Submitted photo – Cass Bell

Congratulations to Cass Bell, the 2019 Sportsperson of the Year.

And what a year it has been for the Arcata star, in and out of the MMA cage.

Bell was a perfect 3-0 in fights in 2019, improving to 5-0 as a professional MMA fighter as he continues to set the standard in the sport locally.

But more than that, it’s what Bell has given back to the local sports community that sets him apart from many of his peers.

The 32-year-old former Arcata High wrestling standout, who was heavily influenced by legendary former Tigers coach Bert Van Duzer, is now one of the most respected youth wrestling coaches on the North Coast himself.

And when he’s not busy preparing for his Bellator fights, he’s busy in his Arcata gym — the Institute of Combat — coaching the 100-plus youth wrestlers there.

So what’s so special about Cass?

“His heart,” Bell’s long-time MMA coach and owner of the IOC gym John “Juan” Thompson says without hesitation. “His heart. As a person the dude is the most genuine caring person. He’s willing to learn anything and help everybody. He’s just a really good person.”

He’s also a pretty good MMA fighter, having set the standard for a dynamic young pool of MMA fighters here on the North Coast in recent years.

As for Cass the fighter, it’s his mental approach to the sport that sets him apart, according to his long-time trainer.

“Along with his heart, his mind is what makes him special,” says Thompson, who has trained Bell for the past nine years and been there every step of the way on his journey through Bellator. “His mentality. He really believes in himself. He trusts himself a lot and he really believes in his ability.”

This past year also saw Bell sign a multi-fight contract with Bellator, widely considered the second biggest MMA organization on the planet after the UFC.

In addition, Bell was a runaway winner in the poll for 2019 Male Athlete of the Year, pulling in 50.5 percent of the vote from a pool of nine candidates.

And we suspect 2020 will be just as successful for both Bell the fighter and Bell the coach, as he continues to impact numerous young wrestlers on the North Coast, while also continuing to inspire many young MMA fighters in the area.

“They love him,” Thompson said of Bell’s youth wrestlers, with whom he travels all over the West Coast during a busy tournament season. “He’s like a big kid himself. The kids love him. The parents love him.”

And so too does the North Coast sports community.


Ray Hamill writes at, where you can read lots more about sports in Humboldt County.