When an athlete has been performing well it can sometimes be easy to forget the recent past that had led up to that point. Since all you’re witnessing is what’s happening on the mat, perhaps it is natural to simply live in the moment and devote your attention to the action. Anything that took place beforehand becomes ushered into the background. You’re seeing what you need to see.
That has sort of been the story for RaVaughn Perkins (71 kg, NYAC) lately. Following his impressive run through the 2016 US Olympic Team Trials, Perkins came up injured during the proceeding world qualifying tournament, enduring a spinal fracture. Despite the setback and its associated discomfort, the native Nebraskan came close to punching his ticket to Rio, losing in the battle for true third. By the time Turkey’s 2nd OG Qualifier arrived two weeks later, Perkins wasn’t quite the same. He still managed to win two bouts in Istanbul but ultimately fell short.
However briefly, a second chance came in the form of the Non-Olympic World Championships. Perkins, rested and seemingly ready, busied himself in the weight room, a new adventure for the 24-year old. A bigger, stronger wrestler now, there was a lot to look forward to as November’s Non-Olympic Trials approached. But just when the curtain was about to be lifted on a new and improved athlete, the back acted up again. Perkins was put on the shelf and forced to rest once more. This time, for several months.
Little by little the clouds lifted. The autumn’s crisp deferred to the winter’s cold, but Perkins was just heating up. He returned for the 2017 Dave Schultz Memorial in early-February with a tournament victory, his second in a row at the event. Next, Perkins was part of the vast US delegation that went overseas to Europe last month. A 2-2 mark at the competitive Thor Masters Invitational in Denmark gave way to an encouraging bronze-medal effort in Croatia a week later.
Things seem to be ticking right on schedule for Perkins currently and with the 2017 World Team Trials a little over a month away, now seemed as good of a time as any to check in with one of the country’s most exciting Greco-Roman technicians to see how he’s feeling and also, what he has to say about his most recent competitive exploits. As always, Perkins portrayed the positive and upbeat tone fans seem to gravitate towards.
RaVaughn Perkins — 71 kg, NYAC
5PM: You seem to be on target, right? Schultz was one thing but in both Denmark and Croatia you looked big, you looked like a monster and you moved really fast. You might be faster at 71 it seems.
RaVaughn Perkins: Well, I think it’s that my back is starting to feel better so I am able to do what I was doing before (the injury). I think that has a lot do with it. I feel like I’m getting back to how I used to wrestle in 2014. My positioning is different from then, but I still had good motion and I was quick, so I feel like I’m returning to how I was then.
5PM: Following the loss to Etlinger at Zagreb you rebounded strongly with a tech win over the Serbian Erski. Towards the end you basically flew at him before wrapping him up along with the bout. So when you say your motion and everything is clicking, is that what you’re talking about?
RP: Yeah, I’m more explosive I think now. Just getting that motion back. When I had the injury, I was just so stiff it was preventing me from doing what I wanted to and exploding how I wanted to. My back is getting better and I’m becoming stronger in those areas, and more flexible in those areas, too. I remember. I remember doing it. I kept the pressure on him. It had a lot to do with my back.
5PM: In Denmark you went 2-2, but you seemed to wrestle well, maybe as well as you did the next week when you took bronze. Do you feel that way yourself or do you grade yourself tougher than that?
RP: I know for sure I wrestled better in Zagreb. In Denmark, I don’t know if anyone told you, but it was horrible for me because we had a 7:00pm weigh-in and that hurt me because I’m used to a 3:00 weigh-in. When I have a three o’clock weigh-in, I usually eat a little bit and take a nap, eat a little bit again, and then probably walk around and go back to sleep. But the 7pm weigh-in was horrible. After weigh-ins I ate, slept, and then woke up at 1:00am. I stayed up from then until six, fell back to sleep for thirty minutes, and then had to get right back up. I was tired, I couldn’t get any sleep, and I know for a fact that I didn’t wrestle like I could have.
5PM: Going back to the match against the Serbian coming off the loss to Etlinger, who is a tough guy, that tech fall sequence, was that just you pouncing on an opportunity or did you feel the need to get more aggressive?
RaVaughn Perkins: I want to be aggressive in all of my matches. I want to finish a match whenever I can. I want to keep pressure on the guy. That whole match, that’s what I was working for. That reach-around to the throw, that is what I was working for the whole match and I kept that game plan, and I wound up getting it. That’s what I want to go to. It’s kind of my go-to move. I want to keep pressure on the guy. I want to force those types of positions.
5PM: How was it feeling watching Ellis Coleman, someone you’re very close to, beat Edgaras Venckaitis at Thor Masters, the guy who kept you from Rio? And also, what did you think of Venckaitis’ behavior at the end?
RP: It was good. I like to see Ellis wrestle anybody. I’ve always known he could beat anybody, he just has to figure that out for himself. It was nice seeing him beat Venckaitis, a 2014 bronze medalist who just beat me for the Olympic spot. Ellis, that’s like my brother. As for Venckaitis’ behavior, that was pretty funny to me. Not the arm, but when he was yelling and everything. It was just funny to me.
5PM: For bronze at Zagreb you had the Korean Jeongguen Lee Lee. He’s good, he’s a worker, he moves around a lot. Against a guy like that how do you dictate the tempo, especially if he’s constantly moving?
RP: I go into all my matches wrestling within myself but with all of the Asians, they have a gas tank like no other and you have to figure out a way to slow that down. I had to stay in there, I had to grab him and make him stand there and pummel with me. Because otherwise, he’s going to keep his feet moving. I made him stand there and pummel with me and I think that got him tired. You know, I see a lot of Koreans and they don’t pummel a lot. They move in and out, in and out, and they keep moving their legs, so I knew I had to make him wrestle my style. I had to slow him down a little bit but at the same time I wanted to keep him in there pummeling with me because I feel like I’m one of the best pummelers in the world.
5PM: After three events now, not that records are important, but you’re 7-3 with a gold and a bronze and the overwhelming majority of your matches coming against foreign opponents. Do you feel you’re starting to ease back into the kind of condition you need to be in for the World Team Trials?
RP: Oh yeah, I definitely feel like I am in the condition I need to be in. I feel good. Especially in Croatia, I felt like I could go forever. Wrestling the Korean, I had never gotten a Korean tired. He was tired after the first period. I went back to the corner and Momir (Petkovic) said, “Look, you’re not even tired.” He could see it in my face and I like to hear that. I was sick a few weeks ago and I kept telling them I kind of was feeling tired, but they kept telling me I looked good. I don’t know, maybe it was a mental thing or whatever it was, but now I’m back to where I feel good and look good. I feel like I’m ready. I just have to stay healthy.
5PM: What is warming up like for you right now at an event? Do you have to get your back extra warm before practice or matches?
RP: I haven’t been lately. It’s coming along really good. It’s starting to not be a problem. I only probably get about a 15-20 minute warm up in, jogging and stretching and stuff. I don’t feel like I need to do anything extra. I feel good.
5PM: When you reflect on this whole process, the injury, getting back slowly, and then returning to competition, does it seem like it has gone quicker than you expected? Or does it feel like it has taken forever?
RP: I feel like it has gone by pretty quick. It’s not a problem at all. I’m ready. I won the past two World Team/Olympic Trials and I still haven’t been able to wrestle in either the Worlds or the Olympics. I’m ready to get back. I’m not saying that I am rushing it, but I am ready to get back and make another World Team and actually be able to compete at the World Championships. Especially me going into my new weight class I want to make a statement that this is me, this is where I am, and I’m coming to take this weight class over. That is how I see it.
5PM: I know you’ve had to overcome a lot of things in the past, but has any of what you’ve gone through with the injury and then having some success upon your return changed your approach at all? Is this period something you’re going to pocket and look back on as another thing you’ve had to overcome?
RaVaughn Perkins: I will always look back on it because I’m sure if I didn’t have the back problem I could have went to the Olympics. I was just talking to someone about that, I replay the matches in my head over and over. It’s something I will reflect on but at the same time, I want to forget about it and move on. It has definitely made me stronger and a better wrestler, but I am still not where I want to be at. I’m going on 25 years old and still haven’t gotten a medal, but I am sure I will be getting one next year. That has probably made me stronger and it was probably something that I needed. It was a wake up call, you know?
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