At Bellator 182 this Friday in Verona, New York, two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler Chris Honeycutt returns to action to take on former Ultimate Fighter/UFC middleweight Kevin Casey. For Honeycutt, it’s a chance to pile up a four fight win streak, and his third since returning to middleweight a year ago.
The Dethrone fighter, originally from Ohio, spoke to Cageside Press ahead of his bout Friday about the fight, making the transition from wrestling to MMA, and more.
There’s little question that at some point during his Bellator 182 bout, Honeycutt will be looking to take this fight to the ground. With Kevin Casey training with the Gracies and holding a strong submission background, how does the wrestler feel this will go?
“I feel like my abilities in the other aspects, like striking, my kicking and my jiu jitsu, I feel like it meshes all together” he explained. “I don’t see myself just going out there and immediately taking Kevin Casey down and trying to wrestle him. I don’t think that will necessarily be my best game plan.”
When mention of Casey’s black belt pedigree came up, Honeycutt was frank. “It makes my opponent even stronger, you know, to spend fifteen minutes on the ground with a black belt regardless of my wrestling probably isn’t my best tactic, but to use my other strengths like my striking and my youth and athletic ability as well.”
So what are Honeycutt’s expectations in the end? “I’ve envisioned probably 28 different ways [the fight could end]. I think a lot depends on the mentality going into the fight. I feel like if he is doubting himself in any way then I’m gonna knock him out in the second round. If he goes in there and he’s being a bull and he’s a tough dude and he’s relentless, I see myself getting the TKO in the third.”
And there are advantages that the wrestler feels he has over the slightly older Casey. “I think that having youth on my side, I’m 29 years old so I’m not young but I’m younger than him. No one has the mentality and the physical, always go forward and never get fazed
and just continue to work, work, work [mindset like] a wrestler. My cardio is unbelievable and I just think that once I settle in and get comfortable on my feet with Kevin Casey, I should be able to apply so much pressure so that he’s just not able to keep up.”
Having made his promotional debut back in 2014, seeing where things are today in Bellator, what does Chris Honeycutt make of all the changes? The fighter joined the company just a few months after Bjorn Rebney was replaced by Scott Coker, after all.
“I’m honored, when I first started fighting, Bellator was doing the tournament styles and that aspect. I feel like that ever since Scott Coker took over Bellator, obviously there was transition period but he got right to it. He brings Bellator to new levels every year” he told us. “I think even this day next year Bellator will be viewed much higher than it is today. He’s a very intelligent and smart man when it comes to the sport of MMA, just look what he did to Strikeforce. When someone says they are a former champ of Strikeforce that’s something to be said. Bellator is making all of the right moves and they are growing rapidly, in my mind.”
For Honeycutt, on a three fight win streak and back at middleweight, where does he see his place in the new Bellator?
“I think I’m always going up, I feel like I’m continuing to climb that ladder and I feel like the ladder is getting bigger as time goes on and that’s not a bad thing, that’s just the sport” he said. “It’s kind of hard to tell because I haven’t fought yet this year, this is my first fight. I’m just going to go out there and I’m going to try and get back into the cage as fast as I can.”
“Assuming that I take minimal damage,” he added. “That’s my personal goal obviously. Bellator’s gotta do what they have to do. I’m not a ‘special’ fighter, I don’t get to dictate when I fight, they have to take care of the [other] fighters that they have too. So that is what it is but I plan on going in there and getting the victory and getting the most efficient victory that I can get with as minimal damage as possible. I look forward to getting into the cage as fast as I possibly can.”
Does he have a number in mind for how many fights he’d like this year? “This year I would say if I could have my way at least I would like to fight three times because we are kind of running on the back end of the year now” he replied. “Preferable as a whole I would like to three to five times a year just because I’m a wrestler. As you said I’m a Division I wrestler, I’m used to being active, in my last three years I was 32-2, 38-2 and 40-2 and those are big numbers.” Of course, Honeycutt added, wrestling obviously isn’t MMA, and “you’re getting punched so you aren’t going to take the damage in wrestling that you would in fighting.” Still, it’s clear he’d like to pick up the pace if possible.
Speaking of that wrestling background, what was the switch like, from that to mixed martial arts? Honeycutt told us that “there was definitely a change — it wasn’t like I could work on skills for a couple of weeks and now I get to go out and use them in a live situation. I mean guess you could spar and do it that way but its different when you don’t have the headgear on, you don’t have the big gloves on, you don’t have a shirt on, the shin pads are off.”
In short, training’s not quite the same as live fight experience. “It’s not like you get to practice something, and then you get go do it, and then practice, and get to go do it [again] so there is more of a build up. Not being able to compete dozens of times a year, you have to be efficient and you got to make sure that [each] fight you are making the gains necessary in order to be the best.”
“There’s not a quick turn around where ‘well one week I wrestled bad, nest week I wrestled good’ so then I can build off of it” he explained. “There’s really not too much to build off of in fighting even if I did fight three times a year because, you just don’t really fight enough to build off of each fight. Its like a snowball rolling kind of thing, once you wrestle and win four or five matches in a row you tend to get that sense of confidence and you get your stride going and you just kind of snowball. Where in fighting that snowball effect takes place in the workout room, in sparring and in the ring before you actually get in the cage.”
If the transition from one discipline to MMA is challenging, what about handling setbacks, and particularly losses, which are handled differently in the wrestling world?
“It’s not as easy to make up for the mental aspect. I’m a true competitor, so when I take a loss I take it hard and having that opportunity to wrestle that following week and the week after and being able to get two wins after a loss all in the course of maybe a week or two, you kind of push that away” Honeycutt outlined. “Where now, it’s kind of like that one loss in MMA is kind of now in the rear view mirror but it sat there present for a while because you don’t compete as much. In MMA I’m 9 and 1, and that 1 is never going to go away, each year in wrestling you start over.”
After dipping down to welterweight despite starting his career at middleweight, Chris Honeycutt has returned to the 185lb weight class. It’s been a successful homecoming thus far, but would he look elsewhere again?
“I’m happy, I feel like middleweight, I’ve settled in pretty firmly now” he said. “I’m never opposed to fighting middleweight to get a fight, or if there is a fight that people want to see I’m always willing to do that. As far as competing for a belt and spending most of my focus, will always be at middleweight, unless something changes.”
When it comes to middleweight, Bellator obviously made a big splash by bringing in Gegard Mousasi – as a guy who’s been fighting it out in the promotion for a while, does it bother Honeycutt that a name from outside has a shot at skipping the line, potentially, to a title shot?
“It doesn’t really bother me that much, even if it did bother me, what’s that going to change, you know?” the fighter replied. “It is what it is and it’s not like he wasn’t doing anything. If he comes in a little higher in the ranks he kind of deserves it.”
“As far as I’m concerned as long as I can still get my fights in and I can continue to move up the belt will eventually come, the title fight will eventually come” he continued. “It might not be as fast as I want it to come but the more quality fighters that we can get into Bellator, the harder its going to be to get the belt but the more satisfaction a fighter will have having the belt.”
“I’d rather be the champ of Bellator than some organization that no one knows about. The benefits outweigh the negatives in the long run.”
Chris Honeycutt faces Kevin Casey at Bellator 182 on Friday at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, New York.