UFC Welterweight world champion Kamaru Usman has used his elite wrestling to great effect during his MMA career and it’s easy to see how he got to that level when he’s been training with legends like Cael Sanderson since he was a young man. Sanderson is one of the greatest wrestlers to ever set foot on the mats and certainly at the very pinnacle of achievement in America. During his time wrestling at Iowa State University he went through an entire four year period without losing a single match and actually ended up going 159-0 over that time.
In fact, Sanderson remains the only wrestler in NCAA Division I history to go undefeated with more than 100 official matches. During the period between 1999 and 2002, Sanderson became the NCAA Division I champion and won the Big 12 Championships four times in a row which is what led to him winning the Dan Hodge trophy three times. He became the first person to win it on more than one occasion and remains the only wrestler to ever become a three-time winner. He continued this success after graduating from college and won a silver medal at the 2003 world championships, followed up quickly by a gold medal at the 2004 Olympic games.
Although he became a full-time coach at Penn State University after retiring, Sanderson never stopped training and in 2011 he came back from retirement at the age of 32 to win the US World Team trials and earn a spot at the World Championships. He went 4-2 at the tournament against some of the best wrestlers on the planet and ended up placing fifth. It was the year before the competitive return of Cael Sanderson in 2010 that Kamaru Usman became the NCAA Division II Champion and around this time that Usman decided to take up residence in the US Olympic Training Center in the hopes of making the Olympic team.
Usman ended up not making it on to the team thanks to being plagued by injuries and soon gave up on his dreams of Olympic glory in order to make the transition to MMA instead, something many wrestlers have done with great success. In the decade that has followed, Usman has worked his way to the very top of the sport and become the UFC Welterweight World Champion and has since defended his title an impressive five times. It’s no surprise that Usman has had the success he has when considering that before he ever even began his MMA career he was already regularly training with some of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
The footage of Kamaru Usman wrestling with Cael Sanderson was uploaded to the official YouTube channel of USA Wrestling:
Or for more of our articles looking into moments throughout BJJ history, visit our throwback archives.