Former NCAA Wrestling Stars Rosholt, Hendricks, Bradley Ready to Make Impact in Mixed Martial Arts

6/15/2007 5:37:00 PM

Jake Rosholt and Johny Hendricks, NCAA champions at Oklahoma State, and Eric Bradley, an All-American at Penn State, have joined Team Takedown and moved into a career in mixed martial arts. All three bring unique attributes and skills to the sport, and are eager to start their new career.

By Jeremy O'Kasick - TWM Freelance Writer

If college wrestling had drama like the Sopranos, this would be its opening scene: two two-time national champions sitting across from each other at a blackjack table in Vegas. One named Big Ben. The other just goes by Johny, aka the Most Hated Man in Wrestling.

Ben takes a hit. Then, so does Johny. After the hand, they give each other a hard glare. Johny ups his wager. Then, Big Ben one-ups him. At some point, it appears like these young high rollers aren't so much playing blackjack as they are competing in some other unspoken rivalry from long ago.

Well, not that long ago.

?These guys can't ever let go of their Big 12 and Big 10 rivalries,? joked Ted Ehrhardt, who manages Johny Hendricks in his newfound mixed martial arts career with Team Takedown. ?Now that they're done with college, it's time to break that and show them that now it's all about Team Takedown and their futures in MMA.?

For the record, a scene like that did go down April 5 when Hendricks, other members of Team Takedown, and numerous international and college wrestling stars, including Ben Askren, went to Las Vegas to watch the UFC's Fight Night: Stevenson vs. Gulliard. Since then, it has been a prolific start for Team Takedown, as Ehrhardt and company have singed in Hendricks, fellow former Oklahoma State Cowboy and three-time national champion, Jake Rosholt, and former two-time All-American at Penn State and collegiate boxing champion, Eric Bradley. (Note that Askren, along with many other big names in wrestling, have only begun to talk with Team Takedown among others about possible future careers in MMA.)

?My goal is to give wrestlers a place to go beyond college,? said Ehrhardt, a Texas-based businessman, who, with Team Takedown, turned his long-time support of wrestling and MMA into a management venture. ?These guys have already been the best in wrestling. Now we want them to train with the best and be the best in MMA.?

Ehrhardt's fighters are certainly off to a solid start in training at one of the most elite gyms in the country, Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, led by UFC heavyweight champion and legend, Randy Couture. On any given day, MMA superstar fighters and coaches are on the mat and in rigorous training at Xtreme Couture.

?It is simply awesome,? said Rosholt. ?I have been here for a month, and I am learning more and more from the best there is. I feel like I am only going to get better, and I am in a great place to do so.?

Most recent college graduates might find a few distractions living in a place called Sin City. Not Rosholt. The 24-year-old Sandpoint, Idaho native said that his focus falls exclusively on training. (Sandpoint High School wrestling alumni also include Rosholt's younger brother, Jared, the current Oklahoma State heavyweight, and former Minnesota Gophers Brett and Jared Lawrence).

?It's not really my cup of tea out here,? said Rosholt. ?I'm from the country. I like to see the green grass and country not dirt and pavement everywhere. I'm on a soccer team that plays once a week. Other than that I don't do much other than train in Vegas. If I get bored, I just go work out more.?

Ehrhardt compared Rosholt to Couture in his composure and focus as an athlete.

?He is a tough, old school country boy,? said Ehrhardt. ?[Randy Couture] and Jake have similar personalities. They are the nicest guys you will ever meet. But when he gets in the cage or on the mat with you, watch out! He turns into something else.?

According to Ehrhardt, Team Takedown came into being entirely because of Rosholt. After finishing with Oklahoma State in 2006, the three-time national champion began considering his options between wrestling internationally and coaching with the Cowboys. Ehrhardt offered him a position to coach and work for his youth wrestling program in Arlington, Texas. Rosholt ended up coaching in Arlington part-time and put some time in working with Oklahoma State back in Stillwater.

?I kind of got burnt out on wrestling, and I was looking for something else,? said Rosholt. ?I decided about going into fighting even before talking to Ted. The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became with the challenge of it.?

Rosholt said that he is still developing a fighting style, trying to absorb as much as possible. One challenge for wrestlers going into MMA often has to do with getting comfortable with being in the one place they have avoided at all costs since they first stepped onto the mat ? being on their backs. (In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, an essential martial art for MMA fighters, grappling and working submission holds from one's back is as common as a takedown in wrestling.)

?I do not like to be on my back,? he said. ?It is definitely the most uncomfortable position for me right now. Wrestling can be a great advantage in MMA, but there are some things that are a disadvantage. Wrestling is just a small part to the sport. There is so much more to it.?

Enter Hendricks
Team Takedown goes from the country boy to the so-called bad boy of wrestling.

Just like most everything Hendricks does and says, his entrance in the mixed martial arts world caused a stir in the wrestling community and media.

?I have been blessed to have this opportunity and I can't wait to train hard and fight,? said Hendricks, who moved to Las Vegas in the middle of May. ?I hope to create excitement in MMA just like in wrestling. I'm doing this for the love of the sport, and I hope to open up to a whole new fan base. MMA fans are like wrestling fans. They will do anything for it.?

Hendricks said that he has long since moved past the constant bad wrap placed on him by much of the college wrestling community.

?It was never just about me. A lot of people just don't like OSU,? he said. ?If I would have wrestled for Iowa or Minnesota, I would have a totally different image. They would have loved me if I had been at a Big Ten school. I can't change people's opinion about what they think of me. I don't hate them; I just pray for them.?

Many college wrestling fans are excited about the future and curious about how Johny Hendricks will do in MMA competition.

Whether his reputation was earned or unfair, it might just be more of an asset in MMA. After all, attitudes and excitement sell tickets and that pays double in a sport whose A-List of Hollywood-like stars includes Tito ?The Huntington Beach Bad Boy? Ortiz. Nevertheless, Ehrhardt believes that the reputation is completely misguided. He said that at first even Randy Couture questioned whether or not Hendricks would be a good fit for his gym, having only known him through what he heard through the wrestling community. After Couture met Hendricks and let him work out in Xtreme Couture, he felt the same about Hendricks as does his manager.

?There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness,? said Ehrhardt. ?He is nothing like what people think. He is married and a family man, and he has been great in volunteering to work with some of the kids in our youth wrestling club.?

Some of those fans who had been longing to see Hendricks take a fall might have felt vindicated after he lost to Iowa's Mark Perry in the NCAA finals. But who knows? Dan Gable's only loss of his college career, a 13-11 upset in overtime to Larry Owings in the 1970 NCAA finals, has become part of his legend, and he has long credited it with motivating him in his international and coaching careers. The loss to Perry, which denied Hendricks a third national title, could do the same for him in MMA.

?Will it haunt me? Will it make me better and motivate me?? Hendricks asked rhetorically. ?Yeah. Of course. Losing makes you a better person. I wrestled somebody seven or eight times, and I only lost to him once, but it was in the national finals. I hope I proved to a lot of people that I am a better person than they first thought I was.?

?There were a lot of things that didn't go my way that last match. It all went one way. God had bigger plans for me. Everything in life, I want to earn it. Now I just want get out and show what I can do in this sport.?

Ehrhardt said that he wants his fighters to develop more skills before they make their debut, but wrestling and fight fans will not have to wait too long ? maybe not even until the end of the summer. No decisions have been made, but fighting leagues and events in Ohio and Kansas City are now on the table for the fighters.

Hendricks' explosiveness and Rosholt's pure skill and composure could certainly transfer over to MMA success. Eric Bradley also offers a different element in that, besides being a wrestler, he is also a collegiate championship boxer. After all, he can both take a punch and dish them out, a key for any wrestler transitioning into fighting. Such fighters will realize little lasting success if they fail to learn the striking and jiu-jitsu submission games. In fact, wrestlers who lack such skills, but are excellent at takedowns, even have a mocking style named after them: Lay and Pray, as in they can take down their opponents at will, and then do little else but pray for victory while they lay on top. Given their styles and attitudes, Team Takedown's trio certainly promises to do much more than that. But it is a whole new game once you enter the cage.

Ehrhardt said that he hopes Team Takedown will continue to be on the cutting edge of evolving connections between MMA and wrestling.

?The wrestling community has been struggling,? he said. ?More and more college programs get dropped every year. MMA is generating a whole new interest in wrestling. It is going to make a whole new generation of kids want to wrestle. It will be off the charts.?

Jeremy O'Kasick welcomes feedback on his articles at