Former Maryland wrestler Mansur Abdul-Malik (Photo/UMD athletics)
This weekend's slate of MMA cards will naturally feature several former wrestlers. While the Bellator and UFC cards may not be loaded with wrestling talent, there are some smaller shows that will likely hold a lot of intrigue for the MMA fan.
Despite coming off a loss against Valentin Moldavsky for the Bellator interim heavyweight title in his last fight, Tim Johnson will face Fedor Emelianenko in perhaps the biggest fight of his career. The bout will headline Bellator 269, which takes place Saturday at 3:00pm ET on Showtime. Johnson was a two-time NCAA Division II qualifier for Minnesota Moorhead back in the day. His opponent is widely considered to be the best heavyweight MMA fighter of all time, but he is already 45 years old, which opens the door for a potential Johnson victory.
UFC Vegas 41
This weekend's UFC Vegas 41 show is surprisingly light on former wrestlers, but Grant Dawson will do his best to carry the torch. He wrestled at the high school level in Nebraska. As a senior, he went 40-8 and placed in the Class C state tournament. Dawson takes on Ricky Glenn on the main card, which airs live on ESPN+ at 4:00pm ET.
XMMA 3: Vice City
In the main event of this upstart show, Cody Gibson will take on former UFC title challenger John Dodson. During his collegiate days, Gibson spent time at both Bakersfield College and Menlo College. He eventually exhausted his eligibility after two All-American seasons. This will be Dodson's first trip back into the cage since leaving the UFC last year. Gibson fought four times for the UFC between 2012-2015 and has a career 17-7 record.
Former Bellator featherweight champion Daniel Straus will return to action for the first time since 2019. Straus wrestled on the high school level in his native Ohio. He never once won a state title, but he finished third as a junior in 2002. After being forced to miss his senior season due to an academic issue, he entered the NHSCA Senior Nationals tournament and ended up winning. Straus never wrestled in college due to some off-the-mat issues, and he eventually made his MMA debut in 2009. He won the Bellator featherweight title over Pat Curran in 2013, but his career has been continually plagued by out-of-the-cage issues and injuries.
Tyler Ray was a Division III wrestler at Mount St. Joseph who finished up his collegiate career in 2015. He then made the transition into fighting and made his MMA debut in 2017. This weekend, Ray takes a big step up in competition against UFC veteran John Howard. The veteran has been fighting professionally since 2004 and holds wins over the likes of Uriah Hall and Ray Cooper III.
Mansur Abdul-Malik was a state champion in Maryland before transferring to Wyoming Seminary to finish his high school career. He eventually ended up joining the Maryland team under Kerry McCoy and started multiple Big Ten duals. In 2019, he made his amateur MMA debut with a first-round stoppage victory. Abdul Malik will turn professional on this card against Cole Jordan.
The main card of â€œVice Cityâ€ will air live on YouTube at 7:00pm ET.
Third Coast Grappling 8
Although it is not an MMA event, this grappling tournament features an extremely interesting first-round bout between former wrestlers. Former Iowa State All-American Pat Downey is set to face off against former Penn State national qualifier Geno Morelli. Both seem destined to make the transition into full-time MMA, with Morelli already winning his amateur debut earlier this year. The winner of this bout should receive a major test as the next round will likely be a match against former UFC title challenger Jake Shields.
The Third Coast Grappling 8 tournament will air live on Fite.tv as an Internet pay-per-view at 9:00pm ET.