On Aug. 12 in Sioux Falls, S.D., Downey will test himself in the Bellator cage against Jeff Souder.
Souder has four amateur fights, and this middleweight bout will also mark his first in the cage as a professional. Yet the spotlight will be shining brightly on Downey. A former Division I All-American and USA Wrestling world team member, Downey had a volatile-yet-successful career in amateur wrestling.
Controversy has found itself firmly attached to Downey. He was charged with assault in 2009, breaking the jaw of a Towson University student. A repeated violation of team rules caused his exit with the Iowa State University wrestling team in 2017, and he also spent time competing for the University of Nebraska, Iowa Central Community College, and the University of Iowa. He seemed at constant odds with the governing body of the sport, and a fresh start in MMA could prove to be revitalizing for the immensely talented fighter.
"Even outside of wrestling, the word tumultuous describes my life," Downey says. "I'm really thankful to Bellator, Scott Coker, my management, my team, and my training partners for this opportunity. Fighting has always felt inevitable for me. I'm excited to finally make my debut."
A rare combination of elite grappling, kickboxing, muay Thai and conditioning will help define Downey in the cage. At 29 years old, there is potential for him to become an immediate presence in Bellator.
"I'm falling in love with MMA more every day," Downey says. "My skill set is very unique. I'll be very surprised if I ever get taken down.
"I'm looking for high-level action. I'm not learning to fight. I'm a fighter that learned how to wrestle. But wrestling is a big part of my game, and I can't wait to show that off."
Initially scheduled to make his Bellator debut in April, that fell apart for Downey after a combination of injuring his MCL and ankle, as well as an ugly bout with topical steroid withdrawal syndrome that caused a terrible allergic reaction to his skin.
"I'm so grateful to be past all that," Downey says. "Now I can finally start what I'm here to do."
Downey will fight Souder on the Bellator 284 prelims. The fight will be dedicated to Downey's grandfather, who passed away this past January.
"My grandfather was the patriarch of my family," Downey says. "I'm going to honor him with this performance.
"I'll be well prepared, and I'm taking this very seriously. I'm going to whip this guy's ass on August 12."
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.