2019 Senior World Team member Patrick Downey (photos courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Normally here at InterMat, we scour the globe for all the MMA fighters with a wrestling background. However, this week Bellator has made it quite easy. On Friday Bellator 284 goes down at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D., and the card is absolutely stacked with names that are likely familiar to the wrestling community. Veterans of several current and former collegiate programs will be represented including Iowa State, Southern Oregon, Minnesota, Fresno State, Arizona State, and South Dakota State.
Austin Vanderford vs. Aaron Jeffery
This will be Vanderford's first fight back since he unsuccessfully challenged former middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi for the title back in February. The loss was Vanderford's first professional defeat after beginning his MMA career with 11-straight victories. During his college days, Vanderford was a two-time NAIA All-American and won the NAIA title at 184 pounds in 2012 for Southern Oregon.
Jeffery holds a 12-3 record as a professional. Last year, he fought against Caio Borralho on Dana White's Contenders Series but dropped a decision. Since that defeat, he has bounced back with a pair of wins including a victory over Fabio Aguiar in his Bellator debut.
Michell McKee vs. Tony Ortega
McKee was a four-time NCAA qualifier for Minnesota. As a junior in 2019, he finished sixth to become an All-American. Unfortunately for him, his final year coincided with the canceled NCAA tournament, and he never got the chance to make one final run at the title. McKee made his MMA in 2021 and currently holds a 2-0 record. This past April, he scored a first-round stoppage over Jalen Jackson. This will be his Bellator debut.
While McKee's first two opponents came into the bout 0-1, this will be a big step up in competition. Ortega has a 5-4 record and has been fighting professionally since 2014. He comes into this fight after winning back-to-back fights over Nate Morrow and Ashton Caniglia.
Patrick Downey vs. Keyes Nelson
Downey has apparently recovered from his bout with red skin syndrome and is now ready to make his Bellator and professional MMA debut. While he has participated in several high-profile grappling contests this will be his first MMA fight. The well-traveled wrestler spent time at multiple colleges and finished fifth at Iowa State in 2016 to become an All-American. In 2019 he represented the U.S. at the World Championships and went 2-1 and finished ninth.
His original opponent Jeff Souder reportedly pulled out of the contest at the last minute. Downey will now face off against Keyes Nelson, who at a glance appears to be a step down in competition. Nelson turned professional in 2018 and holds an 0-3 record. However, he did score a victory over Souder back in their amateur days.
Isaiah Hokit vs. Nick Perez
Hokit started his collegiate wrestling career at Drexel before transferring to Fresno State. In his final year in the lineup, he went 2-2 at the Big 12 tournament and finished short of qualifying for the NCAA tournament. Per WrestleStat, his final college record was 39-33. Hokit made his professional MMA debut last year under the Bellator banner, and he was knocked out in only 10 seconds. However, he bounced back earlier this year with a first-round submission over Theodore Macuka.
Perez will be making his professional MMA debut. He went 4-4-1 as an amateur with his last fight coming in 2018. He has had two fights scheduled in the interim but both fell through.
Sullivan Cauley vs. Tyson Jeffries
Cauley was a three-time state placer in his native Nevada, and he continued his wrestling career at Arizona State. He bounced between heavyweight and 197 during his time in Tempe between 2014 and 2017. Cauley currently trains under Bellator heavyweight champion and fellow former Arizona State wrestler Ryan Bader. He made his professional MMA debut under the Bellator banner in 2020 and has all three of his fights by first-round stoppage.
Jeffries will certainly have the experience edge in this contest as he holds a 14-10 professional record. However, he has not fought since 2018 and has not won since 2015.
Brett Bye vs. M,A, Yah II
Bye will continue his amateur MMA career on the Bellator undercard. He was a member of the South Dakota State wrestling team from 2015 to 2019 and is likely getting the shot since the event goes down in Sioux Falls. During his four seasons with the Jackrabbits, Bye went 43-33 and bounced around between 157 and 174 pounds. This past March, he made his amateur debut and scored a decision over Brady Steinhorst.
Yah made his amateur debut in 2020 and has built a 4-0 record. He last fought this past March and scored a first-round stoppage over Ali Abouzalam.
Vanderford's return fight will kick off the main card, which will air at 9:00pm ET on Showtime. The rest of the fighters will be part of the free YouTube preliminary card set to begin at 6:00pm ET.