While the brackets aren't full of the absolute best Cadet-level wrestlers from around the world, the Youth Olympic Games is still an important quadrennial event for the sport. It's at tournaments like these that a lot of the leadership skills present in future national programs are being taught and those lessons lead to improved institutional knowledge of things like anti-doping education and proper sportsmanship.
Beyond the positive internal impact on the Olympic movement and its partners, the event itself feels uniquely joyful for participants, media, and the stakeholders. The wins and losses matter, but the atmosphere is always forward-looking and optimistic -- losses are moments to learn, wins are moments to reflect.
At this point I've covered well more than 50 of these international tournaments and still the 2014 YOG remains one of my all-time favorites. Not only does the IOC know how to host an event, the faces of the competitors remind me of how we all felt about the Olympic movement in our teens, before the recent scourge of scandals pockmarked the brand, assisted in no small part by our middle age glum. These wrestlers seem hopeful and carefree, like the solo baseball player taking swings in his backyard reciting "It's the bottom of the ninth ..."
The Games bring us a combination of nostalgia and hope that even the most curmudgeon of sports fan doesn't want to swat away.
If you're interested in watching (and maybe gaining a little inspiration), head over to the Olympic Channel or check out the United World Wrestling updates on the website, Instagram and Twitter.
To your questions …
Q: If you watch the video, you will see that McGregor punched Khabib's trainer before anyone else punched McGregor. I really don't blame Khabib and his crew much for the attacks after the conclusion of the fight last Saturday. But I do blame Dana White for letting the taunting go way to far just to build up hype and money. McGregor, although, very talented goes way overboard with very personal verbal attacks towards his opponent. I am not a big fan of all the taunting and trash talk. It turns the sort into a spectacle like pro wrestling. Maybe on your column you should talk about sportsmanship? Win, lose or draw it is all your own responsibility! Never blame the ref for your loss.
Foley: As the story of UFC 229 progresses to the end of its first full week, the media coverage of the event has been hyperbolic, breathless and determined to capture every angle.
"Who is to blame? Who threw the first punch? Why? What were the real motivations? Where does the UFC go from here? … "
To fans of professional wrestling the plotlines from following UFC 229 feel familiar. In the WWE writers work hard to create characters who are consumable at face value. From Hulk Hogan to Iron Sheik to Jinder Mahal, professional wrestling is geared towards a simple form of high school cafeteria tribalism: us, them and others. That baseline difference making was present throughout the hype for 229 with Conor calling out Khabib's religion, homeland and family members.
All leading to the ultimate storyline carryover, the unsanctioned out-of-cage fight with a new, unexpected character.
Now, with the UFC careening towards this vacuous money-first, divisive promotional model, it's time for the wrestling community to ask if it really wants its sport to "be more like MMA." And if so, what elements?
Wrestling, which at all levels bans needless aggression and striking, is by its character different in nature than MMA. Wrestling requires restraint and the mutual contract between both parties to not escalate their physical tete-a-tete into something more than a mettle testing endeavor. Harm comes from that lack of constraint, any action meant to break out of norms and rules in order to be proven more masculine, or macho.
Wrestling is not that. Wrestling is steeped in restraint and discipline, not lavished in self-indulgence and grandiosity. As such, the wrestling community should look at Saturday night's event and know for certain that it should look to preserve its differences with MMA, not draw a closer comparison.
That's not to say that our athletes shouldn't enjoy their careers or boast of their achievements. Our community benefits when wrestlers speak with confidence about upcoming matches, or their invincibility on the mat. Such is a warrior's mindset.
What goes down poorly is the type of regional and ethnic tension being brought forward during the hype up to UFC 229. On a path that mirrors that of the UFC and WWE it would only be a matter of time until wrestlers began speaking of their nation's differences rather than promoting their confidence, while still cuddling up to the cross-border unity that has defined our sport.
Jordan Burroughs with Sadegh Goudarzi of Iran after their gold-medal match at the 2012 Olympic Games
Wrestling's most media-ready images of late have been those with back stories told through the lens of sportsmanship and an apolitical outlook on competition and competitors. Jordan Burroughs with his arm draped on Sadegh Goudarzi, or reaching into the stands to shake hands with Iranian fans in Tehran. Kiki Kelley as a Team Leader during the Greco-Roman World Cup. A Chinese wrestler carrying his opponent off the mat after a loss.
As an aside, this is the exact behavior that Khabib Nurmagomedov displayed in most of his fights previous to Conor McGregor. But stoked by the ethnic tension, insults about his father and that bus attack he seemed ill-equipped to allow those insults to roll off his back.
Our sport can remain above the fray. It can be something inspirational. If our world champions and Olympic heroes want to speak trash about their opponents, they are welcome to step off the mat and into the cage. In the meantime, let's keep spectacles like the ones witnessed at UFC 229 divorced from our sport and focus on the ideals of sportsmanship and fair play.
Q: With the NCAA announcing seeding all the seeds at the NCAA tournament, would it be prudent for established rankings like InterMat to move to the top 30 or 35 in each weight class?
-- Ken K.
Foley: The short answer is no.
InterMat's NCAA Division I wrestling rankings committee has its own rankings process to determine the top 20 wrestlers in every weight class each week. InterMat's rankings process is unrelated to the Division I Wrestling Committee's seeding process.
The United States men's freestyle team came together in 2017 to win their first team title in 22 years. Will they repeat in 2018? Or will Sadulaev and Team Russia get their revenge? Find out more about Team USA's journey on Oct. 15 with the release of "From Many, One" the first short film in the Wrestling 360 documentary series.
Q: My 8-year-old has expressed interest in wrestling this winter. I started looking at the local youth club's webpage and the fees associated with being a part of the club. The club has a regular fee, as they should to cover various costs. What bothered me was in order to register for the club, my 8-year-old would have to be a member of USA Wrestling, which is another $40, I think. The registration states that the membership to USA Wrestling is for insurance purposes but at the bottom of the registration you have to sign a statement saying that the coaches and the club are not responsible for any injuries. So my question is, why does an 8-year-old need to create a profile and be a member of USA Wrestling to figure out if they want to give the sport a try? I would rather pay the USA Wrestling fee to the local program, so I could see firsthand where the money is going. I'm not against supporting USA Wrestling, but I would rather do it on my own terms. Is this common practice in the sport now, and how does the wrestling club benefit from having all the wrestlers become members of USA Wrestling, because I find it hard to believe that this is for insurance purposes. If I'm being too petty feel free to tell me. Thanks.
-- Mark M.
Foley: Insurance is a major reason for the USA Wrestling card. Local programs would never be able to insure their programs and limit personal liability were it not for USA Wrestling's large membership pool. Though not all $40 goes into that insurance, it's a small individual price to pay for the secondary coverage it can provide to an injured wrestler. However, also some of that $40 does help fund various age-level national tournaments and supports the staffing necessary to ensure that there is a youth program.
That said, I get your frustration in terms of signing up to try a sport and needing to create a whole profile and pay the extra money. Though to be fair the money also goes into ensuring every coach is SafeSport certified, which adds a few extra layers of protection for you child when entering the sport.
Best of luck to you and your little one!