Pitt Wrestler James Lledo Readies for Second Amateur MMA Fight at the Brawl in the Burgh Saturday Night
Pitt redshirt sophomore James Lledo just finished a long season on the mats competing with great wrestlers over the past few months.
He now readies himself to get back into fighting and is preparing for an amateur MMA match this Saturday night, April 15, at the Brawl in the Burgh 16 at Hollywood Casino at The Meadows in Washington, Pa.
MMA stands for mixed martial arts and includes different modes of fighting, but the basics include grappling, striking and ground fighting. The sport takes different techniques from a variety of combat sports from across the globe, including boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, ji-jitsu, karate, judo and more. The most popular MMA fights take place in the UFC, where the fighters compete against each other in the “cage” or also known as the “octagon.”
Lledo competed in his first MMA fight back in July 2022 at the Brawl in the Burgh 12. He dominated Derrick Brown II throughout the match and won by submission (armbar) in just Round 2.
“The feeling of winning a fight it’s a lot different than winning a wrestling match,” Lledo said. “It’s like winning a wrestling match on steroids.”
There is nine months separating the first time Lledo won that MMA fight to him fighting again on Saturday. Lledo spent the time between wrestling for Pitt, training with some of the best wrestlers in the country. This includes National Champion Nino Bonaccorsi at 197 pounds, and redshirt seniors in Micky Phillippi at 133 pounds and Cole Matthews at 141 pounds.
“It’s such a high level of competition in that room that you’re always thrown into the sharks,” Lledo said on Pitt wrestling. “Everyone’s so good and everyone in there’s a killer. You’re going to get better at wrestling if you just stick with it, because everyone’s so competitive in there. They’re all great teammates. Everyone wants to see each other get better and it’s nice to have that environment.”
Lledo worked with fellow redshirt sophomore Geoff Magin for his mixed martial arts training. He and Magin both fight under Stout PGH, with its training facility located in the Strip District neighborhood in Pittsburgh. At Stout, Lledo works with Will Morrill, who coaches him on kickboxing and Mike Wilkins who coaches him on different forms of MMA.
The two wrestlers worked on their various fighting skills, tactics and techniques two to three times a week and then would spar on Saturdays.
“Whenever we’re not wrestling, we’re looking something up that we can drill the next day,” Lledo said on his partnership with Magin. “Whether it’s jiu-jitsu or striking. He’s been huge. He’s been a great partner and a great teammate to me.”
Lledo continues to work on his wrestling, his strength, almost every day regardless of whether he’s in season or not.
While continuing to work on his fighting, Lledo received news that required him to go home about two and half weeks ago to be with his family. He went to Algeo MMA Kickboxing in King of Prussia, Pa., near his family, to train daily to stay in shape ahead of his fight. Much of his work during this time focused on striking, which is using different forms of attack to take down your opponent, like Muay Thai, boxing and kick boxing.
Wrestling serves as an important base or starting point for Lledo, but it isn’t enough for him to become successful as an MMA fighter. He has improved greatly on his jiu-jitsu transitions and standups when he’s on the ground, as well as his submission and finishing skills.
Lledo did not start last year at 184 pounds for Pitt, as Hofstra transfer redshirt junior Reece Heller assumed that starting role. He finished with a 13-5 record and earned ACC Wrestler of the week in late November for winning the Mat Town Open Trophy with a perfect 4-0 record.
“It was still good, and I got a lot better,” Lledo said on his 2022-23 season. “Not getting the results I wanted, it lit a fire under me to keep working and not give up. I told my coaches at the end of the season, “I know I’m a junior, but I’m not throwing in the towel yet and I’m still going to keep working hard.” Just keep improving. So, nothing’s changed. I just didn’t get the results I wanted.”
Bonaccorsi finished his Pitt career with the National Championship and now there is an opening at 197 pounds. Lledo has wrestled at 197 pounds before but isn’t interested in that spot next season. He said that first-year Mac Stout will become the starter for the 2023-24 season.
“In all seriousness, Mac Stout would beat the shit out of me,” Lledo said. “He’s next in line.”
Lledo comes up against Ken Burrs, who also has a 1-0 record, is 5-foot-9 and is 28 years old. Burrs won a unanimous decision against Jayson Mulnix at Brawl in the Burgh 14 in October 2022.
Burrs previously wrestled at Waynesburg and will provide a great challenge for Lledo. Much of Lledo’s family and friends will be in to watch his fight on Saturday, providing crucial support for him in his fight. He is extremely excited to fight Burrs and is ready for the challenge.
“I know that he’s a strong wrestler, but I think my wrestling is pretty good” Lledo said. “Neutralize his [attack] and get mine going. I said this last fight, do whatever I want to do. When I’m in there, you’ll see.”