Edinboro athletes continue success within UFC

Category:  Sports
Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017 at 6:29 PM
Edinboro athletes continue success within UFC by Mike Lantinen & George Schmidt
Graphic: Christian Colton

Everyone remembers their first encounter with mixed martial arts (MMA), whether they’re a fan or not. The sport has grown exponentially over the past 20 years and the UFC sits at the forefront, with the possibility of overtaking boxing as the most popular fighting sport in the world very much alive.

Current pound-for-pound, number one overall fighter Demetrious Johnson is the perfect example of what the sport has become in its 34 years of official existence. Johnson’s specialty is striking (boxing, kickboxing) but he also has training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai. A fighter with multiple disciplines is one that fits in with MMA and the UFC.

After further research, it’s found that more than in any other practice, athletes were coming from freestyle wrestling backgrounds, while Edinboro University’s wrestling program has shown just how valuable their teachings can be to the sport.

In the MLB, farm systems help develop players through AA and AAA leagues. For the NBA and NFL, college athletics has served as a developmental buffer to the pros. For MMA? Some of its rising and risen fighters have used the facilities of McComb Fieldhouse as a proving and training ground.

Gregor Gillespie (2-0 in UFC)

Twenty-one seconds. There’s barely anything you can do that takes as little as 21 seconds. But that’s all the time it took for Edinboro wrestling alumnus Gregor Gillespie to get the technical knockout on Andrew Holbrook in Buffalo, New York at UFC 210.

In his post-fight interview, Gillespie, an NCAA wrestling champion for Edinboro, said, “You know when you are training and wearing sixteens (16 oz. gloves) and head gear, it’s hard to tell if you rocked someone or not... to get a knock-out in my backyard where I grew up an hour away was huge.”

Gillespie’s journey with MMA wasn’t planned or frankly even considered when he finished his career as a freestyle wrestler here at Edinboro. Steven Marrocco, of MMA Junkie, referred to Gillespie’s tumultuous MMA career as he battled addiction and severe injury. 

In a sparring match with a teammate in 2012, Gillespie broke his ulna. Two surgeries followed, one of which was necessary to repair the bone structurally, while the next was done to treat an MRSA infection he got.

“Coach Flynn is something special... Coach Flynn kind of shaped me into who I am,” said Gillespie of his Edinboro background.

“He has played such a huge role in my life, not only as an athlete but as a person.”

Gillespie continued: “He carried me through some tough times when I was younger and I carried that over with me in the way I work and I work for everything. If you wrestle for Coach Flynn you’re going to have a bond with him forever.”

Between Gillespie (illustrated middle), UFC alum Josh Koscheck (illustrated left) and current MMA athlete Chris Honeycutt, Edinboro and Flynn is the constant.

Chris Honeycutt (6-1 in Bellator)

Honeycutt is a welterweight/middleweight fighter in the Bellator MMA promotion. Those weights are at 170 pounds and 185 pounds, which is right around the weights he competed at when he wrestled at Edinboro. Before the Fighting Scots, though, Honeycutt wrestled for St. Ed’s in the greater Cleveland area, a program that has produced an NCAA All-American every year for the past 34 years.

“Meeting Coach Flynn and knowing the career Josh Koscheck had and that Bruce Baumgartner was the athletic director, it really forced me to look hard at Edinboro. It was the last school I visited,” Honeycutt said.

Honeycutt expressed just how quickly he took to the culture. “I was on the ride home with my dad and Edinboro had handed me the early commit packet and I filled it out and signed it right there.”

He continued, “The odds of me reaching my goals seemed more likely with Edinboro than, say, with the bigger schools like Ohio State, Ohio or even Cleveland State.”

Honeycutt talked his transition from college wrestling to Bellator, explaining that at some point he knew he “was going to be a fighter.” He chose MMA over pursuing the Olympics given the career of a fighter is a “small window.” 

Honeycutt continued: “Just because you are a good wrestler doesn’t mean you are going to be a good fighter. There is a huge learning curve one must go through. As a high-level wrestler, I could get the takedown, but that would mean nothing because I would still get submitted. So, my first year I had to dedicate it to (Brazilian) jiu- jitsu. I had to learn not only offense but also how to defend from the jiu-jitsu attacks.”

Luckily for Honeycutt, the Edinboro ties he had worked hard to create gave him an opportunity, an opportunity to join current UFC competitor Koscheck.

“Edinboro gave me that work ethic, and that’s due to Tim Flynn, that’s why I came out to Fresno, California to train with Koscheck. I was going to a place where the concept of work is the same and I didn’t have to butt heads with anyone. I already knew what was expected of me to continue training there,” Honeycutt said.

Tim Flynn (20-year Head Coach)

The man who’s seemingly provided this base and path for further competition is head coach Tim Flynn.

“I thinks it’s great for wrestlers (MMA) if you don’t want to go into freestyle; it gives you another sport to go into. It just appears to be so much harder. You have to be good at all these different disciplines because for lack of a better word, you’ll get beat up.”

MMA is an all year sport at the professional level, and regardless of what you’re doing, you need to live and breathe the sport.

“Keeping these guys on a schedule is a lot of it. I think they all learned a work ethic here, it’s structure year round,” Flynn added.

Building a reputation as a program that prepares their athletes for the next level started with one athlete. It’s continued through culture.

“I think Josh paving the way, getting into that first show was great,” said Flynn.

He continued, describing the sort of culture he works to foster: “I think it’s kind of like a family in that you don’t pick your brothers, but you have similar goals and you go through similar things in training — all the pain of that and going through the highs and lows of winning and losing. Even if they are classes apart, they still have that bond.” 

Tags: sports, wrestling

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