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Jake Rosholt: NCAA Wrestling Champ Makes the Move to the UFC

Few collegiate wrestlers have accomplished more than Jake Rosholt, a four-time All-American and three-time NCAA champion at Oklahoma State. But now Rosholt is finding that the move from the mat to the Octagon isn't easy.

Rosholt started fighting mixed martial arts in 2007, and in February of 2009 he made his debut in the UFC. His first fight, however, lasted just over a minute, before Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt Dan Miller caught him in a guillotine choke and forced him to tap out.

Now Rosholt is preparing for his second UFC fight, against Chris Leben at UFC 102 on August 29, and in an interview with FanHouse, he said he's learned from that loss and he's ready to do the necessary work to become a champion in the UFC, just as he was a champion in the NCAA.

Michael David Smith: Would you say you're the most accomplished wrestler in the UFC?
Jake Rosholt: As far as collegiate wrestling I am. I'm the only person with three NCAA titles, and then there's one person with two, and that's (former Oklahoma State teammate) Johny Hendricks, and then I think there have been a few with two in the past, like Kevin Randleman. As far as I know I'm the only one with three, but there have also been UFC fighters who were Olympic wrestlers, and being in the Olympics is considered a greater accomplishment than being NCAA champion.

Is wrestling the best base for an MMA fighter to have?
I don't know if I could say it's better than every other martial art, but I think wrestling certainly helps. It teaches you hard work and dedication, and those are important things to have in MMA. Wrestling is a great sport and I think it's given me an advantage.

Which UFC fighters do you think are the best at using the techniques of wrestling and applying them to MMA?
That's pretty simple: Georges St. Pierre is the best out there at using wrestling to control the fight. I also think Randy Couture is outstanding with his wrestling.

It's interesting that you mention GSP because his background isn't in wrestling. How good do you think he could have been as an amateur wrestler if he had gone down that road when he was young?
I don't know because it's a completely different sport. I imagine that he, because of the kind of athlete he is, would be pretty damn good at whatever he did. But you can't really look at him in MMA and say that he would have been an Olympian, because they are different sports. In wrestling, you don't have to worry about getting submitted and you don't have to worry about getting punched, so it's just a completely different game plan.

What do you think about Brock Lesnar? He's a former NCAA wrestling champion. Does he have great wrestling skill, or is he just such a big, strong physical specimen that he doesn't need that much skill?

He's an amazing physical specimen, but his wrestling is top-notch, too.

Did you know when you were a college wrestler that you wanted to be a professional MMA fighter?
No, I had no idea. I never wanted to fight until about a year after I got done wrestling.

So what got you into it?
I had some people approach me about it, and after I heard them out, I decided I wanted to try it.

And you started out with small shows in Oklahoma?
Yeah, I did some smaller shows and did well in those, and then I won a fight on HDNet, and then the WEC gave me a contract for five fights. After I fought one fight in the WEC, the UFC picked up the rest of the contract, in kind of a whirlwind deal that I didn't really have much say in.

Did you have the sense in the WEC that they viewed you as one of the up-and-coming stars, because you had such a strong resume as an amateur wrestler?

I don't know. They said they were excited to have me, but I don't know what kinds of plans they had for me.

How did you feel about your one WEC fight, when you beat Nissen Osterneck?
Not very good. I got kind of overwhelmed at the beginning, and I got the exact fight that I was not ready for. I was able to pull out the win, but it didn't go the way I wanted it to go, that's for sure.

So after that fight did the WEC just tell you they were getting rid of your weight class so you'd be going to the UFC?
I actually knew before the fight that it would be my only WEC fight.

I assume you were happy about that because the UFC is the bigger show?
Honestly, I would have rather had a couple more fights in the WEC. But it doesn't really matter. I'm excited about being in the UFC because I can fight the best fighters out there, and this is definitely the place for me to make my name.

And when you made your UFC debut at the Ultimate Fight Night in February, Dan Miller got you to tap with a guillotine choke after just a minute. What went wrong?
I just got caught in a guillotine. There's not much else I can say about it. The fight didn't last very long. I got caught in a bad situation and got submitted.

I've seen a few fights where a guy with a wrestling background goes for a takedown and gets caught in a guillotine. Do the types of takedowns that you use as a wrestler leave you susceptible to the guillotine?

Yes, I definitely think so, but I've been doing MMA long enough and studying jiu jitsu long enough that I should know better than to get in those situations. It was just a spot where he did a really good job, and I wasn't in a good position and I got caught in a guillotine.

And Dan Miller is a guy who, if you leave yourself open, his jiu jitsu is good enough that he's going to make you pay for it.
Yeah, he is. He's a respectable opponent and he beat me.

What do you think of your next opponent, Chris Leben?
I'm excited to fight him. Leben always puts on exciting fights. He's a come-forward kind of guy who's going to try to stand in front of me and knock me out, and I'm excited about that.

Have you watched much tape of his fights to prepare?
I've watched a couple of his fights, but I don't spend too much time doing that. I don't really watch much video of my opponents, because I don't really care. I want to go out there and fight to the best of my abilities and make them worry about what I'm doing.

So you view yourself as preparing for a fight, rather than preparing specifically for Chris Leben?
Yes. I mean, obviously, I know where he's strong and my trainers have watched some of his fights and pointed things out, but I'm not going to sit there and break down every minute of every one of his fights and think that's going to help me beat him.

With your superior wrestling, would you like to take Leben to the ground?
Not necessarily. I don't really care where the fight goes. I think Leben is pretty decent on the ground, so it's not like if I take him to the ground I'm definitely going to win the fight. Where ever the fight is, I have to be ready to beat him.

Have you given much thought to what you'd like to do next, after the fight with Leben?
I'm just worried about beating Chris Leben. After I do that, I'll fight whoever they ask me to.

Where have you been training for this fight?
I've been at Cobra Kai in Las Vegas and UNLV Boxing with Chris Ben, and a couple other places in Vegas as well.

What are your long-term ambitions in this sport?
Just to keep getting better. I've only been doing this for two years now, and I know I have a lot of learning to do and a lot to get better at. I just want to keep winning fights and keep making my name bigger in MMA.

How long do you want to fight?
As long as I feel that I have the ability to be one of the best fighters in the world, I'll keep doing it. Because I love it.

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