Carlton Haselrig died of natural causes Wednesday morning at the age of 54. He was the only six-time wrestling champion in NCAA history, a Pro Bowl guard with the Steelers, and an MMA fighter.
Prior to 1990, Div II and Div III champions earned a spot in the Div I wrestling championships. Haselrig won both Div II and Div I titles at heavyweight in his Sophmore, Junior, and Senior years. Due to the “Haselrig Rule," Haselrig's six-title record is likely to remain for all time. His 143-2-1 collegiate record includes a win over future Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, who mourned his passing.
So sad to hear of the passing of Carlton Haselrig. Carlton was an unbelievable athlete, capturing 6 NCAA Titles in college wrestling (3 div 1 and 3 div 2). He was also a pro bowler for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 90’s,although he never played college football. #RIPCarlton pic.twitter.com/Y6Ysf7NcWW
So sad to hear of the passing of Carlton Haselrig. Carlton was an unbelievable athlete, capturing 6 NCAA Titles in college wrestling (3 div 1 and 3 div 2). He was also a pro bowler for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 90’s,although he never played college football. #RIPCarlton pic.twitter.com/Y6Ysf7NcWW— Kurt Angle (@RealKurtAngle) July 22, 2020
Haselrig won states in High School, in the mighty wrestling state of Pennsylvania, despite his school not having a wrestling team. He was drafted into the NFL in 1989 by the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite not having played football in college. Haselrig played five seasons in the NFL, becoming a Pro Bowl and All-Pro offensive guard in 1992.
He battled drug and alcohol addiction throughout his life, and left the NFL when he signed with the New York Jets before the 1995 season, but no-showed, and received a second suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Although he didn't play in the NFL again, in 2001 he began coaching for the AFL's Pittsburgh Colts. And then he determined to make it into the UFC.
He started a professional MMA career at the age of 42, winning two regional belts in his first fight, and eventually earning a 3-2 record from 2008-2009. Haselrig got a win in Elite XC, before losing a final fight to future longtime UFC heavyweight Shawn Jordan.
Haselrig wrestled for Pat Pecora, the NCAA’s all-time wins leader, who spoke with Steve Rotstein for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pecora said that a liver condition over the past few years reduced Haselrig to “skin and bones," but he still shook his hand with a vice grip and could have broken it if he wanted to.
"I was blessed to have him in my life,” said Pecora. “He was family to me and my family. He babysat my first daughter, my oldest child. He came to our family reunions. My mom and dad loved him. My brothers and sisters did, too. We just had a special relationship, and it grew.”
“He had no concept of someone being able to be better than him at something. I remember the first time we went to the Division I tournament, newspapers were asking him, ‘What do you feel like when you have to wrestle somebody from Iowa or Oklahoma?’ He looked at them like their head was on fire.”
“I’ve got some great memories with Carlton. Fantastic. We conquered the world that was in front of us, together.
“He’s had his demons, and that’s the kind of life Carlton had. From the top of the mountain, to the valley. He lived a life full. But I feel good in the long scheme of things … I think he made peace with himself and was in a good spot and a good place in his life.”