May 11, 2021

InterMat Wrestling – World-class wrestlers-turned MMA fighters to watch: Part 4


Going back a half-decade or so, right around the time before and after the 2016 Rio Olympics, the trend of high-level wrestlers making an earnest transition to the sport of mixed martial arts was an extremely common occurrence. All you’d need to do is look at Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series to see the wealth of talent that made the transition. The vast majority of these wrestlers have since cemented themselves as legitimate forces on the MMA scene, and then we hit a bit of a lull in terms of the wrestling-to-MMA pipeline.

Now, as another Olympic Games nears, things are starting to heat up again and we have at least another handful of tip-top wrestlers making the jump. We should be excited about this, since we are talking about some of the very best wrestlers in the world who are making a full commitment to a new combat sport.

Richie Lewis

Resume: Three-time All-State New Jersey high school, two-time NJCAA All-American (second and third place), NCAA Division I national qualifier for Rutgers, 2017 U23 freestyle world champ, 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial champ.

New Jersey’s Lewis has had designs on becoming a prizefighter for quite some time. Going all the way back to junior high school, Lewis enjoyed watching fellow Jersey wrestlers like Frankie Edgar and Kurt Pellegrino pick up wins inside the UFC. Now, in 2021, after initially planning a run at the Tokyo Games, “Richie Savage” has shifted his focus towards the cage.

Lewis is all in with regards to his MMA endeavor. He has relocated to Florida, a state quickly becoming the mecca of top-flight MMA gyms, is building a team around himself, and plans on making the most of his entrepreneurial savvy with a keen eye towards the business side of his new sport. Lewis made his MMA debut on March 26 at Titan FC 68, earning a dominant unanimous decision victory. Expect big things from Lewis in the 155-pound division going forward.

Mahmoud Sebie Fawzy

Resume: 2016 African Championships gold medal (Greco-Roman), 2016 Olympian (15th place), silver medals at the Dave Schultz Memorial and African Championships in 2017.

Fed up with the politics of wrestling in his home country of Egypt, Greco-Roman powerhouse Sebie has relocated to the USA (Florida) with plans to pursue a coveted spot on the UFC roster. The Olympian is starting from scratch but has made it abundantly clear that he is in it for the long haul, publicly displaying his enthusiasm for MMA at every turn.

Fighting out of the same camp as fellow stud wrestler and UFC welterweight contender Colby Covington, Sebie, by way of his impressive social media presence and clever self-promotion, has created quite a buzz. On Jan. 30 at XMMA 8, Sebie showed that he brings much more to the table then a set of chiseled abs and a ton of Instagram likes. Explosive, aggressive, and impressive, he rag-dolled his opponent en route to winning a lopsided unanimous decision victory.

In what was essentially an advertisement for the utility of high-level Greco-Roman wrestling in MMA, Sebie looked every bit the part of an Olympic wrestler with a nice cache of medals to his name. Sebie hit big, dynamic throws throughout the contest and outdid his foe on every front. It was a lot of fun to watch. Keep an eye on this welterweight as he continues his climb.

Rustam Chsiev

Resume: Successful age-group wrestler on the national level in his native Ossetia. Wrestling at 84 kilograms, Chsiev entered several Dave Schultz Memorial and New York AC International tournaments, competing against the likes of Mack Lewnes, Jon Reader, Phil Keddy and others. He defeated NCAA Division I champ Keith Gavin in the process. Chsiev also established himself amongst the very best submission grapplers in the world, winning bronze at the 2015 ADCC World Championships.

“The Russian Bear” has dipped his feet into the MMA waters a few times over the years, but he finds himself on this list because he has made it known that he now plans to pursue MMA as his main focus for the foreseeable future.

The Russian transplant, living and training out of New Jersey’s K-Dojo for the better part of the last decade, has been working his boxing diligently as of late, something that has been painfully evident for his 185-pound contemporaries. Having said that, Chsiev makes his living on his strength and extremely high level of technical ability. The man has a very deep bag of tricks, routinely flashing a very wide array of offensive techniques. He is a ton of fun to watch, and his grappling experience coupled with his vast wrestling expertise gives him a different look than most wrestlers you’ll see in the cage. Chsiev returns to the cage tomorrow night at Brave Combat 50 in Bahrain.

Kazuma Kuramoto

Resume: Two-time Greco-Roman senior world team member for Japan at 59-60 kilograms, silver medal at 2012 Asian Championships, two-time bronze medalist at Sunkist International, 2008 University world silver medalist.

Japanese MMA, once the center of the MMA universe, has been struggling to rekindle the fire that it lost when its beloved Pride Fighting Championship fell in 2006. Despite rich tradition and a treasure trove of combat sports talent, the process has been slow. Things may be looking up though, and the last two entries on that list could play a big role.

Bantamweight (135 pounds) wrecking ball Kazuma Kuramoto is precisely the kind of fighter that Japan needs if it is to draw big numbers to its MMA shows once again. Not only because his brand of wrestling is awe-inspiring inside the cage, but because he couples those big throws and slams expertly with his love of slinging heavy leather. The man the Japanese fans have affectionately dubbed “The Suplex Machine” plays the part of the rough-and-tumble brawler to perfection. And with five of his seven wins coming by KO or TKO and most of those KO’s facilitated by a big takedown, Kuramoto presents a package that is formidable as it is effective.

Shinobu Ota celebrates after winning a world title in 2019 (Photo/Tony Rotundo,

Shinobu Ota

Resume: Four-time Asian Championships medalist (two gold, one silver, one bronze), 2016 Olympic silver medalist, 2019 world champion.

And last but not least, we have the cream of the crop in terms of current wrestling talent coming to MMA, the reigning 59-kilogram Greco-Roman Olympic silver medalist and 2019 63-kilogram world champ Shinobu Ota. It is a long-standing tradition in Japan’s MMA community to show your respect and admiration for Olympic heroes who are interested in fighting, by matching them up in their debut with established veterans with the ability to embarrass them. It’s a strange phenomenon I know, but it really seems to be true.

Ota made his much-hyped MMA debut at Rizin Fighting Federation’s big 2020 New Year’s Eve show and was welcomed to the sport and defeated by a 40-plus fight veteran of MMA. Ota’s foe, a man named Hideo Tokoro, gave Ota perhaps the most valuable experience he could have hoped to gain. They engaged in a sustained fight that saw the contest organically flow through all of the positions one would find themselves in at the highest levels of MMA.

Despite the loss, Ota’s physical brilliance shined brightly. The man is a superb athlete, explosive as all hell, strong as an ox, and sporting the trademark slickness we see from virtually all of Japan’s best combat athletes. Ota’s ability to strike with authority, the speed at which he can cover distance, uncanny strength he used to get out of precarious and unfamiliar spots, and impressive composure all bode extremely well for him.

Due to his ideal weight class and the level of competition currently occupying the lower weights of Japans Greco ranks, another Olympic run is unlikely for Ota. Hopefully wrestling’s loss is MMA’s gain and we see this incredible athlete ply his trade in another combative arena.


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