21-year-old Keith Hulin is one of the top amateur MMA fighters in the state of North Carolina. The former standout wrestler from South Davidson High School has barely been training for a year. Yet he has already compiled a very impressive 5-1 record and has, in the past month, won his first amateur championship. He is also currently ranked by MMA For Real as the # 2 amateur bantamweight fighter in the Carolinas. Perhaps the scariest thing for potential opponents is that Keith, because he hasn't even been training for MMA very long, could likely improve a lot in the years to come. Hulin gained recognition in the sport of wrestling at South Davidson High School, compiling a record of 22-3 in just his sophomore season. By the time he was a senior, he placed second overall in the state of North Carolina. Training out of Eight Points Muay Thai in Clemmons, NC, Keith has improved a lot in the 10 short months since he began competing. Only one fighter has been able to go the distance with Keith and his only loss came to Illinois-based fighter Carson Beebe. Carson, the brother of former world bantamweight title challenger Chase Beebe, was a 6-0 amateur fighter and is currently 3-0 as a pro. Hulin learned a lot from that fight and has quickly solidified himself as one of the better young prospects in this region. Apparently some of Keith's abilities are genetic because his brother Kevin is also a very talented fighter. I recently caught up with Keith to learn more about his background and his future plans:
Rich Wyatt: You come from a wrestling background and you've done a good job so far in utilizing those skills in your MMA fights. How did you get into wrestling?
Keith Hulin: I was probably about 8 years old when I was introduced to wrestling. My older brother played football and began wrestling around that time. Kevin and I started to join him at practice and we'd compete every AAU season. We ended up never quitting and we competed throughout Middle School and High School. There's nothing like competing man-on-man with somebody else. The winning is nice but every time you step out there you learn something and get better.
More after the jump:
Rich Wyatt: That's a good point. You must have learned a lot because I've heard that you had a lot of success wrestling for South Davidson High School.
Keith Hulin: Yes, sir. I was runner-up in the State championships my senior year.
Rich Wyatt: When did you begin training and preparing to compete in MMA?
Keith Hulin: Around late July of last year Ryan Hayes knew about Kevin and I and invited us to come train at Eight Points. We got our first amateur fights shortly after that and have done really well. I love the competition.
Rich Wyatt: You have compiled an impressive 5-1 record as an amateur. How have you most improved as a fighter since you began competing as an amateur?
Keith Hulin: I'd say that I've improved a lot at taking criticism. I listen to everything my guys tell me. Even when I win impressively, my coaches will tell me "Great job" but once we're back in training they'll show me the things I did wrong. The way you get better is to be coached by somebody that really cares about the people he trains. Chris really knows the game. Taking criticism as a positive as opposed to a negative is very important. It's how you get better.
Rich Wyatt: How has training at Eight Points Muay Thai in Clemmons, NC helped you develop as a fighter?
Keith Hulin: One thing I've learned is that you can go out and lose to somebody if you don't come in with the right gameplan. You can also win a fight you shouldn't if you come in with the right gameplan. The folks at Eight Point do a great job of helping us come in with the right gameplan. We're learning a lot there. Chris Clodfelter is my idol, dude. I've rolled with pro guys before and he's one of the best I've rolled with. Chris comes from a standup background but he doesn't try to make us standup fighters. That's one of the things I appreciate. He teaches us things to help us maximize our strengths. He's one of the main reasons I'm 5-1 right now. I believe that there aren't many fighters you can't beat if you have the right gameplan. Believing in what you do is very important. Guys like Josh Stanly, Jacob Johnson, Josh Leonard, Tony Scarlett and Ryan Hayes do a lot of work with our team and do a great job getting us all ready for a fight.
Rich Wyatt: Another talented fighter that trains with you at Eight Points is your brother Kevin. What is it like for you having a brother that also actively competes? Has it been beneficial?
Keith Hulin: Very. Seriously, whenever I can't get out to training, we have a basement that we train in all the time. We train, spar and workout together often. We push each other to be ready to go five rounds. With the exception of me being southpaw and him being orthodox, we're mirror images of each other. It's really been great training with Kevin.
Rich Wyatt: So who got the better of the fights between you two growing up?
Keith Hulin: (Laughs) Neither. We'd both get into it and then usually get whooped later on for messing up something in the house.
Rich Wyatt: What do you currently do for a living?
Keith Hulin: I'm about to start school in the Fall. I plan to turn pro sometime during my time in college, but I want to soak up all information I can while I'm in the amateurs so I'm in no rush to turn pro.
Rich Wyatt: In what area of your game have you made the most improvement?
Keith Hulin: I'd definitely say I've improved my standup. My Jiu-Jitsu has improved, not just working from my back but top, bottom and side control also. My camp does a good job at working to help us become more balanced. I don't work as much from my back as on top control but I try to work on everything. I try to never have the mindset of winning the fight off my back. I try to look to always using my jiu-jitsu skills to sweep or scramble and get in a better position.
Rich Wyatt: Besides training, what other things do you enjoy doing with your free time?
Keith Hulin: Buying MMA pay-per-views. Not to be cliche or anything, but Kevin and I just really enjoy the sport and we like to get a group of friends together and watch MMA. Truthfully, we can usually either be found training or, on Saturday nights, watching fights.
Rich Wyatt: You're coming off a win over Brantley Furr (3-1) for the Elite Championship Cage Fighting bantamweight title. Tell us a little about how that fight went.
Keith Hulin: Well, I knew that Brantley would try to rush me when we came out to begin the round. He threw a big right hand and I hit him with a counter right and circled out. He tried a Superman punch and I shot in and took him down. I initially tried a heel hook and missed. He then tried a triangle and I defended. I then just sat back and got him in a heel hook submission for the win in the first round. I saw the opening and I took it. I'm new to heel hooks but I saw a good opportunity for one and capitalized on it.
Rich Wyatt: What are your goals for the rest of 2010? Would you like to stay active?
Keith Hulin: I'm actually supposed to go to Tennessee very soon to fight a guy that is 5-0. After Chris's fight on June 26th we're going to look at some opportunities. I expect to defend my ECCF title sometime later in the year.
Rich Wyatt: Which fighters do you enjoy watching the most?
Keith Hulin: Georges St. Pierre is really fun to watch because he's such a complete fighter. I consider him to be #1 pound for pound. There are several fighters I enjoy watching, though. Quinton Jackson is also fun to watch. You can always count on some good junk talk with him.
Rich Wyatt: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. Congratulations on the win.
Keith Hulin: Not a problem. Thank you.
MMA4Real would like to thank Keith for taking the time out to speak with us. We would like to wish him good luck in the future and we hope to talk with him again soon.