“The wrestlers are coming.”
American Kickboxing Academy’s Daniel Cormier loves to make that declaration, and now the AKA camp has laid claim to another wrestling stud headed into the world of mixed martial arts.
Numerous wrestlers have opted to make the move to MMA rather than pursue an Olympic medal. Mark Ellis, the 2009 NCAA heavyweight champion out of the University of Missouri, is the latest to make the move.
Ellis is not the first Mizzou wrestling product to make the transition to MMA. In fact, he credits the influence and success of former teammates Tyron Woodley and Ben Askren as a deciding factor in his decision to enter the sport.
“Tyron approached me two years ago when I was a junior,” Ellis said. “He sat me down and talked to me about fighting and what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to fight and he talked to me about my options and what to look for and some things that he was experiencing as he was coming up in the fighting world.
“I was seeing they were having success and that he was gonna do alright and do well and I wanted to do it. Most recently, I’ve seen Ben have some success…every time I’ve (seen him fight), I was like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to do this, I can’t wait to fight’.”
Ellis’s options weren’t limited only to Olympic wrestling and mixed martial arts. Ellis also received a look from the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. While he did make a stop at a Browns camp, he has decided to focus on his fighting career instead.
“It’s a good fit,” Ellis said of wrestlers going into the NFL. “The feet movement correlates and goes well with football and the same with wrestling. Especially at heavyweight, you have big guys who are pushing around. Obviously in football there’s a lot of that on the offensive and defensive line, a lot of pushing out, pushing around and getting people off of you and off your legs. I don’t think it’s real hard to see how they both play off of each other.”
The NCAA champion tends to agree with Cormier when it comes to this being the time of the wrestler in MMA.
“(Wrestlers) are doing really well,” Ellis said on the show. “I don’t know if it’s easier to pick up the other parts of the MMA game, but it just seems like the wrestlers are dominating the sport in a lot of different aspects.”
Ellis recently inked a deal with Zinkin Entertainment and joined the American Kickboxing Academy roster. His addition to the team will not only help advance his career, but could also bolster the title hopes of one of his new teammates.
“Mark Ellis is a unique athlete,” Cormier, a special guest co-host on Ground N Pound Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network, said of Ellis on the show. “The addition of Mark is great for our gym, it’s another big body. More so, I think it benefits Cain (Velasquez) the best. It’s big for Cain.”
Ellis realizes that he’s still a work in progress. He might be an extremely talented wrestler, but there are other aspects to the game of mixed martial arts, such as striking and jiu-jitsu. In some areas, Ellis can barely be considered anything more than a beginner.
“(The visit to AKA) was my first stand-up really,” Ellis said. “I rolled jiu-jistu a little bit here and there in the summers. I do wrestling camps for the last couple of summers and then I’ll roll around with a couple of guys wherever I’m at, but this was my first stand-up really, striking and that.”
The big man knows he has a lot to learn, but he’s excited to train and has already made one visit to AKA. He plans on heading back to the camp permanently in roughly a month’s time.
“I’m excited to learn,” he said. “It was a little frustrating. It was frustrating for me after working with Javier (Mendez), going back to the hotel like, ‘Dang, how long is this going to take to get this stuff down?’ But I’m willing to learn. I have to learn. I want to learn because I’m in this deal for the long haul.
“It’s a new challenge and a new thing I’m excited to do.”
He is already anxious to compete, but plans on leaving the decision of when he’s ready to his coaches at AKA and his management company.
“If you asked me if I wanted to take a fight tomorrow, tomorrow I’d say yes,” he said. “I’d be down to fight, I want to fight as soon as I can, but I’m going to have to trust them when they tell me (I’m ready for a fight). I’m not in as good of shape as I’m gonna be. I haven’t been training for a long time. So I’m just gonna trust when they tell me I’m ready and what caliber guy I’m ready to fight. I obviously want to fight as soon as I can, but I’m just going to trust Zinkin with all that kind of stuff.”
For now, Ellis will work to improve his game in anticipation of his debut while also lending a hand to help teammate Cain Velasquez prepare for his upcoming UFC heavyweight title fight against Brock Lesnar. Ellis’s size makes him the most suitable high caliber wrestler in the camp to simulate Lesnar’s style for Velasquez’s training.
“I’m excited to do whatever they tell me to do,” Ellis said of his role in Velasquez’s training camp. “Whatever look I can give or however I can help, I’m excited to do it.”
It might be some time before we see Ellis under the bright lights of a major promotion, but Cormier already sees potential for Ellis to do great things in his career.
“He’s a great kid, big, strong, a hard worker,” said Cormier. “A lot of times that equals success, especially in the heavyweight division.”