In professional wrestling, there are good guys (“faces”) and bad guys (“heels”). But sometimes one of the good guys lacks character development and is difficult to root for. And sometimes one of the bad guys is so good at performing their character that you just can’t help but root for them.
Allow me to introduce you to Baltimore’s Pat Downey. The 24-year-old amateur wrestling standout might end up being a heel you find yourself rooting for.
During the weekend, Downey was involved in a high-profile Twitter spat with UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. Downey called Cormier a “paper champ,” made jokes about his weight and tried to coax a fight with the champion himself. But Downey said it was the former Olympic wrestler who kicked things off.
“Honestly, I don’t even know D.C. personally,” Downey told PressBox. “So for him to come at me — and when I say that I mean literally he was the one who tweeted at me — I looked down at my phone and there is Daniel Cormier tweeting at me.”
Downey said he and former Iowa State national champion wrestler Kyven Gadson were having some fun on Twitter when Cormier’s protégé Deron Winn chimed in. From there, the UFC champ came after Downey.
“Out of nowhere Cormier started disrespecting me and stuff,” Downey said. “I looked up to this guy as a wrestler and a fighter. At one point I admired this guy, then I see him disrespecting me, so I just resorted to what I know. If you’re going talk to crap to me, I’ll probably talk it back to you. If you’re going to treat me nice, I’ll probably treat you nicely back. That’s just the kind of person I am.”
The exchange led to an offer from Cormier for Downey to come to California and face Winn in a mixed martial arts bout with Conquer Fighting June 24. The details have been difficult for the sides to iron out.
“We’re either doing a UFC fight under UFC rules, as in we fight at middleweight (185 pounds) and we have six ounce gloves, just fight like we would in a regular octagon, or we can fight in a park,” Downey said. “You either want to do all the rules or no rules. You can’t just pick and customize what you want to do to your benefit.
“Just because [Winn is] lazy and fat doesn’t mean I should be at a disadvantage. He wants to be fat and not make weight, wants to fight with 16 ounce gloves and do all these special rules. I can show up and we can take care of it in the park like friends would.”
Downey, a former All-American wrestler at Iowa State, is willing to take the fight despite having no official mixed martial arts experience.
“I’ve been in the fight game my entire life,” Downey said.
I’d give you the short form of Downey’s story, but there really isn’t one. He was a tri-sport athlete in high school (football, wrestling, lacrosse), but run-ins with the law led to him moving around to various schools, including three in the Baltimore area (Mount St. Joseph, Loch Raven and North County, the latter being the school from which he ultimately graduated). His collegiate wrestling career has also been complicated, having moved from school to school before settling at Iowa State as a sophomore. But his time with the Cyclones was cut short when he was dismissed from the team mid-season earlier this year for what the school described as “repeated violations of team rules.”
Downey told PressBox that then-Iowa State coach Kevin Jackson had been dismissed by the school and the assistant coaches taking over (Travis Paulson was acting head coach) had a “personal vendetta” against him (despite being an All-American and finishing fifth in the NCAA championships in 2016).
Reports around the time of Downey’s dismissal pointed to his incredibly active Twitter account, where he regularly spoke out about various issues related to the team. It’s the same Twitter account that has led him to a fight offer from the light heavyweight champion of the world. While sometimes crude and certainly far from politically correct, the Baltimore native is defensive of his social media strategy.
“All these people come and troll me that I don’t know, say terrible things to me,” Downey said. “They expect me to just accept it. They talk trash and call me every name in the book. But I accept it because at the end of the day, it’s all about fighting. It’s a job. If Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor can set up a fight, if McGregor can do that, why can’t I?
“My dad told me to shut up and now he sees the bigger picture of what I’m doing. I’m a self-marketing genius almost. [Laughs] OK. I’m pushing it.”
He’s not concerned with the villain persona that has been created because of how he behaves on social media.
“I’m not acting or anything,” Downey said. “I’d never say anything on Twitter that I wouldn’t say to your face in real life.
“What they believe and what they think of me and all that, that doesn’t bother me. That’s just their perception and they’re entitled to their opinion. People who I care about, my genuine friends and my family, they know. The people that matter to me, anybody that actually knows me, they know what type of person I am. I’ll give you the shirt off my back. I’m a pretty loyal person.
“I’m not this freaking bad, crazy, psychotic villain. I’m really just a normal person who loves his family and wrestling.”
Of course, there are those legal issues. He was arrested three times because he got into street fights while he was in high school and served a week of jail time on an assault charge. Nearly a decade later, Downey insists he has moved on from that part of his life.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Downey said. “The whole street thug persona that I was getting labeled as, there was no doubt about it. I wasn’t running with the right crew, and I wasn’t living right. You don’t catch three felony assault charges if you’re doing everything right. Obviously, I was in the wrong places at the wrong times with the wrong people. I cleaned my act up tenfold. I had to change to get the results I wanted. If I didn’t, I was going to lose my life.”
No matter what happens with this potential fight, Downey says MMA is very much in his future. He’s even worked with local MMA legend John Rallo at Ground Control Academy in Rosedale, Md. He just has a couple of goals before transitioning to a new sport.
“I have one year of college eligibility left,” Downey said. “My plan is to win a college national title, make the World Championships team and win the Olympics in 2020 and be done with wrestling completely. Right now I’m in a more transitional period where I’m starting to train more with the boxing and the muay thai and the judo and the jujitsu, just re-familiarizing myself with the whole MMA game.”
His options for this year are to try to get back on the team at Iowa State (he has remained enrolled at the school) or to graduate in the fall and transfer to another school midseason. He has a realistic shot of winning that national title, as he recently defeated two-time NCAA champ Gabe Dean at the 2017 U.S. Open.
Rooting for the bad guy might be easier when the bad guy — knowing that profiting from a fight with Winn could end up ruining his collegiate eligibility — offers to give his proceeds to Beat The Streets Baltimore, a local wrestling-based charity.
All of this has led to Downey noticing more and more people in Baltimore recognizing him and, yes, being willing to root for the villain.
“The constant support from the city is unfathomable,” Downey said. “The push from my city … I’m doing something far bigger than me. Because by no means was I the one with the most talent or anything. … I just happened to be the one who made it out.”