Back home much of the conversation around wrestling revolves around money in the sport, perceived biases of governing bodies and the personalities who comment on the mat. There is also the discussion about rankings and a myriad high-level complaint about NCAA schools and organizational structure. While those discussions have their place in the discourse around the sport, they can obscure why we love wrestling and who the sport should serve.
Wrestling is a significant sport for many Asian countries. Despite its cultural importance only a handful of nations have the resources to support the growth of their freestyle and Greco-Roman programs. Most do not. Even nations with plenty of money (i.e Singapore, Korea) don't have the institutional support to provide more for their athletes and grow interest in the sport.
Too often the nations with money and resources lack the ability to grow interest, and those with ability to grow interest lack the money and resources.
The Asian Junior Championships is a glimpse into how improvements to that balance are slowly being developed. Vietnam, a small country with traditionally limited funds, has used early success to spur additional resources, mined for funding from the Olympics and United World Wrestling and today is growing in both on-the-mat success and regional growth.
Taiwan, eager to find more Olympic medals, has used the success of women's wrestling in Japan and China to receive more funding for their program. Today they put a wrestler in the 51-kilogram bronze medal finals for women's wrestling.
Turkmenistan, a country OBSESSED with belt wrestling, has started the process of converting some to Greco-Roman. Yesterday, they won their first-ever continental gold medal in Greco-Roman. That success is 100 percent guaranteed to spark more support and grow the sport of wrestling worldwide.
These advancements are encouraging, but it's even more fulfilling to see how much these athletes enjoy the competition. Most have never left their country and all seem to be obsessed with the sport. To see them reaching for their goals is an inspiration for me as a professional, but also as a former wrestler.
I still won't be able to sleep tonight. The jet lag is like an earthworm boring deep into my temples, but for what I'm seeing here I'm happy to make that trade.
To your questions …
Q: I've been a huge supporter of freestyle and donated a good amount when wrestling was dropped from the Olympics, but after watching the World Team Trials I am done. I am glad they dropped spots for Tokyo and hope the sport is gone by 2024. Extremely disgusted with it.
-- Steve M.
Foley: Yikes! To what are you owing this disgust? I enjoy sipping on the contrarian tea as much as the next man, but the World Team Trials seemed above reproach in terms of excitement and showmanship.
What you may be referring to is the poor officiating in the J'den Cox vs. David Taylor match. That was unacceptable. From calling out-of-bounds at the wrong time, to ineffective mat chairmanship (someone to check the referee's bad call and white paddle), to the incredible non-call at the end there was plenty to make fans upset. But throwing out the sport due to their poor officiating seems overdramatic.
There will always be bad calls and disappointment in wrestling, but the quality of the action and the general fairness of the rules should give you some reason to come back.
David Taylor points at official Sammy Julian after losing to J'den Cox (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Q: Did David Taylor and Cael Sanderson overreact on the officials? I did not see the match. It appears from reading articles Cox was stalling without penalty points.
-- Mike Z.
Foley: I think that both Taylor and Cael, with the benefit of time and distance, will tell you that they overreacted. However, wrestling is an emotional sport and these were terrible calls that directly cost Taylor the chance to represent the United States. That stings long term, but in the moment that is an acute feeling -- to think that you've been intentionally hosed.
Not to go overboard, but take this all a step further. David Taylor wrestled in (and won) the U.S. Open. He then enters the challenge tournament and wins four matches. He's also represented the United States in Iran and defeated two Olympic champions and another Olympic medalist. Then, he beats Cox handily in the first match, gets edged in the second and in the third -- after all that wrestling for that many months -- gets hosed by terrible officiating.
Overreaction? Maybe. Justified frustration? Yes.
Q: If 97 kilograms pans out like it should at the World Championships in Paris who do you think wins out, Kyle Snyder vs. Abdulrashid Sadulaev? Their styles collide and conditioning goes in Snyder's favor, but matchup wise it appears Saduleav has an advantage. So how do you see a potential match with these two athletes? Can this be an actual rivalry where both athletes can win at any given time or will it be "rivalry" where one athlete seems to have the best of the other?
-- Marcus R.
Foley: First, let me remind everyone that if Sadualev is up at 97 kilograms for the World Championships he will enter as an unseeded wrestler. Snyder will enter as the top seed. We can hope that they are separated, but there are no rules in place to secure that outcome.
The rivalry will persist no matter who wins the first matchup, or how. Just look at Dake and Burroughs. The former has only beaten the latter once and yet it's the most hyped rivalry in American wrestling. The overall series record is 7-1 which is hardly competitive, but since Dake had success in college and keeps the matches close, fans (and the media selling the matches) pump it up.
On the mat, I think Sadulaev has a clear speed and tactical advantage. Snyder will be in better condition, stronger and be able to thwart Sadulaev's gut wrench. The outcome is anyone's guess, but I'm assuming we see a 2-0 or 4-0 lead early by Sadualev but that Snyder makes headway with a positional battle that will make it a one point match with little time remaining.
Though I'm often criticized for being un-American with my selections, even I'm going with the Stars and Stripes during their first meeting. Snyder just has too much horsepower, even for "The Tank" Sadualev.
Q: Thoughts on Jordan Burroughs' medal chances in Paris?
-- Mike C.
Foley: 95 percent. Jordan Burroughs won gold medals when the whole world was taking aim at his throne. As the underdog, pressure-free and dropping in to the World Championships without a seed? Watch out, world.
2017 Junior World Team (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Q: The Junior World Team is set. Extremely talented team with Mark Hall, Gable Steveson, Zahid Valencia, Daton Fix, Kollin Moore, Mitchell McKee and others. Scary to think Spencer Lee could have been on the team too. What's the over/under on medals won by the U.S. in freestyle?
-- Mike C.
Foley: In total, four medals with two being of the golden variety. For most fans that might seem light, but the world is a big and bad place with freestyle savvy talent tucked into every nook of the Caucus Mountains and throughout Asia.
This is the best Junior team I've seen, but the reality is that these wrestlers will be away from home, randomly inserted into tough brackets and behind the curve in terms of on-the-mat tactics and gamesmanship due to a career focus on folkstyle.
Big move from Asian Junior Championships
Q: Just wondering about the status of Aaron Pico. He was absent from the World Team Trials. Are his amateur wrestling days over in favor of MMA? Or does he still plan on competing?
-- Jared W.
Foley: Aaron Pico is making his MMA debut on June 24 Bellator card at Madison Square Garden. He is done wrestling.
Q: Are Kyle Dake and David Taylor the two best and most accomplished NCAA wrestlers never to be on a World Team?
Foley: With four NCAA championships, Kyle Dake and Pat Smith are the most decorated college wrestlers to not make a world or Olympic team. The other two four-time NCAA champions, Cael Sanderson and Logan Stieber, won Olympic and world gold medals.
Taylor, while widely lauded, was a two-time NCAA champion and there are dozens of two-time NCAA champions who have never made a team.
Q: So last week's mailbag rant was an interesting read and in an ironic sense prepared me for the two interviews that Thomas Gilman gave in which he referred to Rei Higuchi as a "Jap." While I do recognize that he did apologize, I find it to be excuse plagued and rather empty. Moments like these can be very teachable, not just in the sense of an individual learning they should not use racist words to describe their opponent. Rather this moment should be used by the perpetrator to learn more about what makes the word so hurtful. Gilman's apology shows nothing to indicate he will do so. This leaves me skeptical to believe any real change of behavior will occur.
-- Jacob R.
Foley: Gilman is 23-year-old who has been celebrated for his candidness in front of the camera. He was hyped, didn't know how to get the best response and reached into Pearl Harbor nomenclature to evoke a response from his audience. None of this is acceptable, but this is part of the Villain Gilman image that he was trying to cultivate and stays in-step with the recent increase in speak-your-mind philosophy prevalent in today's politics.
The catch here is that USA Wrestling got into his ear and made sure that he gets his act together. Theirs is now a symbiotic relationship and they don't want negative press any more than Gilman wants to be needlessly dogged by the hysterics of sensitive snowflakes (sarcasm font).
As to broader, societal issues his comments reflect a broad acceptance by many Americans to make racially insensitive comments about Asians. I'm close to that issue, but am still surprised by how many people consider these comments acceptable. But, like you said, hopefully this is a learning tool for Gilman and others in the wresting community.
Q: Hayden Zillmer made the U.S. National Team in both freestyle and Greco-Roman this year. Very impressive. When was the last time this happened?
-- Mike C.
Foley: This is a great query.
To the comments section!
Q: I heard Dustin Kilgore is retiring. Have you heard of any other wrestlers retiring after the World Team Trials?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Yes, he announced it on social media. He has a lot to celebrate in his career and I'm sure he'll be as successful in his next career no matter the focus. Congrats to Dustin!
There may have been more, but I can't seem to remember at the moment. The vast majority won't have dramatic exits, but will instead slowly start prioritizing other aspects of their life and fade away from competition.
On a related note, I hear a lot of belly aching about "careers as a wrestler" not being an option for many Americans. Nothing is further from the truth. While wrestlers 3-10 on the depth ladder cannot make a living by traveling to 1-3 international tournaments a year, there is a substantial and lucrative support system in place for them to maintain their career while making money. Between camps, coaching and sponsorships big and small wrestlers in America are not starving.
No, they aren't professional football players making $350,000 the first year out of college, but the number of professional football players making $350,000 or more after three years is preposterously small when compared to participation rates.
The sport of wrestling is not a place to get rich, but there is money available. I do hope to see more direct payments being made to athletes, but first we need to understand only one organization in the sport is raking in millions of dollars of profit … and it's not United World Wrestling or USA Wrestling.
RANT SENT BEFORE WORLD TEAM TRIALS
By Pat H.
Maybe this is a rant rather than a question, but I think it's borderline disrespectful to hype the Jordan Burroughs-Kyle Dake match the way most people have. Burroughs is 5-0 against Dake! I don't care how close the matches were! Burroughs had ONE bad weekend in five years and we're ready to say that someone who has accomplished very little on the senior freestyle circuit is going to beat him? Now we are having hype videos for a series that has gone 0-5! Dake obviously is the No. 1 contender and will give Burroughs a great match and is capable of beating Burroughs, but I think we need to show a little more respect to one of the greatest American wrestlers of all time. He is the king until he is dethroned.