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The adaptability and persistence of Kyven Gadson

Kyven Gadson gets in on a shot against Kollin Moore at Senior Nationals (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

Kyven Gadson will move up in weight to heavyweight and face Nick Gwiazdowski Sunday in the main event of the inaugural Wrestling Underground show. It will not only be a different weight class, but the freestyle match will also take place in an unfamiliar setting, an MMA-style cage. These will be new challenges for Gadson, but like most wrestlers, he relies on a mix of adaptability and persistence to overcome adversity.

At the highest levels of wrestling, a single shot or takedown attempt will likely not suffice. If you have been in a wrestling room, you have probably heard coaches preach the importance of putting multiple attempts together. For example, a quick YouTube search unearths the following wisdom from legendary coach and wrestler John Smith.

"We put two things together. I hit a high crotch, I get stopped, I go to my drag immediately and score my points. That's chain wrestling."

The ability to adapt on the mat can be key to scoring a crucial takedown, but it extends far beyond technique. Persistence and adaptability can also pay dividends in preparation and life in general. Gadson has relied on these traits to excel in both wrestling and the community.

Like most athletes across the world, Gadson has been dealing with delays and postponements due to the global pandemic. Despite the upheaval he has remained focused on his wrestling goals.

"I have been dealing with it the best way I know how, which is trying to work on communication, focusing on my spiritual and mental health, just trying to work through stuff, because life is never without its trials," Gadson says. "I have still been able to work out and basically with the postponement and everything it has put a bigger focus on people that maybe could do a better job of figuring out ways to work that don't need that oversight all the time to get things done. I have a really strong team, or as I like to call it, my Gadson Strong Family that supports me and helps me really lock in on the things that I feel like I need to lock into, being able to prepare and compete and perform at a high level."

Earlier this month, a weather event known as a derecho swept into Gadson's home state of Iowa. A derecho is defined as a "widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms." Per Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, the storm caused an estimated $4 billion in damage. When it arrived, Gadson was in a training session.

"That derecho was crazy, because literally it was sunny, and then someone was like, 'I think we are going to have a storm,'" Gadson says. "All of a sudden the lights were out and it was like 'Wait, what just happened?' We had to pause the training session, go in the bathroom and hunker down."

After witnessing the devastation, Gadson was spurred to action and personally took part in the recovery.

"I had a friend who reached out to me that said, they had some people that needed some help or could use some help," he says. "I went down there to help them and got to move some trees, got to use my new axe to chop some wood, which is a really cool hobby. A lot of the work was already done so shout out to all the people who had already got down there and really put in a lot of the work to help start the healing process, because it is not going to happen overnight. For me going through life is always, if I were in this situation what would I want from other people. If I was in a peculiar or unfamiliar situation or something as devastating as this derecho was to the communities of Iowa, specifically over in Eastern Iowa, what would I want? I have always tried to live that way in my own daily life as much as possible."

Through all of this, Gadson has been looking for competition on the wrestling mat. He tried to get on several of the recent shows and even offered to face world champion David Taylor on short notice. In the end, Wrestling Underground, a new show promoted by former wrestler and UFC contender Chael Sonnen, came along.

"The Wrestling Underground camp that put this on reached out to me and said basically, 'How big are you?' I said big enough to wrestle anyone," Gadson says. "They were like, 'Alright do you want to wrestle Gwiaz? I was like, 'Yeah.' It kind of like fell into my lap. When you haven't had any formal competition for nine months, you are like chomping at the bit to wrestle. I have still been training and stuff like that, so it is like, OK, this is something if in a regular cycle right now, in a regular year that is non-Olympic, we would be getting ready for the World Championships right now. I would be wrestling Gwiaz at national team camp anyway, so basically all this is a national team camp happening, and it is going to be televised on UFC Fight Pass."

Kyven Gadson at Final X (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

The move up to heavyweight may seem like a burden for the mainstay of the 97-kilogram ladder. However, Gadson believes his experience working with a top heavyweight in practice gives him an edge.

"My best training partner that I have ever had has been Dom Bradley," Gadson says. "He is down at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and the reason he has been my best training partner, and he was the most consistent in 2017, is we were both world team alternates that year, so we both fell short but we were both aiming for the same goal. We were at different weight classes. I was at 97 kilos. He was at 125, but that is one of the strongest and most powerful guys I have ever wrestled in my life. I am not going to be feeling anything different for the most part in terms of power and strength that I haven't already felt before, because I have had training partners like Dom Bradley."

The Wrestling Underground matches will take place in a cage. The venue immediately brings to mind questions about Gadson possibly transitioning to MMA in future. While that might not be in his immediate plans, he seems ready to show off his adaptability once again if necessary.

"It has given me maybe a little bit of an itch to maybe start thinking about MMA," Gadson says. "I hadn't given a bunch of thought to it, but with so much being unknown in the sport of wrestling, RTCs and everything like that it is definitely something that has crossed the mind a lot more recently, about making that wrestling transition to MMA. There is a blueprint that has already been done. You look at what [Daniel] Cormier did. You look at what [Henry] Cejudo has done. You just follow those blueprints. If you follow those blueprints, then you can probably have a successful career coming from the background that we come from with the wrestling."

Kyven Gadson celebrates after pinning Kyle Snyder in the NCAA finals (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

For now Gadson is still focused on making the Olympic team. Despite famously defeating Kyle Snyder in the 2015 NCAA finals, Snyder has dominated the 97-kilogram division domestically and picked up his fair share of international medals. For this cycle world champion J'den Cox is also looking to nail down the spot.

"For me it is just about being consistent, bringing consistency and maybe constant pressure to my daily work, bringing constant pressure to my daily work by making sure that last year when I made a shirt in August of last year it said, 'Today wins Tokyo,' he says. "It is about what happens on that day, but it is also every day before that. You have been training. You have to have put in the fire. You have to have worked through the highs, the lows, the downs, the ups, and you put yourself in the position to win on those two days, because it is the work that gets done before that not everybody sees. People might see more of it now with social media and things like that, but the work that goes into everything beforehand is what is going to be called upon when it comes crunch time."

Things do not always go according to plan in life. Whether it is a global pandemic, natural disaster or an unfamiliar competitive arena, people are always forced to make changes and adapt to new circumstances on the fly.

If his initial takedown attempt fails against Gwiazdowski on Sunday, he will move to another attack and continue to try to score. Wrestling is often used as a metaphor for life, and it seems apt for Gadson. His adaptability and persistence inspire hope on and off the mat. Gadson, along with several other top athletes, recently launched the Black Wrestling Association, which is yet another example of those traits in action.

"The Black Wrestling Association came about through conversation," Gadson says. "President Nate Jackson and myself just had a simple conversation after we saw what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis, and we said, 'Well, what can we do in our position and our sport to kind of bring light to some of the injustices in our sport?' We wanted to help promote, we wanted to inspire, we wanted to connect and empower black wrestlers, female and male. We wanted to increase representation, equality and opportunity in our sport for black wrestlers, female and male, and with that we felt that we could do that by coming together, creating a strategic plan, focusing on not with just the black wrestlers, but people who want to see the sport grow as a whole, people that can reflect and see that there are certain disparities in our great sport and the oldest, greatest sport in wrestling. We can grow our sport positively through connection, through conversation, through discussion and understanding, so that is what we are trying to do just increase the ability of our sport to grow."

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ban basketball (2) about 3 months ago
Disclaimer: Gadson doesn't know me from the man on the moon, and nor do I really know him. I marginally know his brother, but that's it.

With that preface, I can testify to his character. When he was around 13 or 14 he was selling raffle tickets outside of a local grocery store (we're from the same town) to be able to raise funds for his team to be able to travel to a wrestling tournament. I had never met a kid more polite and respectful at that time, with every single thing that I said or asked of him being followed by, "Yes, sir," or "thank you, sir."

I couldn't help but be struck how a young teen carried himself, as if he were an adult. I've respected the heck out of him since.
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