by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Wrestlers have always had a special place in the world of mixed martial arts. One particular group of wrestlers from Arizona State University have made a mark lately, positioning themselves as the new breed of athletes competing in MMA.

While Arizona State has always been a top school for collegiate wrestling, it has also produced many top MMA fighters including Dan Severn, Dan Henderson, and Don Frye. Now, a new group of grapplers from Arizona State has proven the team still knows how to produce great fighters.

C.B. Dollaway, Ryan Bader, and Cain Velasquez were all a part of the Arizona State wrestling team. Recently, all three have made successful transitions into MMA.

“Basically, when I came to Arizona State, it put me in a great position to be a great collegiate wrestler. I came in with Ryan Bader and Cain Velasquez, it was kind of like a 1-2-3 punch,” said Dollaway about his teammates. “So we all worked out together and my coach Aaron Simpson, who’s a two time All-American who was trying to make the Olympics. Just a bunch of great guys to workout with.”

The work ethic displayed showed on the wrestling mat as all three were All-American wrestlers in their time at Arizona State and it’s that commitment that helped them transition to MMA as well.

Assistant coach Aaron Simpson saw something special in that particular group of guys that he felt would carry them far in their future sport.

“Those three guys, we saw something different,” said Simpson. “We did something special. I mean we pushed ourselves through midnight workouts, we did special workouts, everything I asked of them they did. I trained right alongside them. It was a pretty awesome experience in that respect for me.”

Simpson, who is now competing as a mixed martial artist himself, admits that the MMA bug bit him early on in his career at Arizona State.

“When the UFC first started, Kevin Jackson was my coach back in college. He was an assistant coach, but he also fought in the UFC,” Simpson commented. “He was down in Tempe training with me, and so I kind of got a firm hand of that stuff, just to train with him. It’s always kind of been a back burner issue for me.”

Bader, who recently tried out for the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter as a light heavyweight, talked about how the wrestlers used MMA during the wrestling season as well.

“We rolled around every once in a while as a different way to cut weight,” said Bader. “You’re there for six months straight during wrestling season and cutting weight every week, so you kind of get bored just sitting there and drilling. At the end (at Arizona State), me and C.B. were working out with Jesse Forbes and try to get him ready for one of his UFC fights. Ever since then basically we’ve just been training every day since that day.”

With Dollaway, Bader and Velasquez all working alongside each other on a daily basis, it didn’t take long for them to start looking towards MMA as a career choice. Dollaway says it was Velasquez who first made the move.

“Cain (Velasquez) knew he was going into MMA. As soon as he graduated, he looked to start fighting,” Dollaway said about his training partner. “I didn’t know that I was going to get into it, but I knew I wanted to train and once I had my first fight, I just loved it.”

The foundation was set and Dollaway admits that working with such tough training partners, he knew that he was prepared for a life in MMA.

“We were all top level college wrestlers, so you know working with those guys, you never have to question the type of guys I’m working with,” Dollaway said. “Most of them are better than the guys I’m fighting, so yeah it definitely gives you huge confidence.”

After graduation, Dollaway and Bader made their move to the Arizona Combat Sports team where they continue to train together. Dollaway is currently a member of “The Ultimate Fighter” season seven cast.

Teammate Cain Velasquez recently made his UFC debut, dispatching of Brad Morris in the first round of their fight. He currently trains out of the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.

This particular class of athletes at Arizona State may not be matched for sometime, and former assistant coach Aaron Simpson feels that this is just the beginning for college wrestlers making the move to MMA.

“You get guys like Gray Maynard and Josh Koscheck who are out there having some success. And now we’ve got these young guys, they’re saying they’re in college, they want to win a national title and get their degree, and then they’re moving right on into MMA,” said Simpson. “It’s second nature to them.”

Dollaway believes the transition may start before future athletes even hit the wrestling mat in college for the first time.

“You’re going to see a lot of wrestlers coming out and guys are going to start training earlier,” Dollaway commented. “High school wrestlers, you’re going to see them start training boxing and kickboxing, so when they are done with their wrestling careers, they’re already a step ahead of the game.”

Following their college days, Dollaway says that all three remain in close contact and still train together, even though some of them are in different MMA camps. He went on to state that even more wrestlers from that same team at Arizona State will be making waves in MMA in the very near future.

“All of us are really, really good friends so we’re going to be supportive of one another and do anything to help each other out,” said Bader about the friends he made as teammates at Arizona State.

Kellan Fluckinger, another heavyweight from Arizona State that served as a major training partner for Cain Velasquez during college, is also working towards a career in MMA.

Simpson is also fighting in MMA now, currently sporting a 2-0 record, while working with the Cal Poly wrestling team last season as an assistant coach at that school.