“I’ve gotten a chance to meet Daniel Cormier for the first time last year and go out to AKA and train with Islam (Makhachev) before one of his fights,” O’Connor said. “I met with Khabib (Nurmagomedov) and all the other dudes who train out of there and that was really cool. I’m in contact with DC all the time now.”
The trip out to Northern California wasn’t just a vacation and a chance for O’Connor to rub shoulders with famous fighters; between an interest in an MMA career after graduation and getting mat time in one of the most wrestling-heavy MMA gyms out there, O’Connor is gearing up for his biggest season yet, as well as a post-wrestling career path.
“My biggest draw to AKA was that I’m going to go out there and I’m going to compete against the best in the world and the best who have already done it,” O’Connor said. “You can’t really get that experience anywhere else in the world. These guys have the same experience as me, they’ve done Sambo their whole life and they’ve been around wrestling so much. They’re high-level wrestlers, too, and I’d say that’s the closest style to what I want to adapt my MMA style to, so if I get out there and train under those guys, I’m doing the same exact thing that they’ve done.”
The venture into the MMA world won’t be an instantaneous jump, despite having the perfect gym and management system figured out. O’Connor plans to take a year off from competition to coach wrestling and slowly begin to dip his toes in the mixed martial arts water. He may be ahead of the pack with his wrestling skillset and AKA connections, but the 157-pounder has no interest in viewing the climb to the top of the premier MMA organization to be a race.