Foley's Friday Mailbag: May 16, 2014

Iranian fans show their passion for wrestling (Photo/Borna Ghasemi,

The Greco-Roman World Cup finishes up today in Tehran and after two days of horns, drums, chanting and singing my nerves are a little frayed.

My fingers are shaking, my ears are ringing and I'm more frazzled than a freshman trumpeter at an after-prom party. But mostly I'm just impressed. The fans here, their energy, their passion, their consideration for the sport of wrestling is absolutely unmatched by any other fan base on the planet.

Iran arguably has the world's best wrestlers, but inarguably it has the world's most passionate fans. Chants are always positive ("Wrestling with enthusiasm" "We Love You, SORYAN") and there are even poems written about past champions and sang to them upon entrance into a building.

And it's not only their own wrestlers. American heavyweight Robbie Smith has a beard, bright American socks and engages the crowd with a passionate style of wrestling. In return he's chanted, cheered and adored.

So what can America do to close this ever-widening "fan gap?"

Americans are, at their roots, Puritanical and modest. We're a Judeo-Christian society that harkens back to a Pilgrim immigrant class so stuck up that the ENGLISH booted us from their country. Despite the lack of fun and serious reflexive serious nature for which we consume all things, I think Americans have the flexibility to have fun. We have an incredible music tradition filled with diversity and expertise and a creative class that is the envy of the world. We also have plenty of events where we can test the validity of new ideas.

Soccer has started to close its fan gap both at the MLS level and the U.S. Men's and Women's National Team. The new campaign I Believe We Can Win is one example of the national team's new-found cheering section, but there are dozens more. American fans looked across the ocean, learned how to cheer and then reversed engineered their way into some catchy tunes.

Wrestling fans can, and should, do the same. Let's tap that resource and star cheering traditions for the sport of wrestling in America. Lets' have a little less booing and a little more fun. Let's tone down with the bravado and focus a touch more on the camaraderie and respect.

What are some of your ideas for new cheering traditions? Any original chants? List them below!

As a note, it's also important to remember that the United States is bidding to host the 2015 World Cup and has already been awarded the 2015 World Championships. Can we pull it off? Can we become a nation of enthusiastic, respectful cheerleaders?

I believe.

To your questions ...

Q: Is there any chance 70 kilos will become an Olympic weight class for 2020 Tokyo? That they will add the two catch weights?
-- @WelchsGrapevine

Foley: Highly unlikely, though by 2020 there will be several readjustments made by the IOC and FILA.

There are many factors at play when discussing the number of weight classes for Olympic competition. The first is the number of athletes included in the original contract awarded to the host city. For Tokyo that number is 10,500 athletes spread across all sports. Under the current qualification system there is no room for wrestling to add six weights (and it would have to be two per style).

Then you have to get into the number of medals handed out. Would they allow another six gold medals with no change to the double bronze system? Unlikely. Would wrestling want to get rid of the double bronze? Maybe. But there is an argument that by increasing the number of medaling nations from 21 with a single bronze to 29 with a double bronze you engender more participation.

Behind your question is the working assumption that there is a massive saturation of talent in wrestling. The truth is that in 2012 there were no teams that qualified a wrestler at every weight class across all three styles. That means that there is no issue with opportunities to compete. America might have a backup at 74 kilos and Russia at 66 kilos, but that doesn't mean it's a problem shared by the other 100-plus participating nations.

Finally, giving smaller nations the ability to field a full six-member roster is also vital to ensuring the continued participation and investment. If we want to grow wrestling it's essential that we create opportunities for all countries to get onto the medal stand.

Just one man's opinion!

Q: What's up with the rankings that FILA puts out? It seems that there are not many Americans represented. An example is Alibeggadzhi Emeev at 65 kilos. Emeev came to America and lost to three Americans and is ranked 14th. None of the Americans that beat him are ranked. Me thinks Brent Metcalf should be at least merit an honorable mention off his World Cup domination, but nothing. The rankings are pretty much discredited when the No. 1 in the world loses to someone unranked (Metcalf defeats Magomed Kurbanaliev 11-8 at Beat The Streets).

In your opinion, should Kyle Dake and David Taylor be ranked in the top 20 at 74 kilos? I personally think they should be top ten but I am admittedly an American homer.

At 97 kilos, the defending Olympic champion comes out of retirement and looks great, but is not top 20 in the world? How about a senior level ranking by InterMat?
-- Dave A.

Foley: As stated before I do a lot of work for FILA, and that includes helping to publish the rankings. First, it's important to remember that until last year there were never any rankings in international wrestling. The effort to provide new rankings came from two hard-working individuals brought on to help during the Save Olympic Wrestling movement.

The system for rankings is admittedly self-produced. To get ranked requires that wrestlers compete, and succeed, in overseas competition. However, because there is no ranking system imparted in wrestling that would compel our wrestlers to go overseas and compete, the rankings can be skewed to those who get on the mats.

For example you mentioned Brent Metcalf. Certainly he will rise in the rankings next month, but a single win over former No.1 Kurbanaliev isn't quite enough to make him No.1. Unfortunately Brent hasn't been overseas very much this season. He competed at the Ivan Yarygin and lost to Roman Flasov (who he'd beaten twice before) and Falsov eventually lost to Kurbanaliev -- the eventual champion who beat -- wait for it -- Emeev in the finals.

While Metcalf has been smoking the American competition and looked good at BTS, you have to judge his work against the rest of the world, who by proximity or attitude is wrestling each other with more frequency. The World Cup helped Brent and others, but it just wasn't a large enough sample size to drive guys north.

None of this is the ranking guy's fault. Wrestling will try to change their competition schedule so that various meets matter more than others and the wrestlers are given points for finishes. It's a system more similar to judo or tennis where the guesswork is taken out of the rankings. Go here, win this, and you'll be ranked here. Those rankings will matter because that'll be your seed going forward.

Like anything, this will take time. In the meantime the rankings are effective at creating a discussion and allowing fans to dig into results and get to know the names. Not perfect, but effective and always evolving. It's a monster task, and one that I'm impressed is accomplished every month!

Q: Forgive any ignorance due to age, but is Bruce Burnett an impact hire? Or stop gap solution till after 2016?
-- @Will_J_157

Foley: Bruce Burnett isn't as well known to wrestling fans as Cael or John Smith, but he is arguably one of the best coaches in the history of American wrestling.

You may not remember, but Coach Burnett was at the helm of the USA team in 1995 when the men's freestylers won the World championship and in 1996 when the Stars and Stripes won the overall medal count at the Atlanta Games. Burnett wins and when he's given driven, talented and well-disciplined men he does even better.

The upside to Burnett's agreement is that he can both deliver results in 2016, but also step out of the way in 2016 to allow for a talent like John Smith or Cael Sanderson to take the reins. Think of Burnett like you would George Washington entering his second term as president. There is an end date, a bloodless transfer of power and likely some pretty stellar men waiting in the wings.

American freestylers are pretty thrilled with the choice, as are guys who have seen Burnett coach. USA Wrestling now has another dedicated, professional and proven coach on their side. If the Americans want to compete for the team title in 2016, Burnett was one of the only men who could deliver the goods.

Great hire.

Q: Nike Wrestling is trying to make a "comeback." What do you think Nike can do to repair the relationship with the community?
-- @coachc133

Foley: Do they need to "repair" their relationship? Meh.

I can see that Nike disappeared for a bit and along with helping to engineer the cutting of the Oregon program made for a bad stink. Still, the wrestling show market is a fairly saturated marketplace that has for decades been controlled by Asics and Adidas. Nike's divestment after 2005 might have stung, but they weren't exactly making cutting-edge stuff.

We'll see how the new shoe feels and how it is marketed to fans. If Aaron Pico becomes some type of superstar and is helping them launch the product then I expect it will do well. That's a big if and one I suspect isn't strong enough from which a multi-billion dollar company would create and market a new product. Let's see what else they come out with and how it's marketed. Then we can make a full-on assault or simply sit back and golf clap.

Q: Is the site you adore on a basketball floor wrestling mats from door to door?
-- @Rob_SwagginU

Foley: And donkey basketball.

In high school I was part of a senior class that did a fundraiser that included -- as its grand finale -- a donkey basketball game against teachers and members of the administration. Parents, faculty and students came out by the hundreds. Even my parents -- who as wrestling parents had camped in gymnasiums for years -- decided to attend.

If you have never played or seen donkey basketball the rules and construct are simple to grasp. You are on a donkey playing basketball. The donkey moves its own way, only sometimes listening to your commands and when it doesn't move the hired Donkey Handler will give the jackass a nice shock to the rear end to gitty it up. The shock and resulting buck also tends to dislodge the ball from the carrier's possession.

Typical scores in donkey basketball hover in the single digits or low double digits. Something like 14-8 for an hour-long game is common because ball handling is difficult and injuries are common. The donkeys also don't listen to reason and with some poop on the ground the game is a carnival affair ripe for the unexpected. As you might imagine there is also added danger when brittle-boned, out-of-shape math teachers saddle a belligerent jackass whilst doing something mildly athletic.

Our game didn't end when the history teacher toppled over the side of his stubborn steed, but maybe it should have. I'm not exaggerating when I write that this certain teacher had his kneecap turned the wrong direction, tore his ACL and was taken to the hospital by medics -- all in the first quarter.

The promoters -- if there was such a thing -- decided to play on. The Donkey Wrangler, a chubby man in his 40s with a growing belly and a belt he needed to constantly pull skyward, had appealed to have his donkeys get more exercise. There was an agreement to continue play with no adjustments made to rules, or for player safety, thus proving that the 90's were weird and that there is NO QUITTING in donkey basketball.

On the restart the game quickened. The faculty had better teamwork, but the students seemed to find the rim more often and managed to get a few more balls to fall through the hoop. I am by no means a horseman, but I felt that after a second and third go atop my stubborn steed I was beginning to get control of how to manage his direction. Late in the third quarter I scored back-to-back goals, which is precisely when things went from weird to backwoods wonky.

Early on the Donkey Wrangler had taken enjoyment in seeing his jackasses gallop and buck in reaction to the electronic prod. After the spill by the history teacher he focused more of that satanic energy on the students.

Maybe it was something I said in defense of his relentless prodding of our sub-equine rides, or maybe it was my face, or the back-to-back buckets, but in the third quarter the Donkey Wrangler turned his prodding energy to the rear-end of my jackass.

That the donkey bucked was bothersome but that it kept happening with greater frequency to me had me upset enough that I made some sort of gesture and had asked the wrangler to please stop. He didn't, and a teacher, seeing my anxiety but unable to control the frumpy West Virginian had me pulled me from the game. It was time to let everyone calm down.

Near the end of the game I was given a final few minutes to mount the donkey and throw the ball towards the hoop. The students were winning and nothing of consequence was occurring until the Donkey Wrangle once again came over to my donkey, except this time, with time about to expire he hit me with non-electric side of the prod. He had progressed from bullying the butt of a donkey to the leg of a 145-pound high-schooler.

Though I'm somewhat confrontational as an adult, as a 17-year-old I faced authority with a tilt towards the deference -- Sir and Ma'm were, and are, still common. An adult HITTING me was beyond comprehension, and since I felt innocent I was certain that something wasn't right with him. Even then I understood that certain kinds of crazy aren't worth confronting.

The game over, I hopped from the donkey and walked to the sidelines ever-carefully to avoid eye contact with the Donkey Wrangler. It hadn't worked. The man found me in a mix of people and walked alongside me and continuously whipped me in the knee with the cattle prod. I kept my eyes forward, and continued forward to a group of friends where I sat on the ground. The Donkey Wrangler stood over top of me and mother-eff'ed me with spit flying from his tobacco-chewing pie hole.

I sat quietly by as a teacher finally intervened and led the Donkey Wrangler towards the doors of an adjacent cafeteria.

What this man didn't know, and what I hadn't expected, was that my father had seen the entire interaction unfold and along with my mom had by now seen enough. They'd tried to stay back, but at some point in the interaction my father had decided to act.

I had seen my father mad, but I had never seen him this type of mad. He took on an eyes forward march that I imagine could drive sheep off a cliff. Whatever the Donkey Wrangler had thought would be the outcome of his night, I'm certain that it didn't include a 200-pound barrel-chested recently retired Marine chasing him through the lobby of a high school.

My father had reached the Donkey Wrangler about the time he made it to the doors leading to the adjacent cafeteria. From there my father assisted him through the doors and was likely working on a way to dislodge the man's head from his shoulders when SEVERAL Stafford County Sheriffs jumped into to restrain him.

It's hard to pull a wild animal off a kill and I was told my father nipped and lunged until his message was crystal clear: Look at my son again and I'll disembowel you.

No blood was shed in the cafeteria, though as the head jackass walked past the students (escorted by sheriff deputies) it was obvious that he had spent time crying, possibly weeping. If he's peed himself it would have been justified -- he'd almost been killed.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I also adore the sight of donkeys on a basketball floor. Being assaulted by a grown man might seem like some bad childhood memory, but it's really not. It's actually awesome because it's exactly how I want to feel in defending my children.

Make the jackasses cry.


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spencerszewczyk (1) about 4 years ago
That was one of the best high school stories I've ever heard! I am a Marine (currently in Afghanistan as I write this) and your dad's actions were right on the money! Semper Fi!
ched64 (1) about 4 years ago
We have so many other sports here in the States that we will always have a tough time competing with places like Iran in terms of fan enthusiasm. For starters however we could refrain from having these huge events in wrestling fan poor areas like Vegas or LA. Strategically placed events always do well and that comes through on TV and thru other media which adds excitement and draws people in. St Louis, NY, Phil., and Pittsburgh have proven they can draw. Wrestling families may travel great distances if they have family or others they know involved such as the NCAA but for international competition, big media markets with natural wrestling fan bases or within a drive of them is definitely the high probability move.
DannyClarke (1) about 4 years ago
Donkey Basketball ... we don't have that in NJ Tim. Oh, Virginia folk..
Phiferfuqua (1) about 4 years ago
We had it in suburban Philadelphia in the 70s. I'd be surprised if it didn't make it's way across the Delaware River at some point.

Great story!
dgravens (2) about 4 years ago
The pilgrims were not booted from England, they left seeking freedom. Also, Americans have a wonderful sense of humor, you jackass. I'm joking! So, maybe I'm not funny. I'll take your word about Iranian wrestling fans, but suggesting that Iranians in general are positive and fun loving is hard to swallow. I'm basing my opinion on close to zero facts. How American of me.
trfoley (1) about 4 years ago
Wonderful note. Good laugh! Thanks for reading. I hope that I have the chance to write something a little longer in the future and bring more perspective about the Iranian wrestling fans and culture at-large.