Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world. It garners more attention and new fans daily. The emergence of so many new athletes sometimes makes it hard for fans to notice some of the fighters on the verge of making it to the next level. MMAWeekly.com takes you deep inside the sport and presents you with some of the upcoming New Blood.
In one of the most talent-hungry divisions in mixed martial arts, heavyweight Daniel Cormier is one of the most decorated wrestlers to enter the sport. Those with his credentials who enter mixed martial arts are few and far between. He began training for his new career in August at the famed American Kickboxing Academy, and he was soon signed by Strikeforce and made his debut only a month later.
To say that Cormier is an excellent wrestler would be an understatement. He has racked up countless titles throughout his wrestling career. While in high school in Louisiana, Cormier became a three-time state wrestling champion in the heavyweight division. Wrestling for Colby Community College, he was a two-time national junior college wrestling champion. He then transferred to wrestling powerhouse Oklahoma State, where he became an NCAA All- American and runner-up in 2001. Cormier continued wrestling after college, winning the U.S. Nationals from 2004 to 2007. He was a two-time U.S. Olympic wrestler with his best showing coming in the 2004 Olympics, where he wrestled his way to a fourthplace finish.
Cormier began to get interested in mixed martial arts after the 2008 Olympics, when former wrestling teammate and friend Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal began finding success in his short time as a fighter due in part to his extensive wrestling background. At Lawal’s urging, Cormier made the transition to mixed martial arts and began training. Cormier made his debut on a televised Strikeforce event on Showtime, where he took on fellow debuting heavyweight Gary Frazier. With about a month of training under his belt, he showed patience on the feet, picking his shots and not getting lured into a brawl. In the end, his wrestling is what won the fight. He took Frazier down and mounted him, raining down punches until the referee finally stopped the fight.
He continues to train at American Kickboxing Academy to become a well-rounded fighter, and he looks forward to his next bout. It won’t be long before Cormier is competing with best fighters in the heavyweight division.
Professional Record: 1-0 Key Victories: Gary Frazier
Strikeforce has scouted and signed a host of exciting new prospects with one of them being Tyron Woodley, who hails from the wrestling-rich Midwest. Woodley comes from a difficult background. He’s one of 13 children in his family and grew up without a father on the rough and tumble streets of St. Louis. He ran into some trouble at an early age, being surrounded by gang bangers and drug dealers. He got into multiple fights while in school, and he finally had enough after being suspended from school for 90 days because of a fight. He went on to join his high school wrestling team, and that’s when things turned around for Woodley as he became a two-time state finalist and state champion.
Woodley committed to joining the University of Nebraska wrestling team, but after the team’s head coach resigned, he left to sign with the University of Missouri. He put the unheralded wrestling team in the national spotlight and became its first Big 12 wrestling champion and a two-time NCAA All American. He eventually became the first member of his family to graduate college and was an assistant wrestling coach at his alma mater.
The original Ultimate Fighter piqued Woodley’s interest in mixed martial arts. He jumped headfirst into training, and within a month he recorded his first win in mixed martial arts.
After training for several years to hone his skills, Woodley was picked up by Strikeforce and made his debut in June 2009, where he made quick work of Sal Woods with a Brabo choke. He went on to train with American Top Team during the summer in preparation for the biggest fight of his young career, facing UFC veteran Zach Light on a televised Strikeforce event on Showtime. Woodley went into the fight as a heavy favorite. He didn’t disappoint, dominating Light on the ground, showing both his wrestling ability and newly acquired submission skills. After a stubborn Light gave him some trouble, Woodley finally locked on an armbar and finished Light in the second round of their Welterweight clash.
After his coming-out party on Showtime, Woodley made a permanent move to American Top Team as a full-time fighter and marches on to the next stage of his bright mixed martial arts career.
Professional Record: 4-0 Key Victories: Zach Light and Steve Schneider
Continuing in the path of fellow college wrestling stars, Chad Mendes is making the successful transition from the world of NCAA wrestling to the world of mixed martial arts as the sport continues to deepen with talent and endless opportunities that once were non-existent for college wrestling standouts.
Mendes started wrestling in the early years of his youth, quickly taking a knack for the sport and becoming a talented prospect at Cal Poly: San Luis Obispo. He became one of the top wrestlers in the nation by the end of his senior year. In his final year at Cal Poly, Mendes was one of the few wrestlers to end his season with an unblemished record, finishing with a record of 23-0 as a 141-pound wrestler. Mendes tore his way through the NCAA tournament that year and ended up as the runner-up. His other accolades include being a two-time Pac-10 champion, the 2008 Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year, and a two-time NCAA Wrestling All-American.
Once he finished school, Mendes packed his bags and drove up to Sacramento, Calif., where he joined up with friend Urijah Faber at Ultimate Fitness to begin training for a transition to mixed martial arts with Team Alpha Male. He picked up the sport quickly and made his mixed martial arts debut at Palace Fighting Championships 10, where he took on local fighter Giovanni Encarnacion. Mendes immediately took the fight to the ground and dropped some strikes before latching on to Encarnacion’s back, sinking in a rear naked choke for the win.
Mendes has gone on to keep his perfect record intact, finishing Leland Gridley with strikes, winning a convincing decision over former PFC Featherweight champion Art Arciniega, and knocking out Steven Siler. Mendes proved he is the real deal in his last fight, as he took on WEC veteran Mike Joy at the inaugural Taichi Palace Fights, dominating from start to finish. He put Joy on his back and unleashed a relentless ground-and-pound attack en route to a comfortable unanimous decision.
One of the best prospects in mixed martial arts today, it will only be a matter of time before Mendes is seen fighting for Dream in Japan or World Extreme Cagefighting in the United States.
Professional Record: 5-0 Key Victories: Art Arciniega and Mike Joy