Darien native now excels in mixed martial arts
Cole Williams knows a wrestler can beat a boxer.
It’s the quintessential question that launched rabid interest in the mixed martial arts Ultimate Fighting Championship franchise.
Mixed martial arts rules allow the use of both boxing as well as wrestling techniques, both while standing and while on the ground. The competitions allow fighters of different backgrounds to compete.
Williams, a Darien native and 2002 Delavan-Darien High School graduate, is training for his Sept. 10 main- event welterweight title bout against Jason Pierce, who appeared on cable television’s Ultimate Fighter.
“He’s a pretty legit name,” Williams said. “(The bout) is promoted by Pinnacle Combat, and (Pierce) has the Pinnacle championship belt.’’
Williams, 27, is fighting for Midwest Cage Championships out of Dubuque, Iowa, where he lives. Williams carries a 5-1 professional record into the pivotal bout with Pierce.
Williams was a state wrestling tournament qualifier at Delavan-Darien, but he came into his own wrestling for the University of Dubuque.
“I was a (high school) state qualifier one time,” Williams said. “Once I was at the University of Dubuque, I really started to perform.”
At Dubuque, Williams rose to No. 3 in the nation at 165 pounds en route to more than 100 victories.
“I defeated national champions and All-Americans. I defeated several from the Iowa team,’’ he said, referring to national champion University of Iowa.
After Williams’ college wrestling career ended, he stayed in shape training in Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai.
When he didn’t expect it, Williams found another niche.
“My first (MMA) fight was at a bar where I was going just to watch the fights,” Williams said. “They were charging to get in, and I was broke.
“They told me if I fought, I would get in for free, so that was pretty much my only option. I strapped on the gloves and won my fight in 24 seconds.’’
Williams’ story gets better.
“After that, I began going there every week to fight,” Williams said. “I was getting experience and wanted to take bigger fights.”
Williams landed his big break and made the most of it.
“My teammate broke his hand, and I stepped in for him and fought Damien Papagni, one of the toughest guys I know. I beat him, and that’s when things took off.”
Promoters quickly took notice of Williams. He has been fighting for five years, and with the MCC for two years, working toward a spot with the more lucrative UFC.
“It just kind of fell in my lap,” Williams said. “I’ve been training for five years and bounced around to different camps, and if I learned one thing at a camp, it was worth it.’’
Williams’ career took a huge step up with a MCC victory over veteran Demi “The Destroyer” Deeds last month. Williams, a top wrestler, defeated Deeds, a top striker, with a head-arm choke 25 seconds into the third and final round.
Williams attributed his victory to a combination of wrestling skills and an ability to fight standing up.
“In MMA, there is so much to consider,” Williams said. “You have to be good on the ground, and on your feet you have be a boxer. You have to be extremely well-rounded.”
MMA is a full-contact combat sport. It is not unbridled brawling.
A fighter can’t head butt, eye gouge, pull hair, bite, attack the groin, rabbit punch, grab the throat, bend back fingers, kick a downed fighter in the head, throw an opponent out of the ring, grab inside an opponent’s gloves or trunks, or pull at an opponents gloves or trunks.
There are weight classes, time limits, rules on injuries incurred during a bout and equipment. The Association of Boxing Commissions adopted unified rules of mixed martial arts in July of 2009.
“It’s a sport,” said Williams. “It’s not for bar brawlers.’’
If Williams wins his September bout, he takes another step up the ladder toward a coveted UFC appearance. For MMA fighters, a UFC appearance is the equivalent of playing in the National Football League.
“I’m only a couple wins away,” Williams said. “I’ve beat guys that have not lost in three years. The guys I beat were just fighters.’’
Thanks to wrestling, Williams has a puncher’s chance at MMA success.