A New Grip on Talent

By Ryan Mink
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 7, 2008

Midway through this wrestling season, Bowie High School sophomore Brandon Tipton won his first match of the year and the second of his career.

After slaps on the back from his teammates and coaches, Tipton took a seat behind his team's bench and soaked in the moment. He said he felt invincible.

As he reflected, Tipton also thought there had to be an easier way to pin his opponents. He already had a black belt in tang su do, the Korean form of karate, and was taking Brazilian jujitsu submission and Thai kickboxing classes, all disciplines that he thought could help on the wrestling mat. It was then that the idea of using the bravo choke, a move designed to make his opponents pass out, entered Tipton's repertoire.

"I wanted to find a way I could show my jujitsu skill at the same time as my wrestling skills," Tipton said.

Tipton's thought process mirrors those of a growing number of high school and college wrestlers who have found new methods -- and perhaps a future competitive outlet -- by taking an interest in mixed martial arts and the sport's leading organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

At the same time, the two sports appear to be enjoying a symbiotic relationship: Mixed martial arts has breathed new life into amateur wrestling, which has been threatened at the college level for more than a decade by financial cuts. And wrestling is providing a deepening talent pool for professional mixed martial arts organizations such as the increasingly popular UFC.

As collegiate and high school wrestlers descend upon College Park for the ACC and Maryland state championships this weekend, the sports have never been more intertwined.

"Wrestling is the perfect breeding ground for MMA fighters," said Jay Larkin, president of the International Fight League, a mixed martial arts organization that formed a promotional partnership with USA Wrestling in April 2007. "It requires a lot of training to be a well-rounded MMA fighter, but there's probably no better starting point than wrestling."

Ask a high school or college wrestler to identify their favorite UFC fighter, and three names often emerge: Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland.

All three wrestled at the college and Olympic levels. Now, Couture is viewed as arguably the best mixed martial artist of all time, Henderson is a middleweight championship contender, and Lindland is a well-respected MMA veteran and instructor.

"To me, I look at it just like wrestling," said Lindland, who won a silver medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. "There's a fight and there's rules. Wrestling is just more strict rules."

Lindland runs Team Quest, an Oregon-based training center that offers instruction for children as well as professionals. He is in regular contact with Larkin, looking to place his fighters on the national stage. Last year, Lindland requested floor passes to the NCAA championships so he could recruit more wrestlers for his training program.

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