Wesleyan's Bedard puts wrestling skills to use when school is out

Jeff Bedard doesn't have your typical summer job like other teachers.

You won't find Bedard teaching summer school or driver's education, instead you can find him inside an octagon competing in mixed martial arts.

The Wesleyan wrestling coach has competed in MMA since 2002 and competes in the sport during the summer time while school it out.

"I've only fought one time while I was teaching during the school year," said the seventh-grade physical education teacher. "I try not to do that. I did that last year and it was too much of me teaching and coaching then after that I was trying to go and work out."

Bedard first got into MMA while he was living in Colorado. With more than 15 years of wrestling experience Bedard was asked to help train a fighter on the ground before an Ultimate Fighting Championship match.

"I didn't know what I was doing, I was just wrestling," Bedard said. "In the meantime, they started showing me submissions and stuff like that and I was like 'Man, I kind of like this.'"

MMA is a combat sport with a mixture of boxing, kick boxing, wrestling, jujitsu, judo, karate and tae kwon do. Fights are typically three, five-minute rounds with bouts being stopped due to submission (when a fighter taps out), knockout, referee stoppage or decision.

Bedard began to enjoy MMA more and more before he eventually got a fight of his own in California in the World Extreme Cage fighting.

"My original opponent didn't show up and his original opponent didn't show up, so they came back there and were like this guy has got a lot of experience and is tough. We'll double your money if you'll go ahead and fight him," Bedard said. "I thought well I've already been training, so I'll take it and luckily it worked out."

Bedard beat Antonio Banuelos in 47 seconds in the first round by submission with a guillotine choke, earning him $500. Four years later, Bedard is still undefeated with an 8-0 record.

"The first time you ever step into that cage, it's scary," Bedard said. "I remember turning around and looking at Bob Cook, who was my manager at the time, and saying 'Bob, what in the world am I doing here?' He said 'It's too late now, you better turn around and fight.'"

At 5-foot-5, 145 pounds, the 36-year-old Bedard is one of the top fighters in Georgia and the Peach State native draws a good crowd at his in-state fights. Nicknamed Popeye by his former manager Cook because of his size and strength, Bedard no longer settles for a few hundred dollars a fight and now makes about five times as much as he did for his first fight.

"My whole objective is I want to use my wrestling," said Bedard, who wrestled in high school, college, the Army and with the Sunkist Kids. "I want to take them down and do what they call ground and pound. That's my game plan in every fight no matter what. I just stick to what got me there and my strong suit and so far it's worked out really well."

Bedard typically fights in smaller organizations of MMA, but has had a hard time finding a fight lately. He hasn't fought since last September and has been looking for a fight the last two months, but has not been unsuccessful.

"For whatever reason I'm not getting a lot of fights whether they don't want to fight or promoters don't want to pay you," he said.

Bedard hopes to have a fight on Aug. 11 at Club Europe hosted by Brett Moses and his Fight Party Productions.

"There's not a question in my mind (Bedard) is the No. 1 fighter at his weight class in the state," said Paul Creighton, who trains Bedard. "He's probably in the top three in the world at his weight class."

Bedard trains locally with Creighton at Creighton Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Duluth. He also trains at the Hardcore Gym in Athens, where Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters Forrest Griffin and Rory Singer have trained.

"He's the perfect example of a fighter as anyone around," said Creighton, who competed in the UFC in 2002. "He's good all around - on his takedowns, ground game, conditioning, everything."

Due to the rough nature of the sport it is often stereotyped as organized bar fighting or tough man competition, which is why Bedard normally does not talk about his involvement in MMA.

"Normally, to be honest with you, I don't tell people," Bedard said. "Unless they find out or someone else says something, I don't bring it up because of the stereotype. They'll think 'Oh, he's getting into street fights' or something like that. Or they think 'Oh, he's wanting to fight all the time.' It's not like that."

Despite the stereotype, there is still the reality of being severely injured since it is fighting.

"It's a concern for me. I've always told myself if I ever got held down and beat up for 15 minutes, then I'm done," Bedard said. "But there are always situations where you get hit with a lucky punch or kick or knee and get knocked out, that wouldn't bother me so much.

"What would bother me if someone was taking me down and pinning me against the cage and beating up on me and I couldn't get away from a guy my size, then that would give me problems."

What's not a concern is Bedard's involvement with MMA while teaching at the Norcross private school. Bedard leaves his fighting in the octagon and has helped turn around the Wesleyan wrestling program in his two years with the school.

"Jeff is a terrific competitor. Our kids really like and respect him a lot," said Marc Khedouri, dean of students for the high school at Wesleyan. "He's done a lot for the program."

In his two years as Wesleyan wrestling coach, Bedard has led the Wolves to the Class AA state duals tournament twice, a feat that had never been accomplished before at Wesleyan.

So what do Bedard's wrestlers think about their coach competing in MMA?

"I think they think it's neat," Bedard said.

And that's cooler than having a coach who teaches summer school.