Nearly two years ago, Jeff Bedard was one of the top wrestling coaches in Georgia. He had transformed an average wrestling program at Wesleyan into a state championship team in three years.
But one thing was always in the back of his mind. An occasional Mixed Martial Arts competitor, he always wondered how he would fare if he devoted all of his time to the sport.
So the 2007 Daily Post Coach of the Year stepped down as head wrestling coach and began training full-time in MMA. On Jan. 22, he accomplished one of his lifetime goals, winning the 135-pound welterweight title in the PFC.
"(The title) means a lot, especially at my age," said Bedard, now a community wrestling coach for top-ranked Collins Hill. "I didn't know if I would ever get a shot at a title. I kind of got lucky with it."
Bedard turned 39 two weeks after claiming the Palace Fighting Championship, which is the second largest MMA organization behind the World Extreme Cagefighing for lightweight fighters.
But it wasn't an easy climb for the former three-time high school wrestling state champion.
When Bedard left Wesleyan he signed a contract with WEC. He won his first fight by unanimous decision to remain unbeaten at 9-0. Just three months later he took a fight with Miguel Torres on two weeks notice, with the impression that the winner would get a title fight next.
In a bout televised nationally on SpikeTV, Bedard was submitted with a triangle choke by Torres in the first period for his first loss.
"I think about that fight every day," Bedard said. "I would love to have a rematch. Don't get me wrong, he's a good fighter, but I think I can beat him. I just made a mistake with him."
Bedard got a second loss when a shoulder injury, resulting from his opponent's illegal tactic, led to a corner stoppage. Nearly a year after that setback, Bedard fought back.
After a win at Wild Bill's Fight Night in Duluth, he still wasn't sure where his MMA career was headed until some good fortune. A last-minute injury forced a fighter out of a PFC title bout, so Bedard was offered the spot on five weeks notice.
He then beat Shawn Klarcyk by third-period submission to claim the PFC title.
"It's always great when you set a goal and reach it," Bedard said. "Hopefully, me leading by example will inspire the kids."
With the title in hand, Bedard said he still plans to compete in MMA for at least another year and defend his title. But Bedard knows his time as an MMA fighter is winding down, so he plans to open his own MMA gym by the end of the summer or early fall.
"I didn't want to look back 10 or 15 years down the road and say what if," Bedard said. "I won't have any regrets now. Now I can look back and be satisfied. I won't have any doubt in my mind."