Grant Hobbs is a legend in these parts.
He has a huge stockpile of medals and trophies at home from a historic high school wrestling career at Dove Creek.
But that don’t mean squat when he climbs into a cage and the guy across the mat wants to pound him back to the first grade.
On Saturday night at the Ute Mountain Casino, Hobbs pushed his Mixed Martial Arts record to 7-2 with a first-round victory. The rambunctious crowd, most there to cheer for Hobbs, packed the outdoor arena and roared their approval when the referee stopped the fight.
Following his victory, the wiry 125-pounder screamed and ran around the cage in wild celebration. Hobbs is full of confidence, some might call it cockiness, but his respect for the sport and the vicious repercussions it can hold, keep that confidence from spilling over into arrogance.
Improvement is mandatory or failure will be the painful lesson.
“I’m not near where I need to be. I’ve improved in every single fight and that’s what I did in wrestling,” Hobbs said after the fight, his modest tone a stark contrast to the crazed warrior who just left the cage.
During his legendary wrestling career, he was a .500 wrestler as a freshman, then he went to the state finals but lost as a sophomore. Then he dominated over the next two years, compiling a 79-1 record en route to claiming his two state titles. In 2007, his senior year, he went undefeated and helped Dove Creek win the state wrestling team title as well.
He never really grappled with the idea of getting into MMA until a trainer approached him.
“I thought those guys were crazy,” he said with a grin.
Now he’s one of the crazy guys.
As early fights on Saturday showed, people get knocked out, competitors leave battered, bloody and wobbly. Intensity is the name of this game.
“You bring it or you get knocked out. You have to be on your game all the time,” he said.
As lean as a gazelle, Hobbs estimates that 85 percent of MMA competitors come from a wrestling background. You can bet that every opponent knows about his storied high school career.
“(Wrestling) is the biggest advantage I have coming in. But everybody knows it and everybody’s prepared for it and ready for it. Wrestling will take you a long ways but you have to mix it up,” Hobbs said about mixing in boxing and Jiu Jitsu.
He smiles, when he talks about the tornado-quick spinning back-fist that grazed his opponent.
“I’ve been working on that, and it just missed,” he said.
Hobbs trains five days a week for more than two hours a day at Durango’s Vicious Strength MMA. It’s the work ethic and mental toughness that wrestling has embedded into his competitive spirit that has translated into success in the MMA cage.
“It’s all about your mental toughness and that’s what I learned from wrestling.”
Still learning, Hobbs equates his MMA career to the early stages of his wrestling career.
“I’m now at the point where it’s going to get tougher every single time. I just have to rise to the challenge and keep working just like I did in wrestling and apply that to MMA.”
Grant Hobbs will always be the high school wrestling legend from the little town of Dove Creek, and at 25 years old, the cheers of 20,000 spectators at the state wrestling finals still echo in his memory.
High school glory will fade as the years click by, but for Grant Hobbs there’s no reason to look back when the future is now and the cage awaits.
The pride of reaching the pinnacle of high school wrestling remains with the confident guy with the small-town roots. And he has the ink that symbolizes that pride.
On his left pectoral he has a colorful tattoo with the Colorado state flag outlined by the map of the United States. Inside the outline is the Colorado high school wrestling symbol.
“It represents my two state titles and my three state finals,” he said proudly.
He smiles as he reveals when he got inked. “I got it when I was 18 and out of the house. I couldn’t disrespect the family.”
His parents were at ringside cheering him on as they usually are. His tone takes a serious and respectful turn as he talks family.
“They are my biggest supporters, they’re my pride, they’re my love,” he said.
Work ethic, mental toughness, overcoming adversity, dedication, passion, the traits required for success are similar to both wrestling and MMA. But they are different sports.
“You train eight weeks at a time and you put everything you’ve got into it,” he said about MMA. “It feels like I live my life eight weeks at a time and if I lose at the end of those eight weeks, it’s like I died.”
It’s now back to the gym to work on “everything” and prepare for another battle in the cage.
For now, he’s just an up-and-coming MMA fighter with nine fights and a stellar wrestling pedigree.
“Keep learning, keep improving,” he said about his goals. “I want to make it to the top and this is where it starts.”
Just like the high school wrestling mat, the MMA cage is about respect, commitment, dedication, preparation and improvement.
For Grant Hobbs, no tattoo is required to remind him of that.
Reach Dale Shrull at email@example.com