MMA fan's guide to NCAA wrestling championships

Today, as much of the country descends into March Madness, discussing brackets, Gus Johnson and which #15 seed has the best chance to upsetting a #2 seed, fight fans should care about a different tournament that will take place in Omaha, Neb.

The NCAA Division I wrestling tournament.

Why should fight fans care? First, wrestling is an integral part of MMA. Wrestlers can dictate the location of a fight, and wrestlers are well-equipped to handle the training, weight management and competition demands of a fight career. Learn the basics of wrestling, and you're already a better fan.

Secondly, many of your favorite fighters have competed in this very tournament. Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Mark Coleman, Rashad Evans, Brock Lesnar, Urijah Faber, Muhammed Lawal, Chael Sonnen and many, many more top fighters wrestled for their schools at the NCAA tournament. Tune in, and you'll see the future of fighting.

What should you look for?

Traditional powers are back at the top: Iowa and Oklahoma St. long ruled the wrestling terrain, but both experienced dips this decade. Those days are over. Iowa is looking for its third national championship in a row, while Oklahoma State took the Big 12 championship. Iowa State and Ohio State will look to challenge for the team titles.

Will coaching changes make a difference? The biggest news in wrestling this past summer was that Cael Sanderson, the arguably greatest college wrestler of all time, left the head coaching job at his alma mater, Iowa State, for Penn St. Former Olympic coach Kevin Jackson took over at Iowa St. This tournament is a perfect test for both coaches.

Ohio State's Lance Palmer vs. Iowa's Brent Metcalf: After losing four times to the seemingly invincible Metcalf in the 149-lb. weight class, Palmer pulled out the win over Metcalf at the Big Ten championships (pictured above). Assuming both wrestlers get to the finals, this should be a match for the ages.

Arizona St.'s Anthony Robles: By now, the wrestling community is used to seeing Robles dominate at 125 lbs. Only Indiana's Angel Escobedo and Edinboro's Eric Morrill have beaten him this season. You should look for Robles for more than his winning ways. He was born with one leg, but that didn't stop him from winning All-American honors last season.

The tournament starts Thursday morning, and you can follow along here and here. You can also follow me on Twitter as I tweet from the championships starting Thursday evening. ESPN, ESPNU and ESPN360 will provide coverage of the tournament all weekend long.

What to Read Next