Sean Stebbins looks toward the IMMAF World Championships

By Dane McGuire, IMMAF U.S. Correspondent

St. Paul, Minnesota’s Sean “The Sweetheart” Stebbins combat sports journey started off like countless others—through time spent in wrestling. He made it to the finals of a 2010 army combatives grappling tournament with nothing beyond those few years of wrestling experience, having made it to the state level the year before, and nearly bested the entire field of competitors.

His path to gold continues through the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation World Championships of Amateur MMA.

Stebbins joined the army while still in high school as a Fire Support Specialist (more commonly known as Forward Observer.) After taking on a Division I wrestler and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu veteran 15 years his senior from the famed West Point Military Academy, he moved away from being just another enthusiast and decided to give a career in fighting a real go following a deployment to Kuwait.

By the time he was married in 2011, he appeared to be on his way to having all he wanted. Things would changes shortly before a 2014 Thai boxing tournament, an event in which he came up just short in similar fashion to army combatives.

“We had two kids together and had survived a deployment. What could be more stressful on a relationship than a deployment? Fighting and the pursuit of excellence. I was given an ultimatum: marriage, or fighting…Now, fighting HAD to mean something.

That decision is still what ultimately drives me to win the battle with the pillow every morning. Get up and get it done, no excuses, no matter what because now a real sacrifice had been made and there was no going back. Her, and I have become good friends since then, but it still drives me to work myself to total exhaustion. Everyday, the goal is be completely exhausted from the days training by the time I go to bed.”

The flyweight (125-pound) fighter and Staff-Sergeant in the 1-125th Field Artillery Battalion in the Minnesota National Guard kept pursuing excellence despite his shortcomings and took to MMA (in which he has built up a perfect 7-0 amatuer record.) After training with his combatives coach Greg Nelson, he is now a UMMAF national champion looking to take on some of the best on the planet in his division at the upcoming Worlds event.

“Winning the UMMAF National Championship was the highlight of my career in MMA. Everything I had done in my two years as an amateur culminated when I became the national champion. Everything came together the way it was supposed to: weight management, conditioning, mental preparation months of drilling the same basic techniques.

In my fights prior to the tournament I was training hard, but something was missing—the fighter I was in the practice room and the fighter I was on fight night just didn’t seem to be the same. It was the first time I felt that I had done everything right during camp and then was able to keep the momentum going on fight night. The UMMAF tournament allowed me to finally zero in on exactly how I should prepare for future fights while also putting me in a position to become the number one amateur flyweight in the world.”

He then took some time to reflect on both his athletic and personal growth.

“A lot has changed since those [combatives and Muay Thai] competitions. Since then, MMA has went from something I did as a hobby 2-3 days a week to something my entire life revolves around. Now, everything in my life takes a backseat to my training (he trains 25-30 hours per week.) Every decision I make in my life now comes down to one question “If I do this, will it bring me closer to, or further away from becoming a world champion.” There is no middle ground. If the answer is further away, it’s not happening.”

Much like his UMMAF teammates, Stebbins is more than ready to take on any challengers that cross his path thanks to his past battles. He feels that the Army combatives program has readied him like no other as one could be forced to take on between five to six opponents within three to four days or see a field of 40 drop to single digits in just one day.

“Pressure is no stranger to me. If you add up all of the experience I have in wrestling, army combatives, BJJ, Muay Thai, and MMA the number has to be somewhere around 150-200 matches. The Minnesota State Wrestling Tournament is held in front of over 10,000 people, so competing in front of an audience is nothing new…

Combatives also drove home the point that being complacent on the bottom is 100 percent not okay. Outside of the cage, in the real world your life may literally depend on finding top position. Everything within reach becomes a weapon, and the ground is not as forgiving as a mat.”

Although fighting has literally altered the course of his life, this true warrior seems to be on the verge of reaching the top of the mountain once again.

“In the moments when I ask myself if all the training is worth it, the pain I feel and the level of grit required to achieve exhaustion day in and day out lets me know that no amount of work is too much. Three years later, a single devastating decision has led me to the opportunity that lies ahead at the world tournament, and also to a partner that makes it all possible by backing me 100 percent.”


The 2017 IMMAF World Championships of Amateur MMA take place November 12-19 in Manama, Bahrain.

The 2018 UMMAF National Championships will take place during the first week of February with registration already open on This next national event will also feature the first Youth MMA National Championship thanks to the United States Fight League, the UMMAF youth development arm, which is a requirement for any sport applying for the Olympics.

Follow the UMMAF and the action of the 2017 IMMAF World Championships on Twitter and Facebook!