By Ray Hamill — Former Hoopa High wrestling coach Mike Lee knew before anyone else just how special Orion and Louis Cosce were.
As the brothers’ long-time mentor, Lee coached the two of them for more than a decade and still stays in close contact with them as they embark on their UFC journey.
And he says it comes as no surprise to him to see both of them on the verge of a major breakthrough in their careers after each earned a UFC contract this year.
“Once they got their chance and their big break, doors were always going to open for them,” Lee said.
The long-time Hoopa Valley wrestling coach retired earlier this year after 20 years in charge at the local high school, and coached the two brothers since they first began competing in wrestling.
And he remembers just how talented they were on the mats.
“I coached them since they were five, all the way from freestyle through high school,” he said. “They’re exceptional wrestlers, born for the sport. They were born to wrestle and born to be in the cage.”
Lee, who like much of Humboldt County will be watching Saturday’s fight between Louis and Sasha Palatnikov at UFC 255, is proud of what the duo has achieved.
“It’s a coach’s dream seeing your wrestlers or any athlete you coached doing that at the pro or Division-I level,” he said.
And Lee knows just how much work the two brothers have put in behind the scenes on the way to their success.
“Those boys train harder than most people I know,” he said.
Orion was also scheduled to fight at UFC 255 this Saturday but was forced to withdraw late because of an undisclosed injury. He is, however, expected back in the cage early in the new year.
And one of his strongest attributes, according to Lee, is his competitive spirit.
“He doesn’t like to lose,” Lee said of the older brother. “Losing isn’t an option for him.”
The coach also believes their success will inspire not just young wrestlers in Hoopa Valley, but also well beyond.
“I think it’ll help wrestlers on the whole North Coast,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of kids that know them and see them compete. It’s going to be a big drive for the younger guys.”
But most of all, what Lee remembers most about Louis and Orion is how they conducted themselves off the mats and how they overcame their obstacles in order to compete in the sport, with Orion always taking the initiative and making sure the two of them and their cousin were able to travel to compete.
“They’re nice boys,” Lee said. “Like I always told them, be kind, courteous and polite on the mats and in public. And they are.”
The two MMA stars have not forgotten just how much Lee meant to them on the early stages of their journey.
“They stop by whenever they come to the valley,” Lee said. “I consider them my boys.”