Best NCAA Wrestlers Turned MMA Fighters

Dustin FilloyFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2013

Best NCAA Wrestlers Turned MMA Fighters

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    Every year the MMA landscape becomes more saturated with talented NCAA wrestlers. Some seem destined to make the transition, while others never realize their potential in the ring or Octagon.

    From legends like Chuck Liddell, who competed first at UFC 17, to the new wave of mat wizards like newly named middleweight champ Chris Weidman, NCAA wrestlers have always used MMA as an avenue for athletic excellence. 

    While not every NCAA wrestler makes a smooth jump to MMA, plenty have done so, and plenty more are sure to come.

    Here are the 10 best NCAA wrestlers turned MMA fighters.

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Honorable Mention: Rashad Evans

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    Rashad Evans didn't make it to the top of the podium much as a wrestler at Michigan State University. Evans did, however, use what he learned as a Spartan to become a UFC light heavyweight champ.

    For the most part, Evans has used his wrestling masterfully in his MMA career. But "Suga" has recently abandoned his wrestling roots, a decision that unfortunately landed Evans out of the top 10 on this countdown.

10. Josh Koscheck

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    One of just two men on this countdown who never won UFC gold, former Edinboro University standout wrestler Josh Koscheck made the cut because he owns 15 wins in the UFC.

    Koscheck joined the UFC roughly three years after winning an NCAA Division I wrestling title in 2001 at 174 pounds.

    Although he got outclassed in his only title fight with the promotion, only Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva can claim to have more victories under their belts in the UFC than Koscheck, with 18 and 16 wins, respectively.

9. Chris Weidman

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    Several experts endorsed Weidman as the man to knock off former pound-for-pound king Silva before UFC 162, but that's primarily because of the All-American's superb wrestling chops.

    But Weidman, a two-time NCAA Division I All-American at Hofstra University, used his fists to score a shocking knockout win over "The Spider" for the middleweight strap. The New York native joined Cain Velasquez as the only other former NCAA wrestler to currently hold a UFC belt.

    Weidman has yet to allow a takedown in 10 pro bouts and has accumulated 14 groundings, including a pair against former Oklahoma State University national champion Mark Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV 4.

8. Brock Lesnar

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    Brock Lesnar may have taken up fighting for a paycheck, but that didn't diminish the fact that the former University of Minnesota wrestler belonged in the Octagon.

    An NCAA Division I national champ (heavyweight) in 2000, Lesnar joined the UFC in February 2008 and needed less than a year to ascend to the top of the food chain.

    In just his fourth fight, Lesnar amazingly TKO'd Randy Couture to snatch the heavyweight title at UFC 91. 

    Lesnar defended his belt twice before losing back-to-back fights. Ultimately, bouts of diverticulitis, among other ailments, led to Lesnar's premature retirement in 2011.

7. Cain Velasquez

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    When he finished his first four fights via first-round TKO, it was evident that Velasquez was destined to make the move from the NCAA mats to the Octagon.

    Velasquez possesses wrestling traits that heavyweights rarely display.

    With nearly flawless technique, a motor that never quits and the hand speed and quickness of a middleweight, experts often run out of superlatives when describing Velasquez's wrestling repertoire.

    That’s most likely why the American Kickboxing Academy product won six of his first seven fights in the UFC by either knockout or technical knockout.

    Soon after, Velasquez took the UFC heavyweight title by force by serving Lesnar just his second career takedown and then pummeling the gargantuan former champ into an oblivion at UFC 121.

    Lesnar was just the second man to ground Velasquez (Cheick Kongo being the other) and only managed to hold the relentless former Arizona State University national runner-up down for a matter of seconds.

6. Frankie Edgar

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    Fans and pundits adore Frankie Edgar, and that's because the former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler always delivers in terms of excitement.

    In his 15 scraps with the UFC, Edgar has fought for a belt seven times, winning on three occasions and drawing on another.

    A four-time national qualifier at Clarion University, Edgar will continue to use his wrestling prowess to remain an enthralling figure at the top of the 145-pound food chain.

5. Dan Henderson

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    Although he's one of two members of this countdown who've yet to garner a UFC title, two-time Olympic wrestler Dan Henderson (Greco-Roman) has accomplished more than enough to pluck the No. 5 spot on this list.

    The oldest current UFC fighter, Henderson wrestled at Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State University before accepting his first fight in Brazil in 1997.

    Henderson has since won a UFC middleweight tournament and captured both Pride and Strikeforce belts. "Hendo" also fought twice for UFC titles, losing to Quinton Jackson and Silva, respectively.

4. Tito Ortiz

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    In the history of the weight class, only 205-pound virtuoso Jon Jones has matched the extraordinary feats of Tito Ortiz.

    A former wrestler at Cal State Bakersfield, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" defended his light heavyweight belt five times between 2000 and 2002. 

    Along with early pioneers like Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman, Ortiz used his wrestling to employ a vicious brand of ground-and-pound that devastated plenty of worthy light heavyweights.

    He lost 11 fights, but 42 percent of "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy's" bouts were against UFC or Pride champs. That's why Ortiz deservedly got inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame prior to his last fight.

3. Chuck Liddell

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    Unlike many of his peers on this list, Chuck Liddell didn't often utilize his wrestling pedigree in an offensive manner.

    In fact, Liddell, a former Cal Poly State University wrestler, landed just four takedowns in his last 10 fights.

    Rather than using his wrestling to floor opponents, Liddell chose to become one of the best defensive wrestlers in MMA history.

    With uncanny flexibility in his hips, Liddell allowed just two takedowns (Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz each scored one) in his last 10 bouts. 

    "The Iceman's" dexterity in takedown defense allowed the Californian to strike liberally. An accurate boxer with a knack for landing knockout blows, Liddell brutalized light heavyweights with his Kenpo Karate style. He won five UFC title fights, all of which by knockout, along the way.

2. Matt Hughes

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    Matt Hughes didn't try to fool many opponents in his 15-year MMA career. Then again, he didn't have to.

    A former two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, Hughes always looked to smash opponents into the canvas and then go to work with slick submissions and thunderous ground-and-pound.

    Hughes thrived in the top position and spent the better part of his 54-fight career there.

    Before his jaw began to weaken, Hughes defended the UFC welterweight strap seven times. A UFC Hall of Famer, Hughes also amassed a company-best 18 wins (tied with Georges St-Pierre).

1. Randy Couture

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    These days, UFC President Dana White may offer few superlatives when describing Randy Couture. During "The Natural's" lengthy and storied UFC career, however, White rarely mentioned a foul word of the former Oklahoma State University wrestler.

    Perhaps that's because at one time, Couture, the first fighter in UFC history to capture belts in two divisions (light heavyweight and heavyweight), represented one of company's most important figures.

    Roughly six years ago, and with the UFC's heavyweight division in need of a makeover, Couture dismantled the massive Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 to become the oldest titleholder in company history.

    A UFC Hall of Famer and a holder of several significant UFC records, including most championship fights (15) and most title reigns (five), Couture nabbed the top spot because he paved the way for the rest of the fighters on this list.