Ex-OSU wrestler Crutchmer signs with Bellator MMA

Former Oklahoma State wrestler Kyle Crutchmer recently signed a contract with Bellator MMA and is hoping to make his debut with the promotion in Oklahoma this fall. (Jason Elmquist / CNHI)

STILLWATER, Okla. — Kyle Crutchmer is just known as a coach to the many youth wrestlers he works with in California.

According to him, they have become desensitized by the notion that he – and several of their other coaches — are much more than just their coaches.

In fact, Crutchmer has taken the reins from Shawn Bunch and fellow former Oklahoma State wrestler Daniel Cormier in coaching the next generation of wrestlers while living lives as MMA fighters.

“It’s been a lot of fun. There’s no ego involved. We have four high-level guys coaching great kids who are very talented and win a lot,” Crutchmer said recently after taking a group of young wrestlers to the Fargo Nationals. “But I don’t think our kids really see us as fighters, I think we do a good job of letting them know that we’re their wrestling coach, there to help them with wrestling.

“I’m sure they know we are fighters, but they are so used to it now that it’s more of a wrestling aspect for them.”

The other aspect of Crutchmer’s life – his more full-time job – just took the next step.

Two years after joining Cormier – the UFC Heavyweight world champion – in California at American Kickboxing Academy, Crutchmer signed with Bellator MMA – the main MMA competitor with UFC – two weeks ago after four successful fights at the welterweight division.

“It’s kind of lit a fire underneath me,” Crutchmer said. “I train with the best guys in the world, so I know I’m prepared, I know I’m ready.

“So the fact that I’m able to make this happen with a management team that supports me, it’s been pretty exciting.”

According to the former OSU All-American wrestler, the contract negations with Bellator had been in the works for about two months – shortly after his fourth victory fighting at Xtreme Fight Night events. Crutchmer’s first three matches ended early with the ex-Cowboy earning a couple of first-round victories via guillotine and punches, as well as a second-round submission. His latest match in early February was a unanimous decision victory.

Just four matches into his MMA career, and on the cusp of his first major fight with one of the sport’s biggest promoters, Crutchmer finds himself ranked 193rd (out of 1,265) among active pro welterweight competitors in the United States, and ranked 10th among active welterweights in Oklahoma.

While he has been using San Jose, Calif., as his base of operations in honing his craft, he has returned each time to showcase his progress in the sport. Each of his four matches with Xtreme Fight Night have been in Oklahoma, with the most recent match being at the River Spirit Casino in his hometown of Tulsa.

“There’s a lot of people there that have been supporting me and I get to start this new chapter with them,” Crutchmer said. “It was just a very humbling experience, it was very exciting. And hopefully I can have maybe a Bellator event come to Tulsa on a big fight card – that would be a lot of fun.”

The hope is, his next match – his first with Bellator – will also come right here in Oklahoma.

Bellator has hosted three events at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville over the past nine months, with the most recent earlier this month where the main event was a fight for the Women’s Featherweight Championship. Crutchmer is hoping he will be healthy enough to be a part of of the next event when the promotion is believed to be returning to Oklahoma later this fall – though no date has been set.

“We’re still talking about some things. They have a card in Thackerville, so we’re thinking about that right now,” he said. “I think that’s going to be the debut with Bellator. But anything can happen between then and now, but that’s what we’re kind of pushing.

“I’m kind of healing up from something right now, which has been a couple months, so I’m pretty healthy. We’re going to make it sure I’m where I need to be.”

While Crutchmer is looking to make his next step in MMA, he’s not forgetting the wrestling background that has allowed him this path.

When he first started his transition to the MMA, he was working heavily on improving his boxing to build with his wrestling. But he said he’s now found that balance between techniques.

“I think it was about three months ago, everything kind of started to click,” Crutchmer said. “I’m still not obviously the greatest boxer of all time, but I’m able to put together the wrestling with the striking and grappling. I think that’s kind of been my biggest thing.

“When I first started, I just thought I had to focus on the whole boxing thing, but I’ve essentially been able to put together everything. That opens you up and makes you a better striker. So now, I’m kind of putting everything together and putting pressure on guys where I can stand in with them and strike a little bit more.”

He’s also still very much invested in the Cowboy wrestling program. He returned to Stillwater in early February to take in a Sunday dual after winning his fourth MMA match two days earlier – getting front-row seats along the mat.

“I’m so involved in the sport of wrestling with our (youth) guys getting recruited and things like that,” Crutchmer said. “I’m on a (lengthy) Snap streak with Daton Fix now – he’s like the only guy I really SnapChat with. Me and Nick Piccininni have been great friends since I was in school. …

“Alex Dieringer is doing great things (in international wrestling) right now, and I talk with him probably once or twice a week. … I’m still very involved, and I try to watch as much as I can. I always send my support whenever they need to be talked about. I’m a Poke for life.”

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Elmquist is sports editor for Stillwater News Press, a CNHI News Service publication.

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