Former Penn State wrestlers prepare for MMA matches at Bryce Jordan Center
Former Penn State wrestling great Ed Ruth wasn’t sure what to think when he first heard the rumor that Bellator MMA was coming to Penn State.
“It was crazy,” the Nittany Lion wrestler-turned-MMA fighter recalled Thursday afternoon from the the Central PA MMA gym. “It was like ‘he said, she said.’ I was seeing it on Twitter and I was wondering, ‘OK, is it real?’ Then it was like (Bellator CEO) Scott Coker said it was, so I was like OK!”
Ruth discovered early on what most others would find out in the coming hours and days: Bellator 186 was coming to the Bryce Jordan Center on Nov. 3, in the first event of its kind in Happy Valley. And both he and fellow Nittany Lions wrestling great Phil Davis were picked to be part of the event.
Neither former wrestler yet knows whom he’ll be facing in his fight, but one matchup is set. Ryan Bader will take on Linton Vassell for Bellator’s Light Heavyweight belt in the main event.
But it’s fair to see that championship isn’t what local fans will be paying the most attention to that day. And that wasn’t lost on either Ruth or Davis.
“I was super excited and stoked,” Ruth added. “A lot of people get nervous, but I see opportunity.”
Said Davis: “To be back here again and in the BJC it is a little breathtaking.”
Davis and Ruth both made their way back to the area on two completely different paths.
Ruth is a freshman of sorts in the sport. Davis is a six-year vet of the mixed martial arts sport in the light heavyweight division.
Davis has made quite the name for himself earning his nickname “Mr. Wonderful” in his five year stint in the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC). He was in contention for the UFC’s light heavyweight belt several times but couldn’t get over the hump. Davis decided it was time for a change.
“I think every time I switch organizations, it’s for a better contract and better terms,” Davis said. “Although I love the visibility of the UFC, ultimately, I like being in a place that treats me well and treats my fans well.”
He joined Bellator in April of 2015. His impact was felt immediately.
In just over a year, Davis claimed Bellator’s Light Heavyweight title. However, it was short lived as Davis lost the title to Bader in June at Bellator 180 inside the famed Madison Square Garden.
For Ruth, his experience is a lot more limited. He has a 3-0 record in his professional career at the middleweight division with all three victories coming by way of the knockout. He is an up-and-comer and showing he could be on the path toward a title of his own. His November fight could be his first main-card draw, and he said it couldn’t come at a better place.
“It will definitely be something new for me, but bringing it back home here to Penn State, it makes it feel like it should happen,” Ruth said. “It makes me feel like, ‘OK this is the time, and if any time I want to be on the main card, (it) would be here.’ I’ve already been in front of this crowd and been around these people. I feel like I’m in my own backyard. I feel super comfortable, and it makes me happy.”
The two reminisced about their wrestling days throughout the day.
Davis mentioned that Thursday was his first time back in State College in about three years. It didn’t actually hit him until he noticed several new buildings in the area. He said that he never thought that after graduating he’d ever compete in State College again — but is sure glad it’s happening. Ruth felt similarly.
Ruth always knew that when his wrestling career was over he was going to become a fighter. He trained and prepared to compete at the Olympic trials after graduating, but when he didn’t make the team, he focused on mixed martial arts. Ruth never got to wrestle inside the Bryce Jordan Center. However, he got to experience the atmosphere and feels it will be the same when he’s inside the cage.
“Going based on the fan support and all the alumni support we get at Penn State,” he said, “I’m expecting to see a very packed arena. I expect it all to be sold out. When it came to wrestling and wrestling in Rec Hall, it was undying support.”