Odie Delaney (C) (@odiedelaney/Instagram page)

ONE 158’s Odie Delaney: The Healing of a Soul

The wilderness of Alaska can harden anyone. The long winters, summers with no nighttime, forests, wildlife, and everything else that comes with the territory is not for everyone. But, growing up there, and not knowing any different, can create a hardness that is built-in. It becomes a default mode.

Odie Delaney grew up in Willow, Alaska, a town of just over two thousand people about an hour and a half north of Anchorage. He comes from a tight Christian family, and he has an older sister, as well as a younger brother and younger sister. His way of life was somewhat unique compared to mainstream American city life, but when that’s how someone is raised, he didn’t really know anything different.

“Well, at the time I didn’t know it, but it was amazing,” Delaney told Combat Press. “I mean, it was idyllic. It was us in our tight little close-knit family out in the woods. Just loving on one another, kind of focused on the Lord, and, you know, developing our character as people. We were poor, but I didn’t know we were.


“Those were my compadres growing up out there.”

When Delaney was a pre-teen, he started wrestling in middle school. At 14 years old, his family moved to South Walton, Fla., near Destin, and he began high school wrestling as well. The transition from Alaska to the Florida Panhandle came with a certain degree of culture shock.

“I didn’t know I didn’t have money until I got down to Florida, and everyone was walking around with iPhones and iPods,” said Delaney. “You know, I was out there playing with sticks and rocks.

“I had facial hair. I had already helped my dad build a hand-scribed log cabin. You know, helped my friend build one too. I was 14 years old, working 12 hour days, And, then, I go down there, and the kids are just the softest human beings I’ve ever met in my entire life. And so it was an adjustment, for sure. I just threw myself into wrestling.”

Delaney was the only sibling who was into combat sports. This eventually led him down the path of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and striking as well. In fact, it took him all the way to a professional fighting career in his early 30’s, but the road was anything but smooth along the way.

Delaney went from high school in Florida to the Citadel, the famous military school in South Carolina, where he was an NCAA Division I All-American wrestler. There he earned a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, before taking a job as a Charleston police officer. While he was working as a public servant, he was also able to earn a Master’s degree in Homeland Security and Emergency Management through an online program.

While he was in the ROTC program as an undergrad student, he chose the path of law enforcement upon graduation. This was a decision that would prove to shape the rest of his life. On June 17, 2015, only seven years ago, Delaney and his partner were on duty around 9 p.m. ET, when calls started coming in about a mass shooting. A white supremacist named Dylan Roof had walked in the Emanuel AME Church and opened fire on a Bible study group. The two officers were among the first responders on the scene.

“I was one of the first ones, if not the first, in the door,” described Delaney. “Me and my buddies, we went in there looking for Dylan. He had went out the back – I think, maybe 20 seconds, 30 seconds [before] – as we were coming in the side door. So we missed him just by a split hair. He got in his car, got on I-26 and started heading up I-26.

“It is something that just shook me to my core. You know, I’m a real Christian, and to see my Christian brothers and sisters on the floor dead, you know, during their prayer meeting, it kind of rocks your entire core. Everything that holds you up, gets pulled out from underneath. It wasn’t necessarily the violence itself. I’ve experienced violence. I’ve seen violence. It wasn’t my first time seeing dead people. It was more of a spiritual aspect for me that kind of broke my heart in a way – broke my soul in a way.”

No matter how big of an impact childhood in Alaska, high-level collegiate wrestling or The Citadel could make on hardening Delaney, the events of that fateful night had a profound effect on him. But, oddly enough, it didn’t hit him right away.

“I actually didn’t feel anything like that first night,” said Delaney. “I came home, got in the shower, and showered like nothing had happened. I didn’t feel extremely sad. I was actually almost concerned that I wasn’t feeling anything. I was kind of like, ‘Huh?’ Like, ‘That’s weird.’ Like, ‘This was kind of a big thing, and I don’t feel much.’ It wasn’t until two weeks later. You know, the department did everything that they could do for me. They offered me to go talk to somebody, take time off, all these things. I said, ‘No.’ Being honest, I said, ‘I’m fine.’

“Two weeks later, I had my first massive panic attack. Throat closed up, couldn’t breathe, you know, just felt that immediate sense of, like, I’m going to die. And that happened maybe twice a day, every day, for months. And then I went and talked to somebody. But, you know, it got a lot worse before it got better, if that makes sense.”

Eventually, after only about three-and-a-half years on the force, Delaney had to end his career as a police officer. The mental health issues were just too overwhelming. After he finished graduate school, he began his path down a new career in fighting.

“I think I got real serious with it at first at American Top Team D’Iberville,” explained the retired police officer. “It’s Alan Belcher’s gym down there in Mississippi. Me and him got really close. He’s like a big brother to me. Then he kind of took me under his wing. I told him what I wanted to do and he got me, you know, started in the right direction. And yeah, we still talk and are very close, actually. And, Mike Sanford was my first real jiu-jitsu coach. I’m still very close with those guys.

“I’m a natural fighter. I’m a natural competitor as far as getting in the cage and the arena and doing work. I wanted to gain a platform to kind of spread my faith, for one. But also address a little bit of the mental health issues that we’re seeing in my country. I just want people to know that, even when you’re in that place, man, you don’t have to take your own life, like, don’t have to end things. Things do get better. Things can get better. You just have to reach out. You have to kind of swallow some pride and admit that you’re hurting.”

Delaney, who is now a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, made his amateur MMA debut in Jan. 2019. By the end of Mar. 2019, he was already 2-0 with two first-round submissions. The heavyweight then made his pro debut that August, racking up another first-round finish, only this time by knockout. To cap off the year, he made his way back to his home state of Alaska to pick up a second-round submission, and, just like that, he was 4-0, with two wins as a pro, all in just nine months.

Delaney is obviously a talented grappler, but walking around at 260 pounds, he also packs a ton of power. However you slice it, while he understands the finishing strength of the big men, he also has longevity on his mind. Prior to making his amateur debut, Odie and his wife welcomed their first child into the world. And, seven months ago, his wife gave birth to their second child, a little girl. Needless to say, both success and health are on the forefront of his mind.

“I’ve been competing my entire life,” said the 32-year-old All-American. “I think I’ve got a lot of years left. I mean, I’m healthy. I haven’t taken head damage. I’ve tried to train smart about that. I’m not the kind of guy that goes into the gym just looking to get CTE. You know, I’m careful with my head, my joints. My body feels phenomenal, probably better than it ever has. I’m ready to go, man. I’ll probably do this another eight years.”

After his daughter was born, Delaney, who had been training out of the ATT headquarters in Coconut Creek, Fla., needed to make some changes for his family. This led him to North Carolina.

“My wife wanted to be a little bit closer to her family and her support system, “ explained the father of two. “In southern Florida, we were so far away from anybody. We couldn’t go on dates. We were kind of, like, stuck in the house with the little kids, so we wanted to be closer to her family, which is in Columbia, S.C. I called [Muhammad] ‘King Mo’ [Lawal]. He’s a good friend of mine, and I said, ‘Hey, I gotta get my wife closer to her family. Where do I need to go train?’ And he immediately was like, ‘ATT Asheville.’ There’s also a guy out there that’s kind of a hidden gem. His name is Shawn Dillon, and he’s one of the baddest grapplers that I’ve ever had to roll with and a phenomenal striker. So I’ve been taking full advantage of these guys up here.’

Delaney’s career also took a huge step around the time he moved, when he was signed to ONE Championship near the beginning of 2022. He made his promotional debut in February, and continued his winning ways after not fighting in the last two-and-a-half years. He submitted Norway’s Thomas Narmo just over a minute into their fight, and immediately put the ONE heavyweight division on notice. This also set up his next battle this Friday night in Singapore.

On the lead card of ONE 158: Tawanchai vs. Larsen, Iran’s Mehdi Barghi will welcome Delaney to the ONE Circle for each of their sophomore appearances. However, while Delaney is on a three-fight pro winning streak, Barghi lost his promotional debut to Kang Ji Won by first-round TKO. Delaney is ready to climb to the top of the heap, and is ready to make Barghi his next victim.

“I’ve studied him extensively,” said Delaney. “He’s an Iranian wrestler. He’s got a powerful left hand. He’s got a nice little hook that he throws with that left. I think he’s too big for his frame. I think he’s a light heavyweight, if I’m going to be honest. I don’t think that he’s a true heavyweight. I think that hurts him. I think it hurt him in his last fight. But yeah, I think he’s gonna come out there and try to take my head off, because, I mean, that’s just what he does. So yeah, and I don’t think it’s going to work out for him, because I’m not going to back up scared, like all of his other opponents. I’m not. I can stay right in the center with you.”

There is no question about the amount of bumpy roads that Delaney has been able to overcome. He is a true fighter, through and through, and while he doesn’t talk trash, he also doesn’t mince his words. His no nonsense style is so pervasive, that it is hard to believe that he was in such a bad place after his experience in Charleston. But, the human mind is a fragile thing, and that’s okay. This is the message he is trying to spread.

“One thing that I’m trying to kind of get across is that it’s definitely not what defines me and my entire fighting career,” Delaney intimated. “It’s a story about overcoming adversity, and that, even in the darkest places, even when you think that your life is just over and you know you’re surrounded by depression and anxiety, you can crawl out of that hole. You definitely can and do not give up.

“Martial arts is a medicine. It really is a medicine. And I I cannot tell you how many ex-soldiers, firemen, [and] cops all talk to me about, ‘Jiu-jitsu saved my life.’ Like, anytime I run into somebody that’s like, ‘Man, I’m in a dark place. I’m like, ‘Man, try this. try getting in here and get some let out,’ you know?”

Delaney is an absolute beast in the cage, and he’s just getting started. He’s only had one fight make it to the second round, and that guy got choked out. To be fair, he hasn’t fought a ton of experienced opponents, but there is a process to building an MMA resume, and Barghi will be his biggest test yet. He knows he has a bright future, and, as with any fighter, he knows it takes one step at a time.

“I’m going to be a household name with ONE Championship,” declared Delaney. “I’m a new face right now. Nobody really knows who I am yet, but just watch. I mean, I’m going to be a household name, and you want to get in on this action early to see me watch me develop, watch me get it.”

ONE 158 will air live and free on ONE’s website at 5:30 a.m. ET on Friday, Jun. 3.