Wallace excelling in MMA

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 3, 2009

By Mike London
Rodney Wallace no longer carries a football, but he still studies film and follows the gameplan.
Wallace, who set career records for carries, rushing yards, 100-yard games and touchdowns at Shuford Stadium as a Catawba Indian in a workhorse effort that ended in 2004, has evolved into a mixed martial artist.
“MMA has been a comfortable fit for me,” said the Salisbury resident, who is on the undercard for the Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale in Las Vegas on Dec. 5. The event will air on Spike TV.
MMA is a sport that combines elements of boxing, wrestling, hand-to-hand combat and Jiu-Jitsu.
It’s basically one-on-one in a steel cage until someone is knocked out, passes out or taps out (submits).
Rounds generally start with stand-up boxing and conclude on the floor with opponents grappling, clinching and seeking to apply submission holds.
The powerful Wallace’s specialty is an armlock, and one of his strengths has been his elite wrestler’s ability to make a quick transition from fighting standing up to scrapping on the ground.
Wallace’s new sport is violent, but like football it’s controlled violence with a code of conduct. In MMA, the rules protect eyes, knees and groins.
“It’s a lot like football in the adrenaline rush you get when you go out there,” Wallace said. “The room is usually packed, and everybody is watching you do your thing. A lot of people are yelling dumb stuff at you, and there are also some people cheering for you.”
Wallace, 5-foot-9, usually fights at 205 pounds, the light-heavyweight limit.
That’s about 25 pounds less than he carried as the thundering tailback for some of the best teams in Catawba’s history.
He’s as strong as ever, just a little leaner and meaner, a little more cut, than in his college days.
Wallace, 27, was born for MMA. He was a state champion wrestler in South Carolina before Catawba recruited him. After college, he won tough-man contests in Mooresville and Albemarle.
Then, in 2007, he dabbled in professional boxing in and around Greensboro and won four of his five bouts.
Wallace became intrigued with MMA as a fan watching it on television. He began adding the Jui-Jitsu aspects of the sport to his repertoire through training sessions at Team Roc in Harrisburg and Gracie Jui-Jitsu in Concord.
Wallace is athletic enough and determined enough that he’s quickly pushed his way toward the upper levels of a fast-growing sport that was finally legalized in North Carolina in 2007.
Wallace has been classified as a professional since his first boxing match and made his MMA debut in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in April of 2008, winning a unanimous decision. He won his second MMA bout after flying to the Canary Islands and won it against a veteran of 22 bouts.
Last June, Wallace prevailed in Kansas City in a rugged match against Marcus Vanttinen, a highly regarded, 6-4 fighter from Finland.
Film study helped Wallace win that one.
“You don’t just rush in without a gameplan against an experienced opponent like that,” Wallace explained. “I study my opponent before fights online, try to figure out their strengths and their weaknesses and use that knowledge to my advantage.
“Then, if they make a mistake, I’m taking them down.”
Vanttinen made a mistake when he tried to knee Wallace, and Wallace took him down.
The victory against Vanttinen elevated Wallace’s profile, and he was invited to be part of an eight-man, one-night tournament in Aruba that was billed as “A Night of Vengeance.”
“A lot of guys wouldn’t have taken on three fights in one night,” Wallace said. “You have to use a little different strategy, pace yourself more. I was the least experienced fighter in the tournament, definitely wasn’t supposed to win that, but I won it.”
Wallace took the first two matches via submission holds ó an armbar and a “Kimura” armlock. Then he persevered in the championship match and earned a unanimous decision.
“Once I got my opponent’s arm and started cranking, they tapped out,” Wallace said. “I cranked slow on purpose. I’m not interested in breaking anyone’s arm or injuring anybody. The higher up you go in this sport, the less likely injuries are because opponents respect each other.”
The surprise victory in Aruba ó everyone but Wallace, his teammates and trainers were shocked ó raised Wallace’s record to 9-0 and made him a hot commodity in MMA circles. He was offered a four-fight contract by Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“UFC is the NBA of mixed martial arts, and once you’re in UFC, everyone knows who you are,” Wallace said. “I used to make my own fights with promoters, but that win in Aruba boosted my marketability a lot. Now I’ve got a contract, and UFC is talking to my agent about my fights instead of talking to me.
“The biggest change now is being with UCF means I’ve got sponsorships. I’ve taken fights to win $3,000. Now I might get $3,000 just for putting on a pair of shorts sold by one of my sponsors.”
Wallace’s level of marketability is also enhanced by his world-class nickname ó “Sho’nuff The Master.”
Wallace explained that the exotic nickname is derived from the main bad-guy character in the 1985 action movie “The Last Dragon.”
“The Last Dragon” includes plenty of comedy, but Wallace knows his next fight will be no laughing matter.
He’s been matched up with Brian “All-American” Stann, a former World Extreme Cagefighting light-heavyweight champion. Stann is a former Navy football player who was a war hero in Iraq.
Their match will be held at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
Between now and Dec. 5, Wallace ó who once rushed for 176 yards in a single half against Lenoir-Rhyne ó will work out, polish techniques and examine film of his latest opponent with the same diligence with which he once studied Carson-Newman’s defense.
It’s a fight that could put Wallace on the road to even bigger things, and he’s confident he’ll keep his perfect MMA record intact.
“So far no scars and no black eyes,” Wallace said with a smile. “I haven’t been put in a bad position yet, and there hasn’t been a fight yet where I couldn’t do what I went in there planning to do.
“So far I’ve been able to find the right play.”