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Brian Powers, email@example.com
There aren’t too many native Iowans who have become stars on the mixed martial arts scene.
There’s been a few high-profile fighters, of course. Pat Miletich, from Davenport, became the first Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion. Robbie Lawler was a state medalist for Bettendorf in 2000, then became the UFC welterweight champ in 2014.
The list from central Iowa is even smaller. Josh Neer, a Des Moines native, bounced in and out of the UFC from 2005 to 2013. Jeremy Stephens graduated from Norwalk and is currently the UFC’s No. 8-ranked featherweight.
So, yeah. Not too many, which is maybe a little odd considering the state’s rich wrestling history.
But Jordan Young is well on his way to adding his name to that list.
Young, an Urbandale native, is a rising star in Bellator MMA. The 24-year-old is currently 10-0 and the No. 6 light heavyweight (maximum weight of 205 pounds) in Bellator, according to rankings compiled by Fight Matrix. Of his 10 victories, eight have come by submission.
“I feel that I am in the lead right now for (mixed martial arts) fighters coming out of Des Moines, besides Jeremy Stephens,” Young told the Des Moines Register recently. “I’m just here to do my job and continue my ascent.”
Young fights for American Top Team, based in Florida. He doesn’t come back to Iowa often — “maybe two or three times a year,” he said — and joked he may not for a while after the polar vortex this past winter.
“It’s currently 98 degrees here,” he said and laughed.
On Friday, he’ll be somewhat close. Young is slated to fight in Bellator 224 at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. He is scheduled to fight Joel Bauman, a promotional newcomer against whom Young will be heavily favored.
“I’m cool, calm, and collected,” Young said. “It’s the same as always for me. I don’t really have too many nerves or thoughts when I prepare for these matchups.”
► RECENT WRESTLING COVERAGE FROM THE DES MOINES REGISTER
That wasn’t always the case, especially when Young first started.
Compared to many of his peers, Young started late. At 14, he dabbled in jiu jitsu under the tutelage of local instructor Cliff Harris. He never wrestled, despite the many pleas from Urbandale head coach Mike Moreno. He struggled a lot.
“I got dominated wrestling wise,” Young said. “I didn’t wrestle in high school, but I wrestled in middle school a little bit. I didn’t do so well. Same thing happened with jiu jitsu. It just didn’t come naturally. I was continually put on my back by bigger, stronger people.”
Young had a revelation two years later. After his sophomore football season, he flew won a jiu jitsu tournament in Las Vegas. He submitted a couple of semi-professional and professional fighters in his final two matches. Confidence bloomed.
He became an amateur fighter at 16, then fought in his first professional bout at 19. He was drawn to mixed martial arts because of the individual aspect. Win or lose, everything was on him and him alone.
“There’s a lot more control in your hands as far as decision making,” Young said. “Other sports like football or basketball, you’re relying on people to be in the right positions.
“I won that tournament in Las Vegas, and that really opened my eyes. I saw that there was money to be made doing this, and I started to develop a better understanding of what I was capable of.”
Young still has a ways to go before he reaches the top. The same Fight Matrix rankings say he’s the No. 70 overall light heavyweight across all fighting leagues — UFC, Bellator, Professional Fighters League, as well as several others in the United States and overseas.
But another win on Friday will add another line to his still-growing résumé. Despite a late start, he’s still young enough that a long and fruitful career awaits.
“I put all my eggs in this one basket,” Young said. “Looking back, there’s no one set path to get to where I’m at, and there’s no wrong or right answers. There’s been a little bit of luck, and a little bit of guidance.
“I think this is where I’m supposed to be and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.