Photo courtesy of William Burkhardt of bjjpix.com
In his own way, Torryn Heffelfinger is sending the message of wrestling to Brazil.
Formerly a 149-pounder in the Spartans’ program, he is among a growing movement towards the use of traditional wrestling to succeed in the Brazilian combination of martial arts, self-defense and combat sport known as jiu-jitsu. His work in training fellow competitors and youngsters in the sport has also led him to work with top-flight mixed martial arts and Ultimate Fighting Championship athletes.
“I didn’t know too much about (jiu-jitsu) in college,” he said. “Two or three days after my senior wrestling season ended, I went to a gym in Warsaw, as I had heard they offered it. Even though I accidentally walked into their mixed martial arts class, I fell in love with both sports soon after.
“It such an easy transition from traditional wrestling,” he added. “The competitive scoring is very similar with the biggest difference being a wrestling pin being called a submission. Since I picked it up, I’ve leaned on what I learned in wrestling to add to jiu-jitsu and take it a step further to work on my MMA training.”
Upon realizing he wanted to develop more in jiu-jitsu, the 2009 Manchester University graduate didn’t think a two-month training trip to the South American country would lead to a career possibility two years ago.
Now, he can’t imagine not being there.
“I had done some searching for places to train for MMA and jiu-jitsu and Brazil, especially Rio de Janeiro, came up quite a bit,” he said. “I noticed Connection Rio was one of the best opportunities, so I contacted, Dennis Asche, the owner, and it worked out well. My girlfriend and I decided to move down here right after I got back from my training trip.
“I’m currently facilitating one of the hostels for Connection Rio and coaching with the American Top Team Barra and legendary UFC coach and trainer Andre Bekei at his fight camp,” he added. “So many people come and ask about my wrestling background and how it has helped me. Due to that knowledge, I’ve been able to get involved with a lot of elite athletes.”
His work has also led to be part, on a small scale, of the Brazilian 2016 Olympic scene.
“Brazil really wants to be successful across the board at its home Olympics,” he said. “That includes wrestling. I train at the Brazilian national team center which includes sessions with the national team. That gives me a chance to work with some of their coaches and athletes on different things due to what I do with Bekei’s camp and the wrestling/jiu-jitsu club.”
The MU alum’s work isn’t limited to the mat, either. He and others are reaching out to give younger children chances as well.
“(Brazilian Olympian) Antoine Jaoude and myself are trying to bring used wrestling equipment (shoes, singlets, etc.) down here to help the youth wrestling programs,” Heffelfinger said. “Equipment can be really expensive, and a lot of these kids don't have the money to buy what they need.
“A former wrestler of mine, Jared Fekete, who will be wrestling collegiately in the United States this year, is doing a charity clinic to raise money and collect gear at the end of July for the youth programs in Rio's favelas,” he added. “I’m also working with a friend in the military to try and figure out how best to get the word out and get equipment to the kids.”
The competitive fire still burns inside Heffelfinger, too, as he represents Connection Rio, with Asche as his trainer, and is sponsored by Pride Fight Wear.
“I’m in the process of trying to set up my first MMA fight,” he said. “I had had some chances previously but each of them didn’t work out. Hopefully, I’m getting close soon.
“I also compete in jiu-jitsu and have been pretty strong in our recent competitions,” he added.
Heffelfinger hopes what he’s doing gives others an opportunity in all three sports.
“I’m always advocating wrestling, MMA and jiu-jitsu,” he said. “They have each given me so many opportunities in my life.”