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HomeSport13-year-old prodigy Talon Worden has designs on conquering UFC, wrestling, and the Olympics

13-year-old prodigy Talon Worden has designs on conquering UFC, wrestling, and the Olympics

by News7

The explosion of NIL deals — name, image and likeness rights — completely changed the landscape of sports endorsements forever. For the first time, college athletes like those playing football started getting paid alongside the schools that reaped the benefits of their talents with massive broadcast rights deals worth billions.

But NIL deals have reached further than just athletes in college; there are now high-schoolers and even younger athletes signing similar deals. Back in February, 13-year-old McKenna “Mak” Whitham became the youngest athlete to ever sign with Nike when she inked a NIL deal with the powerhouse company.

So it only made sense that a prodigy in wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and MMA would seek out similar opportunities, which is how 13-year-old Talon Worden got connected with Iridium Sports Agency, a company known for representing fighters such as ex-UFC champ Brandon Moreno, Bobby Green, and another teen sensation in Raul Rosas Jr.

Worden’s father, Joe, who is a veteran of the Marines and a longtime MMA coach in his own right, says he felt like teaming up with an actual agent working in combat sports would be the best way to find opportunities for his son.

“As a dad, reaching out to endorsements or sponsors or, ‘Hey, can you help us here, can you do this or do that?’ — every dad thinks they’ve got the next LeBron James or Tiger Woods,” Joe Worden told MMA Fighting. “Everybody thinks their kid is the best out there.

“I didn’t want to come off as the dad asking for stuff and they would be like, ‘We’ve just got another dad out here.’ So when we spoke to [Iridium founder Jason House], I was like, you know what? I’ll let you guys do the footwork and that’s kind of where we went from there.”

Because NIL deals have become such a lucrative business, it’s almost irresponsible not to explore those options, but as much attention as his signing received, the kid at the center of it all never lost sight of what was most important to him — and that’s winning.

Talon Worden started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu when he was only 4 years old. When he turned 6, Worden started wrestling, and by 10 or 11 years of age, he was competing in youth MMA tournaments.

Over the past couple years, Worden has earned a ton of praise for his growing list of wrestling accolades. A quick glance at his TrackWrestling profile — a site that tracks youth wrestling results — shows Worden has amassed a ridiculous résumé filled with more than a dozen first-place finishes in competitions just over the past year.

As much as he loves wrestling, Worden still favors MMA over everything else he does for one very simple reason.

“I like MMA the most just because I can do everything that I know in it,” he told MMA Fighting. “I’m not trying to sound cocky or anything, but because I know wrestling and jiu-jitsu, I can play all those into MMA. I have a little bit to choose from everything that I love do.”

Hearing that a 13-year-old kid is competing in MMA may sound shocking, which is why his father is quick to point out the rules put in place to protect young people in the sport.

“There’s no head strikes until you’re 18 years old,” Joe said. “It’s actually safer than doing kickboxing or boxing, where you’re taking head strike after head strike after head strike. In [youth] MMA, there is no head striking. So you can strike from the neck down, and then once it goes to the ground, wrestling and jiu-jitsu comes into play, but there is no head strikes. So these kids are not getting brain damage at 13 years old.

“As a dad, as a coach, as a Marine, I’m not going to put my kid out there to get brain damage. I would much rather see him do the MMA stuff — he’s done kickboxing and I said we weren’t going to be doing that again because he’s too young to be hit in the head with boxing gloves and kicked in the head. That’s why we stayed with MMA, because I don’t have to worry about him getting knocked out or getting concussions.”

On Saturday, Worden competes in the GAMMA (Global Association of Mixed Martial Arts) Youth Nationals in Milwaukee, where he seeks to add another title to his record. At 13, Worden has already picked up more trophies and gold medals than most athletes could possibly win during a lifetime, but he’s not slowing down any time soon.

Continued success at that level undoubtedly puts a lot of pressure and expectations on a kid not even old enough to drive a car yet, but his father says everything Talon does is only because he wants to do it.

Joe Worden insists that if his son woke up tomorrow and decided he wanted to give up every athletic endeavor and just focus on school, he would support that decision.

“If he quits tomorrow, that’s his choice,” Joe said. “None of us are pushing this. He’s just found something that he really does like. There’s been times where I’m like, ‘Can I take the night off?’ I work all day, pick him up from practice, I’m like, ‘Can we just take the night off?’ And he says, ‘No, I’m good, let’s go, my opponent isn’t taking a day off.’”

In addition to wrestling, MMA, and grappling competitions, Worden also plays full back and middle linebacker for his school’s football team. At 6-foot-tall and 170 pounds as a 13-year-old, he has the size to play a physical game and hopes to transition to quarterback next season. He also runs track in the springtime.

With all these various sports, tournaments, and competitions — which included traveling to 14 different countries over the past year and a half — how does Worden manage his schoolwork? Well, just tack that onto his growing list of accomplishments as Talon maintains a perfect straight ‘A’ average, although he shrugs his shoulders when he reports his lowest grade this past year was a 92 — which is still an ‘A.’

Considering he’s signed with a prominent MMA agency and he’s tearing through wrestling and MMA tournaments seemingly on a weekly basis, Worden’s future in combat sports appears to be set in stone, but he actually has other ambitions in mind.

In fact, just hearing him rattle off the things he wants to do before retiring — yes, a 13-year-old kid is already mapping out his entire plan for the future — he’s not putting his focus on any one goal just yet.

“I would absolutely love to go to West Point for college,” Talon said. “I’ve been working to go there since the time I was little. I want to go to the UFC sometime. GAMMA, which is the youth MMA I fight for, they just got represented by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) so they’re thinking it might be in the 2028 Olympics, which I will still be young enough to compete. So if I could compete in MMA in the Olympics, I would love to do that.

“You can’t do this forever, so when I do retire, I would like to become a physical therapist or a sports rehab doctor.”

For all the awards Talon has captured, his parents admit that they’re far more concerned with raising a good kid.

“We were at the Tulsa Kickoff and he won the Tulsa Kickoff, and I got a message from somebody from California that said, ‘It goes without saying how good of an athlete your kid was, he won the whole thing, but the thing that got me was he was always on the mat side, cheering for somebody he already beat or giving them a pep talk,’” Joe said.

There’s no telling exactly what Talon Worden does next, but there’s obviously a lot of potential there. That’s why Iridium’s House signed to represent him and help his parents navigate the new market of NIL deals available for their son.

“We were very intrigued when the Worden family first contacted us about possibly representing Talon,” House told MMA Fighting. “It was obvious right away that Talon is extremely committed to his school and training. Joe has a ton of experience in combat sports and developing talent himself. Talon is young, but we’re very excited to help guild him through the NIL process and eventually into the world of professional MMA.”

Talon may be getting a lot of attention for someone his age, but that’s nothing new to him. After winning several tournaments in a row, he suffered a bad loss and then dropped a second straight match that knocked him out of the competition, and Talon acknowledged he let the pressure get to him. Ever since that moment, he’s kept his sole focus on the task in front of him and doesn’t think about anything else until that job is done.

That probably explains why his lofty future ambitions aren’t a distraction but rather just a tool he uses to keep his eyes constantly on the prize.

“I go by the phrase ‘one match at a time,’” Talon said. “I don’t look forward to see who I would be wrestling next. I don’t do that. Whoever I will wrestle, I’ll wrestle. Whoever I fight, I’ll fight. If people gather around to watch, people will gather around to watch. No matter what happens, I’m still going to have to go.”

Source : MMAFighting

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