Craig Tobin has plans for the cargo truck he picked up used from the Bakersfield Californian.
The name of the newspaper remains faded on the rear door above the liftgate, but the former Cal State Bakersfield wrestler — a Central San Joaquin Valley businessman who’s taken ownership of the Fight for Wrestling brand name — has designs on painting the plain white sides of the trailer into a moving advertisement for his mixed-martial-arts-for-charity venture.
In town putting on today’s 6 p.m. fight event at the Madonna Expo Center to benefit the wrestling programs of both Cal Poly and Cal State Bakersfield, the truck houses the broken down caged ring and all the supports needed to stage a fight.
Tobin wants to continue making the long haul across Highway 46 for the long haul.
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“Those are the last two public D-I programs in California,” Tobin said. “We have Stanford, but it’s private, and there are 33,000 boys that participate in high school wrestling in the state of California. Not all of them are Stanford caliber.
“To me, if Poly goes, CSUB goes. It’s going to be easier for the powers that be to cut them both off. You don’t have anybody here to compete against.
“Maybe some of this money that we’re raising, it can go to an endowment.”
With an eye on preventing Cal Poly wrestling from going the way of bygone programs at Fresno State, UC Davis and, most recently, Cal State Fullerton, the Fight for Wrestling movement started with a card of seven professional fights held on campus at Mott Gym in May 2010.
Promoted by Cal Poly alumnus and World Extreme Cagefighting co-founder Scott Adams, supported by UFC legend Chuck Liddell and featuring appearances by Liddell, former NFL guard Stephen Neal and actor Lou Ferrigno, the first Fight for Wrestling event netted about $20,000 for the Mustangs program, Cal Poly associate athletic director Phil Webb said.
Webb said the amount equated to about eight percent of the Mustangs wrestling program’s overall budget for the year.
When Cal State Bakersfield announced it would be dropping its program unless the team could fund raise its entire budget, Tobin — who wrestled for the Roadrunners in the late 1970s alongside former Cal Poly head coach John Azevedo — acted to help bring Fight for Wrestling to Bakersfield.
Tobin has since helped organize two MMA events in Bakersfield — the latest this past May — that he said will have combined to net more than $50,000 for the Roadrunners.
Those efforts helped bolster a major fundraising drive that led to the reinstatement of the Cal State Bakersfield program before it was forced to miss any time on the mat.
On the surface, the Mustangs program does not appear to share some of the fatal faults that have doomed the wrestling teams of other California universities.
New head coach Brendan Buckley, who replaced the retiring Azevedo and Illinois assistant and former Cal Poly co-head coach Mark Perry this offseason, said the Mustangs program is not in a position where it needs to be “saved.”
Buckley, who spent 11 seasons as the head coach at Columbia, said he wouldn’t have left a stable situation to join a program on its way out.
But Buckley’s goal of generating an endowment to ensure the long-term health of Cal Poly wrestling is the same as Tobin’s.
“If you tell me a wrestling program in the country that doesn’t think $20,000 could help their wrestling program, I’ll show you a liar,” Buckley said. “Twenty-thousand dollars could be the equipment budget. It could be sending a group of guys to the U.S. Open to compete or the Northwest Regional.”
It’s not the only fundraiser for Cal Poly wrestling. The Mustangs are also hosting a golf tournament at Cypress Ridge Golf Course today.
Tonight’s event features some of the fighters who helped add excitement to the first one.
San Luis Obispo trainer Cruz Gomez won the main event in a stirring comeback. Cal Poly viticulture student Mike Gahan had a striking knockout victory in his first professional fight.
Both return to see if their second go-around will continue to build momentum for their sport in San Luis Obispo.
“It’s going to be interesting to see just the future of MMA,” Buckley said. “There’s a lot of people that are so confident one way or the other whether it’s going to fizzle or keep growing. The way it seems now, it’s going to keep growing. That’s why I think wrestling can benefit from it.”