Eric Bradley may be nicknamed “Sideshow,” but he wants to be the main event.
The former Timberlane wrestling star, who enjoyed a terrific All-American career at Penn State and was also a national boxing champion despite suffering two fractures of his back, continues to try climbing the mixed martial arts ladder.
An appearance last week on Spike TV in the Fightmaster Bellator series should definitely help his cause. He won a unanimous decision with an impressive combination of wrestling and boxing moves to advance to the 16-fighter Bellator tournament in which the winner will receive $100,000.
After winning his fight last week, during which he got raves as the best wrestler among the 32 contestants in the field, Bradley had to choose on TV one of four famous MMA coaches to train him for the rest of the tournament. He picked Greg Jackson of Jackson’s MMA and will train under him as long as he remains alive in the tournament
“I’m hoping this springboards me so I can get consistent fights and eventually get a (championship) belt,” said the 31-year-old Bradley, who trains out of Las Vegas. “Before signing with Fightmaster, I was 7-1 in the last year, but I had a hard time getting fights.
“I’ve always had to struggle to get fights — it’s been a pain. Some guys back out and something always seems to happen at the last minute.”
Although Bradley, whose nickname stems from his similar appearance to Sideshow Bob on the Simpsons, is starting to get along in years, he’s confident that — given the chance — he can be a champion again.
“I’m feeling pretty good and I think I’m in about as good shape as I’ve been,” said Bradley, who usually fights at 170 pounds. “I feel strong and I have the background in wrestling and boxing (to be successful). I feel great about my chances (in the tournament). I am a dark horse because I have been off the scene for awhile but I haven’t stopped training.”
There’s a good if unfortunate reason why Bradley was “off the scene for awhile.”
Two years ago, Bradley hardly seemed like he’d be successful again. In February of 2011, he was sentenced — along with former teammate Patrick Cummins — to county jail for breaking and entering and stealing from fraternities on the Penn State campus.
Obviously, spending any length of time in jail can be a humbling experience and get even the best of men down. But friends and family helped Bradley pull through the 253 days he was imprisoned.
Support from former Timberlane assistant and psychologist Dr. Jason Holder was particularly helpful.
“He wrote me every week and he left me a voice mail before I went to jail that said ‘Eric Bradley was on top before and I know he’ll be on top again.’ That meant a lot to me and I used to replay it when I got down.
“It was tough (being in jail), being around so many people, being told what to do all the time, but I made the best of it. I made some bad choices and I had to pay for it. I accept that.”
While in jail, Bradley did all he could to stay in shape.
“I wasn’t training specifically for fighting, but I did eight months of mental toughness training and got creative to stay in good condition,” he said.
“We had an hour of recreation a day — we did a lot of pushups and situps, things like that, and we’d do resistance training with ourselves (Cummins and Bradley).”
Now on probation, Bradley feels that — difficult as it was — he learned from his time spent behind bars, and he’s up front about it.
“If anything, it’s made me more accepting of people,” he said. “A lot of people in jail were just like me. They just made some bad choices and it affected them just like it did for me. Most of the people I met weren’t bad people at all.”
Nevertheless, Bradley learned his lesson and he’s hoping it didn’t sidetrack him from his goal of winning another championship.
And, based on his performance last week, he may well be on a path to do just that.
The Eric Bradley file Age; 31 Hometown: Plaistow Current residence: Las Vegas High school: Undefeated (48-0) New England champion, unscored on and ranked second nationally at 189 pounds as Timberlane senior College: Recovered from two back fractures to become two-time Big 10 wrestling champion and two-time All-American, finishing fourth in NCAAs in 2005. Also became NCAA national club boxing champion MMA experience: Was 2-1 as welterweight fighting for Elite XC in 2008. Was 7-1 as independent prior to invitation to join Fightmaster Bellator Time behind bars: Spent 253 days in jail in State College, Pa., as sentence for burglary charge from 2008 incident