While there has been a lot of discussion around Team USA's performance (you asked questions, which are answered below), I thought I'd review where Olympic wrestling stands as a sport on the international stage.
To understand where we are, it's important to be reminded of where we started. On Feb. 13, 2013, an IOC commission recommended that wrestling be eliminated as an Olympic sport after the 2016 Olympics. A variety of circumstances led to the decision, but much of the spirit for the decision came from a lack of sport attractiveness, intractable governance, and basic complacency among the leaderships.
Wrestling dismissed IOC reviews, ignored vital outreach programs, and left questions about gender equality unconsidered. Maybe secondary to that was that wrestling lacked a voice at the IOC in the form of real power, or even soft influence.
The larger problem might have been on the mat where rules included grab bags of balls, clinches, and a hysterically off-putting rule set meant to mimic … tennis. Maybe the best anecdote about wrestling's problematic product was from the 2000 Games in Sydney when soon-to-be IOC president Jacques Rogue famously attended the Greco-Roman heavyweight finals, ostensibly to crown Alexander Karelin as the greatest wrestler ever. However, after Rulon Gardner won by a "broken clinch" the most powerful man in sport left flummoxed, his only parting gift a dinner party vignette into the wacky world of wrestling.
Wrestling was dull. The shine earned from being among the toughest men in the world had been faded by repeated institutional rubbings -- rules, presentation and media reach had all been lost behind internal politics, or worse, incompetence.
So what does the sport look like today?
In the past 14 days there were 21 million minutes of video watched on the United World Wrestling YouTube page. That does not include the United States where people are unable to view the videos. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook channels for United World Wrestling each saw record amounts of traffic both for the UWW accounts and for the #BudaWrestle2018 hashtag which seems to have improved on Paris by almost three-fold.
Wrestling's Instagram page surpassed the Olympic Channel in numbers of followers.
The on-the-mat the product was never better. Freestyle and women's wrestling continue to be action-packed with excellent techniques and the more aggressive wrestlers most-often finding the win. The Snyderlaev II match was appointment viewing. Greco-Roman was more bearable than in year's past and seems on track for a brighter future with aggressors also winning in a vast majority of the matches. Stars were born, storylines furthered, and plenty of OMG moments sprinkled the nine-day event.
Though a sideline attraction, the political side of things also produced some meaningful results. Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, attended a Saturday night session alongside 10K screaming, crazed Hungarians and watched as his countryman Frank Staebler (Germany) won a high-scoring gold-medal bout. Nenad Lalovic, who himself is now a member of the IOC and that organization's executive board, went to the mixed zone with Bach to congratulate Staebler.
In addition to Bach, Lalovic met with the Prime Minister of Hungary and shook hands with a number of other IOC members and VIP dignitaries.
The athletes were well-fed. There was plenty of room to warm up, shower, use the bathroom. Transportation was convenient. Food was excellent. The show was watchable, fun, and easy-to-follow.
I'm paid to produce this content and to say nice things, but that lack of total objectivity doesn't diminish the gains made by the hard-working people in our sport. This is not just the gains of the international federations, the media department, the president, or the always-improving Swiss staff. The national federations have bought in too. They are hosting more events, putting on better production, allocating more resources and delivering on the promise of the wrestling spirit more than ever before.
Not everything is perfect. Changes and enhancements are always being tested and implemented. But for the 2018 Wrestling World Championships I think we can look back on an event with a glint of something special -- a shine that won't soon fade.
To your questions …
Q: What surprised you the most at the World Championships?
-- Mike C.
Foley: The Russians performance in Greco-Roman. To go from zero gold medals to six in one season is bananas. They were aggressive, tactical and executed incredible techniques match after match. There were some slower matches -- as is common in the style -- but they were more active than other nations relative to their rate of scoring.
I also think the Canadian women were impressive in almost every match. They are very well conditioned, savvy and scored in bunches. With a few more matches falling their direction they could have swooped in for bronze. Tonya Verbeek is one of the best coaches in the world and I think we will be seeing much more of the Canadian women on top of the podium in Astana … and Tokyo.
Maybe most surprising was that the United States men's freestyle team won three gold medals, three bronze and a silver and still came in second place! That's incredible, but also a testament of the training and dedication of the Russians.
Oh, and the first world title for 34-year-old Yowls "Half Man, Half Amazing" Bonne Rodriguez!
Helen Maroulis battles (Photo/Larry Slater)
Q: What's the deal with the deafening silence on Helen Maroulis getting pinned in her preliminary match at the World Championships?
Foley: Silence? From a media standpoint I saw lots of coverage. Social media personalities also seemed to share thoughts. Helen herself addressed the topics of the loss in a lengthy interview. USA Wrestling even covered the loss with some detail.
The silence might seem louder in that the past two years she has received a lot of acclaim (though less than her male counterparts would have) for an Olympic victory over an "unbeatable" legend and a shutout performance at the 2017 World Championships.
Helen is a wonderful woman, athlete, teammate and friend. While I don't know, or wouldn't share her personal details, I think it's obvious from her words that this was a tough season. As such she didn't perform to the best of her ability on the mat. However, I did notice her being and exceptionally strong teammate and friend. There was an incident in the athlete warmup area where she spent considerable time consoling a teammate who took an unexpected loss.
Maybe it's all wins and losses, but I like to think that there is more that these athletes can give fans and each other.
Who is your pound-for-pound No. 1-ranked wrestler in the world?
Foley: The limitation of this list is that it's three separate styles and only 10 spots, so by default I'm not including anyone who didn't win the world title in 2018. I think that is pretty obvious reasoning, but it may need to be stated so that nobody feels the need to write that Kyle Snyder (USA) should be included in front of someone on the list.
With that cleared up …
1. Yui Susaki (Japan)
2. David Taylor (USA)
3. Abdulrashid Sadulaev (Russia)
4. Frank Staebler (Germany)
5. Geno Petriashvili (Georgia)
6. Risako Kawai (Japan)
7. Stepan Maryanyan (Russia)
8. Adeline Gray (USA)
9. Takaturo Otoguro (Japan)
10. Sergey Semenov (Russia)
No, we are still not calling your show "The O-Show."
Q: How was the officiating at the World Championships?
Foley: Overall, I think there were few-to-no big mistakes that happened on-the-mat. The confusion at the end of the Danielle Lappage-Petra Olli final had more to do with some clock confusion, challenges, and coaches not monitoring the criteria. However, even there I thought the officiating was well done.
Also, the incident with the Russian coach was very well handled. He proceeded with the correct route and nothing was later overturned, reviewed, or otherwise.
One indication of the quality of officiating is that the Bureau chose to give the best referee award, known as the Golden Whistle, to the head of the referees. The award was noting that the championships had gone well and to thank him for service over the past few seasons.
So, at some level, I think when you look at the balance of 400-plus matches, this was a well-officiated championship.
Q: Who were your (mythical) Outstanding Wrestlers in each of the styles at the World Championships?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Greco-Roman: Sergey Semenov (Russia). Women's wrestling: Yui Susaki (Japan). Freestyle: Kyle Dake (USA). However, I think David Taylor (USA) was the best freestyle wrestler of 2018.
Turning Points: Biggest Moments from #BudaWrestle2018
Was this the match of the year?
Snyder vs. Sadulaev
Yui doesn't mess around …
Q: What did you make of Jesse Thielke's comments about the training leading up to the World Championships?
-- Mike C.
He said a lot of things. One that stuck with me is that he seemed to think they over-conditioned too close to the event and didn't spend enough time on technique. I'd be interested to hear the other side of that argument.
The fact that he spoke up like he did was pretty gutsy and left me wondering what, if anything, was said to the coaching staff or the members of USA Wrestling who oversee that development.
Q: Ben Askren has been calling out everyone since he was traded to the UFC. How do you think he would do against Khabib? Or GSP?
-- Mike C.
Foley: He's a lot bigger than Khabib so I don't really think that is a fight that'll ever get done, nor do I think it would be particularly interesting.
I would love to see Ben fight GSP. He's talked his way into the UFC, so I think he should take a top ten guy in his first bout. Assuming Ben can make it past Darren Till (or someone of that ilk), I think GSP would be a perfect matchup for Ben to test the power of his wrestling against arguably the most well-rounded fighter in the history of MMA.
Tough to say how it would all go down, but it's important to remember that GSP has exceptional MMA wrestling. He has taken down plenty of wrestlers and held them down. He's also escaped from plenty of takedowns. The one thing GSP has that most fighters Ben faced have seemed to lack, is a jab. He has a nasty, nasty jab and a very smart attitude towards controlling the pacing of a fight as well as where it's fought.
Fun to see it all play out!
Q: What is the process or formula that the NCAA uses to determine ticket allocation for the NCAA Division I Championship tournament? How often is this formula reviewed/re-calibrated to ensure that it accurately reflects the state of the sport in our country today?
-- Deven D.
Foley: The ticket allocation is based on a team's prior placement at the NCAA Championships. There is also a consideration for the host school, which in 2019 will be Pitt. The allocations may be increased or decreased based on the response of other schools who give feedback on if they require fewer, or request more. The actual calculation (how these things are weighted) and re-calibration (when are these adjusted) I don't exactly know.
Q: Will UWW have a presence to the 2019 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh? Will the semifinals or finals be streamed on the UWW site so that the worldwide wrestling community is able to be exposed to our national championship?
-- Deven D.
Foley: The NCAA Championships are broadcast by ESPN and select partners. While United World Wrestling recognizes folkstyle as the traditional wrestling style of the United States, it holds no dominion over the event, nor does it require athletes to be licensed to compete. The most integration would be to get some staff over to see how the event is run and if there are some areas they'd like to imitate or learn from.
Q: What odds would you need to bet on Vincenzo Joseph closing out the remainder of his NCAA career without a loss? Also, do you see his international future in freestyle or Greco-Roman (or neither)?
Foley: Vincenzo Joseph is an outstanding wrestler, but there are way too many factors for me to ever back him (or anyone, really) going two years without a loss. The landscape has far too many talented wrestlers who are ready for the national stage as freshmen. This year, Evan Wick, Chance Marstellar, Alex Marinelli and Logan Massa are all in the top five. How can you not take at least one whoopsy-daisy loss with that grouping?
Someone would need to give me at least +2500 to bet him going the rest of the way undefeated.
As for his international career, I'm not sure I know of any titles in his Greco past, but he seems like he could be suited for some big moves. He falls at a difficult weight for freestyle but is also still very young. Would be interesting to see if he can find some success in either.
Q: What does Mark Schultz do for a living?
-- Scott M.
Foley: Oh goodness, I'm not sure. Readers?