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.