Pat Downey doesn’t like to brag. It makes him uncomfortable.
While he’d rather let others do the talking for him, it’s hard not to focus on his wrestling credentials, especially considering his lengthy resume – including four collegiate stints at the University of Nebraska, Iowa Central Community College, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa.
Downey is a USA Wrestling world team member, ranked No. 10 in the world, an undefeated 2019 senior-level circuit, a Dave Schultz Memorial International champion, a competitor in the U.S. Open and World Team Trials, and NCAA All-American.
“It’s like they say: ‘When you’re good, you tell everyone about it. When you’re great they tell you about it,” Downey said in a recent interview with MMA Junkie.
After that highly decorated wrestling career, Downey has now declared his future will focus on mixed martial arts.
Sure, Downey has put it out in the open now, but MMA has always been in his future plans. Downey, 27, thinks he’s been destined to fistfight for as long as he’s been an athletic competitor.
“It couldn’t be more official… (but) ever since I can remember, I’ve enjoyed fighting and the whole concept of one-on-one, whether it’s judo, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, boxing, or just fighting street fights as a kid,” Downey said. “Whatever it is, I’ve always loved it.”
Fighting is something Downey hopes will pay the bills someday, but he’s also suffered because of it. Downey encountered legal issues during his time as a standout wrestling recruit, stemming from fights. He was arrested multiple times from 2009-2010 and lost his full-ride to Penn State University – but he never soured on his pursuit of combat sports glory.
“I had three first-degree felony assault charges just defending myself,” Downey said. “I was charged as an adult as a 16- o-17-year-old. Around that time, you start seeing guys like Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, and Chael Sonnen – guys that I idolized, if you will. They were pioneers of the sport – a new game, the UFC, MMA. I was always intrigued by it.
“For me, fighting you usually have to pay to get out of trouble. Now you’re telling me I can get paid to do this? Sign me up.”
He’s yet to make his professional debut, or even to go 100 percent all-in on fight training just yet, but Downey has intermingled with some of the sport’s best. Sure, he’s competed against and trained with some of wrestling’s crossover MMA stars like UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and contender Colby Covington. But he’s also made an effort to learn from non-wrestlers, too, including lethwei legend Dave Leduc and grappling superstars Gordon Ryan and Nick Rodriguez.
“I’m lucky enough to have a father who’s not only my dad and my best friend,” Downey said. “It’s almost like he strategically raised me in East Baltimore where I had no choice but to get good with my hands. I developed all these other skills. Wrestling was just what we saw as the best building block. Say you had a pyramid of things, we just thought that was the most important foundation.
“It was really organic. I just naturally gravitated toward wrestling. That being said, I believe the transition has been seemingly effortless. … Everything I do, I do for one reason: to be the best at it.”
After he makes a run at making representing the U.S. in the next Olympic Games (with trials happening in April), Downey will turn his attention to MMA full-time. “Fighting for money” can wait a little longer, especially considering how much fighting and wrestling go hand-in-hand. When that time comes, however, Downey already knows where he’ll likely end up training.
“Unless a really big offer comes that would change my life money-wise, I’m not rushing my debut just for the pure essence of I’m one of six athletes qualified for the Olympic trials,” Downey said. “That’s my true goal. That’s my ultimate goal. That said, I think American Top Team is the best spot to accomplish that goal in conjunction with developing all my skills.
“I’m 27, so I’m not in a rush, either. If I keep winning and making the world team and representing my country, I’ll do both. I’m not opposed to training for a fight, then training for the U.S. Open – or training for the Olympic trials, then training for a fight. I’ll be at American Top Team with Steve Mocco, Yoel Romero, Jorge Masvidal, and countless others are. I don’t even know if I’ll be working with these guys yet, but I just see the people that are there and the countless bodies. If I’m not ready from being there, then I’m not doing something right.”
As for his longer-term MMA aspirations, Downey is open to all opportunities. Recently signing with MMA management company SuckerPunch Entertainment, Downey said he’ll let his team lead the way.
“I trust my guys,” Downey said. “Whatever my guys think is best for me, I’m here to be an entertainer. I want to fight the best. I don’t want to get rich and famous. I want to be the best. That’s why I’m doing this. That’s probably why everyone is doing it, right?”
Once his MMA career kicks off, Downey predicts he’ll compete at either welterweight or middleweight. While it’ll still be a while before he’s ranked as one of the best in the world, Downey is amused by the idea of meeting his old pal Usman inside the cage, even invoking the welterweight champion’s Covington-appointed nickname.
“I’ll be ready to beat up Marty,” Downey laughed. “Then, I’ll be good. I’ll be the best. It doesn’t sound that hard to me. It’s laughable because no one really knows me and I’ve never fought before, but I know and he knows what I’m capable of. Time will reveal all truth. I don’t need to talk.”