USA Greco

Check-In With Cheney: How He Feels Going Into the Pan Ams

cheney haight, 2019 pan american championships
Photo: UWW

Cheney Haight (82 kg, NYAC) hasn’t just been around the block. He is the block.

Haight, 34, began his full-time Greco career a decade and a half ago at Northern Michigan University under famed coach Ivan Ivanov. Pretty much right out of the gate, he took to the heightened level of competition. Haight either placed or put forth a representative effort at most tournaments as just a mere pug. Within two years, he started winning these things.

Eventually, the road widened and so did the objectives. Haight advanced to the finals of the 2008 Olympic Trials and remained consistent throughout the next two seasons. In 2010, he garnered his first Senior National title, and some months later, his first World Team spot. But after disappointment struck while attempting to make the 2012 London Olympics, the Utah native granted himself a respite. He still loved wrestling; but he needed a break from wrestling.

He returned for just an eye blink in ’14 and then he was back for good the next year, his steady presence helping serve to bridge the gap between his ever-reducing generation and the younger guys who are beginning to take over the landscape. But even with this new breed involved, Haight’s effectiveness has not changed. In fact, he might be getting even better. Haight won his second National championship in 2016 — and secured his second World Team spot in ’17. In that time, he has also added a pair of Pan Am Championship golds.

Next week in Buenos Aires, Haight will be vying for his third title from the Pan Ams while keeping an eye on doing the same thing the proceeding weekend at the US Open. Age might be a factor for many, but not for Haight. Go, ask around. Or see for yourself. Haight’s skills continue to sharpen, his arm throws are as explosive as ever, his intensity never wanes, and most importantly, he’s having the time of his life.

Cheney Haight — 82 kg, NYAC

5PM: Given the fact that you work as a surveyor during the day and still prepare to make World Teams, do you like the fact that the competitive schedule has been spaced out a little bit? Or do you wish there were more events available since you enjoy competing so much?

Cheney Haight: I personally wish we had a lot more stuff going on in the United States. I see the value in how we go overseas a lot, but sometimes you go over there and it takes so much time to adjust and then you have to come back and re-adjust. Sometimes, it just seems counterproductive to have to do that over and over.

I just wish we’d have some more competitions in the US because I like to go to something, think about it a little bit, and then train based off of what I learn. It seems like with these overseas trips, it is taking a lot of my time away. I don’t know, it has been kind of a bummer. I’m disappointed they took the New York tournament (Bill Farrell Memorial) out of this year, because really, the only thing I can go to is the Schultz right now.

5PM: You’re a great example because we’re basically looking at a decade-and-a-half’s worth of experience for you and you have accomplished a lot, and yet you are saying this. So much of our base is not developed and they need these opportunities probably more than anyone else.

CH: Well, a lot of these guys don’t have the support. If you’re not a top-three guy, you might not have a sponsor who is going to pay for you to go overseas, so they’re kind of counting on those (domestic) tournaments. It messes with their preparation, too.

5PM: With your training schedule now and your responsibilities off the mat, how are you doing physically compared to a few years ago when wrestling was all you really did?

CH: At the moment, I think I’m pretty close to where I was a few years ago. At the Schultz, I was a bit out of shape. I’ve started to go back to two-a-days. I’ve had to do it on my own, but after the Schultz’s second session I felt so beat up and realized that I am not recovering like I should. So I started waking up at 5:00am and doing a workout. Not a super hard one, but just pushing myself a little bit to see if I could feel better in the afternoon. I’m much more prepared than I was last year. I wouldn’t say I’m as much prepared as I was two years ago — but I’m pretty close. I have been wrestling in the room and feeling great.

5PM: Do you like 82 kilograms? We never really cracked this open, do you like 82 or is the difference negligible?

CH: I have been walking around lately at around 83 and a half. It has been really good so far. I am making myself weigh that light because I don’t want to cut a lot. I was actually thinking of going up to 87 until the Schultz when Matt (Lindland) asked me to go to the Pan Ams. I figured, Since I am going to go down for that, I might as well go down for the Nationals the next week. The past two months I have just been getting my weight down a little at a time. Right now I am where I want to be. It’s not tough for me at all.

5PM: These tournaments, the Pan Ams and the Open, are back to back. You prefer being active, so is two events on consecutive weekends something you’re looking forward to?

Cheney Haight: For me personally, I do like it, because as I said, I’ve gotten my weight down to where it’s not really a cut. I don’t have to cut weight twice in a row. But I can see it both ways because some guys have to cut, so if they’re going to both, they have to get their weight under control if they want to compete and get it down again. I haven’t been competing a lot, so I think it’s a positive thing for me.

5PM: You’ve won the Pan Ams twice, in back-to-back years, in fact. The talk has been that level of competition at this event has changed, that it has improved. You had a close final in 2016 and then you ran through it completely in ’17. Do you see it the same way, that the caliber of opposition has climbed a little bit?

CH: Yeah, I think they have been improving a little bit. In the past, it was as if you were basically guaranteed a spot in the finals if you didn’t have a Cuban on your side of the bracket. That’s what I’ve seen in past years. I still think we’re a little ahead of everyone but we’ve also been taking some losses here and there. I’ve seen that Mexico has picked it up a little bit and the guy (Geordan) Speiller wrestled looked tough ( ). We’re also seeing a lot of the Cuban coaches taking jobs over there and that could have something to do with it.

5PM: Is this a tournament you dig going to?

CH: I do, I like going over to South America. The competition isn’t the same as going to Europe, but it’s fun going over there. It’s like a little vacation.

Cheney Haight, arm throw

Haight (red) finishing an arm throw at the 2017 Pan Am Championships in Brazil. (Photo: Richard Immel)

5PM: You are really well-known for your arm throws. When you have a technique that is so successful for you — and I imagine you can do arm spins in your sleep, they’re so fast — do you adjust when you know that there has to be opponents who study and scout? Do you create different setups and things like that? 

CH: The way that I approach my matches is that I don’t necessarily think about any moves that I do. I drill my moves to where I hit them off of a reaction. What I mainly focus on is getting someone into my rhythm, getting them to wrestle my style. Because, a lot of times you’re going to be wrestling guys who are the same level as you.

But if you’re not wrestling your rhythm and getting them to move the way you want them to, it’s hard to setup your stuff. I know that if they are wrestling my pace, I can pick them apart that way whether they’re looking out for it or not. I am always wrestling in my comfort zone to where they are moving the way I want them to, and that’s how I’ll set them up. I don’t really think Arm throw in the middle of match, I am focused on getting them to wrestle my rhythm. That is how I set my stuff up.

5PM: How do you add new things into what you do? Do you have a process you go through when you’re trying to add new items into your arsenal?

Cheney Haight: When I’m warming up I’ll hit a lot of obvious movements, like a bunch of back-steps and high-dives. Stuff that I won’t even have my guy resist at all, just as a warm-up. But then my favorite thing to do for the first 20 minutes or so of practice is that I like to play-wrestle, where you are both wrestling at 80%. That’s when I feel I can get creative, just feel the guy out and try to come up with different ways to set stuff up. I’ll come up with different goals in my head that I don’t tell him about.

You’re both wrestling at close to 100%, but at the same time, it also feels like you’re just playing. That’s how I try to come up with stuff. I might be crazy, but most wrestlers are probably like this, to where you are thinking about wrestling all the time. Just driving down the street (laughs). I don’t think coming up with new stuff has ever really been a problem for me.

5PM: Do you like this system that we have this year, with the Open, the mini tournament, and the Final X?

CH: I liked watching the Final X last year, so I like it for fan purposes, that they built it up as more than just a Trials. I don’t know, I think I’ll have more of an opinion after it’s done. I haven’t put too much thought into it right now.

5PM: In terms of your lifestyle, your training, and getting ready for competition, what has been your favorite part of this station of your career compared to when you were first competing as a Senior?

Cheney Haight: I just still love the competition. I have an eight-hour job and then I go to practice, I’m getting home late, and then I have to take care of everything else. And I’ll ask myself, Why am I doing this? Why am I adding so much stuff onto my schedule? But with my job, we’re outside all the time and if it snows a lot, I don’t have to go to work. The first thing that pops into my head is, Oh, I can go to morning practice, I never get to go to morning practice. Anytime it snows, they just assume I’m going to show up over there (at the Olympic Training Center).

It is just normal to me. I am thankful that I can still do it. I don’t think that I have slowed down as far as physically. In the room, I still feel like I’m competitive. What I like about it right now, is that I am still able to do it. And if I am able to do it, I still will. With the Training Center here in my own city, it makes it easy. When I was retired over in Boise, I couldn’t do that. I had some high school kids I was coaching. As long as I have a place to train and people to work out with, I’m doing it. I’m choosing to. I’ve never had a coach since when I stepped away in 2011 put pressure on me to come to practice. It’s nice. Everything is on my free will right now.

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