Long before the bright lights and big time allure of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and Uncle Vince came calling, Daniel Puder the Tough Enough candidate was better known around Northern California as Daniel Puder the up-and-coming submission fighting unknown. With an amateur submission record of 4-0 and a professional Mixed Martial Arts record of 1-0, the American Kickboxing Academy heavyweight was slowly making a name for himself as a handful of others had done before him – under the tutelage of Frank Shamrock and ‘Crazy’ Bob Cook.
Born in Cupertino California in1981, Puder was just 12-years old when the first Ultimate Fighting Championship match was promoted at Denver’s McNichols Arena in 1993. And as fate would have it, the young Puder would grow up to compete in similar competitions through his rise to success, but not before facing youth’s school of hard knocks.
Puder’s transition from troubled youth to MMA competitor was owed to a rather fortuitous meeting just prior to his 17th birthday.
“I started wrestling right after 6th grade. When I was 16 I got into some trouble, I got into a little fight. I met Frank [Shamrock] a little after that and he was kind of like, “hey, don’t fight on the street. I’ll teach you to fight in the ring,” and that sort of thing. My court case was right when I was almost 17. I ran into him right at the end of my junior year of high school and I started actually just training. I went to his training center.” Puder said.
Puder had found a home at the American Kickboxing Academy. The joys he had come to know through many years of wrestling as a youth were heightened with his exposure to the diverse world of submission grappling.
“I did the submissions for a couple months. This was between my junior and senior year of high school and he [Frank Shamrock] was training for the Tito Ortiz fight so I started training with him full-time and he taught me how to lift right, cardio, submission and that kind of stuff.”
It wasn’t long before the long hours on the mat would start to add up, and the old competitive nature would once again emerge. Puder was eager to test his newfound skills and to keep a promise he had made months earlier to his mentor, Frank Shamrock. He would keep the fighting to the ring. But for that to happen, he needed a challenger.
“I did Machado’s tournament down in L.A. and I won that.” Puder recalls. “I beat one of Machado’s really good guys. I actually beat three guys. One was a Vale Tudo guy from Spain. I guess they flew in for a couple tournaments and he was a big boy. And then I took a Jiu-Jitsu guy in about 5 seconds. All of them, I double-legged and took them down and tried to submit them. That’s how I won with all of them. I got points off the take down. The first two I submitted, the third one I beat by points.”
With three quick victories in his first outing, the taste for competition had been anything but satiated. Puder looked forward to future submission grappling events, but within his blood was a thirst for something more. Long hours on the mat had attributed to three efficient submission victories, but the world of the Mixed Martial Artist had yet eluded him. The talented fight team at AKA was prepping the young heavyweight for an eventual pro debut in Japan, and Puder was earning their respect at each stage of his development.
Puder described the AKA training experience. “I’ve got a good relationship with the guys down at AKA. I’m kind of the young guy down there. Everyone else is 23-35. So I’ve always been the young guy that everybody has helped out and trained hard. They’ve always loved kicking my butt and I love getting back up. I went up to the Japanese office yesterday because they needed my signature on something and Brian [Johnston] was telling his buddy, “Yeah, he was the toughest 19-year old when he was 19.” And I was like, “how is that Brian?” And he said, “because I knocked you down and you got right back up and said ‘let’s go.”
As is the case with many mixed martial artists, Puder was eager to demonstrate his new techniques. With many years of wrestling experience, and a solid submission base, Puder focused his attention on perfecting is striking – an element that he now regards as an essential part of his arsenal.
“Personally I like to stand up and test them on their feet. If worst comes to worst I’ll take them down or let them take me down and submit them. Nobody in the gym has been able to tap me out. Bob [Cook] thinks I could roll with some of the best in the world right now and I guess he’s a competent coach.” Puder said.
And if indeed the world witnessed a legitimate shoot match between Olympic Gold Medallist Kurt Angle and unknown submission fighter Daniel Puder on Smackdown then ‘Crazy’ Bob Cook’s words were prophetic – he really can roll with some of the best in the world. But for those who choose not to believe that the WWE, (whose sole purpose as of late seems to be discrediting and/or stealing from mixed martial arts) would allow their superstar to risk embarrassment at the hands of an unknown, you can rest assured. Chances are good that with or without a WWE contract in hand; you’ve not seen the last of Daniel Puder.
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