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Posted on Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

Ann Arbor Olympian wrestles with decision to become pro fighter

By Pete Cunningham


Olympian Jake Herbert, pictured above, is wrestling with the decision on whether to continue to pursue his Olympic dream and be an advocate for keeping wrestling in the Olympics or the more lucrative option of becoming a pro mixed martial arts fighter.

Joseph Tobianski |

Ann Arbor-based Olympic wrestler Jake Herbert is at a critical juncture in his life and it happens to be coinciding with a critical juncture in the sport he loves.

Herbert, who competed in freestyle wrestling at the 2012 London Olympics, can work to make the Olympics again in 2016 and also try to save the sport from the chopping block for the 2020 games. Or he can turn in his singlet and try to make a living of beating people up in a cage.

Decisions, decisions.

The ever-growing sport of mixed martial arts at its highest level pays quite well and even lower-tier professional fighters make more money than USA Wrestling offers its Olympians through stipends. Herbert -- who trains with the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club at the University of Michigan's Bahna Wrestling Center -- knows this, but there's more to the decision than money.

"If I wanted to make money, I wouldn't be wrestling - I'd be using my degree," Herbert, a Northwestern graduate, recently told USA Today.

There's also the long-term ramifications of getting punched and kicked in the face for a living. Plus, Herbert is still upset with his seventh place finish at the Olympics, and is also very involved with the "Save Olympic Wrestling" movement.

While he wants to take advantage of the opportunity the sport has afforded him, he wants to ensure others will have those same opportunities.

"Wrestling, it's given me options. I could go to Singapore and start fighting right now, or I could call up almost any college in the nation and say, 'Hey, I want to come coach,' and they'd find a way to make it happen. That's all from wrestling, and from being an Olympian."

Pete Cunningham covers sports for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.



Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 8:16 p.m.

I don't watch very much mixed martial arts but in my humble opinion that sport is a great way to get your brains scrambled. Also I don't see the "sport" in something that you can see at a rowdy night in some seedier bars.

Pete Cunningham

Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 8:59 p.m.

I have to agree with Lumberg here. I am a fan of MMA, but I don't think you have to be to be able to recognize the difference between a fight between two trained professionals in a controlled setting and drunks brawling at a bar.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 4:01 p.m.

yes, I often see armbars, takedowns, leg sweeps and concise striking at seeider bars. I see spinning back kicks and leg kicks too. its common to see a leglock, or a kimura, or a rear nake choke during these brawsls at seedier bars ... in fact I was watching the Dukes of Hazzard and I was amazed how skilled these brawlers are wow - thanks for adding NOTHING to this conversation except outdated mentalities that the sport left behind decades ago ... good work!


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

Walking Joe, many would have the same opinion of Boxing or other sports. Football would be another good example. It's ALL ritualized aggression in one form or another when we boil it down. Also, to paraphrase my previous statement. something you might see in some seedier bars and Mixed Martial Arts are two VERY different animals...


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 7:45 p.m.

Olympic wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts are two VERY different animals.

Pete Cunningham

Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 8:54 p.m.

Very true, but successful wrestlers have a proven track record of making the transition to MMA (Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Brock Lesnar, Rashad Evans, etc.) and many say being a strong wrestler is the most important prerequisite to MMA.