Good college wrestlers tend to have success when they move into MMA: plenty of decent NCAA wrestlers—Rashad Evans and Matt Hughes among 'em—have gone on to terrific fighting careers.
So take the following list with a sack of salt. Just because a guy did or didn't win an NCAA title last weekend at national championships doesn't guarantee MMA success. In fact, if you want a wrestler who's the best bet for future MMA stardom, it's somebody who didn't even wrestle a varsity match this year: Iowa State's Ricky Lundell, one of the best American jiu-jitsu guys ever, spent the year in the Cyclones wrestling room. If he decides to fight some day, a year of elite-level college wrestling will make him a force.
But an All-American wrestling medal certainly won't hurt these guys. Here now: a top five ranking of the five wrestlers who could do some serious MMA damage down the road.
1. Brent Metcalf, Iowa, 149-pound runner-up
He just lost in the finals. But he's a tough dude, who hadn't lost a match in a long, long time. He's a bruiser who works the head hard—converting his head "taps" into jabs and hooks shouldn't be that hard. He's also one of the best conditioned wrestlers in recent memory, so lasting three rounds in a fight won't be a problem. As a big 149-pounder, he could easily move into the 155-pound division and be a good fit.
2. Jake Herbert, Northwestern, 184-pound champion
He just won his second straight NCAA title, beating another guy who made this list, Ohio State's returning champ Mike Pucillo. Herbert is a squat, 5-11 guy with horsepower. He's impossible to take down (Herbert wasn't taken down in 34 matches this year) and a pinner. So he knows how to not just take people down, but also how to finish guys on their backs. He's a smart kid, too, so he could pick up MMA quickly. His last loss was in the 2006 tournament finals against Missouri's Ben Askren, an aspiring fighter himself. Herbert would beat any UFC 185-pounder in a wrestling match right now.
3. Jake Varner, Iowa State, 197-pound champion
Varner just won a national title, despite being the No. 2 seed last weekend and moving up from the 184-pound division this season. He's not a freak athlete. But Varner is a grinder with good reach who could drop down to 185 if he were to fight. Light heavyweight could be a stretch, though, so he's a bit of a tweener.
4. Mike Pucillo, Ohio State, 184-pound runnerup
He just lost to Herbert in the finals, but beat Varner the year before to win the 2008 national title. In a lot of ways, Pucillo's MMA profile would be similar to Herbert's. Pucillo isn't overly explosive. But he's smart and powerful, and almost impossible to take down. If he devoted himself to developing a standup game, Pucillo would be a matchup nightmare.
5. Jared Rosholt, Oklahoma State, heavyweight third-placer
Rosholt doesn't have the same wrestling resume as his older brother, Jake, a three-time NCAA champion who's 5-1 in his MMA career. But if Jared decided to fight, he could conceivably rocket to the top faster because of his size. Purely on wrestling ability, he's just as good as Cain Velasquez.