While the lightweight and heavyweight are both almost certain to be future Hall of Fame wrestlers, what interests me isn't their wrestling styles, so much as the way in which they were raised and the way they lead their teammates and motivate each other. Wrestling thrives in the creases of the map and it's men from these areas that I've consistently found to be the best wrestlers and most passionate about their craft. These small cities are teaching our young men something about teamwork, sacrifice, and creating a wrestler's life from their own combination of talent and hard work.
The other component to the Gori story is the head freestyle wrestling coach who started a club here in the 1970's. While other regions of the country (then the Soviet Union) received more lavish considerations, the Gori team grew from the visions of one coach. I won't ruin what will be told in the upcoming video features on United World Wrestling, but once you hear his voice and feel his command of the room, it's apparent that he is a man meant to lead and inspire his youth.
In that way the coach, Gori, Vlad and Geno feel familiar. All wrestlers have sacrificed, but the moves we learn and the traditions we decide to pass along come from the generations before us. The men and women who work the land, cook the food, teach in the schools and share a common history.
As I've traveled to different nations and unique cities like Gori there is no doubt that massive differences appear, but I'm often reassured by how much remains the same. That it takes a mat filled with passionate parents, coaches, teammates, and community members to ensure that our most talented make their way to the top of the podium … and stay there.
To your questions …
The referees gather to review a call during a match between Nick Suriano and Daton Fix (Photo/Juan Garcia)
Q: I understand the importance of instant replay being used to get calls correct, but after the fiasco which was Nick Suriano vs. Daton Fix, something needs to change next year. What are your thoughts on … if a failed challenge happens, either your kid is penalized 1 or 2 match points, or you have to give up 1 team point?
I think that coaches would be much more reluctant to challenge and disrupt the match. I also think that the two refs need to confer more on questionable calls. To their credit, I've recently seen the refs go over to replay without being prompted here recently. This is quite acceptable in my opinion.
-- Chris A.
Foley: Agreed. It's powerful for referees to self-regulate and second-guess their own decisions. The opportunity to review something that happened in a split second has made the sport fairer.
The long delays could be fixed with a more standardized video review system, limits on review time for each challenged call, and heftier penalties for coaches and wrestlers who lose a challenge. The NCAA might be hesitant to employ these improvements, as they would cost more money, throw into debate whether the right call was achieved, and potentially cost a wrestler a match on a procedural review.
Is the international style a fair model? Three-person reviews, fan-visible video, and points awarded to opposing wrestlers for failed challenges have allowed the sport to be more transparent, but it's still dogged by long timeouts, and on occasion matches that become overly litigated.
Q: I have thought for years that NCAA Division I wrestling is especially compelling and has the potential to be much more mainstream than it is at this point. Do you agree that NCAA Division I deserves more attention as a platform to develop wrestling? It also doesn't help that some of the biggest name coaches in Division I are the strong silent type and don't seem to want to make a concerted effort to be better on camera. Thoughts?
-- Craig M.
Foley: There is more wrestling content online and on TV now than ever before. While no hard numbers exist, the saturation of content available via livestream, traditional websites, TV, blogs, Instagram Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is in multiples of the thousands.
As you noted, though, it's difficult to see the penetration of the sport in the conscience of the mainstream media because for them those multiples are exponential given they are covering such a wide range of sports.
While blame could fall on some coaches, I've found Tom Brands, Kevin Dresser, and several other major conference coaches to be good with the press, promoting matchups as best they can through the means available to them at the time, whether social media or a local news broadcast.
The larger issue does remain: how to make a larger positive impact on the general sports market? For me that comes down to the product on the mat and the way it is being delivered to larger audiences. While the John Wayne coaching style isn't helping much, the interviews in the backroom of the gymnasium are really only meant for diehard fans of the sport. To make a name for the sport on the major channels would take better production value, star appeal, and extensive backstories.
I hope that one day a slew of positive mainstream media attention will make its way to our sport, but in the meantime I'm content with the level of engagement and growth we are seeing among current and former wrestlers, their families, and their friends.
Q: Need a recipe for fixing wrestling? Look no further than two big guys like Anthony Cassar and Mason Parris getting after it! Wow! What a match!
-- Tim M.
Foley: Though I whiffed on my prediction, I'm one-hundred percent behind that type of offense-first wrestling match at any weight.
Q: We've seen a lot of post-match trash from wrestlers recently. Austin DeSanto, for example, in last year's quarterfinals and his recent post-match antics against Nebraska.
While I enjoy watching the sport, a kid of DeSantos' caliber tech falling an unranked wrestler definitely doesn't need this type of reaction. Granted, it was probably in response to Tyler Berger's earlier actions. But these are starting to cost teams points, and even respect. Is this good for college wrestling as a whole? Or have we resigned ourselves to post match shoves and taunting to being little more than a fan benefit? And for that matter, why are the refs letting this type of stuff slide as well?
An add-on to this: Berger, Steveson, Red, etc. It just seems DeSanto's celebrations and actions always get talked about.
-- Jared H.
Foley: As we all know now, DeSanto was suspended for one match primarily based on his behavior in the Nebraska dual. Though I'm not a 'Get Off My Lawn' traditionalist of the sport, I found his behavior unnecessary and somewhat callous. But I think his suspension was more likely a culmination of bad behavior and bad press rather than this singular incident causing this decision by the Hawkeyes.
DeSanto needs limitations and needs to know that breaking the rules has consequences. He may or may not absorb that message, but I think he loves his team and loves to compete, making sitting out this dual meet a painful blow to his pride and feelings of camaraderie.
Like all fans who think he has enormous talent, I hope he can rid himself of the extracurricular behavior and return to the mats well-balanced and seeking to win in a dominating (but stable) manner.
Q: Did you see the Illinois-Iowa dual? At 141 pounds, Mike Carr of Illinois came from behind and scored a last-second take down and nearfall to win the match. The wrestler from Iowa was visibly upset and Carr taunted him before shaking hands. Although I loved Carr's guts in pulling out a come-from-behind win, it was very disappointing to see him make fun of the other wrestler. Later on in the match, Illinois was penalized a team point. I was curious if it was due to this incident.
-- Scott G.
Foley: Hard to say if it was a makeup call by the referee, but to Jared H's point I think that most wrestling fans are growing weary of the showboating and taunting. While celebrating your victory is always welcomed, it never needs to come at the expense of someone else.
Q: I do think the ducking in dual meets is getting tiring. I'd be pissed if I were the wrestler. I get "March is what "matters" ... but I think in the rear view at least many of them will realize the fun that is competing just to compete and wish they'd taken all opportunities to do so. I can't imagine Brands as a wrestler being OK ducking someone back in the day to assure seeding. Can you? You really think the two guys in the poster would strategically sit? Some of my favorite matches from college in retrospect were losses. Always more satisfying to lose trying to win.
-- Jon G.
Foley: I … agree.
The sport is maturing. There is a sophistication in the gamesmanship of the coaches and their lineups that simply wasn't there 20-30 years ago. Also, because the seeding has certain predictable parameters more wrestlers are able to avoid matches that might cost them in the long run.
Do I think the Brands brothers as freshmen would have ducked an opponent if Gable thought it gave them a significantly better chance to secure a yellow medal in March?