MADISON — Mark Lemminger may not have been the better wrestler in the fight on Friday night, but he was definitely the better boxer.
Lemminger, a two-time state wrestling qualifier for Johnson Creek High School back in 2009 and 2011, used those boxing skills to beat former Ohio State wrestler Isaac Steele in a mixed martial arts bout at The Sylvee.
Competing for the first time in a Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) event which was televised nationally on AXS TV, Lemminger improved his career record to 9-1 overall and 4-1 as a professional.
Lemminger landed a punch in the opening seconds, but Steele (7-2) managed to pin Lemminger against the fence and the fighters spent the rest of the first round along the edge.
In the only loss of his career back in January, 2018, Lemminger gave up a pair of double leg takedowns against the fence and fell behind Jason Witt of Kansas City. That set the tone for the rest of the fight.
This time around, Lemminger suffered a cut above his left eye in the early going, but was giving almost as good as he got when the first round ended.
“He was an Ohio State wrestler, so I knew he was going to be very heavy with the pressure, and I knew he would be a strong wrestler against the fence, so I kind of expected that,” Lemminger said.
“I didn’t expect him to keep me there as long as he did, but I was doing a lot of damage off my back off the fence. I wasn’t in too much danger and I was finding success.”
The second round was all Lemminger, who stayed in the center and landed jabs at will and began wearing Steele down.
Steele went for a desperation takedown, but Lemminger was ready and countered it. On the canvas, Lemminger came out on top and used a front choke submission hold to force Steele to tap out 3 minutes, 14 seconds into the five-minute round.
He celebrated by scaling the fence, straddling it and flexing for the crowd.
“When we were in the center of the cage, there wasn’t much he had for me,” Lemminger said. “I was pretty much landing my hook whenever I wanted it and I was landing my right. When I switched to the southpaw stance, my left was landing, too … just about everything.
“I saw his takedown coming because of that. I knew with those shots I was landing, I was going to force him to go for a takedown.”
Johnson Creek co-wrestling coach Marcus Novak has been a regular at Lemminger’s MMA fights and was impressed with his latest victory.
“As good of a wrestler as Mark was in high school, the level of wrestling he faces at this level (is challenging for him),” Johnson Creek co-wrestling coach Marcus Novak said. “That (second round takedown) looked like a Johnson Creek drop cradle to me. I am so happy for him.”
Lemminger said it was “a little bit of one (with the cradle)”.
“Earlier in my camp, we were working on it,” Lemminger said. “We knew if I started putting my hands on him, he was going to shoot a single or a double leg, so we were working the guillotine, which I got him in, which is a move I am pretty good at.”
Lemminger had to cut serious weight to compete in this Co-Main Welterweight bout at 170 pounds.
“This was my first fight at Welterweight in a while,” Lemminger said. “Weight cut went pretty smooth. I cut 17 pounds in 24 hours, but believe it or not, it went very well. I did it as smart as I could. I know that it seems kind of counter (intuitive), but it went well.”
Lemminger rose in the ranks fighting amateur and pro bouts with Chosen Few out of Madison, a circuit Novak described as the minor leagues. Winning an LFA fight should open doors for Lemminger in the future.
“This is kind of a sister company to the UFC, so this was a big win for me,” Lemminger said. “He was a tough opponent … 7-1, an Ohio State wrestler. It was a good test for me, and I did pretty well.
“This is a great platform, great exposure, so I wanted to perform well under these big lights with national television and I think I took my blows, but that’s a little bit of my style. I’m kind of gritty. It kind of went how my fights typically go.”
Lemminger has now fought six times at the Monona Terrace, once at The Sylvee and twice in Milwaukee at The Rave and the Milwaukee Theatre. He’s ready to fight elsewhere.
“I would like to, I really would, but to be honest, I just want to stay active,” Lemminger said. “I want to fight the best guys, no matter where it is. But ideally, I would love to travel. I haven’t gotten out of the state yet. I would like that. Getting myself out of my element a little bit would be a good thing for me.”
As usual, a large collection of family and friends from Johnson Creek were on hand to cheer him on.
“They do (travel well),” Lemminger said. “Even if I had a fight overseas, I think they would still show up.”