If you haven't heard of Chris Honeycutt yet, you soon will. The two-time All-American out of Edinboro University and second-place finisher at this year's 2012 NCAA national wrestling championships at 197 pounds is the most decorated and high-profile collegiate wrestler who has openly declared his intent to compete in mixed martial arts from this year's graduating class.
There's an open debate about what kind of style and athletic background in wrestling allows for the most seamless transition to MMA. However, there is evidence to suggest the physically bruising wrestler who finishes takedowns with authority will, on balance, find himself right at home in the confines of the MMA cage. And that is precisely the sort of athlete and wrestler Honeycutt has shown himself to be.
In this exclusive interview with MMA Fighting, Honeycutt opens up about his interest in fighting, why he was so open with declaration and intent to participate in the sport, which fighters he admires and names a famous alumnus from his university he plans to train with after graduation.
Luke Thomas: Chris, let's get right to it. You were a very special case this year in collegiate wrestling. You had announced outright your intention to purse mixed martial arts. Talk to me about how that decision came to be.
Chris Honeycutt: I've always wanted to fight since high school. I kind of tuned it out, didn't watch it for a while to focus on the sport of wrestling. I was watching more fighting matches and competitions versus watching my film in wrestling. I always enjoyed wrestling. I started when I was four years old and I always looked up to my brother with it and I stuck with it and it kept me in school and getting good grades and it got me to college and got me my degree. Wrestling paid off and now it's time to pay off with my next upcoming career in mixed martial arts. I always wanted to do it and it was only a matter of time. I did what I had to do in wrestling in order to get there.
Luke Thomas: So you've been a fan for quite a while now of the sport then?
Chris Honeycutt: Oh yeah, as soon as it was on pay-per-view and TV, I latched onto it.
Luke Thomas: And when you watched it and you saw previous wrestlers do well, did you look at it as an avenue for a professional athletic career?
Chris Honeycutt: Oh yeah. As soon as [Matt] Hughes started winning. Hughes was a wrestler and then you just see more wrestlers falling into it. Bubba [Jenkins] came in last year and [Josh] Koscheck's successful and [Brock] Lesnar left the WWE for a little bit and he was a wrestler. I think it attracts us to the sport. It comes in hand in hand in some aspects, you've just got to add more sports to it.
Luke Thomas: Did you catch any heat for announcing that you had intentions to go into MMA? I know there's some tension between the wrestling and MMA communities in that way. I know some seniors that are even contemplating MMA maybe feel like they would catch their coaches wrath if they were open about it. What was your experience when you went public with this intention?
Chris Honeycutt: At the all-star match in the first couple weeks of the season this year, I never really got any heat for it in a negative way. Just my parents, obviously, they wanted me to not go into the cage but that's parents, right?
Some people were surprised. Some people already knew because I'd been kinda talking about it for years but I always tried to keep wrestling in my mind frame at the time. I never got any heat or negativity about it though other than my parents not wanting me to do it.
Luke Thomas: Was there ever any interest or folks saying you could possibly go to the international level in freestyle or at least make an attempt at it?
Chris Honeycutt: I took freestyle real, real serious. Usually after the collegiate season, I would take a week off and then I'd start working out for the following season. I do freestyle because it keeps me being competitive. If I don't have anything to compete for, it's kinda just my own way of training, I go in and work out. It gives me more of a drive to work out harder. I don't know. I was interested.
Luke Thomas: Let's talk about MMA in general. I've read some of the things you've had to say about it but maybe for the audiences that haven't seen that material, what is it about MMA that interests you? Obviously, wrestling is a strong base in many different capacities, but beyond that, what intrigues you about it?
Chris Honeycutt: It's just the complexities of all the sports being together. You can be the best taekwondo artist in the world, but if you don't see a right hand coming at your face then you need to learn a new martial art as well. You can't just be good at one of them. You've got kickboxing, regular boxing, taekwondo and not to mention if someone takes you down, you've got Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling itself.
I spend all the time practicing wrestling to go hard for seven minutes and they've got to go for 15 or 25 and do what I do and then more plus keeping their breathing slow and calming. For wrestling, you can go at a normal rate and beat guys sometimes because not everybody can go just seven minutes hard.
Luke Thomas: Obviously striking is really different than wrestling, but have you dabbled at all in boxing or dabbled in Brazilian jiu-jitsu maybe as a recreational thing?
Chris Honeycutt: Yeah, when I was in Boston my first years of high school, I did a little bit of boxing. I never competitively boxed. I was getting into it but it kind of faded away right before I moved back to Ohio. I would go to a gym and kind of spar and mess around for a little bit. I did taekwondo for a month or two but nothing I think is gonna help me transition. It was all for fun back then but I enjoyed it.
Luke Thomas: But you're naturally inclined in ways that wrestling interests you but so did the other martial arts. Is that a fair characterization?
Chris Honeycutt: Oh yeah. I'm eager to learn the others. I know I'm gonna be good at taking people down but what am I gonna do when I take them down? I'm gonna punch them and try to not get submitted. I'm eager to learn the ground game and my hands. That's one of the biggest things. Koscheck now, he doesn't use his wrestling, he just uses his hands.
Luke Thomas: There was a video that came out on Flowrestling. They were sort of walking by the national finalists in the hallway and you were talking to some other guys and there was a brief moment where you said something about Koscheck and training. Are you going to be training with Koscheck at the Dethrone Base Camp?
Chris Honeycutt: That's the plan for the moment. Koscheck is successful in the sport and he's an alumni of my college. He's only one weight below me and one of my former coaches at Edinboro.
That's the plan. I'm not shutting everyone out. I got a few calls and e-mails from some other gyms and managers. I'm still figuring out what's going on. I'm trying to learn the business as well. I get the idea of how the sport works but I don't know the business that much and I'm hoping to get out there and have him teach me about it and explain. I kind of sheltered myself out of the sport of mixed martial arts because I wanted to do well in wrestling and now I'm trying to just bring it all in and learn as fast as I can.
Luke Thomas: Would you mind divulging which gyms reached out to you? I know American Top Team does some pretty good scouting.
Chris Honeycutt: Well American Top Team was probably the first gym to contact me after the national finals. Koscheck didn't really need to because I was there this past summer and I explained to him what I wanted to do with my career in the future. It's hard to think of the gyms off the top of my head. I don't really know any. In the hallway at nationals, a guy I was talking to said I could come out to [Randy Couture's] place in Vegas. I don't know. I have so many messages I haven't looked at them all yet.
Luke Thomas: So does that mean you intend to compete at 185, middleweight?
Chris Honeycutt: That's what I plan to compete at. I haven't been down there since last year when I was wrestling there but I wrestled great at 185. Wrestling is a little different because you've got to make weight every single weekend and sometimes two days in a row.
As far as my physique, I'm shorter. I'm 210 pounds and the last thing I'd ever want to do is go against Bones Jones or something five years from now and he's got 9-10 inches on me in height and reach.
Luke Thomas: And you said you walk around at about 210? Is that what you weigh when you're working out but not specifically dieting?
Chris Honeycutt: Yeah, it's more like 205. I'm 205-210 coming in and I usually weigh about 205 on the way out. I don't lose too much weight so I could lose 10 pounds.
Luke Thomas: Have you looked at other guys who are doing what you're doing, like Bubba Jenkins for example. He did well against Taylor last year but he's taking small fights and taking it day by day. Is that a guy who's creating a path that's easy to follow or is that not so much on your radar?
Chris Honeycutt: I've talked to Jenkins a couple of times. We're not best friends but I talked to him a little bit about the transition to mixed martial arts. This was last year at the nationals, not this year. He said he was going to go to mixed martial arts, this and that and I knew Lance Palmer was going to go to mixed martial arts too. He kind of kept it more under the radar and he's in California with Urijah Faber. I believe they're both 2-0. I wouldn't say I'm looking to him for a path. I think he's just another wrestling doing it, going out and getting what he wants. That's what every wrestler has to do in this sport.
Luke Thomas: Let me get you to speak as a fan. Maybe wrestlers, maybe not wrestlers, who are some of your favorite fighters to watch?
Chris Honeycutt: Well obviously Koscheck because I was out there for a month and he's a former Edinboro wrestler. If Bubba's on, I'll watch Bubba and if Lance is on, I'll watch Lance because we were on the same high school together at St. Eds so I watch him. If there's a wrestler, I'm rooting for them basically because the sport's gonna go through wrestling.
Luke Thomas: If you could sort of plan out your 2012 maybe early 2013, how long do you think you need to get some of the next level of training before you take your first amateur fight or your first pro fight?
Chris Honeycutt: Well I'm gonna train for 10-plus months before I'm gonna fight. My dad says he's gonna help me out. He says he doesn't want me to rush into it. I'm gonna lean on him for support with my training so I don't rush things because when I start to fight, I know I'm gonna fall in love with it right away and I'm gonna want to fight over and over again out of the gate. I'm gonna do my best to keep myself away from the competitive side and just train to learn the sport. I have pretty much just basic athletic ability in terms of striking and submitting. I get the idea of it. 2012, as soon as school's out, I'll heal up and pretty much get out to California as fast as possible at the moment.