If it appears that MMA fighter Dean Stupar is always two steps ahead of his opponent, then it’s probably true.
In addition to placing at the state meet as a wrestler for Ridgewood High and winning MMA titles in three separate classes, Stupar also is a nationally ranked chess player.
Stupar’s MMA coach, Brandon Watts, thinks Stupar’s skills in the strategy board game have a lot to do with his success in the octagon.
“I’ve been coaching for over 30 years,” Watts said. “I’ve always preached to my students that this is a physical chess game. So, Dean having that intelligence gives him an advantage right off the bat, because he’s always looking ahead at two or three moves down the road.”
Like most recent MMA success stories, Stupar’s introduction to the sport came as a wrestler. Stupar was a standout for the Rams from 2005-08. In 2006, as a 103-pound sophomore, Stupar placed sixth at the 2A meet in Lakeland. In 2008, he placed third, with his only loss being by one point.
A couple of years later, Stupar was helping out Dean Blevins, the owner of Gator MMA in New Port Richey, as a wrestling coach. Blevins suggested Stupar learn the art of jiu-jitsu. Despite the differences between wrestling and jiu-jitsu, Stupar was a quick study in the Brazilian grappling sport.
“When he started, he was strictly a wrestler,” Watts said. “Within four or five months, he was already considered a blue belt, which is the second belt in jiu-jitsu, which would take most people two or three years to get. He’s a bit of a phenom as far as grappling goes. When you teach him a move, he learns how to do it the right away. Then, he adds something to it to make it even better.”
For Stupar, learning jiu-jitsu was an adjustment, but something he embraced.
“A lot of people think wrestling and jiu-jitsu are the same,” Stupar said. “In reality, jiu-jitsu is the exact opposite of wrestling. It’s the same types of motions, but it’s about how you apply the pressure.”
Stupar’s evolution as a fighter mirrors other fighters from Gator MMA, such as Ladarious Jackson and Abby Velazquez. After losing his debut in a close decision, Stupar hasn’t had a defeat in his past five fights. He won the WCFL bantamweight title March 30 at the Downtown Hilton as part of the WCFL’s “Breaking Point” card when he submitted Jordan Pruitt with a guillotine choke in just more than a minute.
Watts thinks Stupar has a big future in the sport with his attributes. He was offered another title shot, but Watts thought there wasn’t enough time to prepare, so they turned it down.
Stupar’s next fight should come June 29 at another WCFL event, where he will face the winners of two of the top contenders in his weight class. After that fight, Stupar is hoping his success will earn him a professional contract from the XFC in Tampa.