Former West Mifflin wrestler shines at Clarion
The accolades for West Mifflin alum James Fleming continue to pile up.
But for all the Most Outstanding Wrestler awards, national rankings and milestone wins the Clarion senior collects, he prefers to strive for more.
Try a national title — and potentially a post-college career in ... mixed martial arts?
Fleming is on track to surpass Olympic gold medalist and Pittsburgh native Kurt Angle on the Clarion all-time wins list. It's possible he could follow Angle's lead from amateur wrestling into the world of professional athletics, too.
“This past summer, out in Colorado, I was working out with two guys who are in the UFC, and I just got into UFC when we were training together three days a week,” Fleming said. “So I've got a position out there where they want me to come out and train with them (next summer). I might end up doing that; I'm not real sure. But I'm keeping it open right now, like all my options.”
If Fleming keeps wrestling like he has, he should have plenty opportunities upon graduation in the spring.
Fleming is ranked No. 3 nationally in Division I at 157 pounds, and he has a showdown with No. 2 Jason Welch of Northwestern on Saturday in a match at Edinboro.
A win against Welch propels Fleming to no worse than No. 2 in the country — and possibly to the top spot.
“Both my junior and sophomore years, he beat me, so we will see,” Fleming said. “It will be a good match to see how much I've grown. If I beat him, No. 2 in the country going in, that will give me the confidence that I have the ability to take a run at being in a good position to win a national title at the end of the year.”
An All-American, Fleming already is a three-time NCAA Division I national qualifier, having finished fifth last season.
As Fleming said: “A national title is just kind of cool. That's pretty much been my goal since I've been a little kid.”
At this point in his career, it pretty much takes a national title to get Fleming excited. A three-time WPIAL champion and four-time PIAA placewinner while at West Mifflin, Fleming became the 20th wrestler in Clarion's rich history of wrestling to reach 100 career wins.
The 100th victory came at the Nittany Lion Open earlier this month and led to him earning the first of two consecutive reigning Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and Eastern Wresting League Wrestler of the Week awards.
Clarion coach Troy Letters called the 100-victory mark “a special moment in an outstanding career.”
“James is totally dedicated to wrestling and has been an outstanding representative of Clarion wrestling during his career,” Letters said. “He deserves every accolade he receives.”
Among those ahead of Fleming on the Clarion career wins list are Angle (116) and two-time NCAA Division I national champion Wade Schalles (153).
Fleming said he doesn't strive to pass anyone on a wins list, but he is yearning to join Schalles as a national champion.
“It's never really about how many people I beat or the wins,” Fleming said.
“It's more just about the end result at the end of the year. I'm always just looking forward to bettering myself at the national tournament to take a run at winning it this year.
“I guess (the 100-win club) is a good credential to have, but right now, I'm just looking forward to winning a national title, something I want very much.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.