Sunday, April 1, 2007

Former baseball player Welker wins debut in cage match

By Toby Carrig

From the diamond to the cage.

That's the transition for Justin Welker, a Cape Girardeau native who competed in his first mixed martial events Saturday night at the A.C. Brase Arena.

In his debut, Welker defeated Steve Walden in 51 seconds at the 185-pound weight class.

Welker, a Central High graduate, played baseball at Mineral Area College and spent three years at Central Missouri State, where the team reached the NCAA Division College World Series each season. He was a redshirt during the team's national championship run in 2003, was a backup outfielder on the third-place team in 2004 and started about half the games and hit .283 for the CWS team of 2005.

Welker said he became involved in jiu-jitsu about two years ago. He has competed, including two top-six finishes earlier this month at the Arnold Classic Gracie World Championships in Columbus, Ohio. The event, named for Arnold Schwarzenegger, was part of a sports festival that also included bodybuilding competitions, a fitness expo and ultimate fighting.

"It's the biggest event I've been to in my life," Welker said.

Even though he competed in jiu-jitsu there, Welker had been adding to his repetoire with Muay Thai jiu-jitsu and wrestling to prepare for mixed martial arts. He trained Jackson resident Kyle Newell before Newell's two victories in January.

Welker, 24, admitted during Friday's weigh-in session that he was a little nervous about stepping into the cage for the first time.

"That adds a little extra fuel to the fire," he said. "I've been competing in sports all my life, and this is another way to keep competing."

Of course, there's always softball. "I don't know if I could slow down that much," Welker said.


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