There comes a point in every jiu-jitsu athlete’s journey in which they get seriously humbled by a BJJ “beginner” with an impressive background in wrestling. Wrestlers who transition to jiu-jitsu often find success in the art, and whether they continued to pursue their passion after college or haven’t done a takedown in years, BJJ can provide a way for them to use their skills in a whole new competitive setting.
As Fight 2 Win makes its return to Pittsburgh tonight, the jiu-jitsu promotion will see its own fair share of wrestling prowess on the stage. Over a dozen competitors from Pittsburgh’s prestigious wrestling club The Mat Factory will be putting it all on the line tonight, and among them will be one of the academy’s directors, Isaac Greeley.
Wrestling has been a part of Greeley’s life for years. He says that a highlight of his career was placing second and third at an NCAA DII wrestling tournament and being on two national championship teams at Pitt Johnstown. He then moved on to instructing in 2004, serving as an assistant coach at Burrell High School. During his time there, the team won fourteen WPIAL championships and two PIAA state wrestling championships.
The same year he started coaching, though, Greeley also branched out into jiu-jitsu competition. He’s currently undefeated after two F2W matches, and he hopes to change his record to 3-0 after going up against Mike Easton tonight.
For Greeley, however, expanding his own love for the mats wasn’t enough — he also wanted to help grow the sport of wrestling in his own community, and thus, the Mat Factory was born. Over time, MMA and BJJ programs were added to the schedule, and today, helping to grow fighters like Bellator’s Dominic Mazzotta and UFC veteran Chris Dempsey, the Mat Factory is known as one of the top martial arts gyms in the area.
Through the Mat Factory, Greeley has found a way to make a living — and make a difference — through doing what he loves. “I’m a chiropractor by trade, but my passion has always been combat sports and coaching, so it was a dream come true to be able to combine my passion and job side by side (The Mat Factory is connected to one of our chiropractic offices),” he says.
Greeley’s years of expertise in the industry have given him a deep understanding of not only wrestling and jiu-jitsu, but also how the two work together and can serve each other. “I do believe that highly developed wrestling is a must for the highest levels of BJJ,” he says. “I also believe that it must be high-level wrestling with an incorporated understanding of jiu-jitsu positions and submissions. Both take a lot of time to properly fuse together.
“My advice is always for wrestlers to try BJJ without a wrestling mindset to avoid grappling positions. But rather, get comfortable with those positions and react in a grappling sense, which can be very different than a wrestling sense. I say the same thing to high-level BJJ guys with little wrestling. Learning the wrestling and grappling positions and essential skills will only help you on both sides.”
The jiu-jitsu scene has been steadily growing in Steel City, with numerous academies building reputations for producing highly skilled athletes on the mats. Still, the Mat Factory stands out as a hot spot for fighters and jiu-jitsu competitors looking to reach their full potential. Greeley is aware of his gym’s standing in the Pittsburgh martial arts scene, and he attributes its success not only to the “unconditional support” from his wife Laura and daughter Seneca, but also the environment within the gym and Pittsburgh martial artists’ willingness to venture beyond their own walls.
“I believe what sets the Mat Factory apart is that we have a lot of very hard-nosed competitors at our gym, and the sword is always being sharpened,” he says. “We don’t get a lot of easy rounds, and it creates a sink-or-swim atmosphere for our beginners to progress at a very fast rate. I also attribute a lot of our success to the diversity that comes into the gym from other local academies. Pittsburgh has an amazing atmosphere as far as cross-training goes, and I believe it has helped us all progress faster as a whole.”
Pittsburgh itself may not yet be considered a hot spot for jiu-jitsu like California or New York, but Greeley believes that the city has made its mark in the national wrestling scene. “I know it is without a doubt the best place in the country [for athletes to develop their wrestling]; the talent here wrestling wise is second to none,” he says. “A lot of wrestlers like Jason Nolf, Cody Law, Anthony Zanetta, Shane Valko, and other Western PA greats have been exposed to BJJ, which you can actually see in their wrestling styles. It’s been fun to watch both ways.”
As Greeley prepares to test himself once again in front of his local friends, students, family, and fans, he says that he’s feeling “grateful and humble” ahead of his third match on the F2W stage. He’s also dedicating any earnings from his match to Team Bruno, which he describes as a nonprofit wrestling and jiu-jitsu camp that he and a few other of his fellow competitors help run. “This is something I’ve always loved to do ever since I was a kid growing up in rural Potter County, Pennsylvania. I’ve watched Mike fight many times and have always been impressed by him. I can’t wait to test myself tomorrow night! Even at 43, I feel like I have a lot left in me.”
You can watch Greeley vs. Easton, plus many more exciting matches when Fight 2 Win 120 streams live from Pittsburgh, PA tonight on FloGrappling!