Stories sell. Not just for cash, but in views and in cultural significance. While the day-to-day highlight reels that United World Wrestling, Track and Flo put out generate plenty of shares on social media, the media that makes an impact is typically defined by those that connect with something larger than the sport.
The themes may seem to vary, but tend towards the only seven stories ever told: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth. When a wrestling story can tap into one of these storylines through its characters and not just the action on the mat, there is sure to be significant penetration into mainstream culture.
The challenge, of course, is to find these stories and to make them into something readable or watchable. Foxcatcher has managed to do that and for that it should be celebrated whether or not it wins on Thursday night, as it was an incredible feat of storytelling that through tragedy detailed the humanity of a person and showed what it takes to be the best at the oldest and greatest sport in the world.
To your questions ...
Daton Fix and Nathan Tomasello could meet at the U23 World Team Trials (Photos/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Q: Daton Fix and Nathan Tomasello are both registered at 57 kilograms for the U23 World Team Trials this weekend. If the two meet, who do you predict wins and why?
-- Mike C.
Foley: I DON'T KNOW AND IT'S AMAZING.
Several international coaches have discussed the respect they have for Daton Fix's wrestling style and ability. Ask most and they'll tell you that they expected to see him win the starting job in the USA. Why? Probably the fluidity with which he transitions through positions, but also the incredible speed with which he converts takedowns into multiple points on the mat. Fix is a special, special wrestler and one that could be a winner for the USA at 57 kilograms (along with Thomas Gilman).
NATO is more straightforward. His strength is his strength, but he also has very crisp, low-risk techniques. You won't find him making many mistakes in a six-minute match, and given a high likelihood that he's in shape there won't be any technical slipups due to conditioning.
If I have to choose, I very begrudgingly go with Fix, if only because he's a touch more dynamic and might be a better match against the Georgian and Russian wrestlers at the weight class.
Q: Why would JB compete for an Iranian club against Titan Mercury Wrestling Club?
-- Ben S.
Foley: Let's start with a few clarifications since the World Clubs Cup is a bit different than the nation-based World Championships. First, Jordan Burroughs is a member of the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club and the Titan Mercury Wrestling Club is the only USA club participating in the event. Second, the deal isn't done. Third, the World Clubs Cup often sees many late pickups with wrestlers from around the world being added to rosters with a predominant nationality. Vladimer Khinchegashvili was added to the TMWC roster last year.
Overall, the idea is for the Iranian club to pay Burroughs some amount of money to compete for them during the World Clubs Cup. The national allegiances are loose (as they are in EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga) and are more about the club and whatever attachment they've created among fans. Titan Mercury has been exceptional in that respect, creating a nice fan base and some major success at the international stage.
Keep an eye on the story and let's see if it goes through. Should it happen it would be quite the news story.
Q: I see the Blue Ribbon Task Force came out with recommendations for the college Division I season. I think most of those are worthwhile. Wrestling would benefit from a Blue Ribbon Task Force seeing what realistic changes can be made to increase youth level participation. I have mentioned USA Wrestling in the past as the spearhead for many of wrestling's initiatives. They are the leaders by default in our country. What ideas do you have, Mr. Foley? I would love to see other readers chime in. I love this sport and clearly anyone reading your column does as well. You reach a large audience. Let's get the discussion going. I fear that doing nothing will mean the virtual end of the NCAA tournament, etc. in 20 years. A positive, constructive conversation and realistic recommendations could catch fire. Thank you. Grow wrestling!
-- Mike S.
Foley: A Blue Ribbon Task Force for youth wrestling is a fantastic idea!
In short here are the 8 things I would want to discuss and see if we could implement them into sports programs around the country.
1. Coed wrestling teams. It's being tested in NYC and has so far proven to be VERY appealing.
2. Limitation on number of competitive matches before the age of 14. USA Wrestling oversees the large majority of licenses and could implement the appropriate oversight.
3. Introduction of strict no-head touching until 14. Clubbing, batting, hands in the face.
4. Creation of a recreational style of the sport that would bring back older wrestlers looking to reconnect, who would then also become technical teachers to younger generations.
5. The total and complete eradication of the singlet.
6. Move to put programs in Indian reservations. Not technically just for youth, but I think it is a powerful tool to rebuild tribalism, honor and teach youth the discipline necessary to succeed (and fight for what is rightfully theirs).
7. Adoption of technique-only training philosophy for wrestlers under the age of 10 years old. Coaching education would need to be broadened and the incentives for coaches changes from winning to something more educational.
8. Stricter academic requirements for high school wrestlers looking to compete.
Shippensburg youth wrestling coach Bill Wolfe was among those killed during this week's shooting in Las Vegas. Thoughts are with his family and friends. Link
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Q: With Chris Skretkowicz resigning as VMI's head wrestling coach, it made me curious to know what the challenges might be with succeeding as a wrestling coach at VMI. Any ideas?
-- Mike C.
Foley: In the current Division I coaching climate the biggest separation between programs tends to present itself in funding. Whereas 15 years ago VMI could compete with a handful of All-American candidates, those opportunities are being absorbed by regional powerhouses like Appalachian State and Chattanooga.
VMI also has an issue of being a military academy, which certainly limits the recruiting process to far fewer candidates. Still, there should be enough talent available for even VMI to pull out some top-level talent from the region.
Coach Skretkowicz left to pursue a career in another field, and I have nothing but respect for making that transition, even as late as October. We've seen lots of top-level coaching talent move on to different professions -- guys who weren't pushed out, but rather chose to capitalize on their talents in new, more profitable ways.
Good luck to coach and to the Keydets.
Q: Do you see youth club wrestling in the U.S. going the way of other youth sports like baseball, soccer, AAU basketball, football, etc.? And do you see the unintended consequences mirroring the other sports where kids will eventually only have access to high-level coaching and competition if their families are willing to pay the cost?
-- Marcus R.
Foley: I once believed that the professionalization of youth sports would be wrestling's fate, but as I've seen the next generation of coaches move into positions of power and influence I think the future might contain a better balance.
The broader sports community has seen the detriment that overtraining and hyper focus can do to the development of a child. There are real consequences seen in their ability to learn a healthy lifestyle outside of the sport, and with too much professionalization many turn away from activity and sport.
Finally, wrestling is, was and always be a sport with a high percentage of low to middle income participants. The trend in the other sports you mentioned was able to grow because the athletes tended to come from middle and upper-class families -- those who can absorb the financial strain of full-time professional coaching. Though wrestling will continue to see the sport flourish in local clubs, I don't foresee the financial costs exceeding what is payable by the sport's participants.
Q: Darrion Caldwell headlines the Bellator card on Friday night. Do you think he will beat Eduardo Dantas? Both fighters have been fighting well. Caldwell has one loss in his career, which he avenged. Dantas has won five straight fights, which includes a win over Joe Warren.
-- Mike C.
Foley: At some point everybody beats Joe Warren.
Caldwell needs to stay out of scrambles and force Dantas into half guard when they end up on the mat. Strikes that lead to cage-assisted takedowns are his best option to control Dantas and score significant strikes for damage. Dantas is also lethal from a distance, so when standing Caldwell needs to stay inside or completely out of range -- any middling distance is where Dantas find head kicks, superman punches, flying knees and extended jabs.
Caldwell can win, but will need to stay disciplined. Will be worth the price of admission.