There are a bevy of tournaments throughout the country during the spring and summer featuring the international styles, particularly for the age-groups. As is tradition, weekends are often divided up accordingly with freestyle the first day, Greco-Roman the second. Sometimes it is vice-versa, but the protocol is optional. Wrestlers can choose to participate in only one style. Where this Sunday’s Headlocks on the Hudson stands out is that in this instance, there is no choice. “You will be entered in Greco whether you like or not,” laughs tournament director Joe Uccellini.
Uccellini, an alumnus of Northern Michigan’s Greco-Roman program and the owner of Curby 3-Style Wrestling in Troy, New York, introduced Headlocks on the Hudson last year as a way to not only promote both styles, but also to ensure that Greco is on full display. How committed is Uccellini to this concept? Well for starters, there is the automatic entry into Greco-Roman upon registration. To further encourage athletes to at least try the style, Uccellini actually takes an extra step to get his point across. “Typically, you’d wrestle freestyle first and people would leave before Greco,” he says. “Everyone got three matches and if wrestlers didn’t want to compete in Greco, we put their names in the bracket to show they forfeited to their opponents.”
If this seems like it is a touch militant, it is. But there is a purpose behind it. Uccellini is an advocate for all three major styles of wrestling in the US, hence the name of his club. However, it is his belief that one of the primary reasons Greco-Roman typically sees a lot of resistance is due to unfamiliarity more than anything else. It’s his tournament, therefore, his rules. And the best way he can combat any preconceptions about Greco is to stack the cards in his favor.
“Team Canada was going to forfeit all of their matches but wound up saying, You know what? We’re going to wrestle,” recalls Uccellini. “After the tournament, the coach from Canada said they were glad they wrestled Greco. It accomplished what I believed it would, which is that people were nervous about something they didn’t know but that if they tried it, they would like it.”
Outside the box
Headlocks on the Hudson offers other areas that make it unique. Greco at this tournament isn’t just for the boys, as girls will also be able to get a chance to compete in the style, which is obviously a departure from the current global system. In addition, tournament champs won’t be waiting around for trophies or medals. Instead, Headlocks on the Hudson provides winners with sunglasses and Suples Bulgarian Bags for the three biggest throws of the day. So no, it’s not the standard tournament you’d run into most weekends, but it is consistent with Uccellini’s vision. “I want to incentivize it for kids to throw big at my festival,” he confirms.
That leads to the next detail: Headlocks on the Hudson is very much intended to deliver a celebratory atmosphere. Held on six mats in an outdoor environment, there are numerous food and wellness vendors along with other nearby attractions. This, too, isn’t by accident. “I found that if you want to get kids to try Greco, you have to put it on a platform where it is appealing. The high school gym is not that, so I decided that given our city’s location, I would involve local businesses and create an outdoor festival,” Uccellini says.
Weigh-ins are scheduled for Sunday morning at 8:00am with wrestling set to begin two hours later. Overall, action could be wrapped up as early as 5:00pm. Canada is expected to show up again, as are teams from all over the east coast. Greco is starting to get more time in the sun as of late and Uccellini is all about that directive both literally and figuratively. “I have to try to create an environment where kids say, ‘I love this.’ If you are at a theme park, even if the roller coaster is scary, you might feel like giving it a try, plus you’ll have your friends goading you into it. That’s what I want, an event for Greco that says, ‘Try me.'”