Salinas wrestler aims to become Trinity Award winner with the help of former UFC fighter

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  • Daniel Cormier
    Daniel Cormier
    American sport wrestler and mixed martial artist

It’s the culmination of seven years of training. Blood, sweat and tears all poured out onto the wrestling mat over the years for Casey Bittner.

The 10-year-old boy clawed his way to two state championships and a national title. He’s wrestled the best in the nation on his journey to greatness, and he’s just at the start of an illustrious wrestling career.

To help him on this path to success he's enlisted help from former UFC fighter Daniel Cormier.

One down, two to go

After taking the national championship in Reno earlier this year, Bittner headed back into the gym to train hard for the Trinity Award.

The first of these contests, The Tulsa Kickoff took place Nov. 18-20. Bittner dominated the competition at the 10 and under, 73 pounds division, entering as the three seed and taking home the first-place prize.

Bittner eventually won the semifinal contest 4-2 against Marco Hutcherson from Pennsylvania and moved on to the finals to take on Tracen Fran from Iowa.

Daniel 'DC' Cormier, former UFC heavyweight champion trains two students inside the Daniel Cormier Wrestling Academy in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday  Nov. 23, 2021.
Daniel 'DC' Cormier, former UFC heavyweight champion trains two students inside the Daniel Cormier Wrestling Academy in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday Nov. 23, 2021.

“To be honest, my matches were pretty easy until the semifinals,” he said. “He was a really good scrambler and I had trouble getting my takedowns.”

After the difficult semifinal matchup, Bittner dominated Fran, 9-0 in the finals, and took home the Tulsa Kickoff trophy.

Contestants must win all three events in order to win the Trinity Award. The competition at the first event is always the toughest as the best in the nation show up to take their shot. This makes the Tulsa Kickoff likely the most difficult wrestling competition in the nation, if not the world.

In order to win the prestigious Trinity Award, Bittner must now win at the Tulsa Nationals in January and the Reno Worlds competition in April 2022.

“I feel really good about the chance to win,” Bittner said. “I got the hardest one out of the way.”

Casey Bittner's first place trophy for the 10 and under, 73 pounds division at the Tulsa Kickoff Classic rests on a mat inside the Daniel Cormier Wrestling Academy in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday  Nov. 23, 2021.
Casey Bittner's first place trophy for the 10 and under, 73 pounds division at the Tulsa Kickoff Classic rests on a mat inside the Daniel Cormier Wrestling Academy in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday Nov. 23, 2021.

To prepare for the next two tournaments, Bittner trains in Gilroy at Cormier’s gym. Cormier is a UFC commentator and is the second fighter in UFC history to hold titles in two weight classes simultaneously.

“I like training with Daniel,” Bittner said. “He’s supportive but tough and motivates you to get through.”

“We have a phenomenal group of really young talented boys right now,” said Daniel 'DC' Cormier, former UFC heavyweight champion. “Casey joined the team recently and when you could add a piece like that to your team, it literally just raises the level of all the kids already in the room.”

Cormier said it's all about the basics.

“Consistency is something we teach our wrestlers,” Cormier said. “We have a requirement, parents have to sign a code of conduct that states their kids will attend 75% of practices. They need to be at the gym… 12 workouts a month are required.”

“Honestly I always want to give the lesson that I learned through wrestling myself… there’s nothing more true than wrestling, you only get what you earned and what you deserved,” Cormier said. Wrestling will never lie to you, wrestling will never give you something that you haven’t earned and you'll learn harsh lessons if you don’t give the effort necessary to be successful in this sport.”

Cormier plans to use Casey as a motivational tool for others at his gym.

“I told him to bring his medal and trophy because his teammates need to see that it’s possible to become that,” Cormier said. There’s a lot of kids here that have been very successful but now it’s about elevating the group and when you get a kid like Casey Bittner, he absolutely elevates the group."

Competitive spirit

Bittner’s father, Drew, has a busy schedule but he doesn’t mind.

“(Casey) trains five to six days a week. It’s a lot of traveling,” Drew said. “But I couldn’t ask for a better kid, he’s always doing what he needs to progress.”

As for his father’s role in his wrestling career, it hasn’t always been easy.

“Over the years, I’ve found my role,” Drew said. "It can be stressful at times. I don’t want to push him too much.”

Casey began wrestling at age 3 and competing at 5. He was also a California State Champion in 2018 and 2019.

Daniel 'DC' Cormier, former UFC heavyweight champion demonstrates a wrestling move for Casey Bittner, a 10-year old wrestler from Salinas at the Daniel Cormier Wrestling Academy in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday  Nov. 23, 2021.
Daniel 'DC' Cormier, former UFC heavyweight champion demonstrates a wrestling move for Casey Bittner, a 10-year old wrestler from Salinas at the Daniel Cormier Wrestling Academy in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday Nov. 23, 2021.

While the Salinas fifth-grader keeps a tight focus on wrestling, he also manages a 4.0 GPA at Anthem Christian School. Outside of school, Casey enjoys playing video games and watching his favorite sports teams, the 49ers, and the San Francisco Giants.

It’s not just adult fighters making a difference for Casey, he likes training with wrestlers his age.

No matter where he is, Casey always remains competitive.

“Whether it’s a board game or fantasy football or wrestling,” Drew said. “He’s competitive at everything he does.”

That’s part of why Casey said he loves wrestling.

“The competition, the energy of scrapping and doing whatever it takes,” he said. "That’s what I love."

Casey Bittner, left, 10-year old wrestler from Salinas trains inside the Daniel Cormier Wrestling Academy in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday  Nov. 23, 2021.
Casey Bittner, left, 10-year old wrestler from Salinas trains inside the Daniel Cormier Wrestling Academy in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday Nov. 23, 2021.
Casey Bittner, and his wrestling teammates all get ready to go home after a long practice inside the Daniel Cormier Wrestling Academy in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday  Nov. 23, 2021.
Casey Bittner, and his wrestling teammates all get ready to go home after a long practice inside the Daniel Cormier Wrestling Academy in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday Nov. 23, 2021.

This article originally appeared on Salinas Californian: Former UFC fighter coaches 10-year-old Salinas wrestler

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