During his time as a competitor for Team USA, Nate Engel was known as a technician. That isn’t to say he wasn’t a bruiser – he was. It also isn’t to suggest Engel didn’t push the pace – he did. It’s just that for all of the “grind it out anyway you can” battles he endured, many remember Nate for his seamless motion, chaining attempt after attempt as if he were remote-controlled by a video game whiz. However, when it came time to roll up the sleeves and get nasty, few did it better. The finals of an overseas tournament in 2012 is all the evidence you need.
Setting: Haparanda, Sweden, November 17th, 2012, the Haparanda Cup
Opponent: Rasul Bekukh
Weight and round: 55 kg final
“We just left the New York Athletic Club tournament, I had a terrible tournament. I went over to Sweden with the Army team, coach Momir (Petković), Bisek, a bunch of guys, and it ended up being a two-day tournament. The first day I made it all the way through the semifinals. The next day was the finals. Spenser (Mango) made the finals at 60 kilos against Betterman and I made it at 55.
“I had beaten a Russian earlier in the tournament two out of three periods, I beat him in the first and third period. And then I wrestled a guy from Finland in the semis. In the finals I wrestled a short Russian who had taken third the year before at the Poddubny. I knew it was a tough match going into it and Momir just told me, ‘Do your thing and have fun.’ I really hadn’t had that many good wins overseas, so this was kind of like a coming-out party.
“The first period, I won. The second period I lost, he straight-lifted me. This was back when you had to win two out of three periods and everybody had a chance in par terre. So going into the third period, I just knew he was super, super tired. I just knew in my mind that there was no way he was beating me, I was going to win the match. For one, they gave knives and a thousand bucks or something else out for the championship and I didn’t want to leave with like, a ratchet set like second place got. I wanted this reindeer knife.
“I remember going into the third period I saw him breathing hard. We went into it and I got him so tired he wound up getting called for passivity. When there were about 20 seconds left in the match and I was winning, he was so tired he fell to his knees and I just pushed him over for two more points and got on top. I mean, he was done, he couldn’t even get up.
“I won the match, I won the tournament and to me, that was one of my best matches ever because I remember Momir. You know, I was always one of the guys, but I wanted to be the guy. So I came off the mat and Momir said, ‘You finally did it, you finally won a tournament that was big and you impressed me a lot.’ And to me, in Momir’s eyes, that’s huge to get Momir’s approval. It felt like I finally did it. I had finally went over there and won a bunch of matches, won a tournament. Money aside, trophies aside, it was just a big victory for myself, beating a good Russian. Anytime you wrestle a Russian, whether he’s good or bad you always want to win. So to me, that was a huge win in my book and to fly home with a championship was awesome.”