After a year-long layoff, Jordan Oliver was back on the mats last weekend at the Pytlasinski Memorial in Poland. The tournament, Oliver's first since coming off an anti-doping violation, was impressive, with the Oklahoma State graduate winning a pair of matches before dropping a 9-8 decision to eventual champion Akhmed Chakaev (Russia) in the semifinals, 9-8.
Once back on American soil, Oliver wasted little time in taking to Twitter and Instagram to stoke a rivalry with fellow 65-kilogram wrestler Zain Retherford. The first interaction was mild, with Oliver asking Retherford to "scrap" at the upcoming Who's Number One event in Pennsylvania. The "scrap" was a reference to Retherford's sponsorships .
The mundane queries soon deepened when Oliver used the staccato of Machine Gun Kelly to further prod Retherford via a rap posted on Instagram. The verse caused a minor social media uproar.
By now we should expect the noise and the unrelenting back-and-forth about what a wrestler should and shouldn't do to promote himself or an event.View this post on Instagram
Im sick of all of the train talk and hodge talk, lets scrap about it, both of us aint competing right now and from pa, lets scrap about it, im sick of you being mentioned as the greatest and wont wrestle, lets scrap about it, or WE can get gully, Ill size up your body and put some white chalk around it! #wrestlingdevil #freesmoke #onlyonepersondidntaccepttheWNOinvite🤷🏽♂️ 😂😂 @machinegunkelly
What is respectful? Why is the sport not more like MMA?
According to @knarkill … MMA fighter calls another fighter out it's promotion and showmanship. Wrestler calls another wrestler out he's a punk or disrespectful. We gotta get over ourselves y'all. It ain't the church choir.
While may wrestlers have created championship careers in the cage, the comparisons between wrestling and mixed martial arts are not one-to-one.
In the case of MMA, the fights are supported by promotions, which is to say there is no singular organization governing the rules, rankings, or competition structures. Events and promotions are independent operations and athletes are self-employed contractors. There are no national governing bodies and no organizations to oversee the implementation of rules and scoring across state lines. (Each state has an independent commission.) And, of course, MMA lacks any international-level oversight … and people punch each other in the face.
For wrestlers from the United States the competition system is held together by the NFHS, NCAA, USA Wrestling and United World Wrestling. At each level these institutions create a structure by which all members must organize and participate. They also work together to ensure a smooth transition from amateur to professional for interested athletes. Events are organized on a global scale and supported by 180 national federations. Also, no punching or kicking in the sport of wrestling.
When you read that MMA is spectacle and wrestling is sport, this is what that means: organization and accountability. One is highly organized and dependent of a meritocracy and the other is a combination of market viability, athletic talent and your relationship with Dana White or Scott Coker. Those differences were created by different histories and are supported by different economies and established ideas of what is, and is not, success in the sport.
The recent kerfuffle and band of voices asking for more self-promotion and rivalry in wrestling is actually an old song, which at one time hurt the sport.
When scholastic and professional wrestling separated at the start of the 20th century it was due to the organizers desire for money. Specialty matchups (like you'd see for Beat the Streets) were filling large sporting halls in the Northeast, but ticket sale began to suffer as the athletes began to improve and pin-only matches lasted for several hours. So wrestling promoters took over control of the action in the ring by deciding outcomes.
Voila, professional wrestling.
While promoters believed in the spectacle, "real" wrestlers were attracted to the physicality and technique of the sport. Point-scoring systems were implemented to combat the problem of the five-hour match and the sport was championed by all levels of education. However, a lack of promotion and a guarantee for competition coming from schools meant the product suffered.
Voila, amateur wrestling.
Wrestling at the NCAA and Olympic level enjoys a level of professionalism and expectation for fairness that would be impossible to expect in the WWE or UFC. To that point, think of when outcomes do seem suspicious. The uproar is made precisely because this half of the world is meant to be fair and transparent. When it's not, it matters.
So what about Oliver? Why did his self-promotion bother some wrestling fans?
Historically, wrestlers didn't have a promotional pipeline to their fans, nor were there many (if any) wrestling promotions where they could make money competing. Today the editorial oversight and moralistic handwringing of the traditional editor has been replaced by social media. Wrestlers can connect directly to the fans and if they drum up support they may find themselves making money.
That change in communication means that hardcore wrestling audience (NCAA reported the wrestling fans to be traditional, older, and white) takes umbrage to direct attacks on their favorite wrestlers.
In the view of the entrenched wrestling fan these actions show a lack of respect for the fundamental underpinning of the sport: self-improvement, modesty, and hard work. For them the actions of Oliver and other adversarial approaches to promoting themselves in the sport will never be approvable, because they think it'll limit the attention paid to athletes who succeed inside the meritocracy established by the sport.
But for Oliver and those who want to see more money in the sport and more coverage, words can help create rivalries, drive interest and create financial opportunity. That should be valued by our community. Wrestling is a form of individual expression, and as much as the "talking should be done on the mat" the words can't hurt anyone.
The real sweet spot is in allowing individuals to behave as they see fit off and on the mat -- within the confines of the rules. Back flips, flag celebrations, some dancing. Allow joy to be visible on the mat. It's a fool's errand to judge the behavior of an athlete utilizing social media to promote himself or herself. That's the power of self-expression, nobody can tell us what to say or how to think … or how to promote.
The only way to prevent questionable speech is to regulate it, and I highly doubt wrestling fans on either side of this debate would want the government to decide what they can say.
To your questions …
Q: Jordan Oliver called out Zain Retherford on Twitter with hopes of setting up a match. JO's online behavior seemed to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but why didn't those same people get upset when Jordan Burroughs called out Frank Chamizo?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Burroughs and Chamizo's rivalry is rooted in a much cheekier tone and promotional buy-in from both athletes. They used a lot of emojis and subtle burns to get their message across, which is difficult to umbrage with as a fan. Most important was that Chamizo is Cuban-Italian and doesn't have a massive (English speaking) support system who would snap back at Burroughs.
Oliver and Retherford represent two very different wrestling fans, and it was those fans that added to this week's debate. Without a second, Chamizo's slights weren't being amplified.
Q: Do you see any other current Division II schools making the jump from Division II to Division I like Cal Baptist? #fanbagfridays
Foley: The only schools I see making the jump from Division II to Division I will be those hoping to attract larger enrollments or with substantial independent backing ($8-10 million). That, or schools who have athletic directors concentrated on making a splash in their network. For example, the architect of the Cal Baptist move has a significant talking point when he speaks with future employers.
In real terms, St. Cloud State has a clear path to Division I as they already support a Division I men's ice hockey program, are the defending Division II champions, and only have to compete with Minnesota for athletes in a state flush with talent. Also, they are in the Midwest and could slide into the Big 12 schedule.
Q: Do you and the missus watch Archer?
Foley: No. Worth it? Could use some TV programs now that I've picked up middle of the night feeding for the baby.
Q: The Iowa wrestling program has amassed 999 team wins. The last several years, Iowa wrestling has started their season with the Iowa City Duals, wrestling the likes of Coe College, Cornell College, Iowa Central Community College, and similar programs. This year, the Hawks' first two dual meets are scheduled against Kent State and Cal St. Bakersfield in Ohio, thus (likely) depriving Hawkeye fans of seeing the historic 1,000th win in program history. Do I as a Hawkeye fan and season ticket holder have a right to feel slighted by this move? My cheek hurts a little from the slap they gave me.
-- Jeremy T.
Foley: You are observant! Of course, you have the right to feel slighted, but I think that this type of decision (competing for early season tune-up) over the celebration of an arbitrary number, is perfect Iowa Style wrestling! All that matters are the yellow medals at the end of the season.
I have to assume that Brands and Co. will host a banquet for the celebration of the 1000th win, and/or the school will make a big fuss on the actual night. I think it's an interesting number to hit and should spark some really fun retrospectives on the Hawkeye teams of the 1980's and 1990's.
Maybe we can get some more Royce Alger story time?
Q: Obviously, expectations are high for the USA Junior World Team in freestyle. But what are reasonable expectations for the Junior World Team in Greco? Seems like there is a sure-fire medalist/potential champ in Kamal Bay and potential champ/medalist in Cohlton Schultz. Could the team finish in the top three in the team standings? Or is there not enough talent/balance?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Kamal Bey and Cohlton Schultz are threats to medal, but neither is a sure-fire gold medalist. If you go back and watch Bey's gold-medal match last year you'll see how far he was pushed. However, this year the emphasis on active wrestling should benefit the American wrestlers who've tended to be more aggressive than their opponents, especially at the Cadet and Junior level.
The top three will be tricky. Russia and Iran will be battling for the top spot with Azerbaijan and Georgia capable of cracking into the team medals. I think the Americans would need five medalists and another three to make it into the medal rounds. I'm not seeing that depth, but the new rules are a wild card that are tough to factor at a tournament like Junior Worlds, which will be very well officiated.
Q: A friend and I were talking about coaching and he brought up something interesting. He thinks in time women will change the coaching landscape, especially at the high school level. Many of the current generation's women and girls are entering the sport at high school level competing in folkstyle (like most men). But if a young woman goes to college she is competing in freestyle (almost a different sport in many respects). He thinks that it's a coaching advantage in that the women have to compete and practice the international style for four years or five years. So here is the question …
Will women who coach wrestling have some type of edge because their competitive experience in freestyle during their college careers? And what type of effect will it have on the growth of the sport in particular freestyle at the high school level?
-- Marcus R.
Foley: I'm not sure I'll answer this well, but yes, I think that there are considerable advantages to our women being in a freestyle-only model, both as competitors and coaches.
One place I think we could see the sport excel is women involved in the youth league coaching. Our sport has problem with overzealous parents and I think women would be a fit for coaching the 5 to 12-year-old crowd the basics of the sport. Women tend to be more patient, detailed focused and carry a longer vision of what success means in the sport.
I'm glad you brought up this issue, because it gives pause to the question as to why women are good for the sport. It's not just to serve the self-interest of men looking to protect their sport, but maybe (just maybe!) they would be able to add something to our techniques and improved pedagogical methods in training young coaches.