Not all yard sticks measure the same.
The one Flo used to create their Top 100 Greatest seems to put a great deal of emphasis on international successes, while at times, overlooking greatness.
And to be clear, and eliminate any confusion, here’s how I define greatness.
It’s a career of achievement; scholastically, collegiately, and internationally. Followed by what has the individual done with his accomplishments to enrich the wrestling community.
In short, it’s not all about switches, ankle picks and getting one’s hand raised. Greatness is more than a one or two thing occurrence.
Given my criterion, there are at least 30 individuals, possibly more, who shouldn’t have made Flo’s list.
I mentioned this before in parts II and part III; there are 28 wrestlers on Flo’s list who didn’t win an NCAA title. And I suspect there are a few who didn’t win a high school state title either. In my mind, that automatically eliminates them from consideration, for greatness is consistency.
In short, making the list is a lifestyle, it’s the total body of a person’s experiences and achievements.
As to Flo, given they seem to be hanging their hat on international successes, consider this . . .
In two words; Amateur Status.
Up until the 1980’s, amateur athletes were allowed to compete, whereas professional athletes were not. That’s what made America’s successes in international competition so difficult prior to that time. Anyone who was found guilty of accepting any level of renumeration for wrestling, regardless of the amount, were considered lepers and banished from all future competition. There was no such thing as stipends, travel allowances, or award money for medaling in world competition as there is today. Nor were there ranking dollars given to athletes from the national governing body.
Jim Thorpe as an example, perhaps America’s finest athlete of all time, had his Olympic gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon stripped, and his achievements nullified, just because he accepted a small amount of money for playing semi-pro baseball.
What made this amateur label so difficult for Americans, athletes in the communist bloc countries were actually de facto professionals. Each one was a member of their country’s military complex, whose assignments consisted of receiving monthly checks while training together in the sport they love; similar to what we’re doing today with our RTC’s.
That’s why we’ve been enjoying so much success internationally these days, our athletes have the financial means to stay in the game so much longer than before.
Did you know, or do you remember, Dan Gable retired from competition at 23, with multiple state and NCAA titles, and a World and Olympic Gold Medal. That was normal then, win it and get out before you went underwater financially. But today, that’s not the case.
And, not that this has anything to do with how great some of our current wrestlers are, but many of them didn’t win their first international event of significance until they were 25, and a few of them were even older.
That doesn’t reduce anyone’s greatness in my eyes, but it does make it very difficult to compare someone who won one world title and was forced to retire against someone who might had the opportunity to win three or four. I would definitely consider the decade a person grew up in.
As great as Kyle Dake is, and in my opinion he’s the best wrestler we have in uniform today; had he wrestled back in the 70’s or earlier, he wouldn’t be in consideration for the Top 100. This is why I put Gable in the number one spot. Had he been given the opportunity; he would have surpassed the numbers that John Smith put up.
As for other points of contention, Flo totally overlooked those who succeeded in winning the toughest tournament in the world during the seventies; Tbilisi. Everyone who was competing then, and traveled there, found out the hard way how tough it was to win in Russia. There was an average of 30 Soviets per weight class who had been training in freestyle all their lives.
Other things that tend to skew my opinion regarding who is and isn’t a candidate for the Top 100 is; weigh-ins for the World’s and Olympics use to be scratch weight, every day of competition, which lasted four to six days. How many of today’s wrestlers would have had to go up one weight class under those conditions?
Other things to consider that certainly would have helped define greatness over the decades, that many have forgotten are . . .
1) Up to the late 1960’s, touch falls were in effect, which made a difference for some Americans who had won NCAA titles as a result of their skills in all three positions, and their willingness to roll around to gain control.
2) Prior to the 1970’s, there were no videos of competition to analyze, review and dissect like there are today.
3) The number of international events that athletes go to today were nonexistent for previous generations.
4) For many, their first and only international tournament was the one that counted.
5) The Olympic Black mark system was in effect up until the 1970’s. That’s what knocked Gray Simons out of making Flo’s Top 100 as I had written earlier. He was never beaten in the 1964 Olympics yet finished 7th due to the number of black marks he accumulated. I would imagine there are one or two of our greats today, given they aren’t demonstrating a proclivity toward high scoring matches, who might not have won as many, or any Gold Medals had they wrestled under the black mark system.
So, who’s on my Top 100 list?
This may disappoint you, but I’m going to show some restraint, and not answer the question.
But if my arm got twisted, as I said, I’d put an emphasis on a wrestler’s total body of work, based on the decade they competed in. I’d consider all state, national and international events won and as to the number of wins, I’d eliminate any bias issues regarding the decade a person wrestled in by considering the percentage of matches won to matches wrestled.
Then I’d consider a person’s pin to win ratio, as that to me, helps define greatness. It’s just so tough voting for someone who considers 3-1 a blown out. Keeping it close makes you an achiever, but not necessarily a great. Excitement levels matter when I think about who the greatest of all times are.
I’d also look to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for help. Who, as an example, was inducted into the Hall on their first year of eligibility? If the Hall pulls you in that quickly, there’s an intrinsic feeling of greatness that goes along with it.
To me, greatness is defined as; when a person’s name comes up in conversation, how many people have an opinion? The point is, if you’ve achieved the types of things that people remember, such as levels of excitement, domination, explosive techniques, creative styles, unexpected techniques and exhilarating endings, you’re a legend and belong in the Top 100.
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