A number of former top college wrestlers, including Michael Chandler, Ben Askren, Mo Lawal, Bubba Jenkins, and Shawn Bunch, will be among the featured stars at Bellator Fighting Championships’ Bellator 97 event this Wednesday, July 31.
Bellator 97, featuring matches for lightweight and middleweight world titles, as well as light-heavyweight and heavyweight tournament finals, will take place at the Santa Ana Star Center in Albuquerque. The featured matches will be televised on Spike TV beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern; other bouts will be shown at Spike.com starting at 5:30 p.m. Eastern.
Defending his Bellator world lightweight (155-pound) crown will be Michael Chandler, an NCAA All-American for the University of Missouri vs. David Rickels. Chandler, a four-time NCAA qualifier and two-time Big 12 finalist, brings a perfect 11-0-0 record in mixed martial arts (MMA), while Rickels is 14-1-0. Rickels has a three-inch height advantage on the former Mizzou matman.
Battling for the Bellator world middleweight (170 lb.) championship is Ben Askren, arguably the most decorated wrestler in the long history of Missouri wrestling, facing off against Andrey Koreshkov. Askren, a four-time NCAA finalist, and two-time national champ for the Tigers — and member of the men’s freestyle team for the 2008 Olympics — has the Bellator middleweight title, and a flawless 11-0-0 MMA record. Koreshkov is 13-0-0.
The Bellator light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) tournament finals features former college mat champ Muhammed Lawal, vs. Jacob Noe. King Mo — as he’s known by MMA fans — was a 2002 NCAA Division II titlewinner at Central Oklahoma University, then transferred to Oklahoma State, where he earned All-American honors by placing third a 197 at the 2003 NCAA Division I championships. Lawal is now 10-2-0 in MMA, while Noe is 12-2-0.
While the Bellator heavyweight (265 lbs.) tournament finals doesn’t have any former college wrestlers, it is for the title once held by Cole Konrad, two-time NCAA heavyweight champ for University of Minnesota, until his retirement last September. Wednesday night’s bout to crown a new champ features Vitaly Minakov (11-0-0) vs. Ryan Martinez (10-2-0). Martinez made headlines two years ago by defeating Mark Ellis, 2009 NCAA heavyweight champ for Missouri (and Askren’s college roommate), at a ProElite MMA event in Illinois.
Two former college mat stars who are in the early stages of their MMA careers will step into the cage in the non-televised portion of Bellator 97. Bubba Jenkins – 2011 NCAA champ for Arizona State who pinned former Penn State teammate David Taylor in the 157-pound title bout – brings a 3-0 record to his match with Mike Barreras (5-6) in a lightweight contest. Shawn Bunch, a four-time Eastern Wrestling League (EWL) champ and two-time NCAA All-American at Edinboro University (same alma mater as Chris Honeycutt, newly-crowned UPC Unlimited middleweight champ), brings his fledgling 1-0 MMA record to a bantamweight bout with Russell Wilson (1-2).
See Michael Chandler in a video interview with Takedown Wrestling’s Scott Casber at the 2013 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, talking about Mizzou wrestling and MMA.
Want to know more about Chandler and Askren? Check out this article at the official University of Missouri wrestling website about the two former Tigers.
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