Olympic Wrestling Threatened – and It’s Partly Our Fault! (Part Two)

By Joe Reasbeck, author of the NearFall book series

Most major sports have tweaked their rules to make them more fan friendly, sponsor friendly, television friendly and above all revenue friendly. We need to embrace the idea that for us to truly have a sport–one that is beyond the reach of those holding the ax, we have to show that people can make money with us. And I believe we can do that without losing our soul, our “purity” or the essence of the Olympic spirit.

So again for a moment, I ask you to set aside what you know regarding our rules and our structure and let’s look at this ONLY from the viewpoint of expanding our participation base and expanding our fan base. Most of these are simple fixes, some of them are bound to stir debate…but when we approach our rules from the idea of making our sport bigger–which has to be the top priority, these changes will seem more pragmatic.

1. Every country with wrestling and nearly every state in the US has a wrestling coaches association. We need those organizations to teach wrestling coaches how to become new media moguls. Our sport needs to become absolute experts in emerging media. You as a coach might not be the one that wields these new tools but you need to make sure there are several someones in your organization who can. Additionally, we need a concerted effort to teach the promotional elements laid out in Part One of this article. Essentially, we need “Wrestling program in a box” for all coaches–which could be nothing more than a series of YouTube videos…think Khan Academy for wrestling promotion. Let’s gather best practices and put them out there for everyone. And this should be done not only from the top down–meaning from national and state organizations but also–and probably more importantly, from the bottom up. Coaches need to know how to promote, how to use new media, how to establish “customer” relationships through social media, how to set up a tournament–what’s the checklist needed?, how to organize and build their booster program and youth feeder program, how to raise money–what methods are most effective?, if they run a tournament what does the financial part look like–what are the expected costs? what can their club expert to earn? etc. So, while our existing top down organizations should make this curriculum an imperative part of their semi-annual meetings and so forth…we can’t wait for that to manifest. We need to start today. So, if you’re someone that has a great promotional idea or you’ve got something that really worked wonders for your program we need you to post that widely to everyone. How difficult was it? What steps did you take? How much money did your club earn?

2. This is a bit of a digression but since I mentioned it, here are a few successful ways wrestling programs raise money for their teams. I’ve seen teams sell salt to the elderly for icy walkways, rake leaves, pull in docks from lakes in the fall, clean stadiums, host golf outings, run camps, host tournaments, do raffles, collect donations as entry fees at dual meets, run concessions, sell merchandise, have bake sales and silent auctions, organize their club as a 501c3 and collect corporate donations, put out cool posters where they sold ads on the outside border, similarly with calendars and programs/lineups at the matches. (Often times there isn’t money for extra coaches, so some programs have assistant coaches hustle up these ads and pay them a 40-50% commission. It’s a great way to get more quality assistants in your room.) I know one high school team where the booster club took over the commercial kitchen at the high school for a weekend and each year they’d pre-sell bags of a dozen ham and cheese buns. The buns/dinner rolls, (which were well known in the community) were given to the program at cost from a local bakery, the ham and the cheese were top notch and people looked forward to the sandwiches every year. If memory serves the wrestling club would earn $6-8K annually from that one effort. I know of another program that sells tamales every year.

3. We have to get every high school in the Los Angeles unified district and every school in New York City area to carry wrestling. These are the twin media capitals of not only the US but arguably the world. And yet we have less representation for wrestling in these two all important communities than we do in nearly any other part of the country. Beat the Streets is making great inroads in New York and other inner city communities, which is exactly what our sport needs, but we need to double and triple down on getting all of the Los Angeles area. Why is this so important? Because we need kids going home and telling their parents who work in all levels of entertainment production–”I love wrestling.” We need those parents sitting in the stands and gaining an appreciation for our sport. That’s how our sport winds up in popular media and interwoven into the storyline of on-going productions. And the more big events we can create in those two communities the more attention we’re going to get across all phases of media. We should all applaud the efforts of Beat the Streets in NYC with wrestling in Madison Square Garden, Times Square and on the deck of the Intrepid. We need more of that. Miami is the other major media center where we must have a huge wrestling presence, because a large portion of worldwide Spanish media is done in Miami. And for our sport globally, we should be looking at other media centers and be working to make sure wrestling is robust in those communities. How big is wrestling in London? In Mumbai? Paris? Rio? Mexico City? Tokyo? Seoul?

4. We need to continue to expand wrestling in the southern US. In talking to the UIL (the governing body of high school athletics in Texas), their goal is to eventually have wrestling in 1100 high schools throughout the state. They intend on becoming the biggest wrestling state in the country. (Do you hear that California? You need to get LA county going soon!) And all of us in wrestling should encourage the Texas UIL to pursue that expansion aggressively. Additionally, we need Mississippi to officially have high school wrestling so that we’re in all fifty states. It’s not helpful to say our sport is in 49 of 50…we need to be everywhere. If we can continue to build wrestling in the south we can bolster the argument for the inclusion of wrestling in the college ranks. It would be great to get the Big 12 and the SEC completely built out with college wrestling. One argument I’ve heard, that might have some merit, is making the case on the basis of participation and tax dollars. Let’s use Arkansas for example, if there are X thousands of kids who participate at the high school level in wrestling–and let’s say the participation is more than or nearly equal to current scholarship sports at STATE FUNDED universities, then there is perhaps a legal argument stating that kids who wrestle are not afforded the same college participation opportunities as kids that play golf. Of course if we’re doing the things necessary to promote our sport these legal tactics will be unnecessary–but it’s worth keeping in mind. Of course, there’s always the nuclear option, and that’s to leave the NCAA all together–if they continue to undermine our sport then perhaps we join with all the club teams and take control of our own sport. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that–but we should have a plan in place–just in case.

5. If you’re a high school coach, sprint to your athletic director to add girls wrestling and lobby your state governing organization to have girls wrestling as it’s own separate entity. This is where we’re headed as a sport, we should get it done as quickly as possible. I’ve seen it in Texas and became a believer. It’s just like any other girls sport, they have their own duals, their own qualifying tournaments and their own state tournament. And if you approach girls wrestling solely from the perspective of increasing participation and broadening the fan base, it’s a great thing for our sport. Every girl that wrestles has family and friends who will get sucked into our wrestling community…and participation will carry on from generation to generation just like it does in boys wrestling. And getting girls wrestling set up as its own franchise eliminates the discomfort people have about boys wrestling girls. Increasing participation in girls wrestling ultimately helps us with the NCAA Title IX issue–especially if we can add women’s programs at the college level… and apparently it’s a factor with the IOC. Let’s not drag our feet, let’s get this done. It’s not odd for women to be in karate or judo…so why shouldn’t they have a huge presence in the greatest of martial arts?–wrestling.

6. We need to eliminate the culture of weight cutting in our sport. Yes, I know it’s a badge of honor, yes I’ve heard all the war stories and have several of my own but it hurts the perception of our sport. And I don’t ever again want to go to a kids tournament and see a grade school kid running to make a weight class. I’ve seen it several times now and I cringe every single time. It’s ridiculous… and as tournament directors and coaches we need to discourage it, monitor it and enforce it. No weight cutting–NONE for kids under X years of age. And I think X should be at least 13 years of age. Many parents discourage their kids from participating in wrestling because they don’t want their kids cutting weight…. football coaches don’t want their players to wrestle because they don’t want them cutting weight…and the kids themselves don’t like cutting weight, it makes our sport drudgery–and while some revel in the drudgery many others get turned off completely and quit. If our goal is to grow the sport, we have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot….so we need to eliminate the weight cutting and start to encourage a culture of healthy eating. If an athlete is in-between weight classes–lift weights, eat healthy, get stronger and move to the higher weight class. Coaches and parents need to understand they’ll get more work out of an athlete if he or she is not starving. Additionally, when you’re working hard and not getting enough calories and protein, your body starts to cannibalize itself, meaning it starts breaking down muscle mass and even connective tissue–and over time that leads to decreased strength and unnecessary injuries. So, we need mat-side weight checks…where you can’t be more than X pounds over what you weighed at weigh-ins. Doing this will discourage excessive weight cutting and could eventually lead to offering weight classes of a range of a few pounds. For instance, if the weight class is 141, you just need to be within four pounds of that at weigh-in. BUT when we check your weight mat-side you need to still be within that range. And it won’t be disruptive to the flow of the match–it’s as simple as checking in at the scorer’s table. States that don’t have strict body fat and hydration tests prior to a season starting–need to implement them. And I like the idea I read recently where someone suggested that a grade school kid only gets one opportunity to step on a scale at weigh-ins–whatever they weigh, they weigh. Think of it this way–someday soon, someone from a major media outlet is going to do a big story on wrestling–do we as a sport really want to defend weight cutting? especially youth weight cutting? How will that be received by viewers watching the story? Repeat this mantra: “Healthy eating–lift to the next weight class.”

7. Along the theme of what we don’t want to see on 48 hrs or 20/20 is a parent going off on a child for a poor performance. I’ve seen this a couple times in recent years and in both cases it got so bad I had to step in and try to separate the parent from the kid. Can you imagine someone in the media or the press turning their camera on at that moment when a parent is screaming at the kid because they didn’t do well in a wrestling match? Everything positive the event represents would go out the window and we as a sport would have to dig ourselves out from the bad exposure. And with YouTube and camera phones–practically everyone is potential “media” so we need to be vigilant about protecting our sport. Wrestling teaches discipline and sportsmanship– we need to avoid giving ourselves a black eye and we all have to be our brother’s keeper in this regard. Parents you need to realize that while yes it’s cool your child is at the state tournament or a national tournament – it’s all for fun. It doesn’t really count/matter until high school–so relax. Win or lose your child is developing important skill sets for life…enjoy the ride.

8. Football is a natural fit for wrestling in many ways…we need to open up our sport so that more football players are inclined to wrestle. Why? Because football is the most popular sport in the United States by a large margin over every other sport. And secondly because it has a lot of participants–more than double any other sport at the high school level. And very shortly football is going to be looking for solutions on how to get kids to tackle without using their helmet–and I can think of no activity that is better at teaching that than wrestling. But right now we artificially constrict the number of football players who come into our sport. This was pointed out to me by a football coach in Michigan. He said, “Most kids on a football team weigh more than 150 pounds and there are only a finite number of weight classes available from 150 pounds and up. Kids sort themselves out, they know who can beat who and they don’t want to wrestle JV their junior or senior year…even if they’ve been wrestling their whole life, they’ll quit or not come out to avoid the embarrassment. They’ll just lift weights instead.” His statement hit me like a ton of bricks. I could think of dozens of instances in my own athletic and coaching life where that was absolutely true. How could we change it? And the answer is eliminate JV–everyone on the team is varsity. How can we give that teeth and substance? Make all tournament opens…including conference tournaments and the first round qualifying round to get to an individual state tournament. You can field as many kids in particular weight class as you have kids. Everyone wrestles varsity matches….everyone gets a varsity letter. Think about what that opens up in terms of participation! You might have two kids on the same team who are two of the best kids in the state in particular weight class–why should one be shut out from participating? And siblings–we don’t have a Venus and Serena scenario because only one of them could participate. When UW-Superior had a wrestling program there were two twin brothers who played football and wrestled heavyweight–but the one brother was just a pinch better than the other brother. And as you can guess one became a three time All-American and national runner-up and the other–well…he was easily one of the best heavyweights in the country but he didn’t get to participate. That’s an injustice we need to eliminate in our sport. And I’m sure many of you have similar stories. Now, you’ll still have wrestle offs for dual meets, but if your program is able to field more than one dual meet team and you can find a way to get them a varsity match–by all means let’s do it. MORE PARTICIPATION = BIGGER SPORT (read more popular and less likely to get cut)

9. I hear lots of talk about eliminating weight classes–I’d suggest just the opposite, we should add weight classes. If the number is currently 14 at the high school level then bump it to 15 weight classes so that it’s less likely we’ll end in a dual meet tie…bump heavy-weight to 295 max weight and create a 250 pound weight class. Why? More opportunities, more participation, translates into a bigger sport. And football players are getting bigger and we want more of them in our sport. And college should bump heavyweight to 325 pounds, create a 220 weight class, a 255 pound weight class and bring back the 118 pound weight class. And International wrestling has to expand to at least ten weight classes, it’s ridiculous that we’re trying to squeeze everyone into seven weight classes–it’s stupid and limits who can participate on a global basis. More weight classes, more opportunity, bigger sport! And I hear the grumbling about some of the “football weight classes” not having the skill sets worthy of being included–and I say–hogwash. If there is a gap, there won’t be one for long. And let’s talk about the spectator for a second, my grandfather didn’t know anything about wrestling but he loved coming to matches to see the big guys go at it. He got a huge kick out of it. And I think we have lost some of that amazement– we’ve lost the opportunity to have the poster we all have of Chris Taylor being thrown. We’ve lost the chance to see a Tab Thacker win the NCAA tournament. I was kid when Tab won his NCAA title and I thought he was a beast and when he won… it was really, really cool. Now, I’m not trying to suggest that Taylor and Thacker were the models of health–they weren’t–and healthy eating would have produced a slimmer version of themselves, but even with that they’d never make weight at today’s weight limits. And there are a lot of football players who fall into that category, players who could be benefit by being in wrestling and we as a sport would benefit from letting the “big boys” go at it. Similarly, the speed and the skill sets of guys who are on the light end of our sport should be appreciated and revered…the same year I watched with amazement at Tab’s NCAA victory, I was electrified by Bobby Weaver’s Gold medal win at the 1984 Olympics. It was stirring to see him circle the arena with his son in his arms. It saddens me to think that with today’s weight classes we are missing out on the next Bobby Weaver or Tab Thacker. Let’s create more opportunities, not less, to a participate and excel in our sport.

10. Oh I can hear the howls already–what about the small schools that have a hard time filling weight classes?…and what about the quality of wrestling? etc… We can fix that in one rule change–forfeits are no longer equal to the penultimate of our sport… a pin. No longer will you get six team points for a forfeit. In fact, forfeits aren’t even worth the equivalent of a win… forfeits should only be worth two team points in a dual meet. Why on earth should a forfeit be worth the same number of points as a pin? Our “knock-out” is equal to a guy not showing up? That’s just an artificial construct that keeps us grinding about constricting the number of weight classes–let’s just simply change the structure!!! But what about coaches gaming the system by sitting a guy because he knows it’s likely that guy is going to get stuck and give up six team points? Well, surely we can come up with other ways to force a coach to wrestle his guys. For instance, we could make a rule that states if a wrestler sits out of a meet and the team forfeits that weight class, that wrestler has to sit out the following meet as well. The only way this can be rescinded is if the athlete has a note from a doctor indicating there was a medical reason for missing the match. Additionally, we could have a whistle blower clause–a coach can be accused of artificially sitting athletes to avoid a dual meet loss, if after a quick investigation the charge is warranted, the coach is suspended from the team for a period of two weeks. Repeat offenders could eventually be removed from coaching all together. Those rules could be tweaked a little, but I think they would suffice as deterrents. In general, I think most coaches are more concerned about getting their kids experience than they are with tampering with the line-up. However, by making this one structural change, we eliminate most objections to more weight classes. The small school with eight studs could forfeit the seven other weight classes and still get a dual meet victory. And that’s something we want to facilitate in building our sport. A young coach told me he had six guys who hardly ever lost but as a small school and a new program they had a tough time fielding more than eight guys. So, even though they’d win six matches, they’d lose the dual….BADLY. And as he said to me, “It’s tough to make wrestling cool in our high school and build the program, when we lose every dual meet.” This change on the value of a forfeit would change that equation. And it would give us the opportunity in wrestling to have our very own “Hoosiers” stories.

11. Eliminate singlets. Here’s the issue– there are kids who won’t come out for our sport because they don’t want to wear the singlet in competition. For those of us in the wrestling community that might seem silly–but kids are embarrassed because people can see “everything.” And let’s be honest, some of these singlets have gotten to the point where you can determine a person’s faith when they wear one. It’s not like any of us really enjoy wearing singlets–NONE of us wear them for practice–we work out in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. So let’s just wear the shorts they wear for MMA. I’m not trying to take bread out on the mouths of the manufacturers of singlets, surely they can shift to cranking out the board shorts they have in MMA. And the really cool designs singlets have acquired in recent years–that creativity can transfer to the shorts just as easily. Plus the shorts have proven to be a decent canvas for advertisers and sponsors. The singlet, other than being an identifying piece of equipment for our sport is a hindrance if it keeps people from coming out for our sport because they are embarrassed. And I know there’s some of you that think, “well that’s just tough–suck it up cupcake” but again–the purpose of this discussion is doing EVERYTHING we can to expand the participants in our sport. And again–if singlets are so great–why don’t we wear them in practice? I never did, from kids wrestling to the Olympic training center–and if you walk into any college wrestling room in the country you won’t see anyone wearing singlets either. MMA seems to do just fine in keeping the shorts in place without the straps of the singlet. Along that lines if there are any states that are still doing completely stripped down weigh-ins at the high school level we should eliminate that too.

12. Scoring has become boring… In my opinion, the top kids today are technically better than kids from 25 years ago. But the downside of that is that everyone stays in really good position and never opens up. We’ve become the football version of trench warfare and a cloud of dust. In fact, it’s gotten so bad we have athletes regularly wrestling from their knees during TAKEDOWNS! Much like football we need to open up the scoring valve. For football it was the advent of the forward pass and the continuous tweaking of the rules to see the passing game become more prevalent. So, we need our version of the forward pass. I’m proposing that each wrestler attempt at least one throw per match or be penalized two points. Ideally, I’d like to make the throw requirement every period, but I know that would get too much push back. However, what would one throw per match facilitate? First of all it would raise stances, which have gotten ridiculously low because of the prevalence of the low single. And, by the mere fact that stances come up …so will scoring. Secondly, the spectacular move will be seen more often–be honest, when you look at highlight videos of wrestling on the Internet, what do you see?–scrambles, takedowns and THROWS. We need to facilitate more throws… If you’re a takedown specialist who doesn’t want to lock up–well, you’ll need to get on your horse and open up even faster to score, early and often, because you’re going to get dinged two points for not attempting a throw. If you score enough to overcome that penalty then so be it–the audience got a lot of action as your mastery was on display. Thirdly, the throw rule will open up scoring at the beginning of the match–most guys will want to attempt their throw while they are still somewhat dry. This will eliminate the slow roll, battle for position, scoreless first period. We need more scoring, more open stances and more highlight reels. And frankly this rule forces wrestlers to be more complete wrestlers. Our sport is more than doubles, singles and HC’s… let’s bring our full arsenal to bear to build some excitement. We need the audience, to be wowed–and throws help to do that. I remember the sheer glee my wrestling novice grandfather got watching two heavyweights lateral drop each other across the mat– it’s been a while since we’ve seen that on a regular basis.

13. I remember Andy Rein telling me when I was in high school that the way to have wrestling become more popular is to allow each wrestler one punch and one kick in a match. This was long before the popularity of MMA. So, in a sense–Andy was proven right, MMA is arguably the fastest growing sport in the world and it is dominated by wrestlers. I didn’t agree with Andy then, and I don’t now–a kick and a punch is not wrestling. However, I do think there is something we can take from MMA and incorporate into wrestling and still be consistent with the idea of holds, setups, and technical skill. I think at the high school, college and International level we can bring lock-outs/tap-outs into the equation. We have lots of rules protecting movement against a joint–and I think those can remain, along with our safety emphasis on potentially dangerous moves…However, I think there are some jujitsu locks that we could incorporate IF, the opponent has the opportunity to tap out. But let’s not make the tap out the equivalent to a pin–or a knockout. Let’s make it more like a knockdown in boxing…you could get three tap outs in a match before you’re TKO’d. And the scoring for a tap out? If you successfully tap someone out that should be a four point move. But all technical falls/pins should require at least 15 points.

So would this still be wrestling? I think so…it falls within our ideal of technique overcoming other athletic assets, they are techniques that require mastery and repetition, they are tough to implement and tough to counter, they potentially raise scoring…and they could bring in more of the MMA audience into our sport. Additionally, it will help ensure that wrestlers continue to dominate MMA globally. And we want to keep that going–wrestlers have a respect in the general public that we never had a couple decades ago. When I was kid, the debate raged about who would win, boxer, karate or wrestler–everyone knows that answer now. And I think, if we control which lock out techniques are allowed in, monitor them closely and teach our athletes when they are in a no-win situation and tap out–then I think it could work. Plus, if the tap out is just a knock down–just a point swing, then I’m less inclined to fight against a joint lock and injure myself…I just give up the four points–come back to neutral and try to take my opponent down and cut the point swing to two. In wrestling we often say there are over 2000 moves in our sport–so what’s the big deal to add ten more techniques?

14. I’d eliminate college riding time… I know that I’m not the first to propose this, but other than the argument that says–”Ok, well, we’re giving a point to a guy for escaping, we should give a point to the guy for holding him down”… I guess there’s some internal logic to that way of thinking…BUT, it does nothing to build the audience of the sport and make our sport more exciting. It does the opposite–it’s boring. It rewards people for stalling on top. They do just enough to make it look like they are trying to advance the scoring. Being a good rider should be it’s own reward. If I can’t get away, I can’t score… and if you’re really good then you should be able to turn me. If you can’t then you get the quiet satisfaction that you wore your opponent down, made him carry your weight and physically dominated him….but as a sport we’re not giving you an extra point for doing so. The frustration your opponent feels about being ridden is reward enough. However, not only would I take away the riding time point, I’d be pretty quick about bringing people back to their feet or dinging top guy for stalling if he isn’t working for a turn or a pin. WE NEED ACTION–and riding time is a rule that doesn’t facilitate action. And in my mind if the rule doesn’t help us build an audience…it should go. My caveat to this is that I like the ride out/escape sudden death overtime format. I think that is one instance where riding adds to the excitement.

15. Let’s address the International rules for a minute. When I first started wrestling freestyle and Greco the refs were constantly telling you to take hold and initiate action. And I loved the Olympic styles because they were free-wheeling, high scoring, high risk and high reward…in a word FUN. What I really liked was the slip throw–you could really wind up and go for it, because if you missed, you’d be stood back up on your feet. Now, that was FUN–and bodies were flying all over the gym. Now, I doubt I’ll be able to convince you that we need to bring back the slip throws, but I hope that the requirement previously discussed on requiring each wrestler to attempt at least one throw per match could be incorporated in both freestyle and Greco. In fact, you could make the argument that in Greco each athlete should have to attempt three throws per match or be penalized. And we could come up with some parameters that indicate a real attempt versus a half-baked fall to the ground out of bounds fake attempt.

I think the ball draw has been roundly criticized by others…but let me just say I concur and find it a ridiculous way to determine overtime. Additionally, I do not like…not even a little, this idea of winning rounds and not having accumulating score throughout the match. And even worse is this idea that you can wrestle two rounds/periods…win those periods and be done. This removes one of the main aspects of wrestling and the supremacy of wrestlers–the ability to perform when tired. Wrestling requires some combination of technical skill, speed, quickness, strength and ENDURANCE–it is the combination of those things that make us the ultimate warriors, the ultimate athletes. To wrestle in Olympic caliber wrestling–the matches should be the most challenging of formats–the toughest of the tests. High school wrestling is six minutes, college is seven minutes….International should be eight minutes (two four minute periods)–it should be the ultimate test. At the very least fifteen seconds longer than a college match–something that says–this is the highest mountain, the penultimate. And scores should accumulate throughout because if you’re a Roman worth your salt, let’s see if you can do more than just score early–what happens when you are pushed to the last second–I want to know.

I think the boundary wrestling rules in the NCAA are better than the current International version. However, I don’t have a problem with the push-out for a point–provided that both those athletes are required to throw at least once in the match for freestyle and three times for Greco. The spirit of the push-out rule is to keep things in the center of the mat and facilitate action–however, unless it’s paired with a requirement to throw, athletes will just try to stay in good position, get a wide base and drive their opponent off the mat for a cheap point. And let’s remember why we are adding the throw–to open our stances and our opponents so that ALL takedowns are more readily available. We’ve all heard football commentators talking about establishing the run to open the pass and vice versa…spreading an opponent out with five wide receiver formations and opening running lanes… this is the same idea for wrestling.

Again, I think the jujitsu lock-outs could be incorporated at the International level with a similar structure to what I previously proposed.

I think there needs to be a discussion on back exposure in the Olympic styles… I don’t have a specific proposal, but I do think that at the International level there are some scrambles and “funk” that would be fun for the fans that simply doesn’t happen because of the immediate points given for back exposure. Maybe if you initiate the action–for instance you hit the granby, you’re not penalized by two points being awarded to your opponent. If NCAA type instant replay is used then we could get the calls right. And for the lifetime of training that people do, it’s important that replay have a much bigger role.

I wonder sometimes about locked hands at the International level… what do we gain, what do we lose in terms of action and fan appeal? I like gut wrenches, crotch lifts, reverse lifts and leg laces…but I’m not a big fan of the bottom guy just basing out and sucking his hips to the mat. I don’t think that’s especially fan friendly. What if roll through back exposure…like the type you get from a gut wrench only resulted in one point and if you wanted a two point turn/nearfall you’d have to hold the exposure for two seconds? (similar to college wrestling) Might more wrestlers try to escape instead of just basing out? Or what if you could only lock hands on top for a handful of specific moves, but if you do lock, you must finish the move you’re working on or be brought back to your feet. So for instance, you haven’t locked your hands, your opponent is trying to escape (making himself more open for attack) you see an opening for a gut wrench and a quick point so you lock hands and go for it…if you get it great, but if you don’t, you can’t unlock and go back to riding or switch off to something else like a leg lace–instead you’re brought back to neutral.

And as I mentioned earlier, there should be more weight classes for both men and women. And the argument for it is simply inclusion and growing the sport. It’s one of the wonderful things about wrestling, the ability of people to excel within the entire spectrum of human sizes and shapes. Inclusion also means generations of women and Bobby Weaver and Chris Taylor.

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So that’s it…those are a few things that I think can speed up action, open up scoring and make our sport more fan friendly. I hear calls for simplicity and most of these changes I’ve suggested are fairly simple…but some are more complex and nuanced. I’m not sure we have to worry so much about complexity–as long as the rules make sense and serve the purpose of creating more excitement and action. The NFL has tons of nuanced rules and complexities and that doesn’t hurt the popularity because the tweaks were made to ensure action and scoring. At the end of the day, we have a sport if we can put butts in the seats and provide an entertaining experience while retaining the glory of real wrestling. If we can’t do that and we refuse to adapt, then we’ll always be at risk of being dropped from every level of wrestling that currently exists. I’m optimistic, I think we can grow our sport into a much larger entity than it is today.


Joe Reasbeck is the author of NearFall.

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