Some dudes are just tough.
It could be a domestic thing, you know? Passed down from parents, grandparents, siblings, what have you. That’s common. Discipline, hard work…whatever other cliches you feel like fitting in here. Or it could be environmental. Cultural. Those unique ways of life that do little else other than harden a person up. Wrestling has these stories, they are almost universal. Whether we’re talking about hurling bales of hay or sweeping the sidewalk of a city street, many of these athletes simply know what it’s like to have to earn something.
You could be born tough, too. Out of the womb, balled fists, head screaming. Infants become children and you notice it, their ability to persevere when backed into a corner. Even when coddled by loved ones, the comfort doesn’t rival the incessant need for a challenge. So here come the stairs, the little ones hoofing and climbing with glee. They resist when you try and grab them. That’s because you’re getting in the way. If they could, they’d walk right through you. The attitude follows them to adulthood and for the few and proud, it may even lead to a career as a Greco-Roman wrestler on a team steeped in the same tradition in which they approach everyday life.
It’s sort of how you should see Raymond Bunker (66 kg, Marines). Though with his story, he could check more than one box off the list as to how he got this way. The Chicago, Illinois native is recognized for both his toughness and his enthusiasm for demonstrating it. Bunker, 22, grew up on the receiving end of beatdowns and taunts throughout his childhood. There was no escape. Nowhere to run. Violence comes in different forms. It isn’t just punches, kicks, and headlocks. Violence can also be those instances of “micro-terrorism” which strike just enough fear in a kid to cause resignation. All of the jumpings in the neighborhood don’t hurt as much as self-doubt. I guess this is how it’s going to be and I’ll just have to deal with it. That is, until “dealing with it” results in a transformation.
While still mired in the daily ritual of taking everyone else’s best shot, Bunker signed on for wrestling and mixed martial arts training. It didn’t stop the bullying, but what it did do is put an end to the cycle. It’s defeat was now inevitable. Bunker pressed on. He wrestled, trained, built up his physical profile, and became capable. Confident. He wasn’t just able to defend himself, he was now discovering there was more to his story than he originally thought. A third-place finish in the Illinois 2A high school wrestling tournament capped his scholastic career, quite the accomplishment in a wrestling-rich state like his.
As he stands today, Raymond Bunker is a national-caliber Greco-Roman wrestler on the All-Marine squad and an undefeated MMA competitor. He has his eyes firmly fixed on knocking down goals in both arenas. There are Olympic aspirations along with the desire to eventually fight full-time once the opportunity arises. For now, he is all-in with the Marines and devoted to the cause. Bunker is the kind of Greco wrestler who ignites intensity whenever he takes the mat. You notice the flashes. Bunker has speed, determination, and an iron-willed approach to competition. It’s what makes him dangerous and also, so much fun to watch.
Leading up to the 2017 Armed Forces Wrestling Championships, which take place tomorrow (February 25th) at the McGuire Fitness Center in New Jersey, we got the chance to ask Bunker a few questions about the importance of this event as well as how he approaches competition in general.
5PM: The Armed Forces Championships is a very big deal to the four branches and a highlighted Greco-Roman event on the calendar. What does it mean to you?
Raymond Bunker: This is a really big event for the Armed Forces and specifically, the Marine Corps, because we are kind of running down the Army right now. We honestly feel that we can beat them and they’re the ones to beat. We’re right there, but a lot of other programs and people might not see it. We don’t necessarily get the same respect from the country the Army does. But we have guys in our room who train their asses off every day and are pushing the pace. I feel we have a really great thing going for us over here and this is a huge event. We want to win this not only for ourselves, but also for the other Marines who are deployed and facing combat. They wish they could be in our shoes wrestling for us.
5PM: You wrestle with a certain edge. It’s like you make every match into a fight sometimes. How’d you adapt this mindset?
RB: My mindset is that no matter who it is, I’m the guy to beat and they are going to have to fight as hard as they can to do it. It is ‘kill or be killed’, that’s my mentality in the moment. I try to push the pace because I know my conditioning is at a higher level than most other athletes on the Senior circuit. My technique might not be the greatest. My nutrition, I’m working on that. From the US Open to Paris and now this event, the three keys to success for me are nutrition, technique, and conditioning. Most wrestlers lack one of those. Right now, I’ve grasped the concept that I need all three and I need them at the highest level to be one of the best wrestlers in the world. It’s something that I’ve been working on.
5PM: How do you approach international competition in terms of your own development? Are you going anywhere after this?
RB: International competition is important to get. You have to wrestle the best in the world because I know that is how I’m going to make my strides. After the Armed Forces, I’ll be heading over to Hungary for a camp and then a tournament (Hungarian Grand Prix), so I’m really looking forward to that.
5PM: It is tough to ignore how impressive the Marines have been the last couple of years. There has always been a tradition of solid, talented wrestlers, but things are even more pronounced now. How enjoyable has it been to be a part of this surge and what stands out to you the most about it?
RB: The loyalty and the family that goes into this. We all have different ranks, different roles, different styles of wrestling — you name it. But what brings us together is respect and our support system. There was a point where I was thinking of leaving the Marine Corps. Then Sergeant (Trent) Osnes and I felt that our best chance to make an Olympic or World Team was with the Marine Corps and Coach Loukides. We have a great support system and that is probably one of the hardest things to find in the sport, someone who will lay it all on the line for you. Coach has definitely changed things around with the training, the facilities, and the tournaments. He believes in his guys. It’s hard to find that sometimes and that is what it takes to reach the top.