This is a cat that I always had a great deal of respect for. In fact, the entire Ball family is legit… Hopefully soon, I will get his brother, Derick Ball’s RTW article going. I grew up on a song by Billy Joel called “Honesty” where he sings, “honesty, is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue.” Well, Billy Joel is lucky that he didn’t meet Brandon Ball around the time he was writing that, because the song he was in the process of writing would no longer make sense to him. What you see is what you get with Brandon. He tells it like it is and unless he has an ax to grind with you, he will do so cordially even if it may be something you may not want to hear. And if you don’t like it, you can talk to someone who will lie to you, because Brandon won’t. It’s refreshing when a guy who accomplished all the great feats that Brandon did prioritizes being himself and doing things the way that works best for him personally, opposed to getting caught up in the attention and/or just going about life telling people what they want to hear…
Brandon is a perfectionist when it comes to competition and performance and this will be blatantly obvious when you read how he truly feels about his own accomplishments… The guy won state, was a D3 AA and is a great MMA talent and he has not yet accomplished enough to where he feels like he succeeded the way he has always wanted to. He is very hard on himself and maybe that’s how great ones like Brandon are driven… by never being satisfied. Because personally, I’d be elated if I had his career resume. You all know that I am a pretty flexible critic, but for what it’s worth, I thought Brandon was awesome.
I hope you all enjoy this as much as me. This man is very interesting. You will never read a more “real and honest” take on wrestling. And he’s a great writer, too…
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
Columbus Wrestling was my base. I learned the most from Coach Plein. He was like a second father to me in high school. Always directed me in the right way when it came to wrestling. I don’t agree with how we cut weight back then, but that would be my only complaint on my coaching coming up. From Columbus we had the Dungeon Wrestling Club that was run by Jason Payne while he was still helping Plein out at Columbus. It was freestyle and was the main reason I made such a jump in high school. Put a lot of time in over the summer when I wasn’t playing other sports. The golf team I played for actually got fourth at state between my junior and senior year, but that applied to my life when I didn’t go out to focus on freestyle wrestling. I still wonder if I should have tried to handle both, but the state title my senior year really made it worth it. Between my junior and senior year I wrestled a lot with Cedar Hawk wrestling in Cedar Rapids. Johnny Siegel would always drive and I ended up getting a lot of mat time with Matt McDonough. We had some crazy goes back then. Would be much different down the road a little ways after I got the brakes beat off me by him and Ramos over a summer at Iowa in which I was trying to get back on the mat. That leads to my college career. One I am not very proud of. I was young and the summer after I was an All American at Coe College I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. After being under Dustin Hinschberger and Coach O for a year, I got good. I no longer was just a on the feet wrestler. They had taught me how to ride. How to put matches out of reach. I should have won it all my sophomore year at Coe. And we should have challenged Wartburg that next year for a title, but it just wasn’t in the cards for me. Still feel bad about it to this day. I struggled at school and away from it for a couple years and wound up even trying to come back for the rival school Cornell for another chance. I tried. Wrestled with Tigue Snyder and spent time at Iowa wrestling all summer, but just never felt like I had it back. The medication I was on seemed to be holding me back. Just didn’t have it anymore. I decided to give up wrestling for good after Cornell. Can’t thank Mike Duroe enough for extending a hand and giving me the opportunity. He was truly a great man and knew everyone in the wrestling circle and used his resources to try to make me great again. Was very sad to hear of his passing. That’s when things really got interesting and I would realized all the work I had put in over the years wasn’t for nothing. I could keep fighting. I would get that fire back.
What year did you graduate?
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
It was just the prestige of our program. We were good. I remember looking up to guys like Jason Payne and Nick Lee growing up. I wanted to be as good as them. It was a very large mountain to climb, but day by day even if it was just me and Plein wrestling down in the Dungeon with nobody else there, we did it. We made it happen. Hard to find something like that in small town Iowa. That’s why you see all these kids moving around to find a good coach. I had one. And I believed he could get me to where I needed to be.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
My cousin Justin Scheef was part of the 95 team at Columbus that won State. He placed fourth. He always said I had the most raw talent in the family. Seth and Zack Pugh are my first cousins and always were really good wrestlers. Zack placed eighth and Seth was probably the best wrestler in the family placing I wanna say fourth and fifth before winning it his senior year. My brother also placed fourth twice. I didn’t wrestle much from like 3rd grade to 6th. Started up in junior high and wrestled around 150 or 160. But Seth was always the example to follow. By my sophomore year we were battling during conditioning and really starting to push each other and things started to click from there. Just hard work paying off.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
Made it to state once as a kid. Was in the heavier weight classes growing up. The year I made it there was only one kid in my bracket. Caught fire in high school, but just wasn’t too interested growing up. Could call me lazy.
What was your record in HS?
132-26. I know I lost 12 matches my freshmen year. Think I was 12-12. Beat Caleb Martin my sophomore year at sectionals and lost to him and districts to come up a match short of qualifying as a sophomore. Choked as a Junior and pulled it off as a Senior. Think I’m off a couple on my record though. Think I lost 5 times my Sophomore and Junior Year. And then twice as a senior. Unsure if the wins are right.
How did you place at state every year?
7th as a Junior and 1st as a Senior.
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
Probably the weight cutting at the beginning. I was bulimic for a couple years at the beginning of high school when I was very green. Didn’t know how to be disciplined. Just would puke up what I ate and drank, but mostly just drank. Ruined me for practice. Had nothing in the tank all the time. Just was trying to make weight. And back then we did it by manipulating our water intake. Now a days I drink a gallon of water a day. Don’t know how I did that for the couple years I did and still wrestle hard. Just is a testament to this day for me when I think I’m beat and tired to keep pushing. I did that, I can do this type of thing. I still cut out water intake to make weight to fight, but that is usually one day and then I have a day to recover. Wrestling, I feel like finally has that problem under control and kids don’t deal with that, but it was still a huge part of the sport when I was in it. It took me realizing that if I ate and drank correctly then I would be able to do more and lose more weight. It just took me a couple years to get that discipline.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
I like to take people down and get on top of them. I feel like I can get out on anybody and if I get a couple turns on top I can put a match out of reach. But if you turtle up and I have to I will take you down and let you up.
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
Caleb Martin beat me pretty good as a Sophomore. Kept me from going to state after I pinned him the week before in a fluke at sectionals. Eric Davis was 1A State Champ and we wrestled a couple times as a junior and I beat him both times but then got seventh at state. Biggest rival was my senior year, Brett Kautz. I remember the first time I lost to him I had messed up ligaments in my ribs. Think I lost by one at the Centerville tournament. I remember I had a notebook that year and I had a few pages written out, “I will beat Brett Kautz.” Even had the second place medal up in the room for a little while from Centerville. I met him in the state finals and cradled him up in the first period and held on to win 8-6.
Who was your most influential coach?
I don’t know, Plein comes to mind but I’ve been with some of my MMA coaches much longer. Keoni Koch is someone I haven’t utilized lately but had always been a huge part of my development. Dave Sherzer is MMA version of John Siegel. Then I got my main dude Gabe Lemley who took me in and kept me in the sport when I thought I was done. MMA is the hardest sport on the planet. Wrestlers can say what they want.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
Both. Still remember Osage celebrating after beating us by one point in the state dual finals. We should have won it. Then in college Coe was a good dual and individual team when I was there.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
It would have to be my cousin Seth. He was good as a kid, think he won it in sixth grade. May have only been a couple years older than me but I was trying to be as good as him. This just wasn’t in wrestling. We played every sport you can think of. Even had some badmitten rivalries back in the day.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
TJ Sebolt wasn’t bad, remember getting pinned by him in high school. Probably the best high school wrestler from my era. Even beat my brother too. But you gotta go Tom Brands or Dan Gable for overall effect.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers? High school? College?
I don’t pay much attention. I have gotten a couple goes in with Brennan Swafford lately though. Hope he has some more success. Think I’m gonna have to stop throwing subs to get him back in the room though. Just kids that come in and keep me sharp. Fans of them.
What MMA club are you part of?
Currently I am training at Skunk River Grappling Dojo. I started my career in Cedar Rapids with Hard Drive Mixed Martial Arts and still will be training up there when the time comes. Just a struggle to find guys my size anymore so I do a lot of traveling to find good practices.
Has wrestling helped more than other martial arts for your MMA skillset?
Everybody would like to start with a base for MMA and many say wrestling is the best base to start with. I would say it is one of the most important staples in grappling. Keeps you in good positions. But it was taken me ten years to be a decent striker. I wish I would of started on that sooner.
How would you describe your MMA style?
I’m trying to round out my game but I would say I am still and always will be a wrestler. I can dominate on top in the guard position. Have won most of my fights from there but as competition grows I need to be able to do everything well. That is what makes the sport so difficult.
Who are your past and present favorite MMA fighters?
BJ Penn. Hoping he doesn’t fight again. Just an amazing competitor. In his prime the best in the world.
Was it cool cheering on your older bro, Derick growing up?
Derick cut more weight than I ever did. How he stayed at 103 for four years is beyond me. I remember watching him use a spray bottle to drink his water so he wouldn’t drink too much. Crazy amount of discipline. Always a better runner than me. If he wouldn’t of went out for cross country I wouldn’t of. Huge reason I had so much success in wrestling was because I never really got out of shape in high school. Always had another sport to play. That’s why all these kids are getting burnt out on wrestling. My brother played multiple sports and so did I. I don’t think I would of had near the success if I wouldn’t of participated in other sports. That was probably his biggest influence on me. Was to not just be a one sport athlete. That’s not how it was back then. I wrestled a lot in the offseason, that shouldn’t be an excuse to not play a sport you love.
In your experience, how are MMA and wrestling alike and different?
It’s where you have your chin. I have been preaching this to a guy I am working with for a year now probably. Chin down! In wrestling no one is gonna try to come under your chin and choke you. So when you hit a shot in wrestling they always say head and chin up, well in MMA that leaves you open to getting choked. Chin down and hand control. I do a lot of dumps in MMA. Driving through sometimes puts you in a bad position. Then you gotta worry about your arms and legs. So really just focusing on good position, hand control, and having your chin down and your neck protected are paramount.
What do you feel you would need to accomplish with your wrestling and MMA career to be happy with your accomplishments?
I would like to make a big promotion. Fight on Bellator or the UFC.
Are you proud of your Southeast Iowa roots?
I love small town Iowa.
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
Would go to my brothers house in Iowa City and illegally download some CD’s. Mostly rap and rock, and a little country. I can remember One More Silver Dollar playing on my boombox.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
Probably my only loss as a fighter. Kid didn’t make weight and my coach told me not to take the fight but I did anyway. Lost by arm bar early in the first round. Should of walked away. Probably still be undefeated.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
The way it ended. I should of at least won it in college. Looking back ten years later there is a lot of regret there. But I went down another path and am still competing today so it is what it is.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
Best memory would be the state title. Greatest accomplishment would be being an All American. We’ve had a lot of state champions at Columbus but I was only the fourth to place collegiately.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
Lost to TJ Sebolt by fall as a junior. Lost to Daniel Dennis by one as a sophomore in College. Probably one of the main reasons I had so much confidence that year.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
All year. Wouldn’t of had the success I did if it was seasonal.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
I think they would be bigger. I think guys at 49 today would of been at 41 or 33 tens years ago. A lot of people don’t cut anymore. I feel like I can compete with guys a lot easier at higher weight classes today.
Did you wrestle after high school?
What other sports did you play?
Baseball, Golf, and Cross Country. Was decent at baseball and made all conference my junior and senior year. Sometimes I wish I would of taken baseball a little more seriously. Would of made life a lot easier.
What are your favorite sports teams?
Steelers got a shot this year with Big Ben back. Liked the Mariners since Griffey.
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
I play a lot of Golf. Seth and I get together for wiffle ball still to this day, maybe a game of hoops now and again. Really enjoy slow pitch but with the virus haven’t found a team this year.
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
I recently tried out coaching kids and may continue that, but I like to wrestle. I still got a few years at a high level so I like to test myself. So when wrestlers come in the gym and want to work on MMA that is where I find a lot of joy these days. Helping people make the same transition I’ve been working on for ten years. But most of them don’t come back after a few days. But I still get a lot out of old wrestlers. Jake Kadel is moving back to Iowa shortly and should be one of my main training partners soon. He is one that made the transition to Jiu Jitsu but didn’t want to strike. Very talented. I like testing myself, so coaching is still down the line a little ways.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
Just keeps me keeping on. Be a few years before I put on 30-50 and start rambling on the bar stool.
What do you do now?
Currently I work for a food pantry called the Fellowship Cup. They are supported through a second hand store called the Quarter Store that I also work at. Mornings doing deliveries for the Quarter store and afternoons picking up food donations for Henry County that goes to the food pantry. Free food for anyone who needs it Thursdays 10am-2pm. Then training. Once or twice a day.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
I give what I can. If somebody wants to get some good goes in I’m always ready. I just feel I’m best suited for collegiate wrestlers or high level high school kids.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Gallon of water a day.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
Maybe, more likely a jiu jitsu tournament.
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
Anybody that is looking to mix it up my gym is open Mondays and Wednesdays 630-? In Lowell, Iowa. Driveways at the bottom of the hill. I’m looking for guys under 170 but my buddy Jordin can take care of everybody else.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
Keep an eye open for tickets. Looking to fight at the end of the summer.