Aaron Pico at the 2016 Olympic Trials (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
This weekend is packed with MMA events, and as one might expect, there will be plenty of wrestlers in action. The slate features multiple former All-Americans and some international competitors with impressive credentials.
Friday - Bellator 277
AJ McKee vs. Patricio Pitbull
McKee won the Bellator featherweight title from Pitbull in dramatic fashion last July. The former wrestler will make his first title defense in a rematch. McKee was a standout wrestler and CIF Southern Sectional champion for Long Beach Poly before going on to wrestle for Notre Dame College and Cerritos College. While at Cerritos, he picked up a CCCAA state championship. Pitbull had held the Bellator featherweight title since 2017 before McKee stopped him with a guillotine choke two minutes into their fight at Bellator 263.
Corey Anderson vs. Vadim Nemkov
Anderson's collegiate wrestling career began at Lincoln College where he was an NJCAA All-American. He then made a stop at Newberry College, before eventually finding a home at Wisconsin-Whitewater. As a senior at the Division III school, he went 46-5 and finished second.
Here Anderson will face off against Bellator light heavyweight champion Nemkov in the finals of the promotion's heavyweight tournament. The former wrestler left the UFC in 2020 and has won three-straight bouts over Melvin Manhoef, Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov and Ryan Bader to earn a title shot.
Aaron Pico vs. Adli Edwards
After three medals at the age-group World Championships, Pico made news by announcing he was forgoing college in exchange for an early start on his MMA career. After making the finals of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, he made his professional MMA debut in 2017. Things got off to a bit of a rough start as he went 4-3 in his first seven fights. However, things have settled down recently, and he is riding a five-fight winning streak.
His opponent has also had recent success. He holds a 9-1 record and is on a seven-fight winning streak. Edwards last fought earlier this month as he stopped Josh Harvey with a head and arm choke at XMMA 4.
Tim Johnson vs. Linton Vassell
Johnson has been fighting professionally since 2010. Prior to that, he was a two-time NCAA Division II qualifier for Minnesota Moorhead. Johnson could really use a win here as he is coming off back-to-back losses against Valentin Moldavsky and Fedor Emelianenko. Vassell should be a tough challenge. He moved up to heavyweight in 2019 and has gone 3-1 including a victory over former wrestler Tyrell Fortune in his last fight.
Tyrell Fortune vs. Rakim Cleveland
Fortune will be looking to get back on track after falling against Vassell by split decision last November. During his collegiate days, Fortune was a two-time NJCAA champion at Clackamas and eventually transferred to Grand Canyon. At the new school, he won an NCAA Division II title. Fortune also excelled in both freestyle and Greco, as he came one match away from picking up a pair of bronze medals at the 2013 World University Games. Fortune made his MMA debut with Bellator in 2016 and holds an 11-2 record.
Cleveland has a 22-14-1 record. He made his Bellator debut last November and fell via first-round Kimura against Steve Mowry. Cleveland does hold a signature victory over UFC veteran Houston Alexander.
Kyle Crutchmer vs. Michael Lombardo
Crutchmer was a two-time All-American for Oklahoma State, who finished his eligibility in 2017. He made his MMA debut the following year and won four fights before signing with Bellator in 2019. Since suffering his first loss in 2020, Crutchmer has bounced back with victories over Levan Chokheli and Oliver Enkamp.
Lombardo should be an interesting test for the former Cowboy wrestler. Lombardo has gone 12-2 as a professional, fought twice on Dana White's Contender Series and is coming off a victory over Kyron Bowen under the PFL banner last year.
The Bellator 277 main card, which features McKee, Anderson, Pico and Johnson, airs live on Showtime at 10:00pm ET. The preliminary card begins at 7:00pm ET on the promotion's YouTube page.
Friday - CFFC 107
Mark Grey vs. Hector Iglesias
Grey kicked off his amateur MMA career in 2021. He went 4-0 with all of his victories coming via unanimous decision under the CFFC banner. Per his Instagram, his bout against Iglesias will be his professional debut. On the high school level, Grey was a four-time National Prep champion before Blair Academy, before going to Cornell for college . There he was a three-time NCAA qualifier and finished with an 81-42 record. Iglesias has a 3-2 amateur MMA career with his last fight coming in 2019. Last year, he fought in a pair of amateur kickboxing fights and won both by stoppage.
Grey's fight will be part of the preliminary card, which starts at 7:00pm ET on CFFC's YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/c/CageFuryMMA/featured).
Friday - Rizin Trigger 3rd
Kazuma Kuramoto vs. Yuto Hokamura
Kuramoto had an extensive Greco-Roman wrestling career before making the transition to MMA in 2017. His best finishes were a silver medal at the 2008 World University Championships and another silver at the 2012 Asian Championships. Kuramoto began his MMA career with Shooto and signed with Rizin in 2020. He has gone 2-1 in Japan's biggest promotion to push his professional record to 9-2. His opponent, known mostly as "Kintaro," holds a 14-11-2 record and has been fighting professionally since 2011.
Takeshi Izumi vs. Grant Bogdanove
Izumi twice represented Japan at the World Championships in Greco-Roman. Over the course of his career, his signature result was a gold medal at the 2017 Asian Championship. He also added a gold at the 2017 Grand Prix of Spain. In his last wrestling action, he placed fifth at the Japanese national championships in 2019. This will be his MMA debut. Bogdanove made his MMA debut last year and won a pair of fights. In his last contest he scored a submission over professional wrestler Keisuke Okuda in a little over a minute.
The Rizin event will air live on internet pay per view at 1:00am ET.
Saturday - UFC Vegas 51
Pat Sabatini vs. TJ Laramie
Sabatini wrestled for Bristol High School in Pennsylvania before continuing his career at Rider. He made his professional MMA debut in 2014 and built a 13-3 record before signing with the UFC last year. In the Octagon, he has gone 3-0 with victories over Tristan Connelly, Jamall Emmers and Tucker Lutz. Laramie is currently 12-4 as a professional, but he lost his only UFC bout against Darrick Minner back in 2020.
William Knight vs. Devin Clark
Knight was a state champion wrestler for Manchester High in Connecticut. The "Knightmare" made his UFC debut in 2020 after winning a spot via Dana White's Contenders Series. He is now 3-2 in the promotion after dropping a decision against Maxim Grishin last February.
Clark won a South Dakota state championship as a senior and continued his wrestling career at Rochester Tech. There he was a two-time NJCAA All-American and won the 184-pound title in 2009. He made his MMA debut in 2013 and signed with the UFC in 2016. Clark currently has a 12-6 record overall and a 6-6 record in the Octagon.
Drakkar Klose vs. Brandon Jenkins
Klose was a Michigan state champion in high school and made the finals three times. He wrestled collegiately for North Idaho and Lindenwood. Klose has been fighting professionally since 2014 and joined the UFC in 2017. He has gone 5-2 in the promotion but is coming off a loss against Beneil Dariush in his last fight. Jenkins made his UFC debut last September and lost via third-round stoppage against Zhu Rong. The defeat dropped his professional record to 15-8.
Sabatini will be on the main card, which airs live on ESPN at 8:30pm ET. The rest of the wrestlers will be part of the undercard that is scheduled to begin at 5:30pm ET on ESPN+.