Wrestlers mix it up (martial arts, that is)

Brandon Zeris, Copy Editor

From grappling their way to All American honors on a mat to submitting opponents in a ring, at least three former All American Pitt-Johnstown wrestlers have made a transition to mixed martial arts.

Chris Dempsey and Eli Garshnick are fighting at a mixed martial arts professional level while Shane Valko and Patrick Walsh are amateur fighters.

Pitt-Johnstown wrestling coach Pat Pecora said many wrestlers try to transition to mixed martial arts.

“It’s a natural extension of the wrestling world.”

Pecora said wrestling skills are necessary to have any success in the mixed competition.

“You have to have a wrestling background. The skills you learn in wrestling take the longest to develop, so it’s good to have those skills early.”

Garshnick, a 2007 graduate, has a 6-4 professional record and a 12-5 record overall. He said he trains at Johnstown’s Cold Steel Gym along with Dempsey.

Garshnick said mixed martial arts are different from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which is a promotion company.

“It’s not like (ultimate fighting). I fight for six or seven different promoters. If they want you on their card, you fight.”

Dempsey, with a 3-0 record, said he fights whenever he gets an offer.

“Whenever you can get a fight, you take it,” said the former Pitt-Johnstown heavyweight.

Despite putting in so much time training, Garshnick said he has put his education to work, as a Cambria County Prison correctional officer.

Dempsey said he has not applied for any jobs since leaving college because he wants to focus on his fighting.

“If this doesn’t work out I want to get into homeland security,” he said. Dempsey was graduated with a political-science degree.

Dempsey said he got involved with fighting by talking to Carlton Haselrig, who is the only person to earn six NCAA wrestling titles, all with Pitt-Johnstown.

“I’m actually living with him right now,” Dempsey said. Haselrig also played in the National Football League for five seasons, and was named to the Pro Bowl as an offensive guard while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has a 3-2 mixed martial arts record.

Dempsey said to become a professional fighter in Pennsylvania, you must apply to the State Athletic Commission in Harrisburg.

“Once you apply, they vote on you based on your information.”

Two-time national qualifier Walsh is fighting at the amateur level and has posted a 5-2 record.

2010 NCAA Division II National Champion wrestler Valko is also competing at the amateur level while focusing on his career in sports and medicine sales.

Valko said he has been pressured to turn professional, but he said he does not think he is ready yet.

“I need to work on my boxing and jujitsu first. I need to improve before turning pro.”

Valko said he is 3-0, but his record should have a few more tallies on it.

“I have had 10 fights canceled already because people don’t want to fight me once they know my background,” he said.

Pecora said while their careers in wrestling have come to a close, Pitt- Johnstown wrestlers have found a way to continue competing.

“They gotta fill that competitive need somehow.”