Over the years, the state of Oklahoma has provided the mixed martial arts community with several of the best wrestling-based fighters in the sport. Wrestling is considered to be one of the core combative disciplines within MMA, and many fighters utilize their wrestling abilities to dictate how a fight will play out.
Here are just a few of the fighters who hail from our neighbors to the north that are currently making an impact at the national level: Shane Roller (WEC), Mark Munoz (UFC), Mo Lawal (Strikeforce), Johnny Hendricks (UFC), Jake Rosholt and, of course, UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture. All of these fighters have significant wrestling pedigrees.
With the Sooner State so steeped in wrestling history, it’s no surprise that the number of MMA fighters hailing from Oklahoma seems to be endless.
Even at the Steele Cage 3 event here in Frisco on Aug. 6, Oklahoma wrestling persists with the inclusion of newcomer Heath Jolley.
The Tulsa-born Jolley has been wrestling his entire life and was a two-time state champ in high school and two-time All-American while at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Now 26 years old, Jolley, who resides in Catoosa, Okla., is ready to take his first step into professional MMA.
It didn’t take long for Jolley to acquire an interest in mixed martial arts after hanging with future Bellator and WEC fighters Jared Hess and Cody Province while at UCO, but it wasn’t until a few years later that current training partner and Steele Cage 3 headliner Joey Gorczynski fully introduced him to the sport by getting him his first amateur fight. (Check back to ESPNDallas.com soon for a full profile of Gorczynski, who fights Joe Christopher in the main event of Steele Cage 3.)
After just a few years of learning the sport and working on his newly acquired jiu-jitsu game, and more recently focusing on his stand-up techniques, Jolley feels ready for his debut.
“I feel really good about the fight,” Jolley said. “I’ve been working with Joey a lot. He’s been helping me with my stand-up. That’s all we’ve been focused on, because we already work on jiu-jitsu and wrestling constantly. And of course, I’ve wrestled all my life and have been working on my jiu-jitsu for four years. I’ve been able to improve my stand-up dramatically over the last few months. It’s a real good opportunity to be able to perform well in front of a big crowd.”
It was during his interview with ESPN Dallas that Jolley learned about whom he would be facing at Steele Cage. His previous opponent pulled out and was replaced by Michael Craycraft, a 2-2 fighter who has that ever-important "cage time" that the rookie lacks. Despite the fact that he doesn’t know much about his more experienced opponent, he’s not worried in the slightest.
“Other than that he’s got some BJJ, I don’t know much about him,” Jolley said. “I’m just going to do what I know best and throw hands and wrestle. I’m a wrestler, so I’m going to have a wrestler’s mentality throughout the fight. He seems to be a smaller 185-pounder, whereas I walk around at about 200, so I think I’ll have the size advantage.”
Being that Aug. 6 will be his first professional bout, the Oklahoma native isn’t promising a whole lot in regard to where he thinks his MMA career will end up, but his strong passion for competition will likely keep him in the cage for quite some time.
“I’d like to go deeper into MMA,” Jolley said. “This is my first fight, so who knows what happens after this. It’s hard for me not to compete. I’ve competed for over 20 years of my life. There was about a year there where I wasn’t competing in a sport, and that was very tough for me. I’m just glad to be in the mix again.”
There’s no telling where Jolley’s MMA journey will take him, but he feels he knows one thing for sure: He’s going to get the job done in the cage, get his hand raised, and drive back to Oklahoma a winner.
“I’m definitely stronger than Craycraft” Jolley confidently explained. “I’ll be able to avoid and power through his submission attempts, pounding him out and getting the TKO win.”