Though most of the people who set attendance records at the NCAA Division I wrestling championships in St. Louis last week were fans, at least one attendee was there to look for up-and-coming talent. Ricardo Liborio, the leader of American Top Team in Florida, headed to Missouri to find the best athletes who want to make the transition from wrestling to MMA.
Cagewriter spoke to Liborio, who has worked with such fighters as Thiago Alves and Tyron Woodley, about why he is looking to wrestling to find his next great star.
"The endpoint is to recruit guys who are done with their careers as a wrestler. Probably senior guys who want to start their MMA career. Some guys are not making it through their careers, the guys who couldn't make the Olympic team. And, we're open. I have some offers for athletes, depending on their caliber of what they can bring to the table. Guys like Bubba [Jenkins], we're recruiting, we're negotiating, and we're willing to invest in them. We're building them from the ground up," Liborio said.
He said he's been looking to wrestlers for years, but attended the NCAA championships for the first time last year. There, he watched Arizona State's Bubba Jenkins win a national title. Not long after, Jenkins joined ATT, where he's won both of his fights with a submission.
Liborio says wrestlers make great fighters because of the culture of the sport.
"Work ethic, athletic ability, but mental toughness of keep going, don't quit. The culture of other sports, that's not as exalted as it is in wrestling. There are great athletes with a great work ethic who are tough. They compete every weekend, they cut their weight."
ATT has created a boot camp of sorts to help athletes who have excelled in wrestling transition to MMA, but it works best when future fighters will open themselves up to learn.
"Those guys who understand they're learning a completely different discipline. Learning, striking, ground game. We have it right now as a science. All those guys who came from just wrestling and go into a kind of boot camp that makes them much better fighters."
Though several wrestlers will pursue Olympic gold this summer or in 2016, most will not make the team. With ATT and other camps looking out for wrestlers, they have a way to "go pro" in their sport.