Oklahoma State All-American Jacobe Smith (Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
While the best wrestlers in the world competed this week at the 2021 World Championships, there are plenty of former wrestlers ready to ply their trade this weekend in the MMA cages. The action kicks off on Friday with a high-profile debut and continues on Saturday with a UFC loaded with wrestling talent.
On Friday night at XFN 374, Jacobe Smith will become the latest product of the Oklahoma State to American Kickboxing Academy pipeline. He will make his professional MMA debut against Roderick Stewart. Smith started his collegiate career on the junior college level at Northeastern Oklahoma before transferring to the Cowboy powerhouse. There he was a two-year starter. Smith qualified for the NCAA tournament twice and finished eighth as a junior to become an All-American. Stewart will also be making his professional debut, but he did win an amateur MMA fight via decision back in 2016.
The card, which airs live on UFC Fight Pass at 7:00pm ET, was also expected to feature fellow former Cowboy Nick Piccininni. However, as of press time, his bout had not been announced by the promotion.
UFC Fight Night: Dern vs. Rodriguez takes place on Saturday at an earlier than normal start time. The preliminary card on ESPN+ starts at 1:30pm ET, while the main card on the streaming platform starts at 4:00pm ET. Both portions of the event feature some top former wrestlers.
It might be a stretch to call Alexander Romanov a former wrestler, considering the Moldovan competed at both the 2019 World Championships and the 2021 Olympic Qualification Tournament. He has extensive experience in international freestyle and won a bronze medal at the 2016 World University Championships. On the MMA side, he turned professional in 2016 and joined the UFC last year. He holds an undefeated 14-0 record. His opponent on Saturday will be Jared Vanderaa, who earned a spot in the UFC via the Dana White Contender Series and recently picked up his first win for the promotion over converted kickboxer Justin Tafa.
Also on the preliminary card, Damon Jackson takes on Charles Rosa. During his college days, Jackson was a member of the Missouri Valley College wrestling team. In 2012, he finished fifth at the NAIA tournament to become an All-American. In MMA, he holds an 18-4-1 record and is coming into this bout against Rosa off a loss to Ilia Topuria.
The main card kicks off with a battle between former wrestlers. Phil Hawes won an NJCAA title for Iowa Central in 2010, before transferring to Iowa State. After a year with the Cyclones, he moved again and finished his career at Division III powerhouse Wartburg. On Saturday, he takes on Deron Winn. Until recently, Winn was a regular on the upperweight freestyle ladder. The NAIA All-American placed in the top four of the U.S. Open four times and finished second in the 2018 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. Winn initially competed in both href="https://intermatwrestle.com/articles/20193"target="_blank">MMA and wrestling simultaneously, but he has been focusing on MMA exclusively since 2020. He started his MMA career with six-straight victories, but he is only 2-2 since joining the UFC in 2019.
Long before he won "The Ultimate Fighter" and challenged for the UFC flyweight title, Tim Elliott was a standout wrestler on both the junior college and Division II levels. His college journey began at Labette Community College, where he was a two-time All-American and national champion. Elliott then transferred to Central Oklahoma, where he placed second and fourth to finish as a four-time All-American. He holds a 17-11-1 record as a professional, but is coming off back-to-back wins. On Saturday, he faces off against Matheus Nicolau. The Brazilian has a 16-2-1 record and is 6-1 in the UFC since joining in 2015.