Though there is no official feeder program for MMA, college wrestling has produced a steady stream of top-notch fighters. Oklahoma State University, Arizona State University and the Ohio State University have a reputation for putting out some of the best fighters in the country.
Looking at recent success both in MMA and wrestling, it looks as if the next wave of fighters will come from the University of Missouri.
Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley and Michael Chandler are some of MMA's most exciting prospects. 2009 NCAA Division I heavyweight champ Mark Ellis is training with American Kickboxing Academy. J.P. Reese, a 2004 grad, recently won his MMA debut.
"After J.P. won his fight, he texted me and said, 'Missouri Tigers, still undefeated,'" Askren told Cagewriter in a recent interview.
Askren is 6-0, and recently won the Bellator welterweight tournament. As one of Strikeforce's top up-and-coming welterweights, Woodley has seven wins. Chandler is 3-0, and turned heads with his win in less than a minute at Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery in St. Louis.
After success at Mizzou, Ellis didn't have much trouble deciding to make the jump to MMA. His last wrestling match was in March, and just hours after he earned All-American status, he said that he intended to fight.
"I enjoy it. I'm a fan. I think I can be successful at it," Ellis told Cagewriter. "The motivation factor is also that there's money involved. Not that it's the only thing that's important, but if all else fails, there's something to be chasing."
After becoming Missouri's first wrestling champion, Askren didn't start fighting quite so quickly. First, he chased Olympic glory, and competed for the U.S. in Beijing in freestyle wrestling.
Now, he is going after Bellator's welterweight title. The only thing standing between him and the belt is Bellator's welterweight champion, Lyman Good. Askren expects to face Good sometime in October.
Missouri wrestling was a doormat for much of the '90s, until current head coach Brian Smith was hired. He brought in Woodley and Reese, who helped build a foundation for a good program. Askren and Ellis (and Ben's younger brother, Max) followed, and became the school's first champions.
Askren says that his wrestling base is what helps him every day as a fighter.
"Obviously, all of us are very successful wrestlers, and probably going to be successful mixed martial artists because we're hard working, and we've got a good base."
Ellis, who is not yet signed to a promotion, believes that the way he wrestled at Mizzou will help when he first steps foot in a cage.
"The way we wrestled, get after it, score points, that offensive type of wrestling."
The type of wrestling that will keep the Tigers undefeated.
(Editor's note: Yes, I went to Missouri.)