Pat Downey is officially carving a new career path as a professional mixed martial artist. He left wrestling behind, and with it, he hopes the negativity, too.
At Bellator 284, Downey (1-0 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) defeated Keyes Nelson (0-4 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) by submission 36 seconds into the first round of their middleweight bout. The maneuver capped off a long-awaited MMA debut after much athletic controversy and adversity.
“My perspective is nothing but positive,” Downey said in a post-fight news conference. “I have a really, really good feeling, and I’m not going to let any negativity or any haters or any cancel culture or any of that sh*t – none of that is going to ruin my parade and ruin this career for me. I’m here to take over this middleweight division.”
Downey, 30, was a NCAA Division-I All-American, Pan American Games medalist and U.S. Open National wrestling champion. His relationship with the wrestling community was rocky for a variety of reasons, including legal issues and comments Downey made on social media.
The Olympics originally was his goal. After finishing fourth in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials in 2021, Downey decided it was finally time to pull the trigger on an MMA transition. He’s glad he did, despite the stress.
“The hype, seeing the world-class stage that Bellator has laid out for us, it was nerve-wracking,” Downey said. “I’m not going to lie, even being as world-class as I am and as well-traveled, there were some butterflies. I’m not going to lie. I couldn’t wait to get a finish because I just wanted to have this 1-0 record and say I’m an MMA fighter. That probably explains why I handled it so quickly out there.”
Downey wasn’t the only high-level wrestler to enter the national spotlight this past week. This past Tuesday, 2019 Hodge Trophy winner Bo Nickal competed on Dana White’s Contender Series in his second professional fight. Nickal (2-0 MMA) ripped through opponent Zachary Borrego for a first-round rear-naked choke submission.
Downey and Nickal have history. In 2017, Nickal defeated Downey by technical fall at the U.S. Open. They rematched at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials. Nickal once again won by technical fall.
Their paths likely will cross again, this time with gloves on, estimated Downey. There is unfinished business, he said.
“Bo and I still have a lot of unfinished business,” Downey said. “We’ll be meeting down the road, once we’re in our tops and that fight makes sense. I’ll see his ass again for sure.”
Until that time, however, Downey plans to dominate anyone and everyone in the Bellator middleweight division. He’s eager to return to the cage, perhaps even as soon as next month at Bellator 285 in Dublin. His skillset and credentials, he thinks, are unique.
“I don’t want to be one of those wrestlers who is just one move and then holds,” Downey said. “I don’t want to be one of those guys who is not exciting. I want to do cool takedowns. You saw a slam, right to the full mount transition, into the kill. If I’m not trying to kill them with chokes or joints, I’m trying to beat the sh*t out of them. I want to be somebody that’s exciting, that is trying to finish fights. I’m happy I’m 1-0 with one finish.”
Bellator 284 took place Friday at Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Bellator 284.