, but his run in MMA has shown that he can physically dominate others at 205-pounds using wrestling technique.
New to the MMA scene, Bubba Jenkins made noise last year by winning the 2011 NCAA Division I title at 157 pounds.
Jenkins won the title while attending Arizona State but had wrestled at Penn State for his college career prior to transferring.
In his MMA debut Jenkins showcased his impressive wrestling talents and is certainly a blue-chip prospect in the MMA world.
Gray Maynard has bullied nearly every lightweight in the division not named Frankie Edgar.
He owes his run of success due to his amazing NCAA wrestling background. Maynard was a three time Division I All-American at Michigan State while rooming with none other than future UFC champion Rashad Evans.
Although he came out on the losing end of his trilogy with Edgar, look for Maynard to make another run at the lightweight title when he returns from his "gym soul searching".
You had to know Cole Konrad would turn out to be a great collegiate wrestler after winning two Junior National Championships in 2002.
While attending the University of Minnesota, Konrad would win consecutive national titles, amassing a 155-13 record in the process. "The Polar Bear" would also win a gold medal at the Pan-American games during his collegiate career.
Konrad became the inaugural and current Bellator heavyweight champion by using his dominant wrestling base.
Matt Lindland was among the elite in the middleweight division at one point during his career. Before all that, Lindland was busy winning collegiate titles and medals.
Lindland won a junior college national championship at Clackamas Community College and had a great career at the University of Nebraska. Following his collegiate career, Lindland earned a silver medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Greco-Roman style competition.
His recent run in MMA may not suggest it but Lindland was among the best at 185-pounds during his prime.
Besides being one of the top blue chip prospects in MMA, Tyron Woodley brings an accomplished amateur wrestling background to his ongoing MMA career.
Woodley attended the University of Missouri where he earned All-American honors and was also a wrestling team captain.
Undefeated thus far in his career, Woodley has to be next in line for the vacant Strikeforce Welterweight title.
After winning a championship in high school, Randy Couture made the move to Oklahoma State University. There he was a two time national champion runner up and a three-time Division I All-American.
Following his college career, Couture attempted to compete in the Olympics but was never more than an alternate. Though he didn't compete in the games themselves, the experience undoubtedly helped him with his future in MMA.
Although he has a modest MMA record at first glance, there's no denying Couture had a Hall of Fame caliber career.
Kevin Randleman attended The Ohio State University where he was a two time national champion at 177 pounds.
Randleman has bounced back and forth between light heavyweight and heavyweight, enjoying mixed success at both weights.
"The Monster" holds notable wins over fighters like Maurice Smith, Pedro Rizzo, Renato Sobral, and his unbelievable upset of Mirko "Cro Cop."
Don "The Predator" Frye had one of the most colorful personalities in MMA history to go along with some of the best wrestling MMA has ever seen.
Frye began his MMA career in grand fashion by winning the UFC 8 tournament. He bested three men in one night, with only one bout lasting longer than a minute.
He owes a debt of gratitude to one of the best fighters in MMA history, Dan Severn, who he learned from before his MMA debut. Frye's wrestling is often overlooked because he doesn't fear the standup fight but he still possesses a dominant top game.
One of the true legends of MMA, Dan Severn won a title in nearly every place he visited.
In the early days of MMA, Severn showed that a wrestler could dominate the sport and proved that Gracie jiu-jitsu could be beaten (for a while at least) in his match against Royce Gracie.
Severn was an Olympic alternate on many occasions along and was inducted into the Arizona State University's wrestling Hall of Fame following his collegiate career. A great fighter in his own right, Severn has extended his MMA career by entering the world of coaching.
"The Godfather of Ground and Pound" Mark Coleman learned his trade through time spent wrestling at the Division I level.
Coleman won a Division I title at Ohio State University in his final year as a collegiate wrestler. After college, he made the US Olympic team by placing second at the FILA Wrestling World Championships, and placed seventh at the 1992 Olympic games.
Most new fans will never know the talent Coleman was in his prime as they've only seen "The Hammer" as a shell of his old self. Hopefully they will look back and remember Coleman as one of the best wrestlers of his time.
A Division I All-American at the University of Oregon, Chael Sonnen is one of the more accomplished NCAA wrestlers ever to compete in MMA.
Sonnen also owns a silver medal from the World University Championships and is a two time David Schultz Memorial International winner.
The "gangster from Oregon" has used his superior wrestling skills to defeat the likes of Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt, and was within moments from dethroning pound-for-pound king, Anderson Silva.
Sonnen will get his chance for revenge when he meets Silva again this year.
Phil Davis is a can't miss prospect in the UFC who also has some of the best amateur wrestling credentials in the sport.
Davis was a four time All-American and also won a Division I title in his senior year, and he did it all while competing in the notoriously competitive Big 10 Conference.
"Mr. Wonderful" used his prominent wrestling career to secure a place inside the UFC's ranks and had been on a tear until his bout with Rashad Evans. It will be interesting to see how Davis responds to the first loss of his MMA career.
Before he was the dominant UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes was a two time Division I All-American in collegiate wrestling.
Hughes' name has legendary status in Southern Illinois, stemming from a celebrated career at Eastern Ilinois University.
The Hillboro native would use his powerful wrestling to dominate the landscape at 170-pounds for years until a young Georges St-Pierre officially ended the Hughes era.
More known for an overhand right, Chuck Liddell nonetheless owes a great deal of success to his collegiate wrestling career.
Although "The Iceman" never won any notable wrestling titles, many years spent defending takedowns made him into one of the hardest fighters to take down in the history of MMA.
Had he not wrestled in college Liddell likely would not have been able to create and use the fighting style known as "sprawl and brawl" with such potency.
Mark Munoz transitioned from a successful high school wrestling career into a great tenure at the NCAA level. Munoz attended Oklahoma State University, where he won consecutive All-American honors along with a national title.
Munoz also won the silver medal at the FILA Junior World Wrestling Championships in 1998.
Using his impressive wrestling talents, Munoz takes his opponents to the mat and unleashes a furious ground and pound attack. Look for Munoz to complete his title run after returning from surgery.
Dan Henderson may rely on his "H-Bomb" too much at times but he definitely has a wrestling advantage over virtually anyone at either 205-pounds or 185-pounds.
"Hendo" wrestled at both Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State, as well as the US Olympic Greco-Roman team.
He's had a great career that includes titles across multiple organizations including holding the Pride Middleweight and Welterweight titles at the same time.
Bellator's featherweight champion Joe Warren is enjoying a successful run in MMA but still wants to compete in wrestling.
It's not completely out of the realm of possibility as Warren is one of the most heralded wrestlers in MMA history. He holds numerous titles and championships, including winning gold medals in the Pan American Championships, Wrestling World Championships, and at the World Cup.
Warren won the Bellator featherweight championship by defeating Joe Soto and looked to make a run at the bantamweight title as well before being knocked out by Alexis Vila.
Brock Lesnar has quite the list of accolades as an amateur wrestler. He won a junior college championship at Bismark State College and won a national title at the University of Minnesota in 2000.
Lesnar joined the sport of MMA after competing in pro wrestling for years. He became an instant sensation and even climbed to the rank of UFC Heavyweight Champion.
He enjoyed a great deal of success in wrestling and MMA due to not only his massive size but also due to the freakish athletic ability he's able to display.
Before winning the UFC Heavyweight title, Cain Velasquez was busy having a successful amateur wrestling career.
Velasquez secured a junior college title at Iowa Central Community College and transferred to Arizona State soon after. Competing at one one of the best Division I schools for wrestling in the nation, Velasquez amassed a record of 86-17.
Entering the UFC Velasquez used his wrestling to unleash some devastating ground and pound on his unlucky foes en route to winning the UFC title. After dropping the title, he will look to get back to his winning ways when he takes on Frank Mir at UFC 146.
Tito Ortiz enjoyed a great deal of success during his tenure at Golden West College. There he earned All-American honors and also a state junior college title. Ortiz would then move on to Cal State Bakersfield and wrestle alongside future wrestling champion and NFL player Stephen Neal.
Ortiz used his background in wrestling to simply dominate the 205 pound division for years. One of the usual credits to Ortiz's resume was his ability to deliver powerful shots from his opponents' guard.
Possessing powerful takedowns and a dominant top game, Ortiz will go down as one of MMA's greats.
Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal enjoyed success at both Division I and at the Division II level.
He was a two-time All-American and a national champion at the University of Central Oklahoma before moving up and being named a Division I All-American en route to placing third in the 2003 national championships.
"King Mo" went on to the international wrestling scene and compiled an impressive list of titles and medals.
The former wrestling champion transitioned into MMA in 2008 where he would eventually win the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight title by defeating Gegard Moussasi.
At the time of his entrance to the UFC, Josh Koscheck was arguably the best NCAA wrestler in the promotion.
Koscheck was a Division I champion at 174 pounds in his junior year and was an All-American all four years at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. He also helped coach the wrestling team at the University of Buffalo.
Owing one of the most explosive takedowns in MMA, Koscheck has used his wrestling technique to take down almost everyone at 170 pounds that isn't named Georges St-Pierre. His UFC career may be without a title but Koscheck has enjoyed a great deal of success in the premier MMA promotion.
When Ben Askren signed with Bellator it was considered one of biggest steals in MMA free agent signing history, and for good reason.
Askren was a four time Division I All-American, a two time national runner up and closed out his amateur wrestling career by winning back-to-back championships.
He qualified for the Olympics but did not medal. Visibly upset by falling short of his goal, he turned his focus to MMA and since joining the sport has yet to lose. Askren currently holds Bellator's welterweight title.
Daniel Cormier is among the fighters who've enjoyed success at both levels of NCAA wrestling.
A two-time junior college champion, Cormier came close to securing a Division I title but ultimately lost to Cael Sanderson. Whereas most fighters transition to MMA straight out of college, Cormier continued his wrestling career.
Competing in multiple Olympic games and placing fourth in 2004, Cormier enjoyed a lengthy Olympic wrestling career.
Since entering MMA Cormier has been on a tear, going undefeated on his way from Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix alternate to Grand Prix finalist.
Because I Had a "Facepalm" Moment: Johny Hendricks
When creating a long list like this there's bound to be some guys who were obvious choices but didn't make the cut. Hopefully Johny Hendricks doesn't take it too personally.
The MMA fans here at B/R were kind enough to remind me of Hendricks' amazing wrestling credentials: a two-time national champion, three-time Big 12 champion, and an All-American every year he wrestled at Oklahoma State.
Hendricks has continued his successful career recently by knocking out long time contender Jon Fitch, putting him in most people's welterweight top ten. Hendricks will look to do the same to Fitch's former teammate, Josh Koscheck, when the two meet up in May.