In Signing Wrestling Champ Shawn Bunch, Bellator Listened to King Mo, Ben Askren


Shawn Bunch File Photo

Shawn Bunch has never fought in MMA, but Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney jumped at the chance to sign the standout wrestler after hearing high praise from fellow Bellator competitors Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and Ben Askren.

“Basically it boils down to my trust of King Mo and Ben Askren and their read on a guy and his ability to mature in our sport very quickly because of his skill set, his athleticism, his heart, et cetera,” Rebney told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “Both of them called me on this kid. When he got the bad decision in New York in Times Square and didn’t end up making the Olympic team -- he was legitimately a medal hopeful for this country -- they both reached out, literally within about a half hour, and said this kid has got amazing potential and he’s hugely driven and his athleticism and his quickness, his explosiveness is something we haven’t seen before in those lower weight divisions.”

Bellator announced the signing of Bunch on Monday. He is a former U.S. National champion in freestyle wrestling, but he’s also been training in MMA, where he is expected to compete at 135 pounds.

“You’re talking about a world-class athlete,” Rebney said. “You’re talking about a guy who has competed at the very, very highest level in a sport that I think we can all agree makes the most seamless transition into mixed martial arts.”

Wrestlers have had plenty of success in Bellator. Askren is one example: A former U.S. Olympian, he joined the promotion with just three fights under his belt, has gone undefeated and is the current welterweight champion. Of course, Bunch has not fought even once.

“We’ve got a developmental process,” Rebney said. “We’ve got about 25 events next year. We thought we’d team up with Shawn and try to develop him as opposed to waiting for him to get four or five fights under his resume and see where he is from there. … The consensus opinion was this guy’s got the opportunity to be something really explosive in short order. You try to put that [Michael] Chandler-Askren model in place and see if he can actually do it that quick. We’ll see. We’ll all get to watch it unfold together.”

Bunch is expected to make a quick rise, but Bellator doesn’t plan on debuting him on national television.

“He’ll be part of a Spike.com show here and there,” Rebney said. “He’ll get developmental bouts on undercards. We’re not going to take Shawn and suddenly throw him in against Eduardo Dantas, but the development is going to be there. … We’ll get to see it on Spike.com, and then when the time’s right, we’ll make that jump to Spike network. … We’re going to take nice, slow, methodical steps to develop him underneath this banner. Hopefully what we come out with is a Ben Askren, we come out with a Mike Chandler, we come out with a Pat Curran. [Hopefully] that’s the maturation he follows, but we’ll all see whether it succeeds or doesn’t.”

Listen to the full interview (beginning at 17:03).

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