Brandon Halsey was heartbroken in the summer of 2006.
The Fresno State wrestler learned the school was dropping the sport, a victim of Title IX and budget considerations.
After Bulldogs coaches broke the devastating news, Halsey and his teammates were left to figure out where to finish their college careers.
It was like a punch in the stomach.
Brandon Halsey, on Fresno State dropping wrestling in 2006
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“It was like a punch in the stomach,” Halsey said. “What am I going to do now?”
Halsey transferred to Cal State Bakersfield, where he wrestled from 2007 to 2009. Then he turned his focus to mixed martial arts, eventually signing with Bellator in 2012.
And that has brought Halsey full circle. The middleweight will take a 9-1 record back to Save Mart Center, where the Bulldogs wrestling team competed, against John Salter (11-3) on Friday night in Bellator 156.
Preliminary fights begin at 4:45 p.m., with the main portion at 6 p.m. (tape-delayed on the West Coast at 9 p.m. on Spike TV).
“Great to be back in the Valley and be back in fight action at the Save Mart Center,” Halsey said. “I wrestled against Illinois there back in 2006.”
With the Bulldogs, Halsey was 3-2 in 2004-05 but finished the season as a redshirt. In 2005-06, he was 2-3 while dealing with injuries.
Halsey was 28-9 for the Roadrunners in 2006-07 and won a Pacific-10 championship. After sitting out 2007-08, Halsey finished seventh at the 2009 NCAA Division I national championships at 197 pounds.
While Halsey mulled his next move, friends suggested MMA. He said, why not?
Cal Poly hosted a “Fight for Wrestling” MMA fundraiser at Mott Gym, spearheaded by World Extreme Cagefighting co-founder Scott Adams and supported by UFC legend Chuck Liddell.
Halsey participated and afterward was invited to train with Bellator’s Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and UFC’s Michael Bisping in Huntington Beach.
“I moved down there, and the rest is history,” he said. “Here I am fighting for Bellator.”
Halsey signed in 2012 but put his debut on hold until 2013 after a bike accident left him needing reconstructive shoulder surgery.
Save Mart Center has hosted several Bellator events, but none with Halsey. He expects to have plenty of support Friday, including ex-Bulldogs coach Dennis DeLiddo, who on Wednesday watched Halsey work out at Fresno’s Dethrone Mixed Martial Arts.
He’s a good kid. He had a career in amateur wrestling before transitioning into MMA.
Former Fresno State wrestling coach Dennis DeLiddo, on Brandon Halsey
“I keep in touch with him quite a bit,” DeLiddo said. “He’s a good kid.”
Halsey said wrestlers adjust well to MMA “because they have that … foundation of balance and awareness and where their position is and to adapt to striking.”
“It’s like a dangerous mixture,” he said.
Returning to the arena where he wrestled as a collegian has long been on Halsey’s mind. He plans to make the most of the chance, and it means that much more coming in the year Fresno State has hired a coach to reinstate the wrestling program.
Bringing wrestling back to the Valley is going to be huge for MMA as well.
“It’s huge,” he said. “This area, all through the Valley, it’s a fight town, too. They love the combative sports, and it’s good for the collegiate community to have wrestling back in California after 10 years being absent.
“Bringing wrestling back to the Valley is going to be huge for MMA as well. It’s going to bring more people interested in MMA because we now have wrestling back – a Division I program – it’s going to add more excitement in MMA events.”
Bellator will honor Kimbo Slice – Bellator will observe a moment of silence for Kimbo Slice, a former MMA fighter who died June 6 at age 42.
“It was a shock to all of us,” Bellator President Scott Coker said. “It was unbelievable. It’s part of life, I know, but we’ll get through it.”
Slice had been diagnosed with heart failure and was awaiting a transplant, according to a report by the Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
‘Bellator 156: Galvao vs. Dantas 2’
- Bantamweight title bout: Marcos Galvao (17-6-1) vs. Eduardo Dantas (17-4)
- Welterweight co-main event: Chidi Njokuani (14-4) vs. Thiago Jambo (18-4)
- Middleweight feature bout: Brandon Halsey (9-1) vs. John Salter (11-3)
- Middleweight feature bout: Chris Honeycutt (7-1) vs. Mikkel Parlo (13-2)
- Middleweight: A.J. Matthews (8-4) vs. Ben Reiter (16-1)
- Light heavyweight: Jermaine McDermott (2-0) vs. Blake Watkins (5-0)
- Bantamweight: Paul Ruiz (6-3) vs. Christian Navarro (5-0)
- Heavyweight: Javy Ayala (8-5) vs. Roy Boughton (14-7)
- Welterweight: Nick Bustamante (3-1) vs. Antoine Smith (2-5)
- Lightweight: C.J. Keith (8-3) vs. Carrington Banks (4-0)
- Featherweight: Justin Smitley (10-7) vs Chris Avila (5-2)
- Light heavyweight: John Paul Elias (3-0) vs. Jose Cabesas (5-8)
- Heavyweight: Chris Lewis (Debut) vs. Gil Medina (1-0)
- Lightweight: Luis Jauregui (3-2) vs. Ryan Tobar (3-2)