Undefeated Wyoming wrestling alum Archie Colgan a rising star in MMA world

·9 min read

Aug. 6—Archie Colgan was told that former athletes often thrive in sales.

Their work ethic, discipline and desire make them ideal for a career where rejection and overcoming objections are the norm. Colgan was told the thrill of chasing a sale often satisfies their competitive itch.

The former University of Wyoming wrestling standout bought into those ideas when he accepted a position with a financial services company after graduating in 2018. Colgan even saw validity in those statements as he moved on to a logistics company and later a widely known copier, printer and software firm.

There were moments in those jobs he felt a slight stirring in his soul reminiscent of what he felt when he stood across from an opponent and waited for the referee to blow the whistle to start a match.

The feeling didn't come often enough, though. The times it did only served as a reminder of what he was missing.

"I was hoping I could find something I liked about those jobs, but it was not feeding that competitive side for me," Colgan said. "Things were going pretty well, but I wasn't feeling satisfied or fulfilled."

A chance meeting with a former UW wrestler at the gym changed the trajectory of Colgan's life and helped him find a career path that is leaving him satisfied and fulfilled — mixed martial arts.

Colgan is 5-0 as a professional. That includes a TKO during his debut with Bellator, which is one of the largest MMA promotions in the world.

The beginning

Justin Salas spent three seasons wrestling for UW after winning two state championships and earning All-American honors at Green River High. He lettered for the Cowboys in 2002, but left the school in 2003 to pursue an MMA career.

Salas went 12-7 as a pro, and spent much of his career under the UFC umbrella. His last bout for MMA's biggest promotion came in 2012. Salas eventually took up heating and air conditioning work while also moonlighting as a kickboxing instructor at a Denver-area gym owned by Sparta Combat League CEO Jeff Cisneros.

Salas continued to follow UW wrestling after he left Laramie and recognized Colgan, who had started working out at the gym. He struck up a conversation with Colgan, and the pair eventually started working out together.

Colgan had been an MMA fan since elementary school, but hadn't given much serious consideration to pursuing it prior to graduating from UW. He was intrigued by the thought when he met Salas and eventually asked Salas to teach him proper punching technique.

"I'm not a street fighter, or a guy who likes to get into random confrontations, but I've been in a few fights over the years," Colgan said. "I was always able to get through those situations by knowing how to move my body and wrestle. I really wanted to know the right way to throw a punch.

"I have a video of when we first started training and think, 'Man, I look rough.' I can't believe how far off I was."

Teaching Colgan how to throw a proper punch gave Salas a hint of Colgan's ability. Colgan had raw power, learned quickly and was willing to put in the repetitions to learn skills that didn't come naturally.

"He was really raw, but he's a really good athlete," Salas said. "There are a lot of wrestlers who try to make the move to MMA and can't do it. They're national champion and multiple-time All-American guys who just aren't great at fighting because they're too stiff.

"Fighting is more of a dance and more about fluid motion with your feet. Wrestlers who have good footwork and good fakes can make that transition easier. Archie has that ability, and he also has incredible power."

A few months into their friendship, Colgan was hitting the mitts with Salas one day when he expressed his desire to give MMA a try. At the time, he was thinking about doing one amateur bout just to get a feel for it. Salas made connections to arrange the fight, but wasn't thrilled with the opponent they pitted Colgan against.

"The guy was a NCAA D2 All-American wrestler and was supposed to be one of the top prospects at the time," Salas said. "I wouldn't have chosen that for his first fight."

Colgan knocked his opponent out early in the bout. His foe stayed on the floor so long Colgan had started to worry and feel remorseful for the blow he had delivered.

"That guy totally quit MMA after that," Salas said. "That's when I knew (Colgan) had what it takes if he was willing and able to put the time in."

Colgan had two more amateur fights before he decided to stop chasing sales leads and start pursuing an MMA career.

Striking strength

Colgan went 111-41 during four seasons wrestling for UW. He was a two-time NCAA Tournament qualifier. A 5-4 blood round loss kept him from earning All-American honors during his junior campaign.

The native Coloradan knows he could take control of most bouts by using his wrestling abilities. However, he prefers to throw punches and strikes.

"My wrestling compliments my striking," Colgan said. "I do a lot of level changes and fakes. I'll touch the body or the legs. It gets people reacting and distracted because they're so worried about the takedown.

"That's when I'm able to really start throwing punches."

Only one of Colgan's eight bouts has gone the distance. Five have ended prematurely because of punches, one was halted early because of an elbow strike, and another win came by submission. His other triumph might not have gone to the cards if Colgan hadn't broken a bone in his right hand with a punch to the head midway through the opening round.

That injury required surgery March 18. Colgan returned to lightly striking inanimate objects six weeks after the procedure. Grappling came a few weeks later. He didn't throw a full punch until he stepped in the ring with Bryan Nuro on July 22. Colgan ended that fight with a third-round TKO.

Colgan and Salas know there is going to come a day when he's going to have to lean on his wrestling to win, but they're trying to pioneer a style that gives Colgan as many options as possible. It's a style Salas started honing during his own career.

"I'm trying to start Achie where I left off," Salas said. "We want to get guys off balance thinking about the takedown and opening themselves up for strikes. If they can't defend the takedown, we'll still take them down. We're trying to create a hybrid style."

Prime practice

Salas is Colgan's primary coach, but he can't work with Colgan as often as necessary because he holds a full-time job outside MMA. Salas pointed Colgan to other coaches, including his former coach, Trevor Wittman.

Wittman has worked with UFC lightweight title contender Justin Gaethje since 2011. He recently started teaching striking to UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. Those relationships helped Colgan start training regularly with two of MMA's top fighters.

"(Gaethje) took care of me in some training situations he really could have taken advantage of," Colgan said with a chuckle. "He has helped me get a lot better at a rapid pace, but I still put myself in bad spots against guys like (Gaethje and Usman), who have 20 or 30 fights under their belts.

"I'm only on my eighth fight. Those guys know that, and they're good at pointing out things I can do better or where I went wrong."

Gaethje was an NCAA Division I All-American wrestler at the University of Northern Colorado. He is 23-4 in MMA.

Usman won a national championship while wrestling for NCAA Division II Nebraska-Kearney in 2010. He was the national runner-up the season before that, and finished third nationally in 2008. Usman has since gone 20-1 in MMA.

Usman struggled to find quality training partners, because most of them either couldn't match his talent or were afraid to push too hard for fear of being the reason he had to cancel a bout. Colgan was the antithesis on both fronts.

"I couldn't just walk in there and be a half-assed partner and make him want to train with me because I let him do whatever he wanted," Colgan said. "I understood he was in the middle of a training camp and trying to retain his world championship and needed to be pushed.

"I was worried I wasn't going to be able to give him enough, but I ended up giving him fits in some areas. I got to go against the pound-for-pound best guy in the world and see where I was at."

Usman has since shouted out Colgan in multiple interviews. He has credited Colgan as both a training partner and an up-and-coming talent.

"Respect in our world is earned and not given," Colgan said. "I wasn't intimidated by him, and I wasn't holding back against him. He respects and likes that."

Colgan's approach is going to take him a long way, Salas said.

"The thing that separates those at the highest level is consistency," the coach said. "Consistency can slip with life events, but I've never had to worry about whether Archie is practicing.

"Even when I couldn't be there, he was going to practice on his own every single day. He's still doing that, and it's allowing him to pass up other fighters like it's nothing."

Colgan spent the week after the Nuro bout relaxing, recovering and spending time with his wife and young child.

"I also get a little fat the week after a fight, if I'm being honest," Colgan said with a laugh.

He knows he most likely has one more bout in the offing this year, but would like two, if possible.

"I'd like to get another fight in October and, maybe, December," Colgan said. "If I have it my way, and my body holds up and I don't get injured, I'll get right back to practice and get ready for another fight."

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.