Monday's Beat the Streets event was held at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Beat the Streets New York held its annual benefit match and gala Monday night at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, showcasing top-level freestyle matches to more than 5,500 fans in house and tens of thousands more online.
The event's main focus was the matchup between Olympic and four-time world champion Jordan Burroughs and 2008 Olympian and current UFC fighter Ben Askren. That match drew a lot of outside media, with the runup and recaps of their match being showcased on every conceivable MMA platform, plus Forbes, The Ringer, ESPN, and NBC, among many others.
As many predicted, the penultimate bout between two-time Cadet world champion and two-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell and current world No. 1 Bajrang Punia proved to be the most exciting. The match went back and forth with each wrestler finding at least one takedown, one turn and one reversal. The final score was 10-8 with a raucous chorus of New York fans celebrating their hometown hero Yianni coming away as the champion.
There were plenty of other storylines too: the injury to David Taylor, five-point moves by J'den Cox and Kyle Snyder, Jack Mueller dismantling Nick Piccininni, and Nick Suriano over Joe Colon.
But what may have driven the fans to their most was the high school matchup between Jo Jo Aragona and Adam Busiello, hailing from New Jersey and New York, respectively.
It's easy to get caught up in the topline intro stuff, and for guys like me who don't watch a lot of high school wrestling it can also be difficult to track wrestlers before college. But one thing was certain, on Monday night a hefty majority of the fans at Hulu knew exactly who they were there to support, and it was evident to anyone between the two fan bases that their passion was at the atomic level.
As Chuck Mindenhall recapped in his article for The Ringer:
NEW YORK -- With over 600 local wrestlers gathered at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Monday night for the annual Beat the Streets benefit, you can very well picture the scene. It was a theater full of stone features with improbable stumps for necks. There was a healthy amount of people spitting tobacco juice into plastic soda bottles. Fathers and sons (and even a few daughters) gave themselves away through a connection of cruciferous ears, signaling years of grinding ear cartilage into mats.
It was a literal ground zero for the singlet. Things got a little rowdy.
And really, the crowd wasn't necessarily there to see Ben Askren compete against Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs in the main event. Most of them were there to see Nick Suriano, a kid from Rutgers, and Yianni Diakomihalis from Cornell, Kyle Snyder, Patrick Brucki -- the meat of today's wrestling classes smashing into each other for a cause. The UFC? Just a fun zone in some other dimension. This was all about the essence of the mat -- the core of the enterprise.
When Pope John XXIII's JoJo Aragona and Adam Busiello toppled over the apron and into the first round of spectators before, it was as loud as it would ever get last night. Turns out that bloodthirst isn't an MMA patent so much as a national pastime.
The success of the event and the crowd's reaction is a powerful reminder of how much of wrestling is born of regional rivalry. Ask most Americans and there is little discernible difference between a high school wrestler (or kid, coach, teacher, person) from New Jersey and one from New York. It would be like asking someone from the East Coast to tell the difference between denizens of Oklahoma and Nebraska.
But to those who live in the area and who have felt each loss, celebrated each victory over the past 20, 30, or 40 years -- those little indiscernible differences to others, are rifts for those who live it.
This week's Beat the Streets event was arguably the best to date. From energy, to competition, to booze being for sale, almost nothing in recent memory can compare. And in the future it'll serve as a guidepost for any organization looking to host a winning wrestling event.
To your questions …
Q: Rank the seven wrestlers who have byes to the finals of the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament from most likely to win (and advance to Final X) to least likely to win:
-- Mike C.
1. Cody Brewer (61 kilograms)
2. Bo Nickal (92 kilograms)
3. Adam Coon (125 kilograms)
4. Pat Downey (86 kilograms)
5. Alex Dieringer (79 kilograms)
6. Isaiah Martinez (74 kilograms)
7. Kyven Gadson (97 kilograms)
That in no way means that I think that they will do both. I rated these based on the number of scenarios I could imagine in which they ended up representing the United States in Nur-Sultan.
After defending world bronze medalist Joe Colon fell to Nick Suriano Monday night at Beat the Streets, you'd think any top-level guy has a decent shot at winning the title and the whoever advanced to the finals against Colon will have some underdog momentum.
I believe in J'den Cox, but Bo Nickal is a top competitor and his style could present issues for Cox, especially early and late in the match.
I don't see many situations in which Coon could knock off Gwiz, outside of an over-under that Gwiz just completely mismanages.
Pat Downey only because DT might still be injured come time for the Final X.
Q: What is the biggest challenge international wrestling faces with the re-evaluation by the IOC to stay in the Olympics in the coming years?
Foley: The first point to recognize is that wrestling as a whole is not facing a threat to its Olympic survival in 2020. The IOC has refigured the way they look at core and non-core sports and has even allowed the organizing committees for the Games to choose additional events they'd like to host (i.e. surfing in Tokyo).
For its part, wrestling has been a good partner to the IOC in fulfilling developmental duties, providing feedback, and growing the internal accountability for the organization when asked by the IOC. There are also an increased number of women in governance and there was an effort to make the 2018 Youth Olympic Games gender balanced, which wrestling accomplished.
The issues facing the sport are similar to those facing many of the other sports and the games as a whole. The Olympic Games are expensive and the number of athletes will likely continue to be pruned. With more sports gaining access to the games, some disciplines will have to trim numbers. Wrestling seems to be at its minimum with six weight classes, but we do have the added difficulty of Greco-Roman have no women's discipline for balance.
For me, that's the most vulnerable aspect of wrestling. While Greco-Roman taking off for women is an option, it's highly unlikely to take place. More likely, something like beach wrestling could be the balance, but that too comes with a number of unanswered questions about facilities, qualifications, and management.
As of now nothing major seems to be changing before the 2032 Games, which is (thankfully) 14 years in the future.
Dato Marsagishvili competing in beach wrestling (Photo/Max Rose-Fyne, United World Wrestling)
Q: Why don't you enter (beach wrestling this weekend in Rio)?
Foley: I don't enter because Olympic bronze medalist Dato Marsagishvili has a habit for posterizing all the 90-kilogram chumps who dare face his smiley-faced wrath.