It’s been a decade since I last competed in the NCAA D-1 #wrestling tournament, but I still remember how I shrugged Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, and Wynn Michalak on the mats ten years ago.
Wrestling in the #NCAA tournament was an awesome experience. At the time, it was the most people I had ever wrestled and competed in front of; it was incredible to be able to shine in front of the big lights since wrestlers don’t have too many opportunities in front of big crowds. The whole year, all the matches, it doesn't matter; it all comes down to that one tournament.
2006, my junior year, was the first year I wrestled D-1, and I beat the number-1 seed, and I think the number-5 or 6 seed as well. I was undefeated in the opening round, so I beat everybody, and then I lost in the semifinals in a match I was winning but I ended up getting pinned.
I felt great competing in the NCAA tournament, and my shrug was working great; I shrugged everybody.
The shrug is when both guys have a collar tie and then you pretty much armdrag them by you. Then you have a takedown, like you kind of grab their arm and their head, and you pull them and pass them by you, and then you take their back and take them down.
I wrestled #RyanBader in the quarterfinals, and I think I shrugged him twice in the first period. I also beat Wynn Michalak that year, he was undefeated before nationals, he beat everybody, and I shrugged him, I can’t tell you how many times. I just kept shrugging him and he couldn’t figure it out.
We had a great division at 197 lbs. when I wrestled in the tournament: me, Bader, and #PhilDavis. Back then, I never thought I was gonna be a fighter, and I don’t think they had that thought either, so it’s just crazy how it works out. We were just three guys that happened to be in the same weight class at the same time that wrestled each other and ended up doing pretty good at MMA.
If you’re a top-notch wrestler, there’s a good chance you can transfer over to fighting and be successful, but everyone’s different. There are people I look at and I think they’re really gonna crossover great, and they don’t, and then there’s people that I don’t think are gonna be that good and then they do great.
It really comes down to what’s inside a person’s head and if they really are willing to be open minded with MMA and realize they know nothing, even though they’ve been successful in one avenue, like wrestling.
Guys who are able to make the crossover from D-1 wrestling need to come in with an open mind, and also still have passion left in them to work hard because at the end of wrestling a lot of people are just drained.
Fortunately for me, my #MarchMadness experiences only helped better prepare me for MMA and the UFC, and those huge tournaments got me ready to perform in the Octagon.