Stephen Abas has wrestled just about his entire life.
But in all his years of competition, Abas has never seen a kick flying at his head.
That all changed on Wednesday night as the former Olympic silver medalist made his mixed martial arts debut at the Tachi Palace Fights "Cinco de Mayhem" card in Lemoore.
Abas, a three-time national champion and four-time All-America at Fresno State, admitted it was a little different being in the cage.
When all was said and done, the result was still the same as most of his wrestling matches — it ended with Abas having his arm raised in victory.
Abas defeated Sacramento's Sam Stevens-Milo via majority decision to improve to 1-0 in his MMA career.
"I still have to get used to the kicks," Abas said. "I hate those the most. I always figured if I ever got in a street fight, the guy would get one swing at me before I'd take him down."
That is almost exactly what happened on Wednesday.
Stevens-Milo attempted a couple of leg kicks, which were blocked, and then Abas exploded for a double-leg takedown.
Abas dominated the entire first round, but ran into some trouble in the second and third rounds. Stevens-Milo, who had six pro MMA bouts under his belt, was close to locking in a heel-hook, but Abas stayed calm and reversed into a full-mount position where he inflicted some damage with his ground-and-pound.
Abas was deducted a point in the third and final round for poking Stevens-Milo in the eye, but he turned things around with a couple more explosive double-leg takedowns.
The judges scored the bout 28-28, 29-27, 29-27, giving Abas a majority decision victory.
"He's still growing and progressing as a fighter," said Jeremy Luchau, Tachi Palace entertainment coordinator. "He still has stuff to learn, but there is no questioning his athleticism. Nobody is going to be able to stop his takedowns."
The Times-Delta scored the bout 29-27 for Abas.
"The nine minutes went by quick," Abas said. "We trained every day for this. I stuck to the training and it all paid off."
Fair or unfair, there were some high expectations placed on Abas heading into his MMA debut.
A lot of collegiate and Olympic wrestlers have made successful transitions into MMA, and even though Abas won, it wasn't the dominant victory most people expected.
"It was everything we thought it would be," Abas said. "Our game plan was to take the guy down and get some strikes in. I know I still have a lot to learn with my striking and my submissions. I'm excited to keep getting better."
Abas made a name for himself in wrestling in high school where he was a three-time California state champion, posting a 190-10 record at Canyon Springs in Moreno Valley and James Logan High School in Union City.
He received an athletic scholarship to attend Fresno State where he became an even more dominant wrestler. At Fresno State he won three national championships and was a four-time All-America with a 144-4 career record.
Abas then put on the red, white and blue tights as he competed for the United States in the 2004 Olympics in Greece where he captured silver.
Abas retired from competitive wrestling in 2008 after reaching the U.S. Olympic trials finals where he lost out to Henry Cejudo, who captured gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in a best 2-out-of-3 series.
All those credentials are impressive, but putting it all into perspective, Abas was named one of the NCAA's 15 greatest wrestlers ever, alongside the likes of Cael Sanderson, Dan Gable and Kurt Angle.
Now Abas is a wrestling coach at the Arena, an MMA gym in San Diego.
He announced his decision to become a professional MMA fighter earlier this year after signing a two-fight deal with Tachi Palace Fights. He'll fight again on July 9.
"This is a good transition for wrestlers," Abas said. "We have a fighter inside us. We have the attitude that we won't quit. Just because we don't throw strikes doesn't mean we don't have a fighter's attitude."
At 32-years-old, Abas said he'll be happy to get five good years out of competing in MMA.
"I'm not trying to make a career out of this," he said. "If I can get five good years, I would be happy with it. This was a great way to begin."
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