United World Wrestling Faltering

By | March 11, 2016

It really wasn’t that long ago that the International Olympic Committee asked our leadership; “isn’t there something you can do to enhance your sport, make it more spectator friendly, find ways to put more points on the board, make the experience more exciting?” The response they heard was, “absolutely, we’ll assemble a group of our most creative minds (minus Wade that is) and take a look at what we can do.”

Then after rather numerous conversations and most likely a consumable or two the group pronounced that it was doubling of number of points an athlete can earn for a takedown. They figured that moving from 1 point to 2 would have to double or almost double the number of points scored in a bout. So they appropriately patted themselves on their backs and went back to business as usual.

Does anyone think that the IOC isn’t capable of seeing this as nothing more than a numerical sleight-of-hand? The IOC has to feel like they’re being discounted because wrestling didn’t respond in kind to their level of concern. And it doesn’t matter if our leadership is either incapable of understanding political speak or they just ignored the IOC’s request, this might be the type of miscalculation that makes them reconsider our involvement in the Games.

All this makes me wonder, was the UWW actually trying to placate the IOC or do they really believe they accomplished what was asked of them? Regardless, it really puts wrestling in a precarious situation because the IOC made it quite clear, find new ways to encourage your athletes to take more shots, score more points. They didn’t mean double up on point values; they wanted to see an increase in scoring attempts and their request wasn’t a suggestion.

I guess we’ll see where this goes in the coming months.


More recently I heard some great news that our international leaders were finally redesigning the look of the singlet. I immediately saw this as being extremely positive; finally a new and improved look, a way to stand out in the multi-sport world. This is just what we need, a way to elevate ourselves in the eyes of the world’s media and the fans we have yet to attract.

But when I went to the UWW’s website and saw the proposed design, my first thought was they were showing us before and after designs. But then I realized there wasn’t an after. With that my head dropped.


I think we should be concerned. Nothing about this change is going to help wrestling become more relevant. It’s just another example of the UWW and USAW not being able to understand directives. The IOC wanted to see, no, they needed to see significant changes because they know what our leadership fails to see, that we’re no longer significant as an entertainment source.

This proposed singlet design is nothing more than a musical chair reshuffling of thread and fabric that couldn’t have taken more than 34 minutes to finalize. I’ll give it to them that the design is practical but wrestling doesn’t have time for practical.

Look at these photographs of swimsuits; the one on the left and in the middle are circa 1920 and the one with the lifeguard patch on the right is from the 1930’s. Notice any design differences between those and what’s being proposed today?

mUDuugtumTnhpQn1sSfOQQA (1)    m2yNxct6IJQ_mVPPlLzWmOg    swimred

Why wouldn’t the UWW just go to Milan or Paris to find two or three clothing houses who would be willing to sketch a few concepts for us? It couldn’t be that difficult to find a few designers who would jump at the chance to enjoy the notoriety of having their patterns used in the Olympics.

What’s the downside? Doesn’t it make more sense to let the type of people we see on Project Runway handle this instead of wrestling’s event managers? This is exactly what the USOC did for the London Olympics; they contracted Ralph Lauren to redesign all of Team USA’s official dress uniforms that were spectacularly accepted and showcased in the media all throughout the Games.

So why wouldn’t the UWW and Colorado Springs do the same thing? If our sport is to survive, if we’re to impress the IOC when it comes time to vote on our Olympic status, and of course for the media to support our cause, we must live outside of ourselves. Wrestling has to take into consideration the tastes of those consumers and sponsors we have yet to attract, not those very small numbers of people who are currently part of the sport.

Am I missing anything here? If your parents tell you to “grow up,” what does that mean; probably that it’s time to start thinking, acting and dressing like a mature adult. And of the three, which is the easiest to accomplish? Thinking and acting differently takes time but your appearance can change overnight. A quick visit to a barber and a professional clothier and out goes the child and in comes the adult. So if cloths make the person, why isn’t that true for how we look in competition as well? Being fashion trendy has only been in vogue for centuries, why wouldn’t we want to be both stylish and practical?

Maybe I’m opening myself up to criticism here but look where the fearlessness of design has taken men’s and women’s beach volleyball? How many of you actually watch volleyball for their diving saves and in-your-face spikes? Granted, it’s a great action sport with very talented athletes, similar to what wrestling has minus the action. But both the women and men have added another dimension to their sport that’s rather hard to overlook. The results are undeniable and the effect is beach volleyball has the hottest tickets in Olympic competition in relation to wrestling that struggles to give seats away.

th (4)    female_sports_uniforms_02

Now I’m not suggesting that we exploit our athlete’s sexuality because I find any type of exploitation offensive. But showing the world that wrestling is as much fun to watch as it is to see and we have some of the hottest bodies on the planet can’t be all that bad. But who outside of our sport is aware of our assets?

Wrestling has to focus its attention on the types of changes that create expansion opportunities and uniform engineering is easy to accomplish and a very noticeable beginning. This is exactly the type of expectations that the IOC was suggesting when they directed us to become more entertaining.

How about these pole vaulters, does anyone believe they chose their outfits based on wind resistance issues or a need to blend in?

th (2)     female_sports_uniforms_16     th (1)

Wrestling has to stand out and that’s something the sport is uncomfortable doing. We have to stamp New and Improved on every change we make across all media platforms. Then we have to make sure that everything we change and do match’s our tagline.

What’s wrong with allowing each country the freedom to design their uniforms, why is the sport being held to uninspired uniformity? Does it really matter if the various federations go different directions with their outfits? You might say it’s not fair for competitive reasons if various athletes are dressed differently but I’m not sure that’s true.

medium--00001_mma-rash-guard-top-ten-octagon-brown-sales   images (4)

Granted, if one country decides to wear long sleeve compression tops which really accents a human form, those athletes might have an advantage when applying a gut wrench to athletes from other countries that chose to go bare-chested. But in the reverse the sleeved athlete would be at an equal disadvantage if his opponent was proficient at arm throws. Having different uniforms is a give and take with no one design having an advantage over another without giving up something in the reverse. But wouldn’t it be fun to see what the various countries would come up with and then listen to the media buzz we’d create. Remember, all press is good press and that’s something very foreign to wrestling.

While we’re talking about sexuality, the sport confuses me. On one hand we’re very open-minded and comfortable with our bodies but on the other hand we’re very prudish when it comes to what we wear in competition. We have to loosen up.

Bottom line, if we ever want to see a wrestler on the cover of Sports Illustrated again (Danny Hodge being the first and only one 60 years ago) he or she won’t get there as a result of their achievements, but they might as a combined effort of form (apparel) and function (titles).

As to retaining a certain level of modesty or decorum may I remind everyone of their approval and society’s acceptance of swimming and diving, a sport whose outfits are often transparent and definitely sex defining.

th (13)    conor-dwyer-swim-suit

Does anyone remember how much press Flo Jo Joyner received for her cheeky and imaginatively designed competitive gear? What would be so wrong if both our men and women wore some of their own designs that accented, well, let’s say more than their skill sets? Even if you weren’t a track and field fan back in the 80’s, I’m sure you remember that the television ratings were off the charts every time Flo Jo ran and it wasn’t always to see her cross the finish line ahead of the competition.

flo jo joyner  ellas_han_hecho_posible_que_londres_2012_se_los_juegos_de_las_mujeres_877522501_800x1200  flojo-2  flo jo 2

I know change is difficult, but we have to bite the bullet if we’re to grow. Every country should be allowed to ask assistance from fashion designers for the purpose of creating their own look and style. Gone should be the days of re-purposing the old loin cloth singlet that was originally made from animal skins.


Moving on to collegiate wrestling for a moment, I watched the Big 12 and Big 10 finals on TV and was dismayed to see that the NCAA didn’t find a need to advertise their championships in New York City next week during any of the commercial breaks. They promote championships in other sports; I wonder if they too feel wrestling is no longer relevant?


19 thoughts on “United World Wrestling Faltering

  1. Oz

    I concur, we need to change! to attract more youths and grow the sport, we should go with fight shorts and tight fitting compression shirt.

    But when in singlet, I’m proud to show my junk. Just saying.

  2. Paul Christiansen

    Mort Geller told me years ago that wrestling struggles for acceptance because it’s an elitist sport. He explained his point, saying the elitism was not from a financial or societal sense. Rather, wrestlers as a whole tend not to accept those who don’t understand the sport. He had a point. We’ve all heard snickers when a casual fan oohs and ahs over a scoring move that, to someone who knows the sport understood it to be less than perfect execution. Rather than explain some of the nuances of the sport to the uninitiated, we typically stay in a group with those who already know the sport.

    The converse of this situation can be found in the NFL. Most teams have an annual women’s day event that teaches those unfamiliar with the sport the basics of the game so they can have a more enjoyable experience watching the game on Sundays. They have taken that a step further and roll out an entire line of women’s NFL clothing so they can wear the jersey of their favorite player. You know, similar to USAW’s line of Olympian gear designed for women, or Fatheads for kids to hang on their wall at home. Wait, what? USAW doesn’t do that? Well, at least there’s the successful line of Wrestler’s Mom bumper stickers.

    Regarding the rules changes, I agree with your point Wade. And I would say that the simple response of changing the value of a takedown is another example of the elitism Mort described.

    Nearly every high level match is slowed to stalking the entire time, with neither taking chances. Too much risk for imperfection and not enough reward for perfection or close to it. Remember, the Giants won a Super Bowl when David Tyree pinned the ball on top of his helmet. Had that happened in wrestling, the official probably would have called it a slip and the chair would either have confirmed or called Tyree for stalling.

    Your blog is always a good read, Wade. Keep up the good fight and maybe some day someone in Colorado Springs will listen.

    But I’m not holding my breath.

  3. Brandon

    Wade, you’re absolutely correct in your criticism of the uww, I for one keep yelling that we need stalling put back into wrestling. In my day, you took a step back, stalling! Choice down or on feet. Post your head on opponent shoulder, stalling.. Nobody wanted to get put down, because we could actually turn people back then. Overtime needs to be put back in, this last point scored stuff is ridiculous! Guys wait to score last point… Doesn’t increase Action one bit… in the 70,80,90’s look at film, wrestling was exciting! There was action, and it cost you if you stalled!
    We need people on the uww board who actually WRESTLED and know what it takes to be out there… Imo

    1. Ted DeRousse

      The 1976 Olympics were great for action and spectators because no lead was safe. After the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, FILA went in two directions. They cut the periods from 3 minutes to 2 minutes and they started reducing the penalties for stalling. Their reasoning was all wrong, They felt a 9 minute match put too large an emphasis on conditioning. Because 22% of the matches ended in disqualification of a wrestler for penalties mainly stalling or going out of bounds, they thought this was too embarrassing for the athletes. In 1976 there were no limitations or qualifying for the Games. If you were in FILA you could bring a full team. Many teams were full of “tourists” who wanted nothing more that to get put out of the tournament and go party. They were the ones who lost by disqualification. Faulty reasoning was a trademark of FILA and continues on today.

  4. Ted DeRousse

    When we tried wearing shirts and shorts in youth wrestling for all of the reasons above and because parents “didn’t like the uniform especially moms, it was a flop. Why because “the establishment” fought it. When I started wrestling if you went shirtless, you had to wear trunks over tights. If you had a sleeveless top you could have shorts or a singlet for a uniform.
    As POGO once said – “We have found the enemy and he is us.”

    1. Wade Schalles

      Our problem is we listen to the establishment. If they were right we’d be in a vastly different place and time with wrestling. Rule of thumb; if leadership bitches, you are almost assuredly on the right path.

  5. Ed Gibbons

    No doubt that the traditional wrestling singlet has received ridicule from many both inside and outside the sports world. A change would be welcomed.

  6. Jklem

    Our goal should be to attract more youth to our sport. Some of these future athletes come from non wrestling families. If we want to attract them and retain them we need options. Fight shorts and a short sleeve compression top is the answer.

    1. Wade Schalles

      Agreed . . . absolutely! But apathy reins supreme in our sport.

  7. MikeTWI

    Great points Wade. After months and months of this new uniform design it sure disappointed me to see a singlet again.

    I hope at least they do something to set the women wrestlers apaty from the men.

    As I stated to you before Wade, I think this was a huge missed opportunity to really do something unique and bold.

    It looks like they minimized one issue–with everyone wearing a womens cut singlet, they wont have to bother with keeping mens singlet counts seperate.

    A compression shirt with name or weight on.it sure would have been great for youngsters to wear their favorite wrestlers. Increasing exposure and business’ earning some revenue.

    Same with a custom wrestling shorts.

    There would be a lot of apparel area for sponsors to place their logo.

    Thanks Wade

  8. gadgetdad1065

    Wade–if you stayed awake watching the Bigxx Championships, you’re to be commended. I watched both in fast forward and still yawned.

    1. Wade Schalles

      And until “we the people” start putting pressure on leadership, yawning will continue to be a habit.

  9. Rulon Gardner

    Regarding the shirtless uniforms as highlighted above. That might work for those with ripped bodies, but nobody wants to see me like that. -Rulon

    1. Wade Schalles

      You may be right but as I mentioned in the blog, each athlete could design his or her own outfit like Flo Jo did.

      You might want to consider long sleeved compression gear. :>)

      Good to hear from you old friend . . . Wade

    2. Captain Obvious

      Yeah, you definitely can’t go shirtless and have sweaty torsos pressed up against each other. We have enough skin disease issues as it is.

  10. Dynamite

    Any uniform that shows off the size of your junk is bad for wrestling. Period. If you want people to take the sport seriously, loosen up.

    I don’t care if it’s fight shorts, or if someone designs “fight pants” (maybe sorta like football pants but with kneepads instead of thigh pads), or if we use the shorts-over-tights look of the 1960s (but with modern, breathable, dye-sublimated materials).

    Yes, other sports wear tight shorts too, but not the most popular ones. Sure, high-level track athletes wear “singlets,” but most scholastic athletes wouldn’t be caught dead in one. Plus, track is not a contact sport like wrestling, which makes it 10x worse.

    I cringe every time I see a group of wrestlers “posing” in a singlet for a photo shoot. They look so ridiculous, it’s doing the sport no favors.

    An example… c’mon man!

    1. Wade Schalles

      Dynamite . . . I have you thinking, exactly what I try and do with my writing. Of course each to their own.

      Some wouldn’t mind noticing more than other uniforms provide but the beauty is some will, some won’t. It’s an individual sport.

      Flo Jo wore what the heck she wanted to wear and it sold the sport to many.

      As Rulon Gardner wrote above, he might not select to go shirtless where as Jordan Burroughs might want to and he could get a way with it.

      Thanks for your thoughts.


  11. Ed Gibbons

    Once again Wade Schalles has made us put on our “thinking caps.” I commend him for that. I definitely think a completely redesigned singlet would be fantastic. Regarding International rule changes, most of us agree that more needs to be done. I have been pleased to see the positive impact the new NCAA rules have had this year. It’s about time!

    Keep us thinking Wade!


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