In high school, David Lewis was a talented wrestler.
Now in mixed martial arts submission grappling, his trainer views him as one of the best around.
Lewis, a 22-year-old Dalton resident, has only been competing in MMA submission grappling — a form of jiu-jitsu, which focuses on grappling and ground fighting — for around a year and a half. However, he was good enough to win a gold medal for the 145-155 pound division at the Europa Games Get Fit & Sports Expo grappling tournament two weekends ago in Dallas. That accomplishment is just the beginning for what he hopes is a long and successful MMA career.
“I want to be the best there ever was,” Lewis said. “I want to be the best to ever walk through these doors.”
Those doors are the ones at North Georgia Hayastan, the MMA gym in Dalton where Lewis trains with owner and fellow fighter Leonardo Lechuga.
And Lechuga also sees big things for Lewis, even in comparison to the gym’s other fighters, which includes five champions from different promotions around the Tennessee area.
“In my experience and watching all these guys in his division, (Lewis) is atop the food chain,” Lechuga said.
Lewis is 8-1 in grappling submission matches and 2-2 in MMA cage matches. After winning the gold medal, he competed in the Europa Games’ absolute division — which includes all weight classes and skill levels — and lost in the quarterfinals.
“Usually, if you take first place in your weight class, you can do the absolute,” Lechuga said. “Some people come just for the absolute. ... Usually, if you don’t win your weight class, then you shouldn’t be in the absolute. The guy that eliminated him was there coaching his team and had other students competing in it.”
A big reason for Lewis’ natural talent in the sport is his wrestling background. He wrestled all four years at Northwest Whitfield and usually competed in the 135-pound weight class.
He attended Dalton State College but didn’t finish and then started training in MMA grappling. In high school, he reached the Georgia High School Association Class 4A traditionals state tournament each year and reached the quarterfinals each of the last three years. He graduated in 2009.
“Wrestling has helped him because he can handle any situation,” Lechuga said. “When I grapple with him, he always ends up on my back.”
Plus, the work ethic required for the sport reminds Lewis of his wrestling days.
“The first thing I realized when I came in here was the practices were tougher than, if not as hard as, wrestling practices,” he said. “Wrestlers are known for practicing hard. As soon as I came in, I felt right at home.”
The experience created a foundation, but MMA submission grappling is quite different. In wrestling, the objective is to stay on top of your opponent and get him on his back for a pinfall. In MMA, you’re trying to get a submission or knockout.
“With wrestling, you’re basically attacking,” Lewis said. “With jui-jitsu, you can’t attack all the time because you might get caught. So you have to reserve your attack or you pressure on so hard they can’t get you in anything.
“The biggest thing I had to change was being comfortable on my back. In wrestling, you obviously don’t want to be on your back. But with this, you can do more on your back than on your feet.
“I have great positioning, I can scramble real well and I can take anyone when we’re standing.”
Lechuga said some wrestlers don’t transition well to MMA because of the differences.
“You can have a wrestler that comes in and can wrestle his butt off, and next thing you know, he’s submitted. It’s simply because he doesn’t know what to look for and in submission grappling, there’s a lot of things wrestlers do that you just do not do in submission grappling.”
The main thing is leaving space, Lechuga said, because you want to “isolate the limbs.” Wrestling is all about staying off your back and scrambling to get away.
“When you’re trying to get away, sometimes you have a limb in a position where it can be submitted.”
But Lewis has done enough to make a Lechuga a believer, and many others. After all, he did win a gold medal after defeating four consecutive opponents in his weight class and division.
“In skill level and straight toughness, he’s probably one of the best in the Tennessee area where we do most of our fighting,” Lechuga said.
In high school, David Lewis was a talented wrestler.
Charter on brink with SEC Network
Charter Communications was in the process Wednesday of finalizing a deal to carry the SEC Network, according to a story on usatoday.com.
Smith wins Limited race at NGS
Jeff Smith took the checkered flag in the Limited Late Models race Saturday night at North Georgia Speedway, beating Justin Litchford to the finish line for the victory.
Ready to get started: Roadrunners add Daser as soccer director
Dalton State College athletic director Derek Waugh called Kerem Daser a good “fit” as the Roadrunners’ new soccer director.
Coahulla Creek enters new era with Barger
VARNELL — With just two varsity football seasons to its credit and little success in the win column so far, Coahulla Creek High School doesn’t yet have what one would call a proud football history.
Rush turning to Gold's
Dalton is gaining a Gold’s Gym, but losing The Rush Fitness Complex.
Dalton State College hires Kerem Daser as soccer director
Dalton State College athletic director Derek Waugh said Tuesday that Kerem Daser, a veteran soccer coach, is the Roadrunners’ new soccer director.
Thrown a curveball
About four weeks ago, Seth Pierce and his family moved closer to Ringgold High School — a move which has big ramifications on two sports fronts. Not only will his departure affect the Northwest Whitfield High School baseball program, the move will also put him back on the football field.
Prep football: NW Whitfield staying hungry for more success
Northwest Whitfield High School entered the 2013 season motivated to reach the state playoffs — something the Bruins accomplished.
This year’s team possesses the hunger to mirror last season’s successes — and possibly more.
Chris Whitfield: Ending ride (kind of) as sports writer
T wo weeks ago, I was told by managing editor Jamie Jones that I would no longer be a full-time sports writer with The Daily Citizen. It was a mutual decision.
Local trio leads NW section to 3rd place
Tori Owens, of Chatsworth finished 11-over-par Monday in the Junior Sectional Challenge Match at The Landings Club-Marshwood and Magnolia in Savannah for third place in the girls 12-13-year-old 9-hole division. She joined Landon Painter and Hardin Chambless on the Northwest team.
- More Sports Headlines
- Charter on brink with SEC Network