Wrestling has been a part of Johnny Eblen’s life for a very long time. He started training in the sport before he was even in grade school. It was only natural since both of his brothers were taking part in the sport. Up until the beginning of middle school, Johnny Eblen was playing football in addition to wrestling, it was then his dad presented him with a choice, he could invest in his football career or his wrestling career, he still isn’t sure why, but he chose wrestling.
“My dad kinda just gave me a choice, he was like, “we’re going to spend money on football or wrestling, so what do you want? “I kinda wasj like, I kinda liked wrestling at the time, I also loved football but I don’t know I just chose wrestling for some reason. I can’t even tell you why honestly, but maybe because its an individual sport. But I really wanted to pursue wrestling.”
It turned out to be the right decision, in high school, Eblen went to states all four years. His senior year he was the 189-pound champion. After high school he was recruited to wrestle at the University of Missouri. There he had a great career, finishing with a 87-24 record and qualifying for the NCAA championship tournament in 2015. It wasn’t easy, but Eblen said it was a good experience.
“It was probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, but I learned a lot of good lessons.”
The University of Missouri is known for having an excellent wrestling program, it is also known for producing great MMA fighters. Tyron Woodley, Michael Chandler and Ben Askren are a few of the elite MMA fighters to wrestle for that program.
But Eblen was never focused on having an MMA career. It was all about wrestling. But it wasn’t something he was unfamiliar with. In high school he would watch old UFC fights that one of his older brothers kept around. One of his older brothers also had a few amateur MMA fights.
Eblen graduated from college and accepted a full-time job in Florida for Atlantic Southern Paving doing estimating and trying to become an account manager. His head coach at the University of Missouri helped him get the job and he thought living outside of Missouri for the first time would be fun. At the same time Eblen was working at Atlantic Southern Paving, he was also coaching high school wrestling at a local high school. He was doing a private session alongside Steve Mocco. On the side of the session, Eblen wrestled with Mocco who was impressed by the former college star. Mocco who had a record of 5-1 as a fighter and trained at American Top Team invited Eblen to the gym to help fighters with their grappling. After impressing the coaches at American Top Team, he ended up being asked to fight.
“I was doing pretty well in grappling rounds, I didn’t really try striking quite yet, but I was doing jiu jitsu rounds and I wasn’t doing badly. So, they were kinda asking, “yo you want to fight?” Then we made it happen.
It didn’t take long after that for Eblen to step in the cage. After three to four months of hard training he took his first amateur fight and not much later he had his second one. At American Top Team, Eblen is working with first class coaches, he works with Mocco, Steve Bruno, Mike Brown, King Mo and Din Thomas. When he trains in his home town of Kansas City he works with another great gym in Glory MMA and Fitness with James Krause, Grant Dawson and LC Davis.
Though he has a prestigious wrestling background, Eblen doesn’t want to be known mainly as a wrestler who does MMA. He believes he has evolved into a complete fighter who always has a strong wrestling game in his back pocket.
“Now I see myself pretty well round, I’ve been in the game two years now. I’ve worked on the jiu jitsu part, I’ve kept my wrestling honest and I’ve worked on striking a lot. I’m pretty much working on it every day, I mean, I’m getting a lot of sparring rounds, that’s important. I just feel like I’m starting to become a well-rounded fighter Of course, I can’t forget what I’m originally good at and that’s always going to be there. I think I have a lot more tools now than I had a year ago.”
With that prestigious pedigree has come a lot of hype around the middleweight prospect. Already in his career, Eblen has headlined a card in his hometown and Shamrock FC has gotten behind him, making sure to promote him well. But having the pressure doesn’t phase Eblen, he just wants to ensure he lives up to it.
“I want to be that next Mizzou wrestler that makes it in fighting.”
And he plans to do it by applying the lessons he learned from college to his MMA career.
“Doing everything I can to the max and not taking any shortcuts and really applying myself.”
Eblen is now applying himself to his next challenge, on October 13, he will once again headline a Shamrock FC card in his hometown of Kansas City, MO and face another top fighter in Tyler Lee. Lee has a record of 3-1 known as a submission artist, having won his three fights by submission. He did however lose his only fight by submission.
In this fight, Eblen believes he will be able to showcase his full skill set.
“I think it’s a great matchup, definitely going to be able show all my skills on October 13.
He also sees his fourth straight finish coming.
“Honestly a finish in the first round, either by ground and pound or knockout.”
Shamrock FC has a relationship with Bellator that if one of their fighers wins a belt and defends it, they automatically get a contract with Bellator. However, as great as Eblen thinks that is, he is perfectly happy picking any of the major promotions that give him the best offer.
“If that happens I go to Bellator, I go to Bellator you know, if there is a short notice UFC fight I can be on, boom, I’ll go do that or if I can have a good fight and get paid well in One Championship, I’d go do that. I can kinda go anywhere.”
But for now, there will be fireworks on October 13.