Kyle Crutchmer at the 2015 NCAA Tournament (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
After starting his MMA career with six mostly dominant victories, Kyle Crutchmer hit a bit of a snag in his last outing. At Bellator 249, he dropped a decision against Kemran Lachinov in what was mainly a striking contest. When asked about the fight now, Crutchmer seems to at least somewhat regret not mixing in his noted wrestling skill.
â€œI'm a wrestler, and I had never really boxed or anything. I stood three rounds with a very tough dude,â€ he said. â€œIt wasn't really my game plan, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed learning, I got out of my comfort zone, and I think it just made me better. But if I am able now to put that and the wrestling together, I will be able to make things happen.â€
After finishing his collegiate wrestling career at Oklahoma State in 2017 as a two-time All-American, Crutchmer has moved into MMA. He is currently 6-1 as a professional, and he returns to action this Friday night on the preliminary card of Bellator 260.
While Crutchmer has transitioned away from competitive wrestling, he has not strayed far from his roots. He is one of the most recent former Oklahoma State wrestlers to try their hand in MMA. When Crutchmer made his professional debut in 2018, he joined the likes of several former Cowboys who went on to stardom in MMA, including world champions Randy Couture, Johny Hendricks, and Daniel Cormier. It is a heritage that clearly matters to Crutchmer, and he is intent on continuing the tradition.
â€œWe just produced so many great champions,â€ he explained. â€œWhen you wrestle there, you understand how to train with all the coaches there, and I think it is an honor to continue this legacy. There have been guys that have succeeded and there have been guys that have failed at it, but I respect everyone that's wrestled there and has competed after to try to make something of themselves. It is going to be fun to be able to try to continue that.â€
Crutchmer trains at American Kickboxing Academy, which helped Cormier transition from accomplished wrestler to MMA champion. Also joining Crutchmer at AKA are former Cowboy teammates Nick Piccininni and Jacobe Smith, who are set to make their MMA debuts soon.
â€œWe all competed on the same college team at some point,â€ he said. â€œWe've been through it in the college wrestling world, and now we're doing this together. It is a lot of fun. When I first got out here, I had friends, but not really close friends, that I've known forever. They're progressing. They're going to be very good. They're athletic. They're big for their weight, and they train really hard. I look at them, and I see guys like me that are just trying to obtain something that a lot of people don't really have the opportunity to and they're taking full advantage of it.â€
While Crutchmer admits that learning the striking game is a big transition, a wrestling background has set him up for success in MMA.
â€œI think you find a lot of guys, and they're just successful. They just find ways to become successful,â€ he explained. â€œ[AKA] is a gym where you have guys that have already won titles, so you get to see that and copy their blueprint. You don't really change much.â€
College wrestlers are much more active than fighters. During his four years in the Oklahoma State lineup, Crutchmer averaged a little over 26 matches a season. While that pace has slowed in MMA, he did have five fights in his first year and a half in the sport.
â€œI was fighting at first as much as I was, because I live in the Bay area, which is one of the most expensive places to live and I needed some money,â€ Crutchmer details matter of factly. â€œI think that is why I have been so motivated. When you don't have much, you will tend to do things that you need to do to get money. I mean, I like fighting and now I'm trying to be as active as possible, because I think cage time is really the only thing that is going to get me to where I need to be. You look at some of these guys, some guys have 15 or 20 fights, so I am just trying to get as many as I can in order to get a chance at a world title.â€
Crutchmer returns to action this Friday at Bellator 260. His opponent will be undefeated prospect Levan Chokheli. While he is undefeated, Chokheli will be making his Bellator debut. If anything, the former Oklahoma State wrestler seems as confident as ever.
â€œHe's undefeated; he's 9-0,â€ he said. â€œHe has to fight me next, though. I'm much better than I was in my last fight. I'm in the best shape that I have ever been in. I think he's going to have to deal with some shit in this fight.â€