Wrestling season is in full swing in New England and on February 6th at NEF 21, several former top-ranked state champion wrestlers will be stepping into the cage. As a result, NEF will be profiling these high caliber athletes over the next few weeks as part of our new ‘Wrestling For Fighting’ series. Stay tuned as we ask questions to learn more about why it’s so important to start in the sport of wrestling early and how a strong wrestling base can lead to success in the MMA cage. Today we’re speaking with Andrew Tripp, a two-time state wrestling champion for Massabesic High School in Waterboro, Maine.  Andrew had a very successful amateur career in MMA, and he was the number-one ranked welterweight in the region before turning pro last year.  He will compete in his second professional fight on February 6th at NEF 21 in Lewiston.

Andrew Tripp

Age: 23

Age Began Wrestling: 10

Wrestling Accomplishments: 2x ME High School State Champion

MMA Record: 1-0

Do you think starting wrestling at a young age is important and, if so, why?

Wrestling at a young age is HUGE! It teaches kids discipline for both body and mind and it creates a mental toughness that lasts a lifetime. It also gives young athletes a place to develop and for kids of every size from 103lbs all the way up to 250 pounds plus. My kids will be wrestling their way out of the womb.

What is your earliest wrestling memory?

I remember my Dad bringing me in for football signups as a 4th grader—it was my second year and the first was very fruitful (I finally found a contact sport haha). The coach of our team, Ed Lepage, also happened to be coach of the wrestling program and asked my Dad if he’d ever considered letting me give it a try. I took right to it and after two or three weeks of practice, I placed third at my first youth tourney  under the guidance of Ed and many others. I never expected to do well, but when I did, it created a drive that fed my entire career.

What is your proudest and/or most favorite moment from your time on the wrestling mat?

I think my proudest moment was during my junior year in high school, during our state championship tournament. I had lost the regionals the week prior to it, in the finals. I wasn’t seeded very high and a state championship was a long shot. I managed to make my way into the championship semifinals. I was facing one of the guys expected to make it into the finals and halfway through a neck and neck match, I hit a head and arm toss and got the pin for the win. By far the best part was the pride on my dad’s face I saw when I went back into the bleachers and the support of the team and their families—we realized we actually had a shot. I wrestled my heart out and won—there isn’t a feeling better than that.

How did wrestling help to prepare you for mixed martial arts competition?

Wrestling prepares young athletes for the grueling, strenuous task of hand-to-hand combat as it was meant to be since ancient Greece. It is no surprise that lots of wrestlers have transitioned into MMA, as it creates a great set of skills—teaching leverage, strength, body conditioning and, most of all, heart.

Why do some of the most successful fighters come from a wrestling background—in what way do you see the two sports as similar?

The most successful MMA fighters come from a wrestling background because they are built tough as nails. Wrestling breeds relentless animals and gives them the all the tools to put people into bad positions. So, when you add striking to the mix, wrestlers dominate. Both sports are similar in the aspect that they’re contact sports and not for the faint of heart!

What is your advice to young wrestlers that might want to step into the MMA cage one day?

Any wrestlers interested in stepping into the cage later on ought to get through school first. Fighting requires a lot of time and effort to put in all that training and it’s much better when you’re making a decent penny at your job. Go to college, get a degree, wrestle in college—even on a practice squad—maybe try some other grappling sports, some things I neglected to do.

What did wrestling teach you about life and about being a good person?

Wrestling taught me a lot about myself. It has shown me that the fruits of your labors will come to bear if you dedicate yourself and are determined. You will sacrifice things in life to get where you want to be, but with the right attitude, hard work, and a lot of heart—a man can do just about anything he sets his mind to. Don’t give up, ever.