Two-time national wrestling champion Austin O'Connor, a St. Rita graduate, won his MMA debut on June 9 in Texas. North Carolina photo

Two-time national wrestling champion Austin O'Connor, a St. Rita graduate, won his MMA debut on June 9 in Texas. North Carolina photo

Don’t sleep on grappling great | St. Rita grad Austin O’Connor starts MMA career with a win

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By Jeff Vorva
Correspondent

The “Irish Nightmare” was not about to be put to sleep.

Austin O’Connor, a four-time IHSA state wrestling champion during his years at St. Rita, made his professional MMA debut on June 9; and despite some pre-match taunting from opponent Camden Fontenot — who claimed he would put O’Connor to sleep — the former Mustang stayed awake and was ultimately victorious at the Fury FC 91 in Rosenberg, Texas.

The 5-foot-8, 145-pound O’Connor, known at the “Irish Nightmare,” dominated throughout the match, which was stopped with 1 minute, 52 seconds left in the third round.

Fontenot was making his pro MMA debut after winning three of four matches as an amateur.

“I always had interest in MMA and was connected with the right people and everything,” O’Connor told MMA Junkie Radio leading into the match. “I just kind of started chasing that down instead of wrestling.”

Of course, there was a usual hype that comes before a battle.

“He’s posting, tagging UFC Fight Pass and Fury saying he’s going to put me to sleep and [stuff],” O’Connor told USF.com. “You don’t really get that with wrestling. It’s cool and I like to see it; it’s going to make the win a little more special.”

O’Connor is hardly the type who would wilt because of some pre-match words from his opponent.

“I’m from the South Side (of Chicago) and there’s a lot of [smack]-talkers there,” O’Connor told UFC.com. “I handle it good. I don’t mind it at all. It helps motivate me when I’m in my training. All I’m thinking about is how this dude said he’s going to knock me out.

“I’m just going to train a little bit harder.”

After winning four high school state wrestling titles while compiling a 181-4 record at St. Rita, O’Connor went 112-10 and won two national championships (149 lbs. in 2021 and 157 lbs. in 2023 while wrestling for North Carolina. The Lockport native later served as an assistant wrestling coach at Illinois.

O’Connor is fighting under the guidance of MMA legend Dan Cormier, who saw more than just national championships in O’Connor.

“It was something I saw in his [2022] season that made me feel like he was a kid that I wanted to make sure that we got,” Cormier was quoted saying on on3.com, referencing O’Connor’s junior season at North Carolina. “During that year, Austin tore his ACL and he couldn’t walk.

“I remember standing on the side of the mat watching him and he cold barely walk. He’s got a huge knee brace, and he became an All-American and then he forfeited out.”

Cormier had great admiration for O’Connor after that.

“I almost wanted to cry watching him, Cormier said of O’Connor. “I was proud of him. My heart was kind of skipping a beat.”

1 Comment

  1. Stan Verko on June 10, 2024 at 10:15 am

    O’Connor is great on and off the mat. A gentleman, too.



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