Following the sport’s shocking removal from the 2020 Olympic games, the wrestling community has called upon every conceivable resource in an attempt to restore the sport’s reputation amongst casual fans and potentially introduce it to even more. Sadly, us history buffs have thus far failed to sway the group of geniuses who declared handball and all that horse-related bullshit as sports more worthy of our viewership from reverting on their monumental mistake. But now, it appears that the International Federation for Wrestling has decided to follow our beloved sport into the fire in a last ditch attempt to save their own. USA Today has the scoop (via MMAJunkie):
“We have to think about how to make a show because without that today, it’s difficult,” FILA acting president Nenad Lalovic told USA TODAY Sports.
Former world champion Bill Scherr, chairman of the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling, has met with UFC chief executive Dana White and Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney. MMA stars and officials have been very supportive of wrestling’s efforts. Scherr said his sport can learn about presentation from the MMA world. “We need to think about ways to change how the stage is presented,” Scherr said. “They compete in an octagon and we compete on a mat. We don’t have to compete on a mat. We can compete in sand, we can compete in grass and we can compete on a mat or an octagon. I don’t know. We can get survey groups together and see what looks best.”
There you have it, Potato Nation: Goodbye USA Wrestling. Hello SandFC!
Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs has also rallied behind the cause, declaring that “face-offs” could also add to the “showmanship” aspect of the sport, and it is here that we run into the fundamental flaw with this cause. While showmanship has surely been at least partially responsible for the UFC’s rise to greatness, the sport itself is what has kept fans tuning in.
Let’s play the role of “casual fan” for a minute (*chugs three Red Bull & Vodkas, paints “Just Bleed” on chest*). Wrestling is without a doubt the most despised and ridiculed aspect in all of mixed martial arts, often reduced to such phrases as “lay-n-pray,” “wall-n-stall,” and “guys rolling around like homosexuals on the ground.” The bar for what constitutes violence worthy of our attention has simply been raised too high, dammit (*directs you to the Mexican cartel decapitation video*) and MMA is partially to blame. Does anyone think splitting wrestler’s singlets into three-pieces, holding staged weigh-ins, or changing the surface upon which they battle will do anything to alter the public’s perception of the sport in general? Believe us, there is nothing more disheartening than watching two guys put on a subpar grappling display in someone’s lawn.
To switch back to the role of us “learned fans,” it’s hard to deny that the sport is in need of some vamping up if it hopes to bring back the audience it once had, and turning to the UFC/Bellator for advice is better than simply doing nothing in this regard (although Bjorn’s advice that all future wrestling events be held on Indian reservations seemed a little outlandish). Like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, if you are not familiar with the intricacies of wrestling, it can often make for a pretty tepid viewing experience. The UFC, however, has been able to both successfully enlighten fans to this discipline and educate them on said intricacies while simultaneously entertaining them. Hell, it was *the* reason the promotion was created in the first place, so who better to help the sport of wrestling rise from its own ashes?
The question now becomes: What else can wrestling do to stir up a similar interest level?
All of these issues will hopefully be addressed on May 29th in St. Petersburg, Russia, when the sport’s possible inclusion in the 2020 games is reviewed by the IOC. After wrestling (and seven other sports also recently cut from the Olympics) makes its case, the board is expected to recommend three sports for inclusion, with the final decision being handed down in September.
Additionally, FILA is planning to move forward with several proposed changes to the sport that go beyond the surface level:
“We have to make the sport more watchable and understandable for fans, otherwise we cannot acquire more fans,” Lalovic said.
Lalovic also said the sport will add two weight classes in women’s wrestling and eliminate one each in men’s freestyle and Greco-Roman. Each discipline will have six weight classes.
“And if that doesn’t work out,” Lalovic later added in a fake interview, “We’re booking Canseco vs. O’Neal in a levitation chamber, because society is f*cking disintegrating.”