After years of dabbling in MMA, NCAA champ Jesse Delgado finally ready for pro debut at Bellator 266

·3 min read
After years of dabbling in MMA, NCAA champ Jesse Delgado finally ready for pro debut at Bellator 266

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Jesse Delgado hasn’t fought yet, but he’s been involved in the mixed martial arts scene for about five years.

A three-time All-American wrestler and a two-time NCAA champion at the University of Illinois, Delgado (0-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) makes his professional MMA debut Saturday at Bellator 266. The fight is a promotional one-off for the flyweight fighter, but he hopes it’ll mark the start of a successful MMA stint.

“I’m excited, man, excited. It seems like it’s been a while that I’ve been trying to get a fight, so I’m excited to finally get one,” Delgado told MMA Junkie.

Delgado, 29, didn’t always plan to enter MMA, though he’s been a big fan for about as long as he can remember. When he was 8, Delgado and his uncle began tuning into MMA fights, and he’s been hooked since. After he was brought in to assist Yair Rodriguez for a fight in the UFC, Delgado began considering the move more seriously.

“I’ve always been a big fan,” Delgado said. “I kind of started thinking about it when I got to college. My coach is really good friends with Israel Martinez. So I got hooked up with a striking coach, and I got really close with Mike Valle out in Chicago at VFS Academy. That’s kind of how … I got acquainted with a little bit more (and) made it realistic.”

Mar 23, 2013: Jesse Delgado of Illinois celebrates his win over Nicholas Magaludis of Penn State in the 125-pound final at the NCAA wrestling Division I championships. (Reese Strickland, USA TODAY Sports)

Given Delgado’s resume, the transition on the grappling side of MMA was significantly less of a switch-up compared to learning striking from the ground up. At first, it was an uncomfortable concept, but Delgado since evolved.

“It’s kind of a natural reaction to want to pull away and close your eyes, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” Delgado said. “It’s funny to say that, but getting punched in the face isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’s not fun. It’s not fun, but you get used to it like anything else.”

In addition to working on his own combat sports skillset, Delgado teaches wrestling classes at Daniel Cormier’s academy. He tries to follow the same mottos he tells his students on the mats and be a living example of how they work.

“Enjoy the process. Enjoy the journey. Enjoy every part of it,” Delgado said. “I know sometimes it’s hard. I tell the kids, ‘Sometimes it’s hard. You don’t want to cut the weight. You’re exhausted. You don’t want to go to practice, but kind of when it’s done and the dust settles, you’re going to miss it.’ I’m just trying to kind of enjoy everything and see what happens, see where it takes me, and try to get as good as I can, try to work as hard as I can, try to do as well as I can.”

Bellator 266 takes place Saturday at SAP Center. The main card airs on Showtime after prelims on MMA Junkie.

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