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Foley's Friday Mailbag: June 28, 2019

USA Wrestling has just released their rosters for the Pan Am Games this August and … wow.

While we have been thinking of the drama around certain Final X matches (and even some of the non-Olympic weight talk) it's eye-opening to see the starting six in men's and women's freestyle for Lima. This team is very experience, but not long in the tooth - a rare and usually successful combination.

Women's wrestling:
50 kilograms: Whitney Conder
53 kilograms: Sarah Hildebrandt
57 kilograms: Jenna Burkert
62 kilograms: Kayla Miracle
68 kilograms: Tamyra Mensah-Stock
76 kilograms: Adeline Gray

Freestyle:
57 kilograms: Daton Fix
65 kilograms: Zain Retherford
74 kilograms: Jordan Burroughs
86 kilograms: Pat Downey
97 kilograms: Kyle Snyder
125 kilograms: Nick Gwiazdowski

These are monster lineups! Really. I'm often accused of lacking the proper amount of Team USA loyalty, but in this case I hope it's evident that I'm bullish on these squads' chances to take home a lot of hardware from Peru.

The over/under for gold medals is 8.5. Make your picks in the comments.

To your questions …

J'den Cox walks out on to the mat at Final X: Rutgers (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

Q: Who do you view as America's most underappreciated wrestler?
-- Mike C.


Foley: I don't think this is close: J'den Cox. World champion, Olympic bronze medalist and world bronze medalist. Four-time World Team member. Also, he's fluent in sign language, has the voice of an angel, and can play the guitar.

What I will say is that his was a frog boil. Cox loses in the Olympic semifinals, mostly because of a mismanaged final minute. Then he beats David Taylor for the 2017 World Team spot at 86 kilograms (with controversy), takes a bad loss in Paris, then gets dragged by DT online. There just wasn't a lot of good media around Cox for about 18 months.

The one additional point, which Cox himself acknowledges, is that he can be hesitant to attack and instead chooses to get ahead and control as needed. That's not a great way to win fans, but I think he is on his way to becoming a bigger star in our sport -- as he should be!


Q: I watched Lee Roper's comments about having a dual meet championship to decide the team winner and I couldn't agree more. To maintain the level of support and excitement, you would need to tack it on to the existing individual tournament, which can pose some challenges, most notably making weight and extra matches for the top guys. Here's my thought...

Realistically only eight teams have a shot at winning and they will all be bringing large contingents to the individual tournament anyway. Dual meets throughout the year can be used to determine seeding 1-8. Bump the individual tournament back one day and have it run Wednesday-Friday. Three-pound allowance for Saturday weigh in and run the whole tournament that day. It's a lot of wrestling for the best teams but I think they'll be up for it.

What do you think? Is that too many matches for the best wrestlers? Too many weigh-ins? Will fans want to watch four days? Capitalizing on the existing weekend with the huge fanbase already there seems to make the most sense. The alternative would be to do it the weekend before at pre-determined location like Carver-Hawkeye or the RAC so fans can plan for it and then could be a Friday-Saturday event.
-- Andy S.


Foley: Traditionally the problem with dual meet tournament is that you'd be scrambling last minute to find the venue of one of the teams entered in the tournament.

I think lacrosse actually has the best system. They host preliminary rounds of the tournament in traditional locations and whittle down until the Final Four, which takes place in a pre-determined location. Bring those teams to a pre-determined location (RAC, Penn State, Atlantic City) and make it a destination event. With a focus on going to the same area each year there will be interest and attendance.

The individual tournament is cool. Goofy, but that's our format and it draws a lot of attention and income. I don't think there is any reason to turn your back on something that works, but I also don't think that the team race there is a main driver of attention, partially because passive fans would have no idea how to score it.

A dual meet championship makes the sport more approachable to more people. Fans are lazy and like to root for their colors. Let's help them and make access to those types of events easier, not harder.

As for the timing. I think the preliminaries can be done midseason and the finals can be two weeks after the individual tournament. But also, I'm not putting a lot of thought into that expansion since I think the first act is to change the season to a single semester, which would also allow for a radical change to the calendar of events.

Q: Alex Dieringer has performed well in international events and dominated Zahid Valencia at Final X. Do you think Dieringer has a shot against Kyle Dake (assuming he's healthy) in the wrestle-off later this summer?
-- Mike C.


Foley: To recap, Kyle Dake was injured late last year, underwent surgery, and is now getting himself healthy to defend his spot on Team USA. As is his right, he deferred the Final X wrestle-off due to the injury and his staff has been locked in negotiations with Dieringer's staff about when and where they will compete.

The absolute last day they could compete would be before the start of the three-week world championships training and acclimation camp. That's late August.

If the sides can't agree on a location and date (which indications are they cannot), the freestyle competition committee would be expected to set the date. That meeting may have already taken place, but once it does and they announce the details the sides will basically have to accept their determination.

My guess is that they meet at the Olympic Training Center in mid-August, but that is really just a guess.

And yes, Dieringer is almost even odds to make this year's team. He's amazing to watch and competes with purpose. Should be an exciting match!

MULTIMEDIA HALFTIME

Meet King Vlad. I'm proud of my team's work on this piece and think the world of Vlad. Please enjoy and share!

Q: In your opinion which state has the toughest high school state wrestling tournament?
-- Gregg Y.


Foley: Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Jersey. They produce the most All-American wrestlers and have for quite some time!

Q: Since it seems that most of the colleges that are adding wrestling programs are enrollment-based schools, why haven't we seen any of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) launch or resurrect a program and add a women's program?
-- Nick M.


Foley: Maybe they'll be next. I'm not sure why the HBCUs haven't followed suit, but I do think that our sport has an opportunity to grow there. As many know the HBCUs were the hardest hit by Title IX since female attendance at those schools was so much higher than males. With proportionality as the most enforced prong the schools had to deal with that issue quickly.

I think Tamyra Mensah and Jacarra Winchester are great ambassadors for black women in the sport of wrestling,. Add in that Beat the Streets is expanding and the time for an HBCU to start a men's and women's program could be near.

Q: Who in your opinion made the best transition from wrestling to MMA?
-- Gregg Y.


Foley: Depending on the metric for measuring "best" the answer could vary wildly. In terms of titles, gross dollars, and fame the answer should be Daniel Cormier. He took a well-accomplished but not extraordinary wrestling career and parlayed it into two UFC belts, tens of millions of dollars, and recognition among a number of non-MMA fans. He also has a lucrative broadcasting deal.

Henry Cejudo would be the other option. He has two belts, has made some good money, and is the most decorated wrestler to ever compete (and win) in the UFC.

Using only the feel-good and "wow" metrics I'd say Yoel Romero. He's a fantastic competitor, well-liked, and was an absolute monster on the mats. Always love watching him compete.

Khadzhimurat Gatsalov defeated Kyle Snyder 6-3 at Beat the Streets in 2014 (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)

Q: I see Khadzhimurat Gatsalov will be representing Armenia at 97 kilograms. He's 36 now, but obviously tremendously skilled. Do you see expect him to be in the mix to contend with Abdulrashid Sadulaev and Kyle Snyder for gold in 2019/2020? Or as a medal threat? Where does he fit in?
-- Mike C.


Foley: He won't beat Sadualev and he's a huge dog to Snyder.

That said 97 kilograms is a weird weight category. Assuming he qualifies for the Olympics he'll probably just rest and refine his timing. All he'll need to do at the Olympic Games is win three matches on the first day, or alternatively he loses to Sadualev first round and he wrestles once on day one and twice on day two.

For an old man that's a pretty manageable schedule. I think in the older format he'd have had much more difficulty making it through the tournament and medaling.

Q: Long-time listener, first-time caller.

Little bit about our program: We have success locally because we recruit our building well (harass the kids until they come out) and usually fill all 14 classes with average-type kids. Due to Virginia's watered-down system, we send a handful to states every year. However, we can't regularly develop top-level studs so we finish between 10th-20th each year.

Couple questions:

1. Best way to raise awareness for a program in an area not known for wrestling?
2. What's the best fundraising idea you've ever heard for a wrestling program?
-- Fan


Foley: Thanks for the question (and for being a loyal reader!). How to build interest at the local level is a key for growing the sport of wrestling. Walking the halls and plucking strong kids for the team really isn't an option anymore. As you note, there is a need to raise awareness, interest, and money.

But again, how?

The main driver of interest will always be the appearance of success within your community. When some wrestlers are seen as top of their sport they tend to attract younger kids who want to also find themselves lavished in praise. You mentioned some state-level tournaments. While you noted that Virginia is a watered-down system, the kids in the hallways don't need to know that. Besides, this is the system you were given and although it's imperfect it allows for some pretty stellar marketing opportunities within the high school and especially the middle school.

Open practices and events that involve the community are always a great way to pique the interest of decision makers and parents anxious to find their teens an activity. Maybe a wrestling practice or scrimmage on mats outside. You could also host a takedown tournament or all-night practice to raise money. Another idea would be to offer a fun and stripped-down version of wrestling -- maybe takedown only -- and try to get parents and college students to get involved. Even if there are only a handful of entries the first year a carnival atmosphere will attract interest.

There are just a few off-the-cuff ideas. Maybe the readers can offer some ideas. Coaches, do you have any ideas that have worked to help spark interest in your program?

Comments

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mzendars (1) about 2 months ago
What about Lesnar??? He was MMA biggest draw....
JDIRedell (1) about 2 months ago
The past few years for Lacrosse was not in Maryland, but rather in Philadelphia at the home of the Philadelphia Union (as are the collegiate Rugby 7's)
CoreyCA (2) about 2 months ago
Actually the lax finals are at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles.
dbestsport (5) about 2 months ago
With all due respect to Lee Roper, changing the NCAA Championship format is not only a bad idea, but would be counter productive to future International success.
NCAA Track and Field uses the exact same format as NCAA wrestling in that during the season there are dual events, but come tournament time, individual performances earn points for their school and the team with the most points receives the NCAA team title.
The US is the world leader in Olympic Track and Field Medals, and the NCAA format that prepares the athletes for International competition is part of the success.
The current NCAA championship format is outstanding in so many ways that any thoughts to change it are misguided.
ohioslayer (3) about 2 months ago
I completely agree. Changing the NCAA tournament format is an awful idea.
Krtzota (2) about 2 months ago
Jon Jones... He wrestled DIII or JUCO and was transferring in to ISU to wrestle for Cael, but then found out that he and his girlfriend were expecting. He then transitioned to the UFC. He has been virtually untested and remains the man at the top. I get the titles, but Cormier knows he can't beat Jones... with or without PEDs.
SoulManSoltis (1) about 2 months ago
For 'First Time Caller' and growing interest. No surprise kids today love social media. What about creating an Instagram account for your team and posting some 'cool workout' videos/pictures of what the team is doing in the off season. Social media is also a great place to project the image of success, so it can appear that athletes are being celebrated like D1 football stars. Basically creating the image of an awesome lifestyle (and that doesn't necessarily need to be 100% wrestling focused). Aside from Foley's comments (all great ideas) engagement outside of wrestling is probably key. For example, active involvement at a gym or sponsored athletic events. Associate yourselves with (non wrestling) athletic events and let people scratch their heads and say 'What is this wrestling thing all about?' (Parents and kids alike). Last, and if possible, call out where wrestling is featured in pop culture to help generate interest. Ben Askren or Henry Cejudo on Joe Rogan podcast come to mind.
cellinisubs (1) about 2 months ago
Realistically, in any given year there are only two to three teams with a shot at winning a dual meet championship. Why disrupt the dual season, the conference tournaments and the highly successful NCAA individual championships to anoint a dual meet champion when the top teams often meet during the regular season? Additional negatives are: physical and academic demands on the wrestlers, tight athletic department budgets and the prohibitive cost for fans to travel to yet another tournament. BAD IDEA
Krumtasticly (1) about 2 months ago
When I was younger my home town invited a Russian school and held a wrestling event on our football field. It was a huge event and I can tell you from attending the Iowa Okie St meet it has only grown in popularity. Maybe Russia is not doable but bringing in an out of state team may still work. Ticket sales, local business sponsors, etc. You could get creative with it.