Making the Switch: 13 Athletes Who Could Transition to MMA

A lot of high level prospects have jumped into MMA hoping to find success.  Recently wrestling standout Ed Ruthkylesnyder and Tyrell Fortune debuted for Bellator.  Jarod Trice is set to debut on December 3rd for the promotion.  Aaron Pico is also under contract with Bellator.  Russian Olympian Bilyal Makhov was signed by the UFC with no professional MMA experience.  Iranian wrestler Amir Aliakbari is fighting for Rizin.  I expect the floodgates to continue to stay opened for competitors in wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, judo and kickboxing.  There are other fighters who have recently made transitions that I did not include on this list because I felt they were too deeply transitioned.  Davi Ramos, an elite BJJ practitioner has a 5-1 record already.  Ary Farias is 3-1 in MMA.  BJJ star Kron Gracie is 3-0 with some impressive showings.  Some kickboxers have dabbled in MMA, but I see the path to full time and successful MMA being more difficult for them.  Robin Van Roosmalen is 1-0 in MMA, but still is competing in kickboxing.  Anderson Braddock Silva is more likely to make a full switch to MMA, he already has a 2-0 professional mark.  Obviously, the biggest name would be Rico Verhoeven.  Rico is the top kickboxer in the world.  He has a 1-0 MMA mark, but I do not expect him to do any more than just dabble in MMA.

We take a look at 12 different elite level athletes in other disciplines who could make the transition to MMA some time in the near future.  I tried to find people who were more than pure speculation or wishful thinking, but have actually spoken about a potential move to MMA.  The addition of any of these would be a boost for the sport.

1. Kyle Snyder 

Snyder is an Olympic gold medalist.  Those don’t come around often.  He has made clear that he wants to fight MMA and may do so sooner rather than later.  The questions for Snyder are, how would a potential MMA career impact a run at the 2020 Olympics.  I am assuming that is still important to him.  However, he could forego that and jump right into MMA.  I am quite certain UFC and Bellator would love to get their hands on him.  Also, he is still a collegiate athlete that has to uphold his amateur status.  I could see a scenario where he leaves school to compete in MMA, but that is not a sure thing.  If Snyder would move full time to MMA it would make him the best prospect in the sport.  He is just 20-years old, has an incredible wrestling pedigree and could fight in the heavyweight or light heavyweight divisions.  It is not really speculation of Snyder jumping into MMA, he has said he will.  However, I will believe it when I see it.

2.  Kayla Harrison 

I reluctantly put Kayla Harrison here, but it seems that she is the best bet.  There are a few issues.  First, she seems to be entering MMA somewhat reluctantly.  Second, she will at best compete at 145 pounds.  There really is not much competition at that weight class.  Third, she has signed with World Series of Fighting and Dominance MMA.  It is a management group that I am wary of and a promotion I am skeptical of their long term viability.  With that said, we have seen what a judoka can do in MMA in Ronda Rousey.  Kayla has a far better resume entering MMA than Ronda had.  She is a two time Olympic gold medalist.  That does not mean her success will be parallel.  It is yet to be determined if she has the personality and drive for MMA.   Kayla Harrison is still a top level prospect and at 26-years old she still has time on her side.  I have high hopes for Harrison in MMA.  Even though she is signed with an MMA agent and an MMA promotion, I am not 100% convinced she will ever fight.  However, we have to assume she will.

3.  Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida

Buchecha has teased a move to MMA for a while, but he is deeply rooted in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  He is a multiple time world champion in Brazilian jiu jitsu.  He is not just a good jiu jitsu competitor, he is one of the best ever.  He has done some MMA training at AKA hoping to build some striking skills and wrestling.  I believe that he will eventually dabble in MMA, but the question is timing.  I am not sure that he needs to.  He probably makes good money competing and teaching in BJJ.  However, he was once thought to be a real blue chip MMA prospect.  Perhaps he could have a trajectory similar to that of Fabricio Werdum.  Buchecha is 26-years old.  He is still young, but if he is going to make a transition, the door could close quickly.

4. Helen Maroulis

Helen Maroulis the first American female to win a gold medal in wrestling.  She defeated wrestling legend Saori Yoshida in Rio to capture the gold.  Helen is just 25-years old, so there are lots of options.  A foray into MMA is pure speculation here.  I think it is likely that she sticks around the wrestling circuit for another cycle and goes for another Olympic gold medal.  However, there have been rumblings about her having interest in MMA.  Maroulis has said she was interested in MMA.  She was at UFC 205 and seemed to enjoy the show.  I believe attending a show of that magnitude can have a large appeal for someone to try it themselves.  Helen would be a natural fit for the women’s strawweight division and would instantly be a player in the division.  I would imagine that she has already had offers to compete in MMA and that UFC would love to make one right now for her services.  The money could appeal to her enough to suspend her 2020 dreams for MMA.

5. Garry Tonon

Tonon is one of the most exciting and popular BJJ practitioners.  He is known for being able to compete against and beat much larger opponents.  Tonon is a leg lock expert, who is elite in submissions.   I think his game could be really well suited for success in MMA.  He could have the success of a guy like Ryan Hall.  His leg lock ability makes him a danger to anyone at any level of the sport.  I would expect Tonon to make a transition in 2017 and compete as a featherweight.  Also one of his students, Gordon Ryan, is rumored to follow to MMA.  Tonon is already around great guys for MMA like Tom DeBlass and Ricardo Almeida, so he has potential to get great MMA training.  I do wonder if his allure in grappling circles will keep him from a full MMA switch.  I think he certainly tries MMA in 2017, but how deep he dives in will depend on offers that he gets.  Promotions like Rizin seem more willing to gamble on grappling names.

6. Jordan Oliver

The 26-year old former Oklahoma State wrestler could be a great addition to MMA.  In fact, I believe that his wrestling game and personality make him a great prospect in the sport.  Oliver was a 4-time All-American and a 2-time national champion wrestler in college, so the credentials do not get a whole lot better.  Oliver has talked about moving to MMA and I expect it to happen in 2017.  Oliver has been teaching and training at Power MMA and Fitness alongside Ryan Bader and crew.  Oliver would be a great fit for the bantamweight division.

7. Luz Vazquez

Luz is an Argentine wrestler who has competed and done very well on the international stage.  She is currently under suspension from WADA which could affect her MMA career.  USADA honors WADA suspensions and many state commissions may as well.  The options could be limited to fighting overseas until her suspension is over.  It is also possible that she could appeal and gain a reduced sentence.  Vazquez is a sure thing if she competes.  She has a wrestling game tailor made for MMA.  She is already training and reports are very, very good.  I believe she could be a top level female bantamweight right now.  She also has the option to compete at 145-pounds. Vazquez technically has a professional MMA record of 1-0.  She is just 28-years old, so she has a bright future in the sport and she is all in.

8. Rodolfo Viera

Viera is in the midst of a transition to MMA.  He announced earlier this year that he was making the move from Jiu Jitsu to MMA.  He also announced that he signed with an Asian promotion called Real Fight Promoters.  Viera is a multiple time world champion in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  He is top notch.  It was expected that he would make his MMA debut sometime this year.  I expect that to happen in early 2017.

9.  Nick Gwiazdowski

Nick is one of the best heavyweight wrestlers in recent memory.  He won 2 NCAA national titles at NC State and would have won a third if it were not for Kyle Snyder. Gwiazdowski also fell just short of the U.S. Olympic team.  It is uncertain what is next for Nick.  He could stick around and compete in wrestling internationally.  He is on that level, however, with Snyder and a few others looming he may be on the outside looking in.  I have not heard anything official one way or another for Gwiazdowski, but MMA could really make sense for him.  The truth is the heavyweight division is a big draw without a ton of high level prospects.  Upon entering MMA, Gwiazdowski would instantly become one of the division’s top prospects.

10. Dillon Danis

Danis is another great Brazilian Jiu Jitsu player that has talked about a move to MMA.  Nothing has happened yet, but he almost seems like a sure bet to transition.  Danis really has gained some fame by being the jiu jitsu coach of UFC champion, Conor McGregor.  Danis is a Marcelo Garcia blackbelt.  He has a  very effective ground game, highlighted by a love for kneebars.  Danis is a really good prospect, not just because of BJJ pedigree, but also because he is just 23-years old.  He is one of the younger guys on this list.  He is not the BJJ elite that Viera and Tonon are, but make no mistake, he is very good.  I also believe that his training with SBG adds to the interest that will surround him.  Expect Danis to start his ascent into MMA in 2017.  Danis probably is a welterweight in MMA, maybe even a lightweight.

11. Tony Ramos

Tony Ramos was an elite wrestler at the University of Iowa.  He was a multiple time All-American and national champion in college.  He also nearly made the U.S. Olympic squad in 2016.   I know that Ramos keeps up with MMA and often posts on Twitter about MMA, but I have not heard anything about a move to the sport.  He is currently coaching wrestling at UNC alongside Kenny Monday.  If I am guessing, Ramos has interest in MMA, but is not sold on it fully.  Ramos could most likely be a flyweight in MMA, but he would be as gritty and tough of a guy the division has seen.  He could be a real force in the division.  Its possible Ramos will be content coaching wrestling long term.  It is also possible that he will stay and compete internationally and make a run a the 2020 Olympics.  Ramos is only 25 years old, so he could still be a factor after 2020.  However, if he elects not to compete in 2020, a move to MMA would make sense sooner rather than later.

12. Robin Van Roosmalen

Robin already has a professional MMA record of 1-0 and I fully expect him to continue to play around in MMA.  He is a top tiered kickboxer.  The question is: would he be willing to start from the bottom and work his way up in  a different sport?  I am guessing that he would not.  Roosmalen does have a little bit of judo in his background so he is not a complete novice in the grappling department.  He also has spent a good deal of time training with the Blackzilians camp.  I believe that he can compete in both for a time.  I would not be surprised if he racked up a few nice MMA wins to start drawing interest from major promotions.  I would expect that he would fight in the featherweight division where he would be one of the more dynamic strikers.  He is just 27-years old, so he certainly has time on his side.  Right now, I expect to see him fight in Glory and then find fights in between on smaller shows.

13. Keenan Cornelius

Keenan has said before that he would like to do MMA eventually, the real question is when.  He still has some goals left to accomplish in Jiu Jitsu, so he may stick around there for another few years.  I do think that eventually, like many BJJ greats Cornelius tries his hand at MMA.  He has some background in the sport.  He has trained with B.J. Penn and for a while at Team Lloyd Irvin.  I think Cornelius poses some interesting threats in MMA.  He has a vert good and active guard and that could make him a rare guard player.  Cornelius is a world champion level jiu jitsu practitioner, so obvious a move to MMA would be interesting.  At just 25-years old, I think Keenan can be a real prospect in the sport.




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