No, he doesn’t have much use for consolation. There were points. He scored ’em. Against more-than solid opposition. It was also his first tournament in just under a year. But because both of the matches ended up in the “L” column, US National Team member Peyton Walsh (77 kg, Marines, 5PM #9) can hardly bring himself to see the bright spots. A sigh is elicited as soon as the topic is broached. He wants to see the forest for its trees. Perhaps to an extent, he does. Walsh relents only a touch and concedes that a few positives were availed from his performance in France last month, probably because to claim otherwise would be disingenuous.
Even whilst bearing competitive “rust”, even without having been able to assimilate into a normal training routine in many months, Walsh found little to no trouble deploying his offense — in an international event, and at the expense of two excellent competitors. Straight out of the shoot, off of a 48-week hiatus. Putting points on the board, however it happens, is always a good sign. Walsh begrudgingly acknowledges this concept, but in an instant the focus shifts back to what went wrong.
In Walsh’s first bout at Delgane, he owned a 7-0 lead against Poland’s Maksym Zakharczuk only to watch it eventually disappear into a 12-8 defeat. Whatever sour taste the outcome left in his mouth was only worsened in the next round. Walsh had managed to launch a bombing side lift against highly-touted Armenian Evrik Nikoghosyan (FRA) and was in that match every step of the way, but Nikoghosyan’s succession of front headlocks were responsible for a gap that never closed.
So it’s a combination of feelings on the subject. Walsh was happy to have finally competed following such a long break; he also was, and seemingly still is, intensely frustrated over dropping two bouts after breaking out some substantial firepower.
There is one factual piece of information Walsh cannot pretend to ignore, and it is the only item that allows him to draw a somewhat relaxing breath: the tournament in question, Deglane, occurred in January and not April. If anything, the matches in France were, at best, slightly more meaningful than practice room scrimmages. As a very strong candidate to represent the United States in the Tokyo Olympics, Walsh can hang his hat on the idea that it is permissible to stub his toe in anything other than the main event. Better still, he has one more dress rehearsal remaining. Shortly after he exits camp in Hungary later this month, Walsh will enter the Matteo Pellicone “Ranking Series” tournament in Rome.
Back to the lab. More training. More matches. A little more time to prepare for the biggest opportunity of his competitive life thus far. It has been a rapid surge for Walsh ever since he embraced this sport on the heels of his graduation from the Naval Academy. And all he is doing right now is what he has always done — learning from previous experiences and leveraging his will to fight towards achieving the spectacular.
A couple of matches from a comeback tournament in January could never obscure such a vision.
Peyton Walsh — 77 kg, Marines
5PM: In France, it had been almost a year since you last competed. Did you have any nerves or apprehension before the tournament?
Peyton Walsh: Definitely. I was definitely nervous. There were so many more logistics involved as far as getting tested. France was on serious lockdown, too. I’m surprised they even held a competition with all of the regulations their government is putting on their citizens. We were pretty much escorted around everywhere.
I think that alone added a different dynamic to it where it wasn’t just about competing. I think, unfortunately, that none of us showed up and performed as well as we could have. We can blame that on nerves or because it was our first time competing in 11 months, but we didn’t get it done. I was definitely nervous but I wouldn’t say that’s why I wrestled poorly.
5PM: Well, let’s start right there because I don’t think you wrestled poorly at all. You had two very tough opponents, though I’m sure the match against Poland was very frustrating. You scored aggressively and quickly, and then that match gets away from you and the wheels fell off. Afterwards, how did you reflect on how this all went down?
Walsh: At first, I was furious. Getting off the mat and having the wheels fall off the wagon. In all my years of wrestling, that has never… Let’s go back to the football analogy. I had just returned a kickoff 99 years, got to the 1 yard line, and my pants fell down. That has never happened to me. In the first 30 minutes afterwards, before my next match, I was furious with myself. I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know if it was my first time making weight in 11 months, just being nervous, or not being mentally prepared. But something happened. For the first minute-and-a-half, yeah, I was happy.
Then the next day and on the plane ride home, I realized that it’s not worth being upset about it. You learn from it, and you take the things you did really well for the first minute-and-a-half and try to look at those, and then repeat that in practice and in your mind. Then you look at the other half from that, the other four-and-a-half minutes, and say, I never want to do that again.
I’m still upset about it, but I am partially glad that I did it there. I know that I put myself there now and I don’t want to go back to that again. I did it, but it’s not going to happen again.
5PM: I was really pleased to see that you had gotten matched up with Nikoghosyan in the next round. He is a really tough competitor. (Coach Jason) Loukides said that you had worked with him before, and I didn’t know that. He’s a good Armenian with a brute style. You got a nice lift in that match. The match didn’t go your way, but was it an encouraging piece, to lift a guy like him?
Peyton Walsh: I mean, again, I was pissed that I lost. That was something Coach tried to bring me back to, like, This is something you have been working on and you hit it on a really top-tier guy. But, I expect to do that stuff. I was happy that I got a four-point move on a pretty successful international wrestler, but I don’t care. I lost. I wanted to win.
Looking back on that match, part of me is more upset that I didn’t win this match more than the other one because it was just one position. He hit me with a front headlock. Besides that one position, I felt like I was out-pummeling him, plus I was able to turn him and he wasn’t able to turn me. I almost got a good throw on him, too, but it got called for legs. I felt like I had dominated that match, other than him being able to choke me out eight times.
He beat me in one position, where everywhere else I controlled the mat space, I controlled the pummeling, and yeah, I threw him. That’s one reason why I wish I had started wrestling Greco way younger or way earlier in my wrestling career because you have to game it. You have to play certain areas and wrestle to your strengths. I have a style, unfortunately, where it’s like, Okay, I’m swinging it, I’m just wrestling. That guy, he has one position and it’s a front headlock. And he beat me, and he has been successful with that his entire career. But if I was able to avoid that position or studied him a little bit better, the score could have very well been reversed.
That is definitely something I need to improve on as a competitor, just playing the game. You know you’re going to be on your feet, if nobody scores, for the first minute and ten seconds; then you go up or you go down (in par terre). There are only so many different scenarios, if you play the match right, for how it’s going to turn out. If I didn’t get front headlocked in the beginning, then I might have gotten on top at first and hit that throw first, and led 4-0. Then I really don’t have to be as aggressive as I was, so long as I don’t get front headlocked later. So, I don’t know. That match I have replayed in my head several more times.
5PM: How about the scoring, though? Just by itself? In two matches, you scored almost as many points as your teammates who had more matches. Was that at all something where you could be like, ‘Okay, at least I’m scoring’?
Walsh: Yeah. I mean, that’s a good thing to be happy about. I guess. But I also gave up twice as many points there. I don’t know. It’s like, you can have the best offense in the league, but if you’re playing defense with five players then you’re probably going to give up the most points, too. It’s definitely something to be proud of and build off of, but I have been more focused on trying not to give up as many points.
5PM: You’re going to Hungary next. Hungary is typically popular. A lot of guys, a lot of live, and I figure this camp is going to be particularly well-attended since it leads up to the European Olympic Qualifier. For you, this is your major overseas camp of the year before the Olympic Trials. Do you go into this camp with an itinerary of objectives? Or are you more interested in the amalgamation of experiences and just taking what you can get?
Walsh: Yes, I think it is more of the latter. Anytime you go overseas, or me specifically, I just try to be a sponge. We are getting close to the Trials and then shortly after the camp we’re going to Rome and competing, so I’m not trying to learn a whole new set of moves on top. Getting different feels and being a sponge around the guys who have had success on the international level… I know that I will be wrestling some of the best guys in the world there, so I’m stoked for that opportunity. I’m not going into it with a huge agenda like, Today, I’m going to focus on underhooks; tomorrow, I’m going to focus on two-on-ones. I just take it in stride and try to learn as much as I can from the guys who are there.
5PM: You’re going into the “Ranking Series” tournament after that, and these things are major league events. But even if it weren’t a ranking event and just any old tournament, is getting another competition in before the Trials important to you?
Peyton Walsh: Huge. It’s huge. I’m grateful for the opportunity that I had in France but, like we discussed, I’m not happy with how that went. This is a chance though to build on that and get my feet running in the right direction leading to April. So yeah, it’s huge.
I remember a conversation we had over the summer and you asking me about the US Open leading into World Team Trials, and how if I hadn’t done as well at the Open if I thought I have had the same success. I told you that I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but this is a situation where I definitely think that because we haven’t been competing — and because our training schedule isn’t as regimented as last year or two years ago — that this is an opportunity where I definitely need to get running in the direction where I want to be set up for April.