How the 2015 World Championships Hurt Us

I just returned from Las Vegas and the World Championships. At a minimum, the event was interesting to watch and at times exciting, both on and off the mat.

May I begin here by offering my congratulations to all the medalists, both foreign and domestic. It’s always a great honor for anyone to wear their countries colors in competition and then to stand in the spotlight of achievement, even if it’s only for a minute or two. It’s a feeling they’ll never forget.

Now to the storylines you’re here to read that you probably won’t find anywhere else. There’s a reason for this because if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’re going to keep getting what we’ve always gotten. And in my opinion, most of it I find unacceptable.

So let’s begin with the controversy over who’s the best wrestler in the world? Answer . . . Jordan Burroughs.

I realize a case could be made that the 19 year old Russian phenom, Abdulrashid Bulachevich Sadulaev is better. But if you evaluate the total body of work of both athletes, JB wins the head to head match-up; hands down.

It’s true Jordan has two international blemishes on a stellar career where Sadulaev only has one, but Burroughs has 110 international wins which is over twice as many as his Russian counterpart.

Then there’s the fact that Sadulaev, known as “the Russian Tank”, has two world titles whereas JB has three . . . plus an Olympic Gold.

As to the losses, Burroughs most recent one was to Russia’s three-time world champion Denis Tsargush in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Championships when he was so injured that it would have kept anyone I know from even wrestling.

Sadulaev’s loss came by tech fall in 2013 at the hands of Shamil Osmanov from nearby Azerbaijan.

Now I will submit that Sadulaev is on trajectory for intergalactic status but he still has 61 more wins to go before matching JB’s current number. And they have to be accomplished while avoiding injuries, bad calls, social diversions, political squabbles and the mountain of videotape the competition will gather on him.

Regarding any conversation on videotaping, there probably isn’t another athlete in the world, in any wrestling discipline that has been filmed as much as Burroughs. And if there were a weakness in his technique or a flaw in his approach to matches, the competition hasn’t found it.

Probably the most deceiving aspect of JB’s style is how basic his technique appears to be. But if you take the time to study tapes of him in slow motion, you notice a mind numbing number of technical nuances that turns ordinary into extraordinary.

And it doesn’t hurt the sport or Jordan’s reputation at all that he’s charismatic, charming and funny.

As to Kyle Snyder, what can I say? He stuck the landing every time he wrestled even if he doesn’t have a large tool box of techniques, blazing speed or gyroscopic balance. But what he does have is the ability to overwhelm opponents through his will to succeed and his execution of flawless game plans. Of course there’s also the amount of physical power he has that the sport hasn’t seen very often in 19 year olds.

Kyle simply refuses to allow matches to end with anyone else having more points than he does and for those who don’t know him personally, I can attest that he’s is a nicer human being than he is a wrestler if that’s possible. I don’t know of anyone in America who wouldn’t be proud to call him son; or JB for that matter.

As to the million dollar question; how will he do in Rio? The jury is still deliberating that because it’s just too early in his young career to have a serious conversation about multiple world and Olympic titles.

The smart money has to at least remember he did have a very favorable bracket in Vegas. The #1 and #2 best wrestlers in the world were on the opposite side of the bracket and the Iranian who was the previous #1 wrestler on the planet with two world titles was out with an injury. But you can bet he’ll be back in time for the opening ceremonies next summer and Kyle will have to go through at least two of the three on his way to the podium. So Gold might be a stretch.

Now if you’re a Kyle fans as I am, I can hear you say, “yea but, he’ll be a year older. Yea but he’ll be more experienced. Yea but he’ll be 12 months more technical and a lot more confident.”

Now that I think about it, you’re right on all counts. So I guess winning it all might not be such a stretch after all. “Go Kyle!”

As to those who didn’t do so well on the freestyle side of things, I think I’d look to those who were responsible for training them? From the cheap seats it appeared that Metcalf hasn’t changed much if at all in 5 years of international competition. He’s so predictable you could do an accurate commentary of his matches 5 seconds ahead of the action. So it wouldn’t be too hard for foreign coaches to devise a tactical plan to derail everything he’s trying to accomplish.

Now before I get crushed on social media for that comment, I want to say I like Brent and I loved watching him as a collegian but nothing’s changed in the way he wrestles. I’d parallel that to the Patriots knowing the opposing team’s plays before the snap of the ball.

So the question is; why haven’t our coaches a) forced Brent to develop at a bare minimum two new set-ups for his high crotch and b) a secondary takedown that will automatically be there when his first attack is blocked? Then there’s the question of why he seems to c) wrestle in every event he can find?

If you study what the best in the world do, they don’t compete near as much as you might think, which is in opposition to our domestic philosophy on individual development.

But the fact is, the more you enter tournaments the greater the odds are of a) getting banged up; especially given the achievement level of the competition you’re taking on, b) the more video tape opportunities you provide the opposition so they can dissect every new thing you just added to your offense and c) it’s so tough to peak in world competition when you’re trying to do it multiple times each year.

There should only be one, maybe two times a year when an athlete really needs to “get up” and I don’t have to outline which tournaments they are.

JB actually doesn’t wrestle that much, especially overseas. Sadulaev went to 2 international events last year and had a total of 12 matches in the same number of months. This is how elite athletes prepare for events so they will arrive uninjured and invigorated with a few new tricks in their attack bag.

Now this philosophy isn’t the best case scenario for second liners. They have to grab whatever experience they can if they ever hope to reach that next level. But once you’re there, the work shifts over to fine tuning your craft, staying healthy and not being seen very often while your mental batteries are recharging.

Hebert is in the same boat as Brent, he’s tough enough to win it all but that head down swing single which took him to the finals of the world’s 6 years ago became obsolete after the semi-finals 6 years ago. It wasn’t too hard for the competition to figure him out after a few rounds and that’s exactly what happened. He didn’t seem to have a Plan B when Plan A broke down.

In either case, someone or something has to be wrong. Either the athletes refuse to learn, which I can’t believe is the case, or someone isn’t being persuasive enough to force them to change. The other possibility is they don’t have anyone around them who has figured it out yet.

As to the event itself . . . whoever USAWrestling put in charge of organization should receive a Gold Medal level atta-boy! The arena was functional, well set-up and there were very few line-of-sight issues for the 6500 fans that came to the freestyle finals. I could only wish the NCAA would be that concerned about spectator enjoyment.

As to the number of those in the stands, all the event could manage to attract, held in the city of fun and diversions was half of what many of the state high school championships draw each March. The finals of the Greco-Roman Championships might have attracted 2500 and the number they had for their wrestle-backs you could have used a match box to count; and still have some matches left over.

This isn’t as much a weakness of USAWrestling, although they do have a history of not being able to draw well, as it is about the way the sport of wrestling markets itself. But that’s not the case in Iran. For the World Cups this year in Los Angeles the Iranian faithful outnumbered Americans. It was so bad that a member of the Iranian delegation asked one of the event organizers; “what’s wrong with America, no fans?”

As to the awards ceremonies in Las Vegas, they were well done even if Colorado Springs did a) get one of the national anthems wrong (oops) and b) by having scantily clad and might I add very buxom show girls help with the awards ceremony it appeared they weren’t being very politically correct.

If the male wrestlers had an opportunity to ogle their surroundings, why wouldn’t USAWrestling have gotten 3 Chippendale’s to hand out medals for the ladies? I’d like to be able to claim that I noticed it right away but I overheard several women who were sitting near me mention it first.

Could this be a continuance of the “war on women” that the UWW and USAW have a history of perpetuating? This particular slight is not an “OMG, I can’t believe they did that” but it does suggest that when Colorado Springs decides issues there are few who are there asking gender equality questions. Fellows . . . the IOC is watching.

Now I know we can’t do this but if it would be possible I’d support a rule where if you can’t get to the quarters finals of the worlds in three tries, you have to sit the next year and give someone else an opportunity. Staying with a person who for whatever reason isn’t getting the job done only keeps others who might rise to the occasion from developing.

Now I don’t want to diminish the positive feelings each of us took home after watching four of our own win Gold Medals. But the fact that we ended up 7th in the world with 2 champs and a Bronze out of 8 weights in freestyle should say something about how poorly we did as a whole. And this was a home match, in our strongest discipline, with probably 90% of those in the stands cheering for the red, white and blue. And we still only managed 7th?

As a parallel; when Russia hosted the World Championships in 2010 and there were only 7 weight classes, they claimed 4 Gold’s, 2 Silver’s and 1 Bronze.

Were you aware that if you add up the total populations of all the countries that placed ahead of us in Vegas that the United States has as many people? Were you aware that we have more wrestling rooms in America than any other country on the planet? That we have more wrestlers competing than in any other country, that we have better nutrition and better sports medicine and more money to spend on wrestling than any country in the world. Yet with all this the best our leadership can manage is 7th place, at home, in our flagship discipline?

A close friend and someone who is well respected in the sport told me privately last week, “our brand is dead” as far as being a world power is concerned. I’d like to say I was shocked to hear him say that but I wasn’t; it’s been apparent for quite some time.

Sure, we have those occasional super stars that regardless of what USAWrestling does, they can’t keep them from winning. But they are also the same ones who hurt our programming through their successes. Only when we fall completely on our faces will the general membership at USAWrestling begin to make noise. 7th place folks; for an event that was held on our own soil, with favorable officiating.

Were you aware that all three of our freestyle medalists aren’t residents of the Olympic Training Center where the entire Greco Roman team lives? I wonder what conclusions could be drawn from that?

Some of you might wonder why I write what I do when “if you don’t have something nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.” Well, I find that when I don’t write, nothing changes and if I do write, very little changes. But very little is so much more than nothing at all.

I just happen to believe that what we’re seeing in the Presidential debates needs to happen in wrestling; a yearning to throw the rascals out. The electorate is so upset with the status quo and the feeling that no one is listening that the top 3 republican candidates have never held a political office. Maybe our full time politicians need to go as well.

This is how much I love the sport. I’ll duck as many arrows as I need to in order to get as many messages out as I can.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

20 thoughts on “How the 2015 World Championships Hurt Us

  1. Great article Wade and agree on so many levels and for reasons you already know

    • Let’s examine placing most of the blame on the wrestling coaches for “grinder” style of their wrestlers. Yes there are coaches who teach that low risk, defensive style, but a closer look at the total team shows us something else. Gone are the days of the 70’s when a Wisconsin fielded
      a team that you knew were relentless in going after the snatch single. Rick Lawinger, Lee Kemp, Jack Reinwand, Pat Christenson, Jim Haines, and Andy Rein all used that style to be NCAA All Americans. Today what team looks that similar in style? Basically none. Every wrestler on the team varies from attacker to defensive grinders. A current very successful Coach said in an interview, No matter what we teach, practice in the room or yell from the sideline we have starters who know that if they risk a shot and lose the takedown, the official is not going to make his opponent take a risk and he will probably lose. When you see a wrestler win the Big Tens scoring only 6 points in all his matches and his teammate winning major and technical decisions, it challenges the statement that it is the coaches’ fault and not the rules and the officials who control the match. When the official has to go over to the edge of the mat and lift it up and ask the wrestler to please come back to the center of the mat and the clock is running, we have a problem.

    • Appreciate the kind response. It’s always nice to know I’m closer to right than wrong.

  2. I agree with your observations and would like to add one other. James Green never won a NCAA title, but placed 3rd in his first major international tournament. Ramos and Metcalf were NCAA champions, but did not place. My opinion – both Metcalf and Ramos are great Folkstyle wrestlers, but they are grinders. They wrestle to not allow their opponent to score and Green along with JB wrestle to score. Our Folkstyle is hurting our International efforts in Freestyle. The current rules in Freestyle demand you make attempts to score not just stopping your opponent from scoring. We have many outstanding college wrestlers participating in Freestyle, but when all they have to do is beat other grinders to be on the National team, we are not going to win at those weights. I understand the reluctance of the NCAA to use the Freestyle Rules. How can they accept a rule making body that changes the rules during a competitive season? My solution is to advocate many things mentioned on this page. Get rid of the out of bounds rule and go to a definable fleeing the mat penalty. Stop all of the lining up on the circle, top positions and bottom positioning with simplicity and enforce stalling. Those are changes we can make and we will win more medals.

    • As always Ted, love your view of the sport. But this time I have to disagree just a little. But you’re going in the right direction.

      The ONLY way you’ll ever get wrestlers who are grinders or the ones who feel the way to win is by keeping it close is not the creation of a push out rule or stiffer stalling calls, neither of them will achieve the goals we need to see happen.

      The coaches are both the problem, and the solution!

      You/me/we need to find a way to change the rules as I have outlined in my How Wrestling Wins blogs to a point earned is a point scored. When that becomes the rule, coaches will put so much pressure on their athletes to rack up points that it will most definitely alter behavior. And with that the sport wins.

      As long as any rule we make doesn’t effect the coaches record or their success rate, they will continue to embrace the slow down approach to winning and look to ways to have their athletes stay in bounds and still do nothing while keeping the officials off their backs.

      The answer is not to make rules that are designed to alter the behavior of athletes. That’s a waste of time. We need to change the rules that make the coaches lose dual meets and tournaments they once won if their athletes don’t become aggressive. That’s when you’ll see scoring happening, and a lot of it.

      The key is the coaches and their egos. Attack the athletes and they’ll just find work-arounds. Hit the coaches and everything will change.

  3. Robert . . . strong comments. Appreciate your opinion.

    MMA is hurting us but I’m just not going to allow excuses. Either you do or you don’t. I don’t care if someone missed a meal or a car payment. Why did he or she buy a car they couldn’t afford?

    Too many matches are lost on frailty and but not by the Iranians or other third world athletes.

    I know this is a tough position to take, but to win you can’t let doubt enter the equation.

  4. Robert . . . you have a good point. Part of me agrees and part of me wonders. Yes, MMA is a challenge but sometimes when you miss a meal or have to struggle, it has a way of toughening the person up. That can’t always be a bad thing.

    But your stance is a strong one. Appreciate your input.

  5. We have more wrestlers and more rooms maybe but they are all wrestling the wrong sport. Obviously folkstyle is a lot like freestyle but the differences in strategy are huge. The Russians are like cats they never expose their backs. Sometimes incredibly. All our kids are learning the funk roll at an early age. In folkstyle hanging on the leg for the stalemate is an art form. In freestyle you would get teched in a hurry.
    Not to mention greco the greatest art of all the wrestling forms. The complete lack of upper body wrestling ability in folkstyle is a joke. Over the summer I was told by a bunch of kids that they were folkstyle or freestyle guys and they didn’t wrestle greco. More than one of them heavyweights. I asked them how many double or singles they scored with all year and the overwhelming embarrassing answers were not very many or probably none at all. I told them that they were then greco guys!? They still would not enter a greco tournament.

    Somehow we need to overcome kids reluctance to wrestle freestyle and especially greco. Move folkstyle rules closer to these styles or get rid of it completely. You cannot expect to be competitive in the international world consistently until this changes and it is unfair to expect differently. Just like you cannot expect a three sport kid to progress at the same rate as a dedicated wrestler most times. Both are ok just like folkstyle is ok but it is unfair to demand excellence when our athletes have their attention split.

    • Greg . . . solid points. I understand very dramatically how the styles differ, especially when you’re the one changing your hard drives from Spring to Summer and then back again.

      But we didn’t have that problem before the current leadership in Colorado Springs took office. Did all our athletes take stupid pills after 2000?

      As to should we or shouldn’t we, as much as many of us would like to see us competing favorably against the evil empire, I’m not so sure I want to give up our collegiate style of wrestling for something that happens to only 8 wrestlers once a year.

      But I respect your opinion.

      Maybe the way we select our wrestlers is what needs overhauled? Other country’s pick who they think will do the best. Just like our ice hockey and basketball teams are subjectively selected. But that’s just a thought, I understand that would never fly.

      I still go back to those who represent us not being ready and I that’s not their fault.

  6. I think the biggest problem for Freestyle/Greco is the scoring. I’ve been wrestling for the better part of 30 some years, and competed at the Division I level…. and it pains me to watch and try to even score the bouts….

    • Mark . . . Folkstyle wrestling is scored the way it is because, as much as possible, the rules have been set up so the best wrestler will win, based solely on his or her skills. Of course there are exceptions to this but for the most part the rules work.

      I’m not so sure that is the way everything is set up internationally.

  7. Well put! As always, a GREAT read

    One point I would like to disagree with is Russia’s national anthem debacle… It is written in the UWW World Championship handbook that the head of each country’s delegation is in charge of checking their own anthem… With all of the chaos of running the event, it shouldn’t be the job of the young hired DJ to check each country! Albeit, it was Russia who was almost guaranteed at least one gold, their delegate to UWW didn’t hand an anthem in or come to check it…It was embarrassing and uncomfortable, but I have trouble blaming USAW..

    I spent time on the production team, and I thought the production value was phenomenal.

    • Bryan . . . hope you’re doing well and thank you for the clarification.

      I just know it was an error and even though each team was responsible, who ended up with egg on their face? You don’t leave important things like this to the “young hired DJ.”

      If it’s important, you need to make it important.

      Who’s at fault when a young child shoots someone with his father’s pistol. The child or the father who didn’t secure it?

      It’s just disheartening to hear others always explain why we fell short.

  8. You complain that the US has just as many people as all the world’s other great wrestling countries and better facilities and scientists and should be better than 7th place. That’s like saying the US should be better than Brazil or Germany in soccer. Face the facts Wade. In Iran and Russia wrestling champions are treated like gods. In the US, that treatment is reserved for the best in football, baseball, basketball and golf. How do you think the best at basketball is treated in Iran, or the best football player in Russia is treated? Athletes will gravitate to the sports where they will achieve the highest recognition. A century ago the only athletes who mattered to the US public were baseball players, boxers and horse racers. Times change in the US, not so much in Iran and Russia, I guess. I like wrestling, but most people find football and basketball more exciting. And more Americans have more experience with our national pastime and with the good walk ruined. Wrestling will always have a place in the US, it just is not likely to be one of the biggest sports here as long as football, baseball, etc are popular.

    • Chris . . . not sure you made your point although I do understand where you were headed.

      We have more than twice as many wrestlers wrestling than our nearest competitor. That should be enough said. Don’t confuse popularity with numbers. Or are you saying that American athletes are somehow inferior? This is simply a numbers game that we’re winning by a large margin but falling short on when it comes to medals.

      Sure other sports dwarf wrestling in America, but the facts that we used to compete favorably and now we don’t has to tell you something?

  9. I was at the worlds also for every match but the finals on Saturday cuz of plane flight and I’m a Greco nut any way. I’m actually glad there wasn’t as many fans for Greco as always but the way they over lapped the girls with the Greco and metcalf with the Women’s was good to get more of the crowds to watch others . During Greco we had festival sitting as we could watch our country and other countries as we choose to do so , it was exceptional and I thank those who did show up , we did have a great cheering section in Greco because I was right in the middle of the loud section , even the Iranians said something to me about the little but loud bunch of fans . When the freestyle fans came , there was more for sure but not as loud by comparison to numbers as Greco fans , even I wasn’t as vocal my bad , but was difficult to keep as loud for six days , it as also my first tournament as a fan I usually ref or coach or compete so it was excellent to be a fan for a change instead of working the tournament. The other thing that moved me was there was 176 countries involved in this worlds which is probably more than ever as I think and there was only 1 little confrontation in the stands and nothing but good not great sportsmanship on the mat considering the different cultures and religious beliefs throughout the world .

    • Mr. Ayers . . . great analysis. We do have wonderful fans, not as many as any of us would like.

      All I’m trying to accomplish is to get 20,000 people in the stands for all our major events and of course broadcasted; and not at 3:30am on some obscure network.

      I was glad to see that ESPN was there, thank you ESPN and Titan-Mercury for making it happen.

      The sport is absolutely wonderful as you pointed out. The challenge is getting the rest of the country to realize that.

  10. ….”And they have to be accomplished while avoiding injuries, bad calls, social diversions, political squabbles and the mountain of videotape the competition will gather on him.”……

    I particularly like this statement when looking through the lens of sports as it speaks directly to all the obstacles that may derail any sportsman/women’s plans for victory. Therefore, as you point out, JB has been able to accomplish his remarkable feats despite of or in spite of facing these obstacles on 110 occasions. So even for the non-wrestling fans who appreciate athletics for pure athleticism would agree that JB is a remarkable athlete who happens to be a wrestler. Perhaps this mantra should be the resounding call to USA Wrestling to rally around.

    Thank you for always pushing for change and creating conversation- the longest journey starts with the first step.

  11. Weill said Mr. Schalles, the one thing I would add, and I think it’s important to this topic: yes we have more wrestler’s and more rooms, better science and sports med, but we don’t compoensate our athletes financially, not only all they do and sacrifice, but the lost opportunity to start a career that will pay for them and their family to live going forward. We are losing talent because they can’t afford another 4 years of poverty living as they climb the Olympic ladder. We lose too many athletes to MMA now to keep the room filled with outstanding talent.

Tell us what you think