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  • Photo: Photo/Sam Janicki

    Photo: Photo/Sam Janicki

    Graduating seniors who could excel in MMA

    Purdue's Dylan Lydy finished the season ranked No. 4 at 174 pounds (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)

    After every NCAA season, questions begin to swirl about what is next for the graduating seniors. This year ended with perhaps the most anticlimactic finish possible. It remains to be seen if the NCAA will grant extra years of eligibility due to the canceled NCAAs, but at some point many of the seniors will need to move on. Each year many collegiate wrestlers decide to pursue a career in MMA. There is a great deal of crossover in skill sets between the two sports, and many of the best fighters are former wrestlers. The following looks at the following seniors who are most likely to pursue MMA and have success.

    125: Jacob Schwarm (Northern Iowa)

    Schwarm had a pretty unique senior season for the Panthers. He led all Division I wrestlers with 17 falls despite having only 21 wins on the year. Schwarm went 3-2 at the Big 12 Championships to qualify for the NCAAs. There is a commonly-held theory that wrestlers who are able to rack up pins on the collegiate mats transition better to the MMA ground game. If that theory holds, Schwarm would appear to be a natural fit to catch submissions in fights. MMA is likely not foreign for the Bettendorf, Iowa native. The town was once home to Miletich Fighting Systems, which was one of the original MMA super teams and key to development of the sport in the U.S.

    133: Cam Sykora (North Dakota State)

    Sykora finished his senior season by becoming NDSU's first Big 12 champion. He went 17-4 during the year and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the fourth time. Unfortunately, he never earned a final shot at becoming an All-American. Sykora's length and ability to ride would likely translate well in the MMA cage. On top of that, he has already gotten some training in with American Top Team.

    141: Tristan Moran (Wisconsin)

    Moran transferred to Wisconsin for his last two seasons of competition after beginning his career at Oklahoma State. He narrowly missed out on becoming an All-American and seemed destined to break through this year. Moran's style is heavy on scrambling and throws from the neutral position. His ability to succeed in both of these positions would be essential to an attempt at an MMA career. Moran certainly already has contacts in the game as former UFC fighter Ben Askren is close to the Wisconsin program. Also, Moran seemed to know back in October that his former teammate Jacobe Smith was headed towards an MMA career. This week, Smith announced that he had signed with Zinkin Entertainment to give fighting a shot.

    157: Jesse Dellavecchia (Rider)

    Rider had a very strong season, and Dellavecchia was a very big part of that success. The senior went 30-2 on the year and became Rider's first MAC champion. His only two losses came against Hayden Hidlay (North Carolina State) and Quincy Monday (Princeton), who were ranked in the top ten for the entire season. Former UFC fighter Nick Catone wrestled at Rider and runs a gym in the area. It could provide a smooth path for Dellavecchia.

    165: Isaiah White (Nebraska)

    White lived through the grinder that was the Big Ten's 165-pound division in the last three years. After finishing fifth as a junior to become an All-American, White went 20-4 during his senior season and was poised to become an All-American for a second time. It is unknown if White has interest in pursuing an MMA career, but his ability to score takedowns from range would be a valuable asset in the sport. Not all wrestlers who have a solid blast double become great fighters, but most do. White could find quick success in the sport.

    174: Dylan Lydy (Purdue)

    Lydy came into his senior season after back-to-back round of 12 performances at the NCAA tournament. He took a big step forward this past year and went 31-2. Lydy's only two losses came against Mark Hall (Penn State) and Michael Kemerer (Iowa), who were clearly the best wrestlers at the weight all year. Lydy's determination and ability to learn on the job will likely pay dividends if he moves into MMA. Plus, it certainly seemed like his preferred career choice back in 2013.

    197: Jordan Pagano (Rutgers)

    Pagano was granted a sixth year after missing what would have been his senior season in 2018-2019. In his return season he went 22-8 and qualified for the NCAA tournament through the Big Ten. He previously qualified as a sophomore. During the year he picked up signature wins over Jake Woodley (Oklahoma), Ethan Laird (Rider) and Patrick Brucki (Princeton). There seem to be several connections between the Rutgers program and the MMA world. Pagano in particular is close with the Longo and Weidman MMA team and Phumi Nkuta who recently made his MMA debut under the Bellator banner.

    285: Anthony Cassar (Penn State)

    Even though his season was cut short due to injury, Cassar seems intent on pursuing a career in MMA. Following his NCAA title season he spoke to ESPN. He was clearly determined to fight.

    "I grew up watching Fedor Emelianenko and Vitor Belfort as a kid," Cassar said.. "It's one of my goals, and I'm going to immerse myself in it someday."

    Despite the continual shoulder injuries, he may still be able to make it in MMA. Fellow former NCAA champion Darrion Caldwell ended his wrestling career due to a rash of shoulder injuries. He then went on to have a very successful MMA career including a run as Bellator bantamweight champion.

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