World Cup Recap
I am sitting here in my living room on this Sunday afternoon getting my life back on track and watching the B1G Wrestling finals. I have been home for exactly one week, but I feel like I have not even come close to getting everything back in order from being away for so long. This might have been one of the longest trips I have been a part of. It consisted of extended stays in three countries over 21 days. The amount of travel and the many different rooms we had to stay in made it seem much longer than it really is. We stay in places that are not very comfortable. Hotels are probably the worst for being comfortable. There is never a good seat and the rooms don’t have a lot of shelving for storing clothes. Wrestlers have to bring a lot of gear since it is winter and we have to get down to weight. We are away from our families and loved ones for long periods of time. We do this because we love the sport, and inside all of us, we want to be champions.
The wrestling community at the highest level is a very close group. We compete against one another throughout the whole year. We also train with each other side by side, USA and the world. I have been all over this planet for wrestling — from Brazil to France to Russia, Iran, Uzbekistan, China and many other countries. All of these places have very different cultures, and in each place, there are people training to become the best in the world. Wrestling has been around for as long as we know. It appears in one of the oldest known texts ever found in the epic Poem of Gilgamesh. This poem took place in what now is modern day Iraq, which is very close to where we were for the World Cup of Freestyle Wrestling in Tehran, Iran. When I walked into the arena before our semifinal bout with Iran, I could not help but imagine myself back in time 1000s of years ago entering a similar arena for the very same purpose. Ever since the original Olympic Games, men have wrestled and the rules have always been similar. In its purest state, wrestling is all about controlling the other man, and in doing so, a winner is chosen. Wrestling could not have been on a bigger stage than the moment the American team faced off against the Iranian team in that World Cup. Nothing else mattered other than settling a match to see who would advance to the finals. There were no talks about nuclear power or elections; the focus was on who was the best prepared to win a wrestling match. Wrestling brings people together from cultures whose governments couldn’t be farther apart. While we might always be enemies due to race, religion, geography and human nature, wrestlers can become brothers in a sport that supersedes everything else. Through sport, there is a mutual respect for one another, and we can learn from each other.
Every time I attend an international wrestling tournament, I get to see many of the friends that I have met along the way. These are people that without the sport of wrestling I would have never met or even known about. They come from different backgrounds, but each of them has the same goal in life. They all struggle on a daily basis to become the best wrestler or coach they can be. Striving to become the best has been ingrained in my mind, and if I don’t achieve perfection, it is hard to be happy. I learned at a young age that in wrestling, you have to sink or swim. As I get older, I appreciate more and more others that go through the same struggles we go through every single day of our lives. I think this is why I can go to a wrestling tournament in Tehran, Iran, and get a hug from my Russian coach like I was his son he has not seen in 20 years. The two of us grew a bond together from the time I spent with him, and I will forever be grateful for what he taught me. This coach opened up his life to me to teach me the sport of wrestling. To him it didn’t matter if I was American and my last name was Slovenian. I wanted to train to become the best wrestler in the world, and he was willing to help me because he saw something in me. This is why the sport of wrestling will never go away. We don’t need the Olympics to teach us the life skills that wrestling teaches; we are always going to dream bigger than we can achieve anyways. The Olympics needs wrestling because there is no other sport on the planet that can bring different nations together in a more pure form of sport.
We as a sport have to stop apologizing to others who do not understand us. We have to make our own path to secure our future as a relevant sport. We have to come together as brothers — not as separate nations — to pave the way for wrestling’s future. When we bend and change the rules so that outsiders like the IOC can understand a sport they never intend to watch, it is going to kill wrestling. I hope FILA understands this when meet to change the rules. We cannot change the rules just so 15 IOC members can understand the sport. We need to make sure we don’t alienate our fans, because these are the people are the foundation for the sport’s future. Wrestling is a popular sport all over the world; I know because I have been all over the world. FILA and its member nations need to find a way to market the sport so the fans start pouring into the arenas. Once we get the fans then we must create a plan to expand and grow the sport. It is 2013 and there are many ways to build a fan base, but for the world’s oldest sport this has been our biggest challenge to date. We must think outside the box, and we have to stop holding ourselves back by not thinking big enough. In the past, wrestlers were happy if we were simply given a mat and opponent. This can no longer be the case. The ATHLETES and FANS have to step up and demand more — more media coverage throughout the year, better attended events and more prize money for winning. With information today more readily available, it is easy to pinpoint why something was a success or a failure. The U.S. Open is back in Vegas, and we have some of the best wrestlers in the world right now battling for a national title. Will the venue be full? Wrestling is missing something big, and until we find out a way to fix it, we will be blaming the rules every 4-8 years.
So, regarding the rules, I believe they must be simple, but we don’t necessarily have to change the sport to accommodate a changing world. If this were the case, we might as well just make a video game and contest our bouts while playing online against our Russian foes. I believe what we have as a sport should not be changed. What needs to be changed is the way we let the officials influence the match. Here are my suggestions:
Match length: Either 2×3 min or 1×6 min match with cumulative scoring
Points: 1 point for push out, 2 points for a takedown, 2 points for any turn, 3 points for a takedown to the back and 5 points for a throw over the head.
Par terre: In order to take the official out of the match and to make it fair, there should be a 15- or 20-second clock that counts down after a takedown. A wrestler should also have his choice of par terre or neutral after taking a wrestler out of bounds. When wrestlers are on their feet, there can be difficulty scoring in a double leg/chest lock position, but a turn is almost always black and white, and the fans can see who gets the points with little to no confusion. This will bring back par terre without giving the officials the ability to influence the match. All the officials need to do is score the match. They don’t have to worry about how long someone has on top. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when a wrestler gets a takedown now they don’t know how long the official will give them on top. Having a set time will add an extra dynamic to the sport without compromising the integrity of the sport. Wrestlers will work hard to score within the designated time because it not only is a battle between him and his opponent, it becomes a battle against the clock. The fans would love this and every time someone is on top there is the potential to have an exciting period of wrestling as the time winds down.
The World Cup in Iran was one of the best wrestling experiences of my life. The USA wrestling Iran in Tehran, Iran, for a chance to make the finals of the World Cup was great for the sport. Wrestling has made giant leaps over the past few years to showcase the sport. We have had matches in Times Square and the USS Intrepid. In May, we will wrestle Iran in New York City, either in Times Square again or in another iconic location that will showcase just how big of a stage our sport deserves. In June, the U.S. will wrestle another team on the west coast for Beat the Streets LA. While the venue has not yet been picked, I am sure that L.A. will not be outdone by NYC. Finally, I am hearing things about a match in July against USA and Russia in Red Square, the most iconic symbol of Russia. If they can put down a mat and build a huge stage with St. Basil’s Cathedral in the backdrop, it would be hard to argue against our sport’s relevance. We must keep pushing the envelop to showcase what we already have. Fans and future wrestlers are going to be drawn to the matches that make the sport look larger than life, and right now we are moving in the right direction.
I want to leave you with one of the best quotes I have read since the IOC made the recommendation to drop wrestling from the Olympic Games.
“Do we destroy our historical sites which are symbols of humanity? No. Then, why should we destroy wrestling?” — Iranian gold medalist Ali Reza Dabir
Wrestling has been around and will always be around. People in the wrestling community have a direct impact on which direction the sport will take. We can either continue to be a sport on the verge of breaking into primetime or we can settle back into the same routine that we’ve done since man held the first wrestling match. Wrestling is embedded into human nature, and to take it out of the Olympics for something new and flashy would be like Egypt tearing down its pyramids to build condos in the shape of a pyramid. The pyramids have a rock solid foundation and will last thousands of more years. I believe wrestling will too. We just need to strengthen our foundation that has brought us this far. We must work on marketing and promoting the sport we all love, and together we can build a rock solid base with all the flashing lights that people love.