He was not trying to play coy. It was a simple question, and he just wanted to provide a simple answer. But “simple” in this case is subjective.
To you, it’s easy. Academic. It is that way for Xavier Johnson (Marines), too. The difference is he gets the picture that your idea of simple doesn’t align with his.
The question pertained to Johnson’s weight class, both for next weekend’s US Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier in Fort Worth, Texas — and the 2020 Olympic season as a whole. When the topic was first broached, Johnson took it as a hypothetical lead-in. He absorbed it as, I heard you might go 67 kilograms… It was meant more to sound like, I heard you are going 67 this year, how did you make your decision? The result was momentary confusion that evaporated thanks in large part to his resolve.
The reason why any of this is even an issue is well-known material by now. Johnson, who has rocketed to domestic stardom the past two years as a side-lifting specimen with whom few can contend, came into his own at 63 kilograms, a non-Olympic weight. Prior to that, the South Carolina native competed at 59 kilos, and even appeared at 60 a couple times. But it is 63 that offered the best fit.
It’s a wonderful weight class. Perfect. Right in the wheelhouse for so many lightweight Greco studs who have a little lank to their frames. What a shame, its exclusion from the Olympic curriculum.
Johnson hasn’t been alone in the decision-making process. Plenty of other wrestlers who previously planted flags at non-Olympic categories were forced to come to grips with competing in a new weight this season while ruminating about potential advantages and disadvantages. About where they might have the best chance to run the table at the Olympic Trials in April.
No one would laugh at the idea of Johnson making the US Olympic Team at either 60 or 67 kilograms. They wouldn’t. Perception is such that he would have a better chance at 60 due to familiarity with the landscape, and if his body finds the scratch weigh-in(s) agreeable, his substantial power could prove even more troublesome for adversaries.
Then again, at 67 he can eat, keep his size, and perhaps enjoy the absolute full complement of his capabilities. Does it matter if teammates Jamel Johnson and ’19 World Teamer Ray Bunker wind up as opponents in a spotlight match-up with everything on the line? Of course not. They all know this is a possibility. If anything, they’re kind of hoping for it. Almost.
The crux of the matter is that right now, “X-Man” is not totally sold on a weight class ahead of the National tournament, that oh by the way, involves qualifying for the most important mega event every four years. For just about any other athlete, you’d think they were out of their minds. But with a young man this potent, talented, and mature, you can’t help but get the feeling that wherever he ends up is exactly where he needs to be.
Xavier Johnson — 60/67 kg, Marines
5PM: Your name was brought up in over half a dozen conversations over the summer about which weight you might go. Come to find out, it appears you made your decision to go 67 months ago?
Xavier Johnson: A lot plays into my decision. I have made 60 scratch a few times, actually, just walking around. I took it under consideration with my coach (Jason Loukides) and my teammates. But the final decision will be made by my coach because he knows I can make 60 but also fill out 67 pretty well. I don’t train to win a weight class. I train to win, period.
5PM: Did any of this play with your mind at all last season, which weight you were going to have to go this year?
XJ: Not so much play with my mind, I knew it was a decision I would have to make. I had a little time to sit on it and I talked to Coach about it numerous times, and he backed me up 100% on whichever way I wanted to go. But I told him that I wanted him to make that decision, because I told him I wasn’t ready to make that decision yet. I’m still young, I’m still growing — but like I said, I made 60 walking around the house not doing much. I can also fill out the weight class at 67 if I chose to do so.
It didn’t really bother me after Final X or the Worlds, or whenever. I knew the decision would have to come at some point and it was going to be what it was going to be.
5PM: Three years ago, you impressed those of us involved in the sport despite not having an ACL in your knee. The next season, you made National Team. Then this past season, you made it to Final X. I know you’re a confident guy, but you’re also a humble guy, so this might be difficult for you: was your taking another step-up last season expected, or did you see it as coming up short?
XJ: To be honest, neither. When I approached the season after making my first National Team, I looked at it like, I want to progress, I want to improve. No matter whether I make the National Team or not, as long as I get better from last year, I know I did my job. Coach instills that us into us everyday. Some years might not be your year, but as long as you improve from last year — or even last tournament — you know you’re doing your job. All of your chips are going to fall in line.
5PM: You tried out 67 at Haparanda. How did it feel? Was it easier, was it nothing for you to even think about?
Xavier Johnson: It felt the same for me. Now obviously when I saw the draw and I had Jamel… It was funny, but at the same time I knew it would come down to blows because when we’re in the room it’s always like that. He’s a big thrower, I’m a big thrower; he’s exciting, I’m exciting. And we know each other very well. I knew it would come down to who had the last trick in the bag, and unfortunately for me, it was him.
But it all felt the same as 63. Obviously, I knew we had so many US guys and it’s, Oh man, now I’m actually competing against these guys who were in the weight class above me. But other than that, it felt the same. I felt good. I didn’t have to eat extra, I didn’t have to cut weight. I just kind of walked there. We had good, hard training with all three countries and I just went in there and took it for what it’s worth.
5PM: That’s something people are going to be curious about. You guys have three top-caliber athletes in the same weight class. Army deals with this, as well. I know there is a closeness between you guys but that this is a part of the sport. Even still, did it present any twisted emotions or conflict for you?
XJ: No, no conflict. It didn’t deter me at all, my decision to go that weight. I was happy to represent the Marine Corps. If I’m going to lose, it should be to another Marine (laughs). He’s not a scrub at all. Everyone knows who Jamel Johnson is. He is a high-caliber athlete and competitor. It was a good experience for me. It was my first competition at 67 and I felt really good.
5PM: Did it bother you to be at an overseas tournament and see so many US guys in your bracket, let alone get matched up with Jamel? If only because, it was just a few weeks away from the Nationals and now you’re breeding familiarity.
XJ: No, not at all. We understood the athletes who were going to be coming to that tournament. We preach durability and availability. We know we’re going to have to see these guys one way or another. We’re not really looking to hide from anyone. At the end of the day, we’re going to see these guys, and you have to beat them when it counts.
5PM: Your style is your style. You can improve, broaden your skill-set and make adjustments, but it’s still your style. Are there things you have to adjust for 67? Are there things you can’t get away with at 67 that you could at 60?
Xavier Johnson: No, because at the end of the day, I do have those bigger bodies in the room — Jamel Johnson, Raymond Bunker, even Peyton Walsh, Colton Rasche. I have these bigger bodies to bang with day in and day out, so when the day comes I don’t think I’ll have a problem. Obviously, we’ll have to see and then put it in perspective. But I don’t think I’ll have a problem at all.
5PM: Do you see weight class adjustments as more of an issue for the upper-weight classes?
XJ: I believe it’s on the individual, and also, on your teammates and who you’re rolling around with in practice. If I stay with 63 guys in practice, then I may have a harder time adjusting to a large weight. But I do wrestle bigger guys and I feel comfortable wrestling bigger guys. In my honest opinion, I don’t think it’s a problem unless you’re not familiar with moving that type of weight around.
5PM: So your lift at 67 is as dynamic as it was at 63?
XJ: I do feel that way. I don’t know if that’s the weight I’ll be going in Texas; but yes, I have jumped around with 67 in the room millions of times.
5PM: This entire time, I’m talking to you like you’re committed to 67.
XJ: No, no (laughs). At the end of the day, again, I plan to win. If I have to win at 67, that’s what I have to do. If I have to win at 60, that’s what I have to do. I have to talk to my coach and see what he thinks about it. But I can go either way, 100%.
5PM: So right now, you are not committed to either 60 or 67?
XJ: That is correct.
5PM: With a tournament like this one, and it’s a big one, do you really zero in on qualifying and just getting it done right right here?
Xavier Johnson: As far as the training goes, at this point in my career we’re really fine-tuning and working on the little details because I know what I can do, I just have to fine-tune them and make them better. When it comes to a tournament like this, I don’t want to work myself too hard, but I’m also not holding anything back.