Sea Kings meet Salter

John Salter kicked up his feet after working out with wrestlers at the Corona del Mar High camp on Friday. The professional mixed martial artist fighter sat next to CdM assistant coach Ryan Montgomery, the person most responsible for Salter being in town to help high school and middle school students.

Montgomery is also the reason why Salter pursued the sport of MMA.

If it were not for Montgomery introducing Salter to MMA seven years ago, when the two wrestled at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., Salter said fighting would not be the way he earns a living.

"When we were freshmen in college, he was always talking about Tito Ortiz," said Salter, who because of Montgomery was forced to watch the Huntington Beach Bad Boy's fights. "I was like, 'I don't know who that is.' He's like, 'You got to know who that is!' It made me watch the videos and then I started thinking, 'I can do that.' "

Salter has been fighting as a professional for 17 months now. He is 5-1 and his next middleweight bout is at Ultimate Fighting Championship 118 in Boston, where he faces Dan Miller on Aug. 28.

Most of the two dozen wrestlers at the camp have been following Salter's career since the spring. Back then, Salter showed up to a CdM practice and the teenagers asked for his autograph.

Now, they just want to learn Salter's signature moves.

Salter worked with the wrestlers after his flight from Atlanta, Ga., arrived at John Wayne Airport just before 10 a.m. The wrestlers by thas time had already ran two miles and lifted weights.

They longed to learn from a pro after dealing with Montgomery and Coach Gary Almquist. Salter felt right at home.

"It's fun because it reminds me of being in high school and how we used to practice during the summer," said Salter, who wrestled at Gardendale High in Alabama and reached the state finals in Division 5A three times, winning once.

"It's also refreshing to take a break from MMA and get back to wrestling."

Salter's focus for three days at CdM is purely wrestling, no jiu-jitsu or kickboxing. He can even eat or drink whatever he wants until he said he returns to Nashville, Tenn., where he trains.

Montgomery teased Salter, saying, "Is that because your coach isn't here to monitor?" Montgomery knows the drill of making weight, having been a two-time CIF State qualifier before graduating from Edison High in 2003.

Montgomery wouldn't be surprised if Salter's coach, Ed Clay, is on the tarmac waiting for Salter when he arrives Tuesday morning. The second half of Salter's eight-week training session for his upcoming fight begins that day.

"As soon as I get back, [my diet] will go to just water and I'll be eating grilled chicken and fish," Salter said. "The last four weeks [I have to check] everything I eat and drink."

Salter has a lot to offer to young wrestlers, from how to eat, train and overcome tough losses. The path to becoming a pro MMA fighter is not something everyone can stomach.

Salter has had his nose broken a few times. Once during a fight, he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

Forty-five seconds into his fourth pro fight, it happened to Salter, with his girlfriend, Lindsey Cate, in attendance. He was up against Jeremiah Riggs from "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show on Spike TV.

Reality almost set in for Salter that a loss was imminent.

"At one point I ended up on the bottom and he was trying to hit me, and I was just sitting there thinking, 'I can just lose this fight because my leg's torn out and everybody will understand,' " Salter said. "But I was like, 'Nope! I can't lose in front of [my girlfriend] for the first fight she's seen [me in].' "

Salter and Cate are still together. Maybe it has to do with Salter overcoming the injury that night in Springfield, Ill., last Oct. 17 to beat Riggs by submission with 16 seconds left in the opening round.

Salter improved his record to 4-0, and then he received his first break.

The UFC called after a fighter dropped out of a bout against Gerald Harris. The UFC needed a replacement in the preliminary card of Fight Night 20 on Jan. 11 in Fairfax, Va.

With just six days notice, Salter's manager, Monte Cox, called.

"He said, 'You don't turn the UFC down,'" said Salter, who wasn't training for any fight, but just coaching wrestling at Thompson High in Alabaster, Ala. "It was one of those things that I was getting ready to watch a movie and I had a Mountain Dew in my hand [when Cox called]. I threw the Mountain Dew away and went to bed. I had to get up for training the next day."

Salter admits he wasn't ready for his UFC debut. He wasn't in shape.

Both of those cost him in the third round against Harris.

The fight was stopped at the 3:24 mark because Salter said he wasn't doing anything, but just taking Harris' punches. The setback taught Salter something and he shares the experience with aspiring fighters.

"Athletes are driven by [not] losing and I hadn't lost in a long time," said Salter, adding that his previous loss came in 2007, when he was wrestling for Lindenwood, the school where he won an individual NAIA National Championship and helped the team finish first as well. "[Losing] was probably a good thing for me. I beat myself up for about a week over it. While I [have] to push harder, I can't beat myself up over it anymore.

"[The UFC] called me back and I came back and fought for [the UFC] again in May [and beat Jason MacDonald at UFC 113]."

Salter didn't just beat MacDonald in Canada, he snapped his left tibia and fibula, and dislocated the ankle.

The fight ended so fast, in less than three minutes, that Montgomery and the rest of the Sea Kings who gathered to watch the pay-per-view event on May 8 didn't even get to see it.

"We were waiting and waiting, hoping that match comes [on]," Montgomery said. "We're hoping [to see Salter fight] this UFC 118."

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