As I've mentioned in previous articles, football is not my sport. Beside the utter boredom of the pacing, the incessant advertorials (advertising interspersed with news-like features), and the bull-honky storylines the sport seems obviously, deeply and irreparably damaged. This makes me either hopelessly disconnected, or as others are predicting, ahead of the curve.
The NFL is caught in a maelstrom of negative press and is not only facing financial ruin via lawsuits, but cultural disintegration as mothers across America have begun to pull their children from the field. For football there seems to be no turning back. Though decadent in this weekend's affairs, the sport is on bended knee -- the pride ushering in the fall.
Wrestling was once in a similar, albeit more immediate, position. Almost three years ago to the day, on February 12, the IOC began the process of eliminating wrestling from the Olympic program. In response, the sport launched its Save Olympic Wrestling campaign, mustered new leadership and worked its way back into the Olympic program. Much of that movement was based in the promise and delivery of change.
I saw many of our sport's major improvements materialize in real time. Some, like the media rollout at the international federation, I've helped create. Others, like 6-6-6, an increase in the scope of the sport's development and improved tournament flow has all but transformed the sport.
For the past 34 months I've traveled across five continents and accumulated well more than a half-million airline miles working on some of these problems, and while exhausting, I think that my proximity to the change made me privy to the secret of what made the sport's return so successful.
There were, and are, many factors that influence wrestling's reemergence at the international level. In the past three years we've seen improved rules, healthier governance and the new leadership of President Nenad Lalovic. All certainly played a significant role in wrestling's renaissance. However, despite the importance of each factor, none seems to stand alone, almost needing another component to make it a viable solution.
Improved wrestling on the mat needed better rules, which required governance to write and then referees to implement. The leaders of national federations and fans then oversaw those referees. The sport has begun to work like a singular organism -- each part dependent on the other.
But something has to feed all these individual parts. There has to be fuel -- something larger at work than politics, improved rules, and more transparency in governance.
After three years the answer is clear, and it's what separates the at-risk sports of wrestling and football.
Wrestling is bound together by a community that works and it's made up of individuals willing to do anything in their power to ensure their sport's success. Football is a business that lacks an organizational structure capable of maintaining a fight of this magnitude without intense buy-in from fans and the media -- two areas most likely to leave the bandwagon first.
Yes, the wrestling community is often cantankerous and a touch too sensitive, but with its passion, energy, joy and knowledge of the sport you've become the key to its rapid rise on the international sports scene.
There is no community like ours. No body of individuals with as much collective passion, sport-based intelligence, or hard work mentality. We don't accept failure and we won't settle for anything than a best effort.
I love wrestling and I somewhat dislike football. That's the rock from which I view the world, and from where I sit I see football as a sport without a collective body willing to fight their fight like we did ours.
Yes, they have executives and maybe they'll find new and better rules, but they'll never have what we have. They'll never have you.
To your questions …
Q: What do you make of Kaori Icho losing at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix? Is she still the favorite to win in Rio?
-- Mike C.
To get there Orkhon had already beaten 60-kilo 2014 World champion Sukhee Tsendichimed in the Mongolian National tournament, 10-0. She also steamrolled her early competition in Yarygin and looked more muscular and athletic than ever before in her international career.
By contrast Icho looked sluggish and out-of-shape all tournament. Her movements were rigid and she was constantly gasping for air. Even her win against Chimdee in the opening round seemed forced, and she still managed a nine-point advantage.
I was with the Japanese delegation in Rio when it was announced that Icho lost. The next day the word was the Icho had already embraced the loss and was excited because it meant that she was able to improve before the Olympic Games.
I know Icho well and if there is something she has that others don't it's an ability to view the sport as a challenge to overcome, rather than a burden. Icho live to outwork her opponents and to develop new strategies for competitors. I would suspect that come the Olympic Games she will be much better prepared for competition.
Still, all that disclaimer-like chatter gone, I was very impressed with Orkhon and will be watching her at the Olympic qualifier in Kazakhstan to see if Yarygin was a fluke, or if she has announced herself as ready to take home an Olympic gold.
Q: I was wondering, what are the chances of you writing a piece on former Penn State and Oklahoma All-American, Nate Parker? Since his days on the mat, he has since established himself as a respected Hollywood actor and has just made his directorial debut with his acclaimed independent film, "The Birth of a Nation." I think it would be wonderful for the wrestling community to be made aware of his work.
-- Kore S.
Foley: I'd meant to write about Nate Parker and his Sundance success in last week's mailbag, but it seemed the story was still unfolding.
Today it's more clear: Parker has sold the rights to "Birth of a Nation" for a whopping, record-setting $17 million.
The movie tells the story of Nat Turner's slave rebellion of 1831. Parker had labored over the writing, production and direction for almost ten years -- work that seems ready to be recognized in both dollars and awards.
His dedication to this project is something we should all hope to mirror in the pursuit of our passions. Parker wanted to tell a story for the right reasons and believed that with hard work it would be a story the public would want to hear.
They did, and after ten years Parker is now ready to show the world a new truth about slavery in the United States. I wish him the best of luck and will be at some theater that first week to support his film's release and the message it brings to the viewing public.
And though it might be unfair, I'm already looking forward to what Parker does next.
Q: Alan Waters rolled through the Dave Schultz Memorial. Is he a legit threat to make the U.S. Olympic team?
-- Mike C.
Foley: The Dave Schultz was a fairly weak tournament this year. A lot of talent was overseas, with the Yarygin and Paris tournaments running simultaneously. Though I like Alan Waters and think he's a good shot to place at the Olympic qualifier, there are several wrestlers to get past before Waters makes an Olympic team.
Primary among those roadblocks is Tony Ramos, who has held the spot for the last two years, but there is also Coleman Scott, Tyler Graff, Sam Hazewinkel and Angel Escobedo.
That's a steep climb to the top.
Link: Forward thinking wins hearts, minds … and media attention
Women's wrestling in Rio
O #eventoteste de #LutaOlímpica mostrou como as mulheres são guerreiras e boas de briga! http://bit.ly/MulheresBoaDeBrigaPosted by Aquece Rio on Thursday, February 4, 2016
Kyle Snyder loses
The Big Upset of the World Champion 2015 Kyle Snyder (USA) #RI...
The Big Upset at the #Yaryguin2016 of the World Champion 2015 Kyle Snyder (USA) Highlights #RIWUS #RoadtoRio2016Posted by RIWUS on Sunday, January 31, 2016
Q: World champion Kyle Snyder took a loss at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix. Cause for concern?
-- Mike C.
Foley: No. The animal he lost to did a backflip, but hasn't been on the circuit in almost two years. Whatever lightening in a bottle that manimal captured will need to last him throughout the season injury-free, Russian Nationals and the opening rounds of the Olympic Games.
If there was casue for concern for Snyder fans it was only that Varner seemed to be competing at his highest level since winning the Olympics in 2012. Can he make it through the challenge tournament and outstrip Snyder in a best-of-three finals?
That seems more possible after Yarygin than it did before.
Q: Do you see any way that Ohio State can pull the upset over Penn State Friday night? I'm a huge Buckeye fan but I'm having a hard time seeing any way it'll happen. The way I see it is that Penn State will almost certainly get a tech/pin from Zain Retherford and Jason Nolf. Morgan McIntosh will definitely win as well and will most likely major or better especially if Mark Martin doesn't wrestle. If that's the case, the Buckeyes will need to win 6 of 10 matches to win. Snyder at heavyweight will win for sure and I don't see either Jordan brother losing even with Micah going against Jimmy Guilibon. However, that leaves Nico Megaludis vs. Nato at 125, JDJ vs. Jordan Conaway at 133, Myles Martin vs. Bo Nickal at 174 and Courts vs. someone at 184. Ohio State would have to win three of those four matches to win. Tough to see it happening but wondering what you think.
-- Eric B.
Foley: This is much, much less likely to happen. Your analysis requires no more input from my side. Like you said, "tough to see it happening."
However, I like Nato, JDJ and Kenny Courts to win along with Snyder and Bo Jordan. Little Jordan I'm not as certain about, and I think that he will be the match to watch, along with whoever creates bonus points at the upper weights.
Q: How many more career college losses will Isaiah Martinez have? Over/under is 2.5. What side are you betting?
-- Mike C.
Foley: How many more? I'd take the over on 2.5 matches. Kids are just getting a lot better out of high school and with Nolf being a freshman this has the makings of a three-year rivalry that will be certain to result in losses on both sides.
Q: Lock Haven has recently picked up a couple nice transfers in four-time PA state champion Thomas Haines and four-time PA state placer Patrick Duggan. The programs has had mixed results this year. What do you think of the job Scott Moore is doing at Lock Haven? Any "chance" another PA wrestling great transfers to Lock Haven?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Scott Moore is a close friend and former teammate. I'm proud of the job he's doing, if only for the fact that I know the cards he was dealt and the quick changes to culture and recruiting he's already been able to implement.
I love the "Chance" reference, but I can tell you honestly I haven't heard anything about his transfer to Pennsylvania. I'd think he'd be more likely to find Cary Kolat and try to hunker down for a happy career near an old coach.
Q: Assuming NC State gets past Nebraska, Virginia Tech and Missouri, it will likely be Penn State vs. NC State for the National Duals championship. Am I crazy to think NC State has a puncher's chance to upset Penn State? The stars would need to align for Popolizio's squad, but it could happen.
-- Mike C.
Foley: Upset of the year!
You are not crazy to think he's got a chance. They are the No. 3 team in the nation and can score bonus points in at least two weight classes.
By the way, anyone who would see that type of upset and still not understand the appeal of a dual national championship just can't be reasoned with.
Q: What rule changes would create more action so we get more matches like Isaiah Martinez vs. Jason Nolf?
Foley: The rules are in place for that type of match. The difference was the refereeing. For once they took control and enforced the out-of-bounds rule as it was written. College wrestling has a chance when wrestlers aren't allowed to stall. More had to be done to stop the gamesmanship, and that seemed like the first move towards ensuring less playing the edge and more offensive-oriented competition.
Let's watch over the next month and see if it continues. I'm not confident it will.
Q: If Isaiah Martinez beats Jason Nolf in the Big Ten finals, do you think an undefeated Ian Miller would be the No. 1 seed in NYC?
-- Mike C.
Foley: I'm certain he would.