On the surface, it seems that many hockey players would make good mixed martial arts fighters. In fact, Donald Brashear parlayed his playing career in the National Hockey League into a MMA career in 2011, with a first-round TKO victory in his first fight to boot.
Jon Delbrugge spent the first 16 years of his life being “pretty serious” about hockey, he said. However, at the time the now-30-year-old fighter was forced to choose between continuing his hockey career or pursuing something else. Delbrugge chose football and wrestling during his senior year of high school, where he accumulated a 27-7 record on the mat and ended up playing Division II college football at West Liberty University in West Virginia.
From there, Delbrugge began the journey that many college wrestlers undertake to MMA, which has led him to his welterweight title fight against champion Micah Terrill at Shogun Fights 14 on April 16 at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.
“MMA was getting real big during college and the guys who wrestled did amateur MMA in their free time,” Delbrugge said. “I told my brother about MMA and that I wanted to do it.”
Despite no formal jiu-jitsu training, Delbrugge won in the beginners division of his first North American Grappling Association tournament in Richmond, Virginia. It was then that Delbrugge decided to drop out of school to embark on a full-time fighting career.
Delbrugge connected with an old classmate who invited him to train at Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts in Elkridge. Now a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Delbrugge boasts a MMA record of 8-2 and is coming off back-to-back submission victories.
“I’ve done jiu-jitsu all over the world and placed at the Brazilian nationals and at tournaments in Europe and the U.S.,” Delbrugge said. “I’ve put in a long grind and developed real skills after spending six to seven years traveling the world and doing tournaments.”
Delbrugge also trains with Julius Clark and Team Lloyd Irvin in Maryland and worked on his striking in Thailand. Delbrugge’s success in jiu-jitsu tournaments and MMA has drawn the attention of the UFC, he said, including conversations with UFC President Dana White.
“I talked to Dana before and after my last fight,” Delbrugge said, adding that White was in attendance to film his reality show “Looking for a Fight.”
Delbrugge has been a fixture on the East Coast regional MMA circuit, including multiple fights in Shogun Fights, Cage Fury Fighting Championships and Ring of Combat. His experience in MMA and jiu-jitsu gives him a unique experience that he’s eager to share with his fellow fighters.
“You have to get in at the right time,” Delbrugge said. “I’ve seen guys who are 22-23 years old with no combat experience who want to do this, and it’s very hard for them to have a career and pay a car note or pay a mortgage.”
Nothing that “there’s no money to be made” unless fighters make it to the UFC, Delbrugge stresses to up-and-coming fighters that regional MMA should just be a springboard to a bigger career.
“You need to have a good record to get into the UFC,” he said. “You need to build your brand and have a good coach and good manager. Fighters need to build themselves up, and you have to love to fight.”
But while Delbrugge has designs on fighting under the bright lights of the Octagon and eventually transitioning into a post-fight career of providing commentary on MMA. However, Delbrugge is not looking past Terrill or his title opportunity at Shogun Fights.
A former lightweight, Delbrugge chose to move up to 170 pounds for his fight against Terrill “because it’s a good matchup and opportunity,” he said.
“Micah is battle-tested and has things I have to respect and prepare for,” Delbrugge said. “I feel with my sparring that I’m ready for all his threats, but anything can happen and I feel very confident.”
Delbrugge acknowledges Terrill’s height advantage and said “he does some things well, and some things not so well. I’m sure he says the same thing about me. But he’s going to face the best version of myself, and I feel like a caged lion.”