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Thursday, December 05, 2013

No Holds Barred: Paul Herrera on Pro and Amateur MMA and Wrestling 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman spoke with Paul "Hitman" Herrera, the head MMA instructor at Empire MMA in Corona, California.

A 1990 All-American wrestler at Nebraska and a former MMA fighter, he now focuses on training both adults and youths in professional and amateur MMA, boxing, and wrestling. He also has promoted an amateur MMA world championship in Beijing, China, and plans to do more of these tournaments.

He was in New York this past weekend for the second annual Grapple at the Garden wrestling event, held December 1 at Madison Square Garden, where he cornered Bubba Jenkins, whom he also had trained. Bubba Jenkins, a 2011 NCAA Div. I champion and a 2007 junior world champion in freestyle wrestling, faced 2012 NCAA Div. I champion Frank Molinaro under American folkstyle rules in the main event of Grapple at the Garden. The match was tied 2-2 after three periods and went into the sudden victory overtime, where Bubba Jenkins scored a takedown to win 4-2.

This match marked Bubba Jenkins's entrance into this budding circuit of real professional wrestling events. Bubba Jenkins, of course, is also an MMA fighter, currently with Bellator MMA.

We spoke with Paul Herrera by phone Wednesday.

Speaking about the goals for Bubba Jenkins and his participation in MMA and wrestling competition at the same time, he said, "This crossover, I love it. I think it's going to do a lot for wrestling. I'm in support of anything for wrestling."

But he added, "Our main focus and our main goal right now is to win that Bellator tournament, become a Bellator champion, and then move on to become the best in MMA."

We discussed the difficulties of competing at a high level in two sports at once. "You've got to treat it like a full-time job," he said. "You can't do both."

Another problem is that wrestling "is lacking that big backer," meaning that very few elite level wrestlers can make a living in the sport, with many going to MMA.

"Most people have never seen a wrestling match," he said, highlighting the problems stemming from the absence of wrestling from major television networks in the U.S., except once a year for the NCAA Div. I championship finals and every four years for the Olympics. That is a challenge this new circuit of real pro wrestling events must meet if they are to survive.

So while Empire MMA trains its share of wrestlers, they also focus on training MMA fighters and boxers of all ages and experience.

We also discussed how "fighting is wrestling", the development and growth of amateur MMA, and much more.

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