When it comes to wrestling non-profits few have competed with BTS in terms of dollars and awareness raised. That's not a coincidence. In addition to hardworking staff, the largest financial supporters for BTS rank among the wealthiest individuals in the United States and the world. These donors have massive influence and deep pockets, which means their chosen charity can bring in phenomenal amounts of money and, like we saw this week, put on marquee events in Times Square.
One night and one very big million-dollar spectacle.
Events like BTS in Times Square, and last year's Rumble on the Rails and United for Wrestling are showcases put on for larger causes by some of the wealthiest and brightest wrestling fans in the world.
Fantastic as the events are they obviously are not financially solvent and most take on, for the event itself, major financial losses. The locations, the cost to put them on the air and the unique atmosphere all equate to a rare moment that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce.
Despite losses, and in fact because they end up a net gain for the wrestling community through charitable giving, these events (and the NCAA tournament) are now the standard-bearers for the production of a high-level wrestling event. In total that's good. The sport should stay focused on improving the product. However, we should also recognize that other events around the world aren't being assisted in their production, and that others are not always as fortunate as us.
FILA, where I work as the managing editor for the website and cover top events, lends their name to about 15 brand-level events each year from the World Cups to World Championships, Continental Championships and the Golden Grand Prix Series. Some are on par with Beat the Streets, others are competitive, and still others could use some work.
One of the major differences between events is size and economic model. FILA is a non-profit without a single generous donor putting single events to raise cash -- most of their money, like all International Federations, comes from their partnership with the International Olympic Committee. That means that local organizing committees are asked to bear some financial burden when preparing for the brand-name tournaments.
Often times events are chosen to take place in smaller, lesser-traveled cities because they can be hosted at low cost to wrestling federations and at significant gain to the local economies. For example, traveling to Zrenjanin, Serbia and Snina, Slovakia for back-to-back Cadet World Championships might seem out of the way, but capturing these audiences helps build media attention for the sport around the world. They're well-attended, well-reported and generally very well-done events.
In a way these locations and these events might not sparkle like Times Square or electrify like Los Angeles, but in putting events in smaller cities (despite their problems) the wrestlers and the fans will benefit at-large.
We know that wrestling has always been and will always be a blue collar activity. No matter where you go on the planet, or when you travel through time, the sport lives in the countryside. Flash bulbs and media coverage are important to making wrestling a "mainstream" sport, but fans will always flock to the thirty-foot circle. They did it 5000 years ago and they do it today.
It's important to keep in mind that the richest and most powerful men in wrestling, from the richest and most powerful country in the world, encountered problems putting on a single dual meet. Remembering that fact when over the next five months of the international wrestling season the local committees of third world countries battle for Internet connectivity. The host countries and the FILA staff on the ground will be trying their best for six days at a time in new countries, with new language, new challenges and new obstacles. Still, it will happen. Maybe not all at once, and maybe slower than we would all like, but it is happening.
Be humble in your expectations of these other countries. They are trying, and though they don't have Times Square and billions of dollars, each is trying their best to show you the sport that you love.
To your questions ...
Q: I have to give you credit, Foley. You were right all along about Henry Cejudo. He just backed out of another MMA fight. This is after he didn't show up for weigh-ins in two previous fights, and came in overweight in his last fight. I would love to see a motivated Cejudo leave his ego behind, put on the work boots, and make another run at Olympic gold in Rio. He is still only 27 years old! Has that ship sailed?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Thanks for the compliment. I'm kinda tickled.
Henry Cejudo fell short of qualifying for the 2012 Olympic team (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)There are a good number of MMA and wrestling fans who have had their fill of the Henry Cejudo song-and-dance. I'm forever impressed by his Olympic performance, but what happened in a day six years ago in Beijing has become Cejudo's life. He still has talents to explore and a life to be lived, but instead he chooses a strange path of least resistance.
MMA is no joke. Guys will hurt you if you come in ill-prepared. Cejudo has all the talent to become a top-level fighter, but he seemed to favor a path with fewer obstacles. He's now spent more time talking about his achievements in Beijing than he ever did training specifically for them. It's time to move forward and drop the celebrity posturing. The world loves a struggle, not a six-year victory lap.
Come back to hard work, Henry. Come back to a sense of modesty and community. Come back to normal.
Q: How important is an NCAA title towards international success? Do we in the U.S. bring up individual NCAA championships (freestyle in particular) just for promotion purposes? Because the collegiate style is really different from both international styles so do other countries care? Are there equivalent University Nationals championships in other countries and do they have NCAA Division I type of big events?
-- Marcus R.
Foley: In my experience about 30 percent of wrestlers I meet from around the world know about the NCAA and American folkstyle wrestling. Maybe a tenth of those have any interest in discussing its merits, or have any gauge for what makes one successful or not.
Every nation has something equivalent to the NCAA tournament, though the styles are dramatically different. Still, just like most wrestling fans don't follow traditional oil wrestling in Turkey, schwingen in Switzerland or Bukh in Mongolia, foreigners don't follow collegiate wrestling closely. Thus, the accomplishments made on the mat in America don't typically translate to fear or respect among international competition.
In most cases the foreign wrestlers I meet only care about what was accomplished at continental and World championships -- maybe an open tournament or two.
Q: As someone who just recently started really watching international competition I have noticed the action and offensive ingenuity is miles ahead of the current state of collegiate wrestling. While some American wrestlers have developed unique offensive styles (JB and DT in particular) most are stale, often relying on a select few techniques and stout defenses to succeed. I feel that collegiate wrestling pigeon holes American wrestlers into a formula for NCAA success that hinders the U.S. internationally. What are your thoughts on this subject?
-- Nick S.
Foley: Offensive ingenuity ... well stated
NCAA wrestling promotes a style of wresting that is either so strict as to be reductive at the next level with boxy motions and over-focus on head snaps. Or NCAA wrestling promotes rolling around which if not tightened up at the next level can result in serious points.
Collegiate wrestling is holding back some of our better wrestlers from international success. Regardless of how well they complement each other, freestyle and folkstyle take time to seep into your bones. Wrestlers need time to change their reactions and create points from positions that might not have been opportunistic at the NCAA level, but might be at the international level.
Having seen Ed Ruth at the U.S. Open and BTS event, I saw that growth. The change is seeping into his bones. He's getting it. More time in the room, more time in matches and no focus on collegiate wrestling. He's getting the hang of how to score and creating more opportunities. I wrote last week that he probably wouldn't threaten this year, but now I think he's my choice to challenge Keith Gavin in the finals of the U.S. World Team Trials.
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Q: I thought Clarissa Chun wrestled well at the U.S. Open despite losing to Victoria Anthony in the semifinals. Then Alyssa Lampe thumped Anthony in the finals! That was impressive! 48 kilos in women's freestyle wrestling is going to be a really interesting weight class in the U.S. over the next two years! Chun hadn't competed much since the Olympics in 2012, so I'm hopeful she can get back to the form that made her a World champion and Olympic medalist. Do you think Chun can get past Lampe and Anthony and get on the Olympic team in 2016?
-- Mike C.
Clarissa Chun lost to Victoria Anthony in the semifinals of the U.S. Open (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)Foley: I don't know that Clarissa will be able to hang with this new class of 48-kilo competition. Though she looked awesome until the headlock, Chun still did get headlocked by Victoria Anthony, who wrestling up a weight class was THIS close to being in the World finals.
Anthony was wrestling up because Lampe has had her number for the past few years. As we have seen from Lampe this year, she's more engaged as a competitor and whatever lingering doubts she might have had about her ability are starting to fade. She's a born killer and that's starting to show.
Chun is not out of the mix for 2016. But she is, in my estimation, the No. 3 wrestler at 48 kilos.
Q: The recent Dave Shultz High School Excellence winners were announced. The Alabama winner, Brandon Womack, is a six-time Alabama state champion, capturing the Most Outstanding Wrestler honor five times. While at Scottsboro High School, Womack compiled a 422-8 record. Granted Alabama is one of a few states where you can wrestle for state championships in the seventh and eighth grade, and Womack did this over six years compared to most kids who only have four years to amass a win-loss record. Do you think this is too much, too many matches for a high school kid? Do you think it is bad or good for the sport? Why? Should seventh and eighth-graders be allowed to wrestle high school seniors?
-- Frank S.
Foley: I'm not sure I know what's best for any state or any individual wrestler, but 430 matches in six years is more than I've competed in 14 years. Fact.
That much wrestling can be harmful, especially if you're cutting weight, not getting enough sleep, or wrestling against tough top-notch competitors. It seems like Womack made it through OK and in doing so did something unique for the state of Alabama -- a place where wrestling could use some good publicity.
Too much wrestling? Almost certainly. Good for Alabama wrestling? Yes.