Lesnar, Cormier headline former wrestlers in UFC 200

LAS VEGAS – Four former NJCAA student-athletes will take to the world stage Saturday in UFC 200, including light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and Brock Lesnar who makes his long-awaited return to the octagon.

In two years at Bismarck State (N.D.), Lesnar (right) landed back-to-back top-five finishes at the NJCAA Wrestling Championship in 1997 and 1998. As a sophomore, he won the 275-pound class national title for first team All-America honors and received the tournament’s Earnest B. Gould Outstanding Wrestler Award. Lesnar would transfer to Minnesota where he was a two-time NCAA All-American and the 275-pound class national champion in 2000. At the conclusion of his collegiate career, Lesnar had compiled a record of 106-5 with the Mystics and Golden Gophers.

Pursuing a career in professional wrestling, Lesnar joined World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) – formerly the World Wrestling Federation – and quickly made his way up the ranks. In 2002, the 25-year old defeated The Rock at SummerSlam to become the youngest WWE champion in history. After a departure in 2004, Lesnar returned to WWE in 2012 and is still competing today.

In 2007, Lesnar launched his mixed martial arts (MMA) career and signed a year later with the UFC. It wouldn’t take long for the former NJCAA All-American to take the sport by storm as he won the UFC Heavyweight Championship in 2008 with a technical knockout of Randy Couture at UFC 91. In three years as a UFC fighter, Lesnar accumulated a record of 5-3-0. Following a loss in UFC 141, he stepped away from MMA in 2011 to return to professional wrestling. UFC 200’s match against Mark Hunt will mark his first UFC fight since.

A star high school wrestler in the state of Louisiana, Cormier quickly established himself as one of the nation’s top competitors once he arrived at Colby (Kan.) in 1997. The two-time national champion and NJCAA All-American won his first title in the 190-pound division at the 1998 NJCAA Wrestling Championship. He followed up with a national title in the 197-pound class as a sophomore, leading the Trojans to their first and only national championship. Ending his two-year collegiate career with an undefeated 61-0 record, Cormier transferred to Oklahoma State where he’d earn NCAA All-America honors in 2001.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State, Cormier started training in freestyle wrestling with the hopes of representing his country in international competition. The former Colby wrestler claimed three gold medals at the Pan American Championships and Pan American Games in 2002 and 2003. He then took fourth place at the 2004 Olympic Games and captained Team USA in the 2008 Olympics before beginning his pursuit of a career in MMA.

Making his professional debut in 2009, Cormier spent three years fighting in Strikeforce before the organization was absorbed by the UFC in 2013. After the transition, he ripped off four consecutive victories and won the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship in 2015 with a victory over Anthony Johnson at UFC 187. In his MMA career, Cormier has posted a 17-1-0 record and is 6-1-0 in the UFC heading into Saturday’s matchup with Anderson Silva.

Cain Velasquez made his mark at Iowa Central in just one year, leading the Tritons to the 2002 NJCAA championship by winning the 285-pound class national title. Garnering NJCAA First Team All-America honors, Velasquez transferred to Arizona State where he’d finish out his collegiate career with an 86-17 record. Following his time with the Sun Devils, he began his MMA career and made his UFC debut in 2008.

In 2010, Velasquez defeated Lesnar in UFC 121 via technical knockout to claim the UFC Heavyweight Championship. He would lose the belt in 2011 and regain it in 2012 amidst a rivalry with Junior Dos Santos. After two successful title defenses in 2013, Velasquez once again lost the championship at UFC 188 in 2015 and hasn’t fought since. The former Tritons wrestler takes his 13-2-0 record into UFC 200 where he will face Travis Browne.

Competing for one season at North Idaho, Kelvin Gastelum was ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation during his freshman year. After his stint with the Cardinals, Gastelum began his training for a professional MMA career. In 2013, he was selected to participate in The Ultimate Fighter – a reality television series produced by the UFC. A 5-0 record on the show launched his career in the UFC where he holds a 12-2-0 record. Gastelum will square-off against Johny Hendricks in the UFC 200 prelims.

Fans can watch the Lesnar, Cormier and Velasquez main card fights Saturday on pay-per-view starting at 10 p.m. EST, while Gastelum’s match will be part of the prelims beginning at 8 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 1.

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