Wrestle Like a Girl hosted its annual fundraiser Wednesday in Washington D.C. drawing a number of top influencers from within wrestling community and the sporting world at-large. The goal of the gala was to look awesome in your tux/ballgown, celebrate the journey of women's wrestling, and raise money for the organization to continue its work.
The gala was hosted at the National Museum for Women in the Arts, a spectacular museum lined with influential photography and paintings of female artists. The setting felt appropriate -- an intimate space for a tightly knit community, surrounded by high art -- a creative expression not too different from that of a wrestler. There was drinking, speeches were given, and a silent auction helped drum up cash for WLAG's mission.
By all measures it was a successful event driven by a clear mission and powerful leadership (more on this later).
When looking on Twitter (or in the comments sure to be posted below) the wrestling community can seem divided on women's wrestling, but leadership seems in lockstep that our community needs more women in wrestling, full stop.
However, among those leaders there are a variety of opinions on how to implement women's wrestling at the youth, high school, and collegiate level. The preferred rule set, how to divide mat time, when to host the collegiate season, and so on. Then there are the generational questions. With so many new programs, who will be available to coach these teams? How can we get more women involved? What are the support structures that need to be implemented to ensure success?
Those second-level issues and concerns are where the success of women's wrestling will be decided. We are all on the boat, but how and where to row requires leadership.
Enter Sally Roberts, the wrestler-turned-founder of WLAG. I've worked with Roberts in the past and while I've always been impressed by her outrageous supply of positive energy, this week was the first time I was able to witness her leadership in a mixed setting. She's a dynamic personality able to connect and who leads through discipline, passion, intelligence and absolute focus on positive long-term change.
Most important for the future of wrestling, none of the questions raised by the other stakeholders are beneath her to address, consider or consult. That attention to the details of women's wrestling rollout on to the mainstage of collegiate athletics will be what makes it successful.
If you want to support the growth of women's wrestling then please consider donating to WLAG. I'm certain that the ROI will be immediate and establish a legacy of participation in wrestling that will directly benefit our daughters and granddaughters.
To your questions …
Q: Greg Kerkvliet has said he's going to wrestle as a true freshman at Ohio State. Do you expect him to beat out Chase Singletary for the heavyweight spot?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Kerkvliet is an incredible talent. Can he beat Singletary? Of course, but as with all freshmen it'll come down to his ability to wrestle on the mat with the college guys. No matter how far freshman have come in the past 20 years (Thanks, YouTube!) there is nothing that can prepare an 18-year-old for the pressure and stinginess of a great top wrestler.
My theory is that most top high school wrestlers can challenge themselves on their feet with coaches, other top-level high school wrestlers, and visiting college kids. But they also like to wrestle on their feet. None of the above are dropping by the high school room to go rideouts for 90 minutes. For Kerkvliet and others they do have additional access to the OTC, but again they are only working on their feet, not in NCAA riding situations.
If Kerkvliet is to succeed in his freshman year at heavyweight it'll almost certainly be determined on the mat.
Q: Do you think Bo Nickal will go 86 kilograms or 97 kilograms in 2020? It's interesting that he will have to go through one of his Nittany Lion Wrestling Club teammates, David Taylor or Kyle Snyder.
-- Mike C.
Foley: The chatter has been Nickal can hang with Taylor and was even getting the better of the 2018 world champion in practice. Now, that is just a rumor, but if you believe Nickal is competitive with Taylor and then compare Nickal's frame to Snyder's you might conclude he has a better opportunity at 86 kilograms than he would at 97 kilograms.
Ultimately, the biggest obstacle could be internal with how the NLWC would manage an internal battle for an Olympic spot. For sure there would be the tension in the room and without knowing everyone's psyche especially well I tend to think it would create the best overall competitor.
Maybe it's important to also keep focused on the decision of J'den Cox and which weight he chooses for his Olympic journey. If he goes to 86 kilograms maybe that incentivizes Nickal to go up? If he goes 97 kilograms, maybe it's incentive to go down. Having already wrestled and lost to Cox has to be some type of input in Nickal's decision making process.
Though it's also quite possible that Nickal doesn't give a darn what anyone thinks or where they want to wrestle. Nickal has the right combination of power, strength, focus, and technique to earn a medal for Team USA.
Tom Brands in midseason form … on the farm
Bono got game …
Brian Smith and Mizzou Tigers are ready
Do you smell …
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Biggest & BADDEST @ufc fight of year this SATURDAY. @gamebredfighter VS @natediaz209 for the BMF Title. Nothing but respect for these two OG's who are gonna light up and electrify Madison Square Garden, as only bad MF's can. Looking forward to wrapping the title around the winner. Gonna be a wild, fun and historic night. You do not wanna miss this fight. #UFC244 #IfYaSmell #BMF #DiazMasvidal
Q: Gregor Gillespie is 13-0 in MMA and fights Kevin Lee this weekend at UFC 244. It's probably his toughest challenge to date. Have you had a chance to watch Gillspie fight much? He's currently ranked No. 11, while Lee is No. 10. Do you see Gillespie as a potential title contender in the future?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Yes. Gillespie is a TOUGH human who has world-class wrestling, excellent submissions, and an ever-evolving striking game. He's won three bonuses in the UFC and has finished five of his six fights in the promotion. Lee is a banger, but he just can't match Gillespie's versatility or cancel his knack for winning.
Gillespie's maturity as a fighter is instructive when analyzing the mixed martial arts career of once-undefeated MMA fighter Ben Askren.
Looking at their bodies, skill sets, method of victory, and time spent online it's readily evident that Gillespie spends more time learning and honing the crafts necessary to be a world-class fighter. While I don't begrudge Askren for promoting himself into big paydays (and I appreciate his generosity within the sport of wrestling), the reason he's failed to win fights in the UFC is that he hasn't put in the same devotion to improvement.
Askren has been fighting for 12 years and yet his standup is borderline beginner. Askren has fought 20-plus times, but his in-cage jiu-jitsu is appalling in both lack of intelligent defense and complete lack of offensive threats. Askren is paid to fight for a living but shows up on Fight Night out-of-shape and doughy. Worse still his wrestling techniques looked labored and underwhelming. To his credit, Askren does plod forward, has shown courage in the cage and has been gracious in defeat.
Look, I get that it's easy to sit back and criticize, but this is an honest assessment of his technical acumen. There is no doubt he has the courage to fight and the online presence to promote those fights but were you to have awoken from a coma and not known who Askren was you'd have been highly disappointed in his fighting ability.
Contrast what you saw two weeks ago from him with what you see from Gillespie this weekend and let me know in the comments if you think Gillespie and Askren have the same dedication to evolving as fighters? Do they share the same desire to be champions?
One last point: I think that Demian Maia's growth is more instructive of what a good fighter and athlete should be. He is a world champion jiu-jitsu practitioner, but rather than only rely on that skill set he has sought out great wrestling partners and coaches and worked tirelessly on his striking. That's why he won. He was more versatile and when the opportunity came to end the fight his core skill was still in place (because he trains there, too) and he could execute.
Kudos to Ben for making money and raising his profile. Thanks for using the platform for helping raise awareness of wrestling. But for me it's guys like Gregor and Demian who deserve the admiration of fight fans.
Q: Why did the NCAA change course on allowing athletes to be paid?
-- Jack R.
Foley: The NCAA has chosen a commission to study the issue with recommendations to be filed in January. The athletes are not collecting checks quite yet.
The NCAA doesn't have a ton of options left. The three-month delay is really a stay of execution, because once the state of California allowed for image rights for NCAA athletes more states began to entertain the option as well. All this state-level action leaves the NCAA with few cards left to play.
The NCAA could seek control of the topic by the federal government, but with a Democratic House and a Republican Senate there isn't much hope for a conclusion on image rights for NCAA athletes. And that's even if there was a party-line thought on this matter (which I assure you there is not because when it comes to amateurism -- a non-legal term that should essentially equate to nostalgia). Congress is in the middle of an impeachment inquiry. Any motions made will only be symbolic.
The NCAA's other option is the courts, but it's unlikely to win there since the legality of amateurism is incredibly fragile.
So they are left to grab control and hope that their committee's recommendations are far-reaching enough to pull consensus from a number of states. Make no mistake this dam will break and the NCAA realizes that if they can't find short term remedy then there will be a flood of money into the ecosystem. That cash directly threatens the NCAA's grip on member institutions who adhere to their rules and regulations largely because they have ability to enforce through commercial and monetary penalties. If by taking more aggressive action the NCAA can somehow regulate this new money, then they will retain their position among member institutions.
Q: The NCAA rule should mean the death of the singlet. I can get the joiziest of Suriano rash guards and in turn fund for him to buy his own shirts. Since he is never wearing them I figured he can't afford them because of the NCAA. Why the change of heart by the NCAA?
-- Cary A.
Foley: For wrestling this will likely mean the death of the singlet. As you so eloquently stated the homies who support their squad want to look like the guys they like to watch wrestle. But under no circumstances are they buying singlets (or wrestling shoes) to wear in public. However, training shorts, rash guards, headphones, T-shirts and whatever else will be flying off the virtual store shelves.
Let's do this, NCAA. I need that Pokémon /Spencer Lee collaboration pronto.
Q: Are you watching the BMF title fight on Saturday night?
-- Kevin M.
Foley: I had to do some googling, but apparently BMF title translates to "Baddest Mother F$%k$r" which is an absolutely brilliant marketing idea by the UFC. And I am absolutely going to be watching it.
The genius of the BMF (an unofficial title) is co-opting the ridiculous non-sport farcical nature of WWE and applying to a fight between two humans who absolutely do not give a Buffalo Nickle if they die in the Octagon. Doesn't the old saying go something like "The only person you don't fight in prison is the guy with crazy eyes." Well there are four crazy eyeballs lined up for the BMF World Championship.
Nate Diaz smokes weed during training sessions that creep into 3 a.m. Jorge Masvidal first found fame fighting in Kimbo Slice's backyard brawls. These guys are built to demolish other humans, have absolutely no qualms with extreme violence, and are about to put on the best fight we've ever seen.
This fight is so hyped that The Rock is both cutting IG promos and handing out an BMF BELT TO THE WINNER. While not a crossover event on par with the Chicago PD, MD, 911 mashup I keep hearing about in NYC taxi cabs, I think this could be a seminal event in UFC and profession wrestling cross-contamination. Even bigger than Brock pushing Cormier!
Also, this is a mindboggling stat from Bloody Elbow, "In 78 combined career fights, the two men have been finished only three times."
BMF's for sure.