Talking with Pat Cummins, it's hard not to feel as though he's got star potential.
He's got a natural charm and magnetism; if his wrestling skills and athleticism allow him to become an outstanding fighter, he might end up being a major face in the sport. He's got a personality that is the right blend of tough guy and court jester to be genuinely engrossing, but none of it is forced. He's not putting on an act. When you talk to him, you get a legitimate sense that you're getting the real man himself, not a tailored image.
Others see Cummins as someone with that possibly transcendental personality, too. His manager, Ryan Parsons, only has three fighters in his stable. The other two beyond Cummins? Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Cummins’ mentor for the Fighter Exchange, and "King Mo" Muhammed Lawal. Parsons sees him in much the same mold.
"If you don't have a personality -- a real personality, one that is interesting -- then I'm not too interested," Parsons says. "For what I'm doing, I want guys who are great fighters, but also have something a little extra. That's why I only have three guys."
Cummins is actually fairly reminiscent of the aforementioned Lawal: not a particular distinguished high school wrestler, Cummins was a walk-on at Penn State. Cummins was never a collegiate wrestling star, but went on to be an even better international wrestler after his time as a Nittany Lion. His trajectory and peak in wrestling is similar to Lawal's, who went from junior college to Oklahoma State, couldn't reach the summit, and ended up becoming a better international freestyle wrestler after hitting his stride later than most.
Typically, Strikeforce undercards are mere native attractions, hum-drum local fighters who can each sell a handful of tickets filling up the stands. But, when Cummins makes his MMA debut on Dec. 4 in St. Louis, the undercard might legitimately have star-in-the-making.
|The Fighter Look|
When I meet Pat Cummins at the Highlands nightclub in Hollywood, he's got fewer teeth than I last remembered.
"Dude, what happened to your tooth?" I ask. "Did that happen in Rio?"
"Nah, man. I just lost it today," he laughs.
During the morning's EA Sports MMA promotion at City Walk in Hollywood, Cummins partook in some amusement park-type shenanigans. One of those exploits: a parachuting adventure designed to replicate the feeling of free falling from thousands of feet in the air.
"I asked them if it was safe to go up there with a false tooth," he says. "They said it was fine. Then I got up there, and the wind blew it right out."
"Not that you didn't already," I offer, "but you really, really look like a fighter now."
Trying to have a serious conversation with Jason "Mayhem" Miller is trying at the best of times.
Miller takes the "Mayhem" persona very seriously. Trying to get him to be genuine and not play up his character can be difficult. However, it seems that on some level, his trip to Brazil has changed him.
Talking to Miller at the EA Sports MMA launch party in Hollywood, it seems like the kind of environment that would be difficult to get a real genuine conversation out of Miller: in a nightclub, in Hollywood, with media, fighters and clingers-on to try to impress, and an open bar. Yet, it's a very different Jason Miller who talks about his experiences in Rio.
"Honestly, man, it was the best eight days of my life," he reveals. "I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world."
I don't know to what extent the trip that Miller and Cummins had in Rio was the most edifying or productive when compared to the training journeys of the other athletes involved in the Fighter Exchange. However, I do know that all the other fighters were extremely jealous that Miller and Cummins got to tour around the full gamut of elite gyms in Rio, from Nova Uniao to X-Gym to Brazilian Top Team to Nobre Arte and more.
And, don't even mention climbing Pedra da Gavea, hang-gliding, and so on. Green with envy were the other athletes.
"You know all the other fighters were jealous of the stuff you and Pat got to do in Rio," I tell him.
"Man, they should have been. It was amazing," he says.
It's hard to believe that this is the same guy who roughly two weeks ago, stood in a hotel room in San Jose antagonizing TJ De Santis and Jeff Sherwood as they attempted to do his pre-trip video interview, yelling "Press the button, Sherdog!" ad nauseum while they attempted to get the camera set up.
"I can't wait to go back, man," Miller says. When I ask when, or where he'll go, he's not quite sure. He doesn't have the details ironed out. However, the sheer enthusiasm he has for Rio is palpable.
Count me in with the other fighters among the jealous parties.