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Article: #WrestlingWednesday Feature: Darren Elkins Goes From State Champ to UFC Star

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There were times growing up as a wrestler in Portage that Darren Elkins wished he could have punched his opponent in the teeth.


The 2004 state champion never acted on those impulses in high school. Now he makes a living trying to knock guys out. Elkins is a seasoned mixed martial arts fighter who is currently ranked No. 12 in the world in the UFC featherweight division. Elkins was the first featherweight to win five consecutive fights.


“I always tell people this,” said Elkins. “I like to get wrestlers into the gym and I tell them why I like MMA. I think back to all the times in wrestling when I was like, man, I just want to punch this guy. Maybe he was taking cheap shots at me, or elbowing me. There was nothing I could do about it then. But now, if I want to punch my opponent, that’s encouraged. They pay me to do it.”


In 2004 Elkins was one of a host of state champions that went on to have great careers after high school. The list of state champions that year include Angel Escobedo (won an NCAA championship), Reece Humphrey (on the USA wrestling team), Elkins, Matt Coughlin and Alex Tsirtsis. Eric McGill, another former Indiana great, was a runner-up that year.


Elkins credits his wrestling background, and the mentality he got from coach Ed Pendowski at Portage, for part of his MMA success.


“Wrestling teaches you to train hard,” Elkins said. “I’ve always put in the work. I put in the time training and each fight I strive to be better than I was before. I think the grinding style we had at Portage transferred to MMA very well. Coach Pendowski was all about takedowns. We would take people down, then let them up. In MMA you want those takedowns but you aren’t staying on the guys because they can get you in a submission.”


He also credits some of his toughness from growing up with an older brother, Rickie, who was a state runner-up in high school.


“Rickie was always bigger than me,” Darren said. “He always got the best of me. He was ranked No. 1 in high school in his weight class. It wasn’t until I took on fighting and he started getting out of shape a little that I could beat him.”


Elkins has a professional record of 20-5. He is hoping to get back in the UFC Octagon soon. Right now he trains six days a week in Indiana. Before his last fight, a unanimous decision over Rob Whiteford in UFC Fight Night in October, Elkins had trained in Sacramento with Team Alpha Male.


Elkins is hoping to climb back in to the top 10 rankings, a place he has been before.


“Right now it’s just about climbing back into that top 10,” he said.


Although Elkins says having a wrestling foundation is a huge asset in MMA, you have to be able to develop more skills to be successful.


“You really have to develop your all around fighting techniques,” he said. “You can’t just rely on wrestling.”


Elkins also knows the importance of staying healthy. He does not eat processed food. He cuts down on sugar and salt and only eats organic. That has helped with maintaining his weight for fights.


As far as athletic highlights, Elkins doesn’t have one favorite.


“I’ve had so many great moments, and I really don’t put one over the other,” he said. “Winning state was one of my best moments. It was something I dreamed of since I was 5-years-old. Then, getting called to fight in the UFC, and then winning in the UFC. Those are all very great memories for me.”


Elkins is married and has an 8-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. His daughter swims competitively and his son has started wrestling.


“Right now it’s his first year,” Elkins said. “I don’t want to push him. I want him to enjoy it. Right now my daughter goes to practices too because she said if my son gets to wrestle, she does too.”


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