Next Sunday night, the first-ever Wrestling Underground event will stream live on UFC Fight Pass. It is a unique situation: matches will take place in an MMA cage, a referee will ask both athletes if ‘they are ready’ prior to the whistle (as opposed to the traditional center-mat handshake), and wrestlers whose backs wind up against the fence will be deemed passive.
The Greco-Roman bout on the card features two names with whom everyone stateside are familiar — two-time Olympian Ben Provisor (NYAC/BVRTC) and 2018 World Team member RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC). The match-up holds special interest, particularly for Greco hardcores. As most are aware, Provisor declared his intent to move down to 77 kilograms in advance of last season but did not step on a competitive mat even once due to the pandemic. Plenty of fans (as well as fellow 77’s) are quite curious to see how “Big Ben” will adjust to the landscape in the short-term. More intriguing is the prospect of watching him do battle with any of the bevy of top stars who populate the weight category.
And naturally, Perkins is one of them.
Perkins actually did receive an opportunity to compete last season. He finished third at the December Nationals before taking fifth a month later at the Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Rome.
There is no “bad blood” of which to speak with regards to Perkins and Provisor. In fact, they like each other quite a bit. The pair were resident athletes together at the US Olympic & Paralympic Training Center five years ago. Though they operated in different weight classes (Perkins, 66; Provisor, 80 and then 85), a bond in the room was formed. That hasn’t changed. Last month in Nebraska, they reconnected as training partners, pushing, pulling, and gutting one another for the first time in their careers without size disparity playing a role in the outcome.
However, a sense of responsibility can be detected in light of the current circumstances. Perkins and Provisor are being tasked with representing Greco to a wide audience in a special event on a major streaming platform. A chance exists for them to engage new viewers and grow the discipline’s fanbase during what is and has been a critical time relative to the sport’s health. So while both are appreciative of the opportunity and humbled to be a part of it, there is potentially more on the line than meets the eye.
5PM: People have wanted a Greco match to be included on one of these cards and now they’re getting one at Wrestling Underground. How does it feel to be one of the parties chosen to be involved?
Provisor: I think it’s amazing, I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase Greco. Obviously, it is a much different sport than freestyle. Chael Sonnen, who is putting the event on, I think he probably requested having a Greco match, so I am looking forward to putting on a show for the Greco community in the United States, even though we are a smaller community. I don’t know if it’s a sense of duty to showcase Greco, it’s more that this is what I love to do. It’s going to be my last year of fully concentrating on wrestling so it is more about how I want to finish out my career. I am excited for this last third run towards the Olympics and then I am going to focus on making money so I can retire.
Perkins: Man, it feels amazing. When I first got the call I was excited. For me, I’m a veteran. I look at myself as a veteran in the US for Greco-Roman and to still be seen as a great competitor and exciting wrestler, that excited me. They still look at me as an exciting wrestler even though you have these young guys. I don’t know if a lot of people knew about the military athletes and their travel ban, but you’ve got guys like Ryan Mango. Then you have guys like Sammy Jones, too, guys who are explosive and can still hit the big moves. I was called before those types of guys and that really excited me.
To actually be able to compete against another veteran, that excited me even more. I just feel like this is a chance to pave the way for the younger guys. After it got announced I was getting a lot of messages from younger athletes saying stuff like, This is exciting, I can’t wait to see that. Hopefully I can do this in the future. I basically told them, I’m sure that you can, you just have to stick with it and we’re going to try to make sure that happens, by making it exciting for the younger guys.
5PM: You two trained together when at different weights in the past at the OTC, and have gotten a little bit of a feel for each other now that you’re both at the same weight. What have the differences felt like thus far, even though we’re talking about a limited sample size from the camp in Nebraska?
Perkins: Back then in 2015, 2016, it was more us preparing each other for the Olympic Trials. After he made his second Team and I failed to make the Team, it was more of me trying to help him get in better shape. It wasn’t just me against him back then, it was more working on what guys might try to do to him in Rio, and what type of guys he would have to go up against. At the Rio camp in Colorado Springs, we would only go with each other during shark bait or something like that; but once we got to Rio and saw his draw, the coaches had me involved. Like, Work on this move, work on this, work on that.
But now that we’re actually at the same weight, we can push each other and stuff like that. When we were up in Nebraska — and you know, he’s a monster on top. When we were doing par terre, he got on top of me and he’s got that gutwrench. The first thing he said was, I never grabbed you when you were this wide, talking about me being at 66 and now that I’m 77. Then it was just me helping him and being an extra partner. Now, we actually push each other.
Provisor: He’s a lot stronger than I remember him. He has obviously gained weight and gotten a lot bigger and stronger. It’s just having to adjust to that. It is really just a matter of going out there and wrestling the way that I wrestle — going hard and getting tired. I don’t think anyone at this weight can keep up with my pace and strength.
5PM: Would you guys normally plan to stay away from each other at camp this week in Utah, or does the lack of current training opportunities not afford such a luxury?
Provisor: Right now I don’t think it really matters. We’re all trying to get better. There are a lot of 77-kilo guys coming to this camp already with Kamal (Bey), as well. Maybe we don’t wrestle this camp just to stay fresh for our match against each other but I am not opposed to wrestling anyone at any time.
Perkins: Nah, we’re definitely going to train together. It’s only going to make us better in the long run. I don’t care if I have to wrestle you at the Olympic Trials next week, I am still going to train with you. As long as my opponent is comfortable then I have no problem with it.
I know they say how you practice is how you will compete, and I agree with that — but there are no refs in the room during practice. Whoever wins in practice, wins in practice. There are a lot of World Champions I’ve trained with and it has been close. But then once we actually wrestled in a match? 2017, when I wrestled Kim (Hyeon-Woo) at Schultz, we wrestled in practice and it stayed close. It was close and I was happy about it. But once we wrestled in an actual match, he dismantled me. That was less than a week apart, so I don’t look at practice being a match. I would practice with anyone I have to wrestle, it doesn’t matter to me.
I think the USA needs more of that, anyway. We try to stay away from each other, and that person wins a match to go to the World Championships — and then we end up going 0-1 or whatever when we could have worked and helped each other out. Pat Smith and I are, to me, one of the biggest rivalries in the country — freestyle or Greco. We have been competing against each other since 2011 and have had back-and-forth matches, but no matter what, we’ve always helped each other out during practices.
5PM: What is your main goal for this match in the most simplest terms from a personal perspective?
Perkins: My main goal is to make this exciting, to make people actually look at Greco for what it is. They always say how Greco is so boring and that no one scores. From what I’ve seen, Greco has always scored more points than freestyle. That’s what I’ve seen. When people put up highlights you always see big throws and most of them are Greco matches, and I want to make this one like that. I’m not saying there are going to be big throws or try to predict how it’s going to go. But I’ll say that it’s going to be exciting and that I’m going to try to make it exciting.
I know Ben wants to make it exciting just for the simple fact that Greco has been left out of all of these events. They had Rumble on the Rooftop with Greco one period and freestyle the next. Then I heard that FLOWrestling contacted a couple of women but I have yet to hear that they even tried to contact any Greco wrestlers. I am happy that Kevin (Keeney) and Chael reached out to Greco guys and put a match in there. I want to make it as exciting as I can. I don’t think I’ve ever had a match that ended 1-0 or 2-1, and I don’t plan on that happening next week. I don’t care if I get tech’ed or whatever happens. Of course I don’t want to get tech’ed, but I’m going to be looking for big moves and trying to make something happen. That’s the biggest goal for me, to make it exciting so that they see that Greco isn’t boring, and maybe we can make this a regular thing. I don’t care if FLO adds Greco to their events, Kevin and Chael added Greco to this one and I hope it’s one of many more to come.
Provisor: I just want to get tired and showcase who I am, especially at this weight class. I think a lot of people were skeptical about me making this weight class so I am going to go show them. Even though this match is at 180 pounds and it’s not a same-day weigh-in, I was fully prepared for that at the Olympic Trials and I’m going to be fully prepared again once the Olympic Trials does indeed happen. So, personally, I just want to go get tired, get paid, and make my third Olympic Team. That’s the plan.