Jesse Porter (77 kg, NYAC/OTS) is not like most athletes. He’s not like most 20-year-olds. In a wrestling culture that often elevates big talkers as much as it does big doers, Porter is far less interested in the former than he is the latter. If he gives you a sound bite, it’s because he can’t help it. Porter operates without the same level of contrivance you might come to expect out of a wrestler who has had to answer questions from the media, who has had articles written about him, who knows that when people say his name they are comparing it to others.
Porter, who is currently preparing for his second straight appearance at the U23 World Championships this November, couldn’t be more uninterested in pretense. You throw the kid softballs and it’s a mistake. He does much better with hard fastballs just off the corner. Those he can do something with. At least then he has to extend himself a little, which makes sense if only because it is blatantly obvious that he likes a good challenge.
You see, Porter hasn’t just blossomed into one of the very best young Greco-Roman athletes in the United States, he has done so in what many consider to be the most difficult weight class in the country, if not the entire planet. His undeniable talent is one reason why. Porter can make his body do some pretty incredible things. No one can flip the switch quite like he can. Have you ever seen this? Oh, how the mind becomes transfixed watching Porter move from a slow-paced tie-up to ignite a torching throw in a sudden burst of activity. He’s not playing possum, his in-match mechanics are not some grand scheme devised with a wink of trickery. Porter simply has his own movement, and he has made it work for him against many opponents who possess gifts not all that dissimilar to his.
But the difference between Porter and some of his contemporaries is that he does not see himself as nearing the final stages of becoming a finished product. While he does recognize the steps taken and improvements achieved — which have resulted in a requisite amount of confidence, seemingly — you cannot get him to elicit even the slightest twinge of complacency. Maybe that comes from his bloodline, being the son of former National competitor Jesse Sr., the brother of Junior World freestyle bronze medalist Alexis. It is easy to imagine that in the midst of growing up, young Jesse adopted the mindset he continues to abide by. A goal accomplished only serves to beget more goals, otherwise tails are chased in vain.
Two U23 World Team spots in a row. A handful of National accolades. A very real presence on the Senior circuit. It has all come quickly for Porter since the day he arrived on the campus of Northern Michigan University two years ago. Alas, that was merely the starting line. There is no question that Porter is moving fast, but this is just the beginning of an exceptional story. Wait till you see what happens next.
5PM Interview with Jesse Porter
5PM: Everyone understands the kind of ability you have, but now that you’ve been a full-time athlete for a few years how would you personally rate your progress?
Jesse Porter: In the last three years I’ve won four national titles. And before those three years, I had zero. In those three years I’ve won four national titles and I’ve gotten progressively better every year, almost exponentially at this point. So, I think that my development is going very well. Every year I come back I learn something new and I get better at what I do, which is being an elite athlete.
I feel very hopeful about this next year coming up. I feel good about it, and yeah, I think my progress is going well.
5PM: You come from a well-known wrestling family, your dad competed in the same sport and your sister is a national-level freestyle wrestler. When you look back, how did that shape you coming through the ranks, especially now that you’re one of the best Seniors in the nation in a very tough weight class?
JP: I definitely feel that it played a part in my decision to become a wrestler in the first place. When I was a kid, it wasn’t really a decision. It was more kind of, I like wrestling. It was what we did, my father got me into it and I liked it. I didn’t know if that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but when I lost for the first time I felt something. When I saw that other little kid taking the trophy I felt like that should be me, I should be taking back that trophy. Why can’t I take home that trophy?
I think that is what really got me into wrestling. When I started working harder and working with my father I started winning more, and that taught me how hard work will get you that win, it will get you that success. That is what I really started to like about wrestling, looking at my progression and becoming excited about my progression. Going into a tournament and having people go, Whoa! What happened to this guy? He’s coming out of nowhere, what’d he do? That’s what I get excited about and it is what really shaped me as a wrestler more than anything.
My family is a great support system and I love them to death. My mom and my dad both work very hard. It’s kind of the family business, it’s a family affair.
5PM: You’re often linked to Kamal Bey because you guys have banged heads in a bunch of finals the past few years. Do you like having someone to chase, a guy you seem to be going after most of the time? Or are you sick of it?
JP: To be honest, I’m not chasing anyone in particular. I see all of my opponents with a blank face. They’re all the same to me. I enjoy having the challenge; I would not want to be in any other weight class than the one I’m in right now. I’m aware that my weight class is one of the hardest weight classes in the world, one of the most competitive, by far, and I like that about it. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I wouldn’t move to another weight because it’s just not the same. So yeah, I enjoy the challenge, but I don’t single one person out to beat. You have to beat everybody to be the best.
5PM: Your style is both explosive and unorthodox. At any moment, you can launch someone spectacularly, but to do that you have a very distinctive approach. You’re not locking horns and pummeling around for no reason, there’s a subtlety to your in-fighting. Was this how you always competed? Or is this something that has been developed during your time at Northern?
Jesse Porter: I think that I’ve always been an explosive wrestler ever since I was in high school. My coach used to bump me up a couple of weights to wrestle 185 pounders and so on. I was always the one to go up and wrestle them — and I never lost a match when I went up. I’ve always been a very powerful and explosive wrestler, and I think that was mostly genetics and kind of innate.
As far as my technique goes, I have Northern to thank for that. I think the resources that we have here and the coaching have really helped sharpen me, they’ve really helped me become the wrestler I am today. I think that it’s a great place to compete in Greco-Roman, or for anyone who wants to try out Greco-Roman. You will get better your first two years very quickly here, everyone does.
5PM: Describe the influence Rob Hermann and Andy Bisek have had on your career thus far.
JP: Rob Hermann, I’ve known him since I got here. He has always struck me as a guy who takes care of his shit. He has all his logistics down and he is really good at helping all of the new wrestlers take care of their flights and all of the logistical stuff. I also think he’s a good coach. Whenever he was in the corner I felt like I was in good hands. Andy, ever since he came on, I think things have really picked up. He trains us really hard, he’s big on conditioning. Not only is he big on conditioning, he’s still in fairly decent shape and will wrestle with some of us, especially me. When he first came here after the Olympic cycle I was wrestling with him day-in and day-out just trying to get better. We were just constantly wrestling. He has been one of my great resources here.
5PM: Let’s rewind a little more. The way you came back against Jon Jay Chavez late in the second period of Matches 1 and 2 in the U23 finals last year was incredible. At that time, did coming back the way that you did do a lot for your confidence, just knowing you can do that against a fellow top-tier competitor in what were crucial circumstances?
JP: Well, before that match, and I don’t know why, but something inside told me that I knew I was going to win. I just knew it, I can’t really explain it, but I knew I was going to win that match. So when I got down on points I remained calm — and tried a little bit harder even, to make sure that I won because I knew I was going to win. I turned up the heat when I needed to and it worked.
I didn’t really gain much confidence from that match because I just knew that I was going to win already. But — I do think it was good for my development. Looking at it chronologically, I lost to him when I took third in Juniors. I got thrown for five and then pinned. Then I got tech’ed at Universities and that was like two years later, but I came back and beat him two times in a row. So looking back chronologically, I think it was a good marker for my development.
5PM: At the U23 Worlds you wrestled Fatih Cengiz from Turkey right out of the gate. He wasn’t just one of the best guys at U23, he’s one of the better guys in the world, period. I felt you out-hustled him, especially in the second period when you came on with a bunch of attempts but he still won on passive calls. Even though it was a loss, did that mean anything to you, the fact you were right there with one of the better wrestlers in the world?
Jesse Porter: I mean, in the moment I didn’t worry about it because in Greco it’s different. Those guys are good because they do win matches like that. They win 1-1 matches, they win 2-1 matches. They love the close scores, that’s where they excel. So, just because you went 1-0 with the best guy in the world really doesn’t mean anything because that’s how they win. That’s how they’ve always won. Looking back now with the current rules we have, I would’ve won that match because of how I was wrestling, but that’s neither here nor there. The next match I got tech’ed, so there is still a lot of stuff to work on.
5PM: There was a lot of activity for you this season. There was a big break in the schedule, you took a trip, and then June came and it was one event after another. Are you the type who likes being constantly busy, or do you prefer having longer training cycles and then an event?
JP: It really depends on whether I’m in school or not. When I’m in school, what I’ve found that works best is to have that training cycle and then going to a tournament. If I’m going to tournaments constantly it’s not going to work with my current academic schedule. If I am in school, then I will prefer a training cycle and then a tournament every month, right? Now if I weren’t in school, it would be full steam ahead. I would be doing tournaments left and right, as many as I could do, as long as I had the resources to recover. I’ll always try to do as much as I can do.
5PM: This time around going into the U23 Worlds, you actually have a decent amount of time to train. You qualified in early-June and the Worlds aren’t until November, roundabout five months. How has the extra time to prepare proven to be an advantage for you?
JP: Anytime you have more time to prepare for something it’s a good thing. Unless you’re a procrastinator, but you can’t be a procrastinator on a World Team (laughs). But yeah, I definitely think it helped me. If anything, I’m not training the first couple of months, I’m planning — planning when I’m going to train, planning what I’m going to do when I start training. That way, once I start training it’s exactly right and I get the most out of it.
5PM: Now you’ve been there before, you’ve had a taste of the Worlds and you are no longer a newbie. How do you learn from your first trip to the World Championships and apply it to your opportunity coming up in November?
Jesse Porter: There are a couple of things I learned from the last time. One of the things is that I need to do more scouting. That is one of the things I will be doing more of. I want to know my opponents. I want to know where they came from, I want to know what they have, and I want to know how to stop it. I’ll be doing my homework.
Another thing I’ll be doing is honing my technique from par terre. I’m pretty good on my feet. But I think the more people who get to know me and the more refs who get to know me, they’re going to put the other guy down. And every time the other guy goes down, he’s going to get launched. I’m going to get my shot on top, so what I am going to keep doing is honing my par terre skills. I think that as soon as I get on top of anybody in the world, the match should be over.
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