Interviews

Beyond His Years – G’Angelo Hancock Stands Tall as Greco’s Newest Hope

G'Angelo Hancock, USA Greco Roman wrestling
Photo: John Sachs

There is very little about G’Angelo Hancock that would lead you to believe he is just 19 years old. Physically, he looks like a genetically-modified specimen, sent here from another planet for the sheer purpose of picking people up and tossing them down in the name of sport. As if a bunch of lab-coated scientists got together to mold an athlete perfect for unarmed destruction.  And often, that’s what he does — Hancock displays a combination of natural ability and immense strength that is so dramatic, it is difficult to picture him doing something else somewhere else. Like he was born for this way of life. 

But the thing is, it’s not just his talent for Greco Roman wrestling that sets him apart. Not if you believe in “old souls”, or someone’s innate touch to be able to translate exactly what they are thinking and feeling on every level necessary. Hancock, the wunderkind US National Team member at 98 kilograms, is very much aware of who he is and where he’s at. He understands that what he has going on is unique, therefore, he pulls it close to himself, wrapping his muscled arms around these opportunities partly because of his love for the situation, partly because he is so grateful that to waste it would seem like a tragedy. 

Hancock communicates this constantly, in one way or another, in one phrase or another. Bright doesn’t begin to define his aptitude. No, there is brilliance here. But there is also humility, intense determination, and an enthusiastic curiosity to see it all through. The US Greco Roman Wrestling program as a whole is starting to usher in a fresh generation of athletes who aren’t afraid to forward the movement by showing the world that the fight has just begun. You can count Hancock as a leader of the new school. A man on the mat, a kid at heart, and a hope for the future. 

5PM Interview with G’Angelo Hancock

5PM: I conducted an informal text message poll following the Olympics asking athletes whether or not they would be for or against the removal of ordered par terre. Most responded they would be for it, but you said you weren’t in favor of the rule change. Why?

G’Angelo Hancock: At the time I said I wasn’t in favor because I had believed taking out forced par terre would have been the first step towards taking Greco out of the Olympics. But actually now, I’ve turned in favor of it.

5PM: What changed your mind?

GH: Just the fact that now I feel like it will force wrestlers to be more active on the feet instead of expecting to go down in par terre and get points that way. They have to be active on their feet.

5PM: I remember at the time when you said you weren’t in favor, my first thought was, Oh, of course he still wants forced par terre, he likes getting lifts from there.

GH: Yeah, but honestly, I like the rule change because I feel more comfortable on my feet. I feel like once I get down in forced par terre with an experienced Senior on top, shoot, that right there worries me more than being on my feet, because I am very confident on my feet battling.

5PM: That’s a good point. Because you had a great Junior Worlds performance on your feet. But there were times where it seemed you wrestled kind of conservatively, especially in your bronze medal match. As if you didn’t want to make a mistake. I remember I remarked to Coach Lindland how I wished you were a video game character that could be controlled in an Xbox game, because you have all these physical gifts and you weren’t using all of them. Is any of that accurate?

GH: Yes, definitely, and specifically I would say in my bronze medal match, I ran away from the bodylock a couple of times and that is definitely not my style. I am mostly comfortable in the bodylock but I was already pissed off that I had lost a match in the semis and could have been in the finals. So I was just like, Don’t screw up the bronze, Tracy, you know? I really feel like if I execute moves to the fullest potential, I’ll get it. But a lot of times I’ll hold myself back though I know if I want to hit the moves, to just do it. A lot of times I hold myself back mentally thinking about it in the match.

5PM: You had a really impressive year, going from the Trials to the Junior World Trials and everything else. When you compare wrestling Senior domestic competition and international Junior opponents, what is the biggest difference that you notice between the two? Is there a different feel, a different skill-set that you pick up?

GH: In the US that it is more of a grind, I guess you could say. It’s more of a fight when you’re in there pummeling. Overseas, these guys are way more technical. Wrestling to them is more like an art. Wrestling guys here in America is like, “hammering-Greco” over and over, just a constant battle and mainly a strength war. Overseas, it’s more of a chess battle. You have to think about what you’re doing because they are so technically-sound that you can’t make a mistake and you have to keep staying in your match mentally and physically, where it’s more physical in America.

5PM: Since we’ll say, the winter of 2015 to now, how do you rate your growth as an athlete and development at this scale in this sport?

G’Angelo Hancock: I guess it’s hard to rate myself from the outside looking in because I’m not like a “GOAT”, like an Aleksander Karelin. But I could say that the me of today would tech the me of December 2015.

5PM: Rewinding it back to April at the Trials, when you made the National Team, was that a career highlight or did you see it as a stepping stone?

GH: It was definitely a stepping stone. Personally, I was disappointed with my results because I could have definitely walked away with first. I believe I could have did some things with that. But what’s happened happened and I’ve got to live with that and try to get better from it, so I am going to use that as a stepping stone because no matter what, I’m not going to give up. So it has to be a stepping stone, I have to look forward and keep doing my thing.

5PM: You know, there is confusion and I’m sure you’re aware of this. In fact, if anybody is aware of this, you are aware of this and it has to do with your name. You prefer to be called G’Angelo, you told me that yourself a while ago. Yet, tons of people still call you Tracy, it is still written that way sometimes. Where is the confusion, what exactly is your name, and how do we proceed?

GH: Alright, so my full name is Tracy G’Angelo Hancock. But I prefer, in the new movement or whatever it is, to be called G’Angelo. That’s what I am trying to go by. I don’t know what is happening in some of these tournaments when they are putting in my name. When I came to the OTC it was G’Angelo, it’s supposed to be G’Angelo.

5PM: So in other words, you like your middle name better than your first name.

GH: Yeah, I guess we’ll say that.

5PM: I’ll be fair about it, G’Angelo has a little more…

GH: It’s cool, right? It’s smooth, it rolls right off the tongue.

5PM: Exactly. Alright, now that we’ve got that squared away, with you still being so young and having been at the OTC a while now, do you see the advantages that you have training there compared to other athletes your age and also those in college who jump back into Greco when they are done? Do you see yourself as having an inside-track or a head start competitively?

GH: Definitely. It’s almost similar to “dog years.” I feel like one year of training here at the OTC would be equal to three years anywhere else. Because I’m getting foreigners in here 24/7, getting a different feel. I am getting foreign coaches, different training tactics, different practices ran by the foreign styles. I am getting more here than you could possibly get anywhere else and I’m getting it before anyone else.

5PM: Why do you think Greco in this country is not the most attractive option for a lot of wrestlers. Obviously, a lot of wrestlers gravitate more towards college folkstyle and freestyle. Why do you think Greco has had a tougher time recruiting participation?

GH: To be honest, probably because it’s uncomfortable. It makes people uncomfortable and people don’t like being uncomfortable, you know? It’s a completely different style from what you grow up doing, it’s hard naturally to get used to even understanding the feel of different body positions.

5PM: So in your estimation, at least for Greco, is younger better?

G’Angelo Hancock: Right, absolutely. The sooner you get onto it, the better, honestly, because the longer you wait, the longer I feel you let it slip away from you. You’re missing the different techniques and the different styles. Any style of wrestling of course is going to condition anybody, but if you want to do Greco, you need to get a head start at it, especially when you look at the Olympic and international levels.

5PM: What was your first introduction to wrestling? When did you first start?

GH: My sixth grade year in middle school was my first time ever trying out for it. And it was fun, I don’t really remember what made me try. It was a contact sport and I wanted to get involved. My friends were wrestling all year ‘round. Actually, the first year I wrestled I fractured the growth plate in my right ankle. The whole time I was getting criticism from my mom, she was saying she didn’t want to see her boy in a leotard (laughs). It was funny. She didn’t want to see that because I was a lot chubbier in middle school. I didn’t start to lean out until my freshman year of high school, I started getting definition and becoming something.

G'Angelo Hancock quote

5PM: So you’ve really only been wrestling like, seven years. That is kind of an ongoing conversation I have with Coach Lindland, what is the best age for someone to start wrestling. We have kids nowadays who start when they are four, which to me, is kind of crazy. What do you think? Is starting them younger and younger better? Or is there a perfect age somewhere in there?

GH: I wish I would have started younger, but that is because of my love for the sport. Now, I don’t know if I started earlier, would I have wanted to leave the sport because I’ve been doing it so long. I’m in love with it now, so that’s why I can say that. If I was younger, I probably would have hoped to still want to wrestle. If I have a kid, I’d want him to wrestle at three, four, or as soon as he could walk (laughs).

5PM: Here you are now, a representative of the country. You’re essentially a pro athlete, in the context of our sport you certainly are. Do you think there is a responsibility for athletes like yourself to try and be role models, to try and make a difference in kids’ lives?

GH: Absolutely. With great talent, with great gifts, you should have that responsibility. And if you’re not responsible, it will be taken from you. The only time you can get those back is when you learn to truly value your gifts and your talent. And from there, you can control your powers and use them for good.

5PM: So you are now in a position to give back to the community, which you have already done before. You even got involved with an elementary school in the area for a “Math Olympics” event.

GH: The Greco program this weekend, we actually went down to Oak Creek Elementary School with the Math Olympics, where you have to explain perseverance. I mean, we all know how hard math is, shoot, from calculus to equations. Even in second grade back then, math was terribly hard. So we had to explain to the kids that everything takes time. With equations, there is a process, like every thing you do in life, and wrestling relates to that. 

5PM: It was another opportunity to take on a leadership role. Is that something you are starting to feel more comfortable with?

GH: Oh yes, it has started to become something I would prefer to do to get the Greco program out there. The cool thing was, do you know how every wrestling team in high school had a “wrestling mom”, one of the kid’s moms who was so involved? They brought all the kids food after weigh-in’s and things like that? Well, my high school’s wrestling mom was actually the fifth grade teacher at the elementary school, so that was crazy, seeing her after all these years.

5PM: It’s October and you’re about a month and half removed from the Junior Worlds. Do you have any downtime or are you just constantly on the mat unless you’re banged up?

GH: The week I got back from France I practiced that first day. That is really because of the disappointment, it’s like there was a goal and that was to be a World Champion. And that goal was not achieved. Of course, to bring back a medal for the USA was awesome, but there is still always a personal goal on top of that and I feel like until that is achieved, I haven’t earned downtime.

I’m still young. I see people in the room like Cheney Haight, and he’s now an older veteran wrestler and I see how hard he still goes. He’s in the room going as hard as he possibly can and I’m thinking in my head, Why shouldn’t I? Of course I am going to, I’m the youngest in the room. Yeah, I am the youngest athlete in the room at the OTC and there is no reason why I shouldn’t be doing more than everyone in that room.

5PM: Who do you hang around with over there in Colorado Springs? Who are the guys who have taken you under their wing?

GH: I hang out with Jesse Thielke and RaVaughn Perkins, and those are close friends of mine at the OTC. And then of course, the entire team I hang out with. We see each other from time to time at practice and afterwards we’re always hanging out. But as for true friends of mine, even more than outside the wrestling room, it would be Jesse and RaVaughn.

5PM: So that’s the crew.

GH: That’s the crew. The three savages (laughs).

5PM: You’re heading over to Sweden at the end of the month. After that, will you be in New York?

GH: Yup, New York, we’re working towards that. And then the US Nationals will be the next tournament.

5PM: Do you like being as busy as you possibly can be?

G’Angelo Hancock: I love it. I love the mat time, I love the sport of wrestling, so anytime I hear there’s a tournament I’m telling Coach I want to go. If I can go, I’m going to be as happy as I can be. If I can’t, I’m training and waiting for the next one and I’ll be ready for it.

5PM: You’ve been to Sweden already. How’d that all work out for you?

GH: I have, that was actually my second tour I was ever on and I had my passport and phone stolen. That was the only international tournament I decided to bring my laptop on, which saved my life.

5PM: Where was your stuff stolen at?

GH: At the train station right before the airport, the last one. We went to five train stations and on the final one, they got me.

5PM: See, I never had something like that stolen. In middle school at the state tournament I had a headgear velcroed around a singlet strap that was taken while I dozed off for a few. I remember waking up furious.

GH: Wrestling tournaments are where stuff is stolen the most. The most.

5PM: Wrestling code states that people steal from each other, but there is an ethics involved. Everybody knows that. You steal school shirts, even hats or singlets are somewhat passable. But personal stuff? A headgear seems like a line-crosser. A sweatshirt? Fine. Personal stuff should be off the table.

GH: Right, it’s off-limits. Like, let me see somebody take my headgear and a week later I see them wearing it in the tournament and…oh boy. (Laughs) At that point, I’m not going to even want it back, I’m not going to fight you. I’m just going to wait until I find something of yours and then you’ll see me wearing your singlet the next week. He’s going to be like “Nice singlet”, and I’m going to be like, “Nice headgear.” With a silent little grin. (Laughs)

5PM: I had to talk to RaVaughn a little while back and we were talking video games for a minute. You into video games, too?

GH: Yeah, I play video games. Me, I’m all FIFA. You know, soccer?

5PM: Of course, everyone knows that game.

GH: Shhhhhh, GOAT. GOAT. You could ask Cody Pack, Jesse Thielke, Ben Provisor, you could ask all these guys about my FIFA skills.

5PM: Wait a minute here, do you play online people also?

GH: Yeah, I’m the champ online, and I play everybody at the OTC.

5PM: Okay, so you’re not just playing people who casually play, you’re playing people who know what they’re doing.

GH: I play people who know what they’re doing. Patrick Martinez, he takes a lot of pride in his FIFA skills and you could ask him about some of our games.

5PM: With FIFA, you do have to operate a lot of functions.

GH: There are a lot of controls involved and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you should put the sticks down because you won’t stand a chance. There are so many controls that it is a very difficult game to even play if you don’t know what you’re doing.

5PM: You have to devote enough time to get good at it.

G’Angelo Hancock: It makes sense because you know how in the real games, the announcers freak out over the goals and stuff? It’s the same thing in the video game because there are so many controls, you put in all this work and your fingers are hurting by the time you score a goal you freak out just as long, screaming “GOAL!” for five minutes before you play again.

5PM: You don’t bring a video game console overseas, do you?

GH: You know, I am working on doing that by getting some kind of cord. But the thing about that is the energy output is not the same overseas as it is in America. A lot of times people end up frying their systems and I’m not trying to have that.

FIFA soccer - Hancock loves this game

5PM: A big part of helping attract wrestlers and fans to Greco is marketability. People want to see throws and we now have guys who wrestle more exciting, young guys like Kamal Bey and yourself who are willing to throw…

GH: To put it all out there.

5PM: Right. How important is that? Kamal isn’t shy about this. Is that what American fans need? Is that the missing ingredient on a consistent basis, just more excitement?

GH: 100%. Seeing a bodylock is what made me want to start doing Greco, knowing I can throw somebody on their head. We need people who don’t care about winning or losing, but care about going out there and giving 100%. Hitting throws, as soon as you lock your hands, just going. For people to see that is the true art of Greco, there is no way they won’t want to get involved.

5PM: More action. Like you said before, here in the US, it’s more of a “grind it out” kind of style, where overseas, it’s more technical but also, more flowery. Would you say that is why Greco is more popular overseas?

GH: Absolutely, because overseas, they are more technical and they are going to get to the positions where they can set up and throw, where they can score. While in America, they are just going to keep pummeling, pummeling because that’s their position in Greco, to do that until someone gets tired and guys can get an easy 2-0 win.

5PM: Can you describe the process that led you to pursue Greco full-time and train at the OTC? Just what it was all about, since we’re starting to see more of it.

G’Angelo Hancock: You know, TC Dantzler, he was definitely the base, the foundation of my Greco start, 100%. I wouldn’t know what the sport of Greco was without him. I met him and he told me the tournaments I was supposed to go to, he’d tell me, Hey, this is what we need to do, we need to be winning these tournaments, we need to make sure we’re trying our best here. And he would teach me the fundamentals, the basics of wrestling, and he taught me my first move ever and my favorite move, the bodylock. From there, that was the process. We’d go to tournaments across the country. He took me under his wing, he would even call me his son. I felt like at times, I was his actual blood son, so that was good.

Once we went to these tournaments all over the country, I started getting recognition and I got offered by Coach Lindland and Coach Momir at Fargo, they asked me if I wanted to train up at the Olympic Training Center. It was just the convenience since it was so close to my home in Fountain, that I could do that, and we did for about six months. It was kind of hard on me and my mom because we lived about 25 minutes away and there are two practices a day. So my mom was driving two hours a day to take me to two practices.

Eventually, it just wasn’t going to work out because of gas and how things were at home. Then  I got blessed and offered by Coach Momir, the head residential coach, to live on campus, which means my food, my living conditions — everything was taken care of, and that was a blessing at the time because I was growing so much because of the training I was under. My mom was slowly not being able to feed me because I was consuming so much food because I needed it for the training. All I would do is eat, sleep, train, eat, sleep, train…and it was slowly killing my mom. But she was dedicated to it and I am really most thankful for her because that is what made it all work out.

That was my process. It was a struggle really, because there were times the tire was flat or we didn’t have gas.

5PM: People target you for a big future. You’re a rising star, you already have a World medal under your belt. You made a Senior National Team at 18. Is this the path you want to be on for the long term? Basically, when you go to bed at night dreaming about your career, how do you see it going?

GH: Well, I can say that I am infatuated with the sport. I am completely in love with it. I mean, you could wake up one day and love something and the next day, not love it all. But right now, I am so in love with this sport that I believe I want to give the most I can possibly give to it and get the most out of it right now. And of course, I intend on getting my education side-by-side but, if I can possibly wrestle all my life and maintain my living, then hands down, that is what I would do because I am so infatuated with the sport that there is nothing else I would rather do. There are times like after three days of not practicing, no, two days of not practicing, I don’t know what to do with myself. I have too much spare time.

5PM: Well, you’ve gotten a taste of it now. You have trained alongside Olympians, you were involved with that training. You have seen what it is all about. Does that make you want it even more?

G’Angelo Hancock: Absolutely. I have trained side-by-side with Olympians and I have seen what it takes. I’ve heard stories, I’ve heard from World Champions. I can see the potential, too, in all of our guys who I know that this is what I can do and what I want to do. It is motivating being with those guys thinking, I can do this. What they’re doing, I can do, as well. It’s cool seeing them do it because it is the path I want to take also. And everyone does it differently. 

Follow G’Angelo on Twitter and Instagram to get the latest updates on his career and competitive schedule. 

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