September 16, 2009

by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
It would be ideal for 26 year-old Todd Meneely if the wrestling mats at his school were surrounded by a fence. But it’s one or the other: cage or the mat.

And for now, the cage is winning out.

When the University of Nebraska, Omaha, student steps into the cage for the first time in his life Friday at Adrenaline IV, he will be the most decorated wrestler on the card, and he won’t make a cent to fight.

In March, Meneely finished his collegiate career with a 58-5 record and a win in the 157lb. bracket of the Division II NCAA championships. The previous two years, he won at 147 lbs. In high school, he was a four-time state champ. He characterizes his style as “intense, aggressive.” In other words, perfect for fighting.

You could say combat was in his blood growing up in Omaha. He got into more than a few street wars on his own time, though he says those days have passed him by. Friends and wrestling buddies wanted him to fight; he never wanted to do it for free, and he couldn’t take money to fight in college.

Meneely now helps the coaching staff at UNO and the opportunity to top a preliminary card promoted by well-connected manager Monte Cox was too good to pass up.

On Thursday, he’ll weigh in as a featherweight and come in around 160lbs. the next day.

“I like the crowds,” said Meneely. “I perform well under pressure.”

Jake Ellenberger, another Omaha native who makes his UFC debut at Ultimate Fight Night 19 Wednesday, guided Meneely in MMA after friend and local fighter Alonso Martinez convinced him to begin training at a local gym. Martinez will fight on Adrenaline IV’s main card.

Eventually, Meneely would like to get paid to fight. He understands why peers like Johny Hendricks and Jake Rosholt have jumped ship to MMA.

“That’s been the downfall of wrestling,” he said. “Just recently in this last year, they’re starting to get some money together for the top US wrestlers, but still, it’s not anything compared to what you can make fighting.”

As a fan, he admired wrestlers turned fighters like Dan Henderson who turned their skills into a lucrative career. If a big offer fell into his lap, it would be hard to turn down.

Wrestling remains close to his heart, though, and his dream of competing in the Olympics has not died.

“We’ll see how far it goes,” he said.

Meneely’s trainers and friends are psyched to finally see him in the cage. His Mom and fiancé are mad, but he says they’re warming to the idea.

He’s confident his experience on the mat (and the streets) gives him an advantage others don’t have.

“You watch the UFC, and Joe Rogan talk about these guys as world class wrestlers,” he said. “Well, they don’t really know. Some of the guys that they’re talking about as world class wrestlers aren’t world class wrestlers. They’re good wrestlers, but I think that with my background, and the level I’ve competed at, it puts me in a good position to start. Obviously, I’m a beginner in this sport, but I think with my background, it’s an advantage starting out.”

Three days from the fight, he insists he’s not nervous. His opponent, Cory McDonald, is a local fighter with a 1-1 record who specializes in kickboxing.

“The day of there will be a little bit of nerves, but that’s a good thing,” said Meneely.

Cox is effusive in his praise for the newcomer. Depending on how things go, you could be seeing a lot more of Meneely.

Still, only on Friday will the young fighter know if it’s really in his blood. He says he’ll play it by ear.

“It’s a cool opportunity, I’m lucky for my first fight to be in a show like this,” said Meneely.