Devil’s Advocate played host to four big Sun Devil advocates Saturday — four very big advocates.
UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez joined fellow UFC veterans and ASU wrestling alums Ryan Bader, Aaron Simpson and CB Dollaway at the popular Tempe bar to sign autographs in support of the ASU wrestling program.
At a cost of $30 per item, UFC fans got to have their memorabilia autographed and take pictures with the fighters.
The signing raised roughly $1,500 for the wrestling program which only receives a portion of its funding from the school. The rest comes from the team’s own fundraising and public donation.
The support of ASU’s UFC stars is a large part of that fundraising.
“It’s vital,” assistant wrestling coach Brian Stith said. “On a Division I level, wrestling is a dying sport especially in the West, so to have the influence and the support of these guys is huge.”
The wrestling program was originally cut in 2008 because of budget woes, which caught Velasquez completely off-guard, especially given the program’s success.
“I never though it would get cut,” Velasquez said. “We’d always been competitive in the nation, always had a good history of wrestling, so when I found out it was getting cut, it was just shocking.”
All four fighters are busy to say the least. Velasquez has to deal with all of the responsibilities that comes along with being the UFC’s heavyweight champion. Bader, Dollaway and Simpson co-own Power MMA & Fitness, their gym they founded in Gilbert, and all train to be elite athletes in mixed martial arts’ premiere organization.
That still doesn’t stop them from supporting the wrestling program that gave them their start.
“This is where I came from, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for ASU wrestling,” Bader said. “Get back, raise money, help them out, anything I can do I’m going to do it, I’ll always be involved in ASU wrestling.”
The same rationale drew Velasquez to the fundraiser.
“I just want to help out,” Velasquez said. “I went to school here, I wrestled here. If it weren’t for ASU, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
The Pac-12 is dwindling in terms of wrestling. The conference has six teams and only three that are normally associated with the conference: ASU, Stanford and Oregon State.
UA, Oregon, Washington and UCLA all used to have wrestling programs before they were cut.
Simpson described ASU’s wrestling program as “the last of a dying breed.”
“We’re kind of the last program in the West Coast with Stanford and Oregon State still surviving too, we have to keep this program down here on order for wrestling to survive at the college ranks,” Simpson said.
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