Ed Ruth's wrestling career almost ended before it ever really got started started.
The Pennsylvania native tried out a local youth program and immediately hated it.
"I thought it was going to be like WWE," Ruth told MMAFighting.com. "I thought I'd be able to go in there and drop The People's Elbow or do the Stone Cold Stunner. Then I got in there and got my ass kicked every day and I didn't like it."
The young Ruth was determined to quit, but an influential person in his life wouldn't let him.
"My Mom wouldn't let me stop," Ruth said. "My first three years wrestling I hated it. But my Momma told me I was good at it and I made a commitment and I have to see it through."
Mother indeeds knows best. Had Ruth been allowed to walk away, the world would have been deprived of a three-time NCAA wrestling champion. And quite possibly a future mixed martial arts star, as well.
The 26-year old Ruth will make his pro debut on Friday night at Bellator 163 when he meets Dustin Collins-Miles, who is also having his first pro fight, in a catchweight matchup at Connecticut's Mohegan Sun Arena.
"I've thanked my Mom so many times for making me stay with wrestling," Ruth said. "It taught me discipline, it taught me how to do things the right way, I'm so much better of a person than I would be had I not participated. Who knows where my life would be right now if I hadn't done it?"
Ruth's wrestling journey eventually took him to Penn State University, where he became the program's only three-time national champion en route to a career record of 136-3.
It also helped open his eyes to the world of MMA. Former Nitanny Lions Phil Davis and Bubba Jenkins have both made their mark in the combat sports world. Davis had already started working his way up the ranks while Ruth was wearing Penn State's singlet; while Jenkins, who ultimately won an NCAA title at Arizona State, has more recently made his mark as a Bellator up-and-comer.
"You know about these guys because they're so closely tied to your program, and it you start to think ‘hey, maybe I can do this too," said Ruth. "Especially Phil. When I first started paying attention, Phil was something like 9-0, 10-0, and he was making it look so easy. I didn't understand then that it doesn't always go like this in this sport. But I figured if he could compete at wrestling at a high level and I could too, then I saw the same with Bubba, I know this was something I could do, too."
Davis, for his part, pretends to be jealous of Ruth.
"I'll tell you what, he's more handsome than I am," Davis, who fights Liam McGeary at Bellator 163, said at a recent press conference. "The guy goes to my alma mater, he's from my hometown, he destroys every single record I ever had — pins, wins, Big 10 championships, national championships. I mean, my parade through my city as the best wrestler of all time was so short-lived.
"Now this man is back into MMA, and he's going to make a huge splash and become a massive star and champion in his own right. And I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. That's what I think about him. I don't know what to do. Everywhere I go, he goes, and he does it even better."
Ruth also had the good fortune of coming out of college at the exact time Bellator was looking to stock it's roster with some of the best wrestling-based prospects on the landscape. Along with the likes of Tyrell Fortune (who also debuts at Bellator 163), Aaron Pico, and Jarod Trice, Ruth is part of a pack of fighters who are the closest thing the sport's ever seen to No. 1 draft picks in major team sports.
That could be both a blessing and a curse, depending on how one reacts to the scrutiny and the hype. Ruth, for his part, isn't sweating it.
"I like pressure," Ruth said. "Pressure is what you make it. I still have to get my job done whether I'm in the room alone or whether there are a bunch of people watching. I like the idea everyone has come to see whether I'm going to succeed for fail. It charges me up. If my opponent wants to put a bullseye on me because I'm the one getting the attention, that's fine with me, too. I'm ready to go out there and do my thing."