Stephen Abas thought he could walk away from the wrestling mat and live a normal life.
The 33-year-old had wrestled since he was 7, won two state wrestling championship titles as a student (class of 1996) and one as a student at Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley, was a three-time national NCAA Division 1 wrestling champ while at Fresno State University and — the pinnacle of his career — brought home a silver medal from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. In 2005, he was named one of the top 15 wrestlers of all time as a member of the NCAA’s 75th Anniversary Wrestling Team.
Few could only dream of achieving half the success of the bantamweight fighter but, in 2008, after recouping from a 2005 knee injury, Abas tried out again for the Olympic team. He made it to the finals but didn’t quite make the cut for the team. Abas decided it was time to retire and teach wrestling instead.
Instead, two years later he found himself back in the ring. This time, he came out swinging.
With jiu-jitsu and boxing techniques added to his arsenal, Abas is now positioning himself to be a dominant force in the world of mixed martial arts, one of the fastest growing sports in the nation.
“It was just kind of a chance opportunity,” Abas said. He was teaching wrestling at The Arena martial arts studio in San Diego, where he was encouraged to compete. He started training and eventually competing, with his old Logan friends Jesse Reta and Ephraim Walker managing his new career.
“I’ve always been a fan of MMA and always wondered what it would be like if I were to do it,” Abas said. “It’s the ultimate combat. It has the least rules. It’s man-to-man. It takes it back to the gladiator days where it’s two guys fighting to the finish.”
Abas, who had a 144-4 college wrestling record, is 2-0 so far in his short MMA career. He’s gearing up for his third fight, to be held Aug. 13 in Plymouth, CA, by training at MMA studio in Union City. Dragons Den founder and instructor Jeff Macalolooy will be in his corner for the fight.
Macalolooy remembers the first time he met Abas, who is four years younger than he is.
Each summer during college, Macalolooy would return to Union City and check out the new talent brewing at his alma mater. He was introduced to the young scrapper and invited Abas to spar with him.
“I don’t know if he remembers it, but he trashed me,” Macalolooy said.
Though Abas resides in Fresno, he said he came to train at Dragons Den because of Macalolooy’s MMA knowledge. He’s in his second week of training at the Union City studio, and he needs to shed at least 13 pounds in four days in order to get into the 135-pound weight class.
Neither Macalolooy nor Abas is worried about how Abas will fare in the upcoming match.
“I don’t think anyone, even in the UFC, can stop his takedown,” Macalolooy said. “Stephen is a takedown artist; he’s going to take you down any way he can, and he’s got so many ways to do it.
“His approach to wrestling is kind of like Bruce Lee’s to martial arts,” Macalolooy added. “He doesn’t take the conventional approach … he’s always putting his own twist to it. He brings a style to wrestling that can’t be duplicated, and it totally works.”
Though Abas may not be as used to striking — punching, kicking — as he is with grappling and pinning his opponents, he said his years of wrestling may give him an edge over the competition.
“Wrestlers already have that fighting mentality,” he said. “It’s the bottom of the pyramid, the biggest base of MMA. We have that experience of being heavy and controlling on top.”
Despite a proven record of success as a wrestler and a promising career in MMA, Abas said he’s taking his second career one fight at a time.
“I know there’s potential to get into the UFC but this is only my third fight,” he said.
Abas’ next match will be held Aug. 13 at the Amador County Fairgrounds in Plymouth, CA, for Rebel Fighter.
To purchase tickets, contact Abas’ manager, Ephraim Walker, at 213-805-1097 or email@example.com. Limited tickets are also available at Dragons Den; email Jeff Macalolooy at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit , 2843 Whipple Rd.