Josh Appelt is a day away from the biggest fight of his professional career — a co-main event bout against Bobby Lashley at Bellator 162 — and it would take a lobotomy to find even a hint of anticipation in him.
He doesn’t latch onto things like the spectacle of fighting a former WWE wrestler turned MMA fighter. Lashley has been at it now for nearly eight years, and the brigade of cameras and microphones still follow him around relentlessly before every fight. Make no mistake, this is Lashley’s show and Appelt was lucky enough to receive an invitation.
Moments like these can be fleeting for a fighter on the come-up. An invitation to the big show often leads to show money and a swift kick in the rear end out the door. But a return to the regional circuit isn’t on Appelt’s itinerary. He plans on cementing his placement on the Bellator roster and shaking up the heavyweight division by lowering the boom on Lashley.
“I love being the underdog, count me out,” Appelt told Today’s Knockout. “That’s what I say so when my hand is raised at the end of the night they’re going to think otherwise. Bobby has a big physique and everyone sees that. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great competitor, he’s a great wrestler, he’s 14-2.”
Lashley’s days on the collegiate wrestling mat helped ease his transition into MMA. He is currently riding a seven-fight win streak and on the short list of Bellator heavyweight contenders.
Appelt could steal that momentum with a win on Friday. His ability to defend the takedown and keep his back off the cage will be the pivotal moments in the fight. While he doesn’t have a collegiate wrestling background, he does have some experience wrestling in high school. He was quick to point that nugget of information out when pressed about his time playing semi-pro football.
“I wrestled in California, and I went to state two years in my junior and senior year — didn’t place but I was in the top eight. So I can wrestle too,” said Appelt. “It’s not where Bobby wrestled or anything like that, but I can wrestle too.”
A broken leg and a plate with 18 screws forced Appelt to bid farewell to his dreams on the gridiron.
But he would soon find MMA through wrestling once again. Longtime MMA veteran Dave Huckaba called in the then 330-pound Appelt as a grappling partner to help prepare for a fight. Appelt took him up on the offer an embarked on a journey that would help him shed more than 50 pounds and open up a new athletic venture. A few months later, he was already stepping into the cage and competing.
Nothing has ever been taken for granted in his ascension to the top of the Bellator ticket. The belief that good things come to those who wait hasn’t meant more to any fighter than Appelt, who recently had a Bellator fight canceled with kickboxing legend Sergei Kharitonov. It was devastating news that put his fighting career in the void for a while.
And then the phone rang.
“I was supposed to fight Sergei Kharitonov back in May and that card fell through because he got sick. I was just training, and I got the phone call to fight Bobby and I was more than happy to take it,” said Appelt. “I think it’s a good matchup. We’re both quick, we’re both fast. He might carry more strength, but I carry more endurance. I think it’s a good matchup.”
Calling it a good matchup is as far as Appelt would go in breaking down the fight. He didn’t add any bold prognostications to the story. Lashley might be the leading man, but this is definitely his story too.
He’ll be looking to write his own ending on Friday.
“It is what it is, it’s a fight man. It’s the fight business, I’ve had 17 of them. It’s just another one,” said Appelt. “…You never know what’s going to happen. We’re heavyweights and we’re throwing a lot of leather. I’m going to go out there and give it my all and give the best show for the fans. Hopefully I’ll get my hand raised in the end.”