When 55 kilograms disappeared at the Senior level in 2014 and was subsequently replaced by 59, Greco Roman wrestlers all over the world had adjustments to make. Athletes who were suffering to drop down to 55 received some breathing room, which is never a bad thing. But for the forgotten lot who either found the weight class to be a nice fit or were even a tad undersized, those four extra kilos were not a gift. In fact for some, they represented a substantial hurdle. At the highest reaches of the sport, size does matter. And while having the freedom to “eat up” for a weight class may not seem like the worst thing in the world, being forced to battle it out against what are often significantly heavier opponents is never ideal.
You can count Max Nowry (Army/WCAP) among the latter group. Coming out of Northern Michigan, the general consensus was that Nowry was a wrestler with huge potential and an impressive technical acumen, but also a little small to compete with the Seniors at 55. Maybe it started off that way — there were some bumps and bruises in the beginning. But after three solid years on the national stage, Nowry was making his presence felt. A runner-up performance to US legend Spenser Mango at the 2012 Olympic Trials gave way to a University World Championship a short time later. The next year, Nowry won the Pan Am Championships and put in a strong effort at the World Team Trials, finishing third.
That’s when everything changed. Along with various rules adjustments, United World Wrestling amended the weight classes. 55 and 60 kilograms were consolidated into 59, making that the lowest weight. Understandably, it was a shock to the system for Nowry. “I didn’t believe it, I thought it was joke at first until someone sent a screenshot of the actual changes,” he says. There was no recourse other than to find a way to accept that his competitive life was now going to be a little different.
“While I was away at AIT, I gained a little bit of weight, primarily just from not being as active,” explains Nowry. “I maybe got up to about 58 or 59 kilos and I was like, Okay, now I can come down three or four kilos and actually have to cut to make the weight. So I was a little pumped at first, but when I found out about the weight class changing it kind of shocked me. I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t happy, but at the same time I had to go with it.”
Went with it he did. A fourth-place finish at the 2014 US Open in a brand-new weight class served notice that Nowry was still going to be a threat. He followed it up with placings at several other domestic events over the next year. However, it was hard not to see that his ascension had been interrupted. Once on the cusp of becoming a consistent challenger to perennial entry-weight king Spenser Mango, Nowry was now having to settle for spots down on the podium just as he began growing accustomed to spying what the summit promised. “I wasn’t getting the results I was used to and that put a damper on me mentally,” Nowry admits. “I just tried to ignore that the weight class wasn’t what it once was and go from there.”
Naturally, the next step was an attempt to get bigger. That isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Light athletes are that way for a reason. Their work-rates combined with speedy metabolisms often make it difficult to keep adequate mass on. Nowry, who took fifth at the 2016 US Nationals last month in Las Vegas, will concede that he could have approached his diet differently (“I think me not having to lose weight gave me some bad habits because I could eat garbage”, he willingly acknowledges). But even with that, he was certainly trying his best to accommodate the needs of his body in relationship to the heavier weight class.
“I tried to put on some size,” informs Nowry. “My whole life I kind of had the belief of getting stronger wrestling and through wrestling activities, especially with Ivan (Ivanov) and his bags. I felt like that was more of what I liked to do rather than just lifting weights. But the more I ate, the more I started getting skinnier and leaner, it didn’t make sense to me. No matter how much I ate, I couldn’t even get over 60 kilos.”
A promising development
Just shy of two weeks ago, Nowry, along with the rest of the US Greco Roman community, learned that beginning next year, 55 kilograms will (reportedly) be back, albeit as a non-Olympic weight. As great as that news might be for him and other light 59’ers, Nowry is taking a cautiously-optimistic approach. “I was excited, but I am not going to fully celebrate until I see it in writing from United World Wrestling,” he answers when asked what his initial reaction was when he found out.
Nowry likes the idea of competing at a more comfortable weight for two clear-cut reasons. One, obviously how it affects him and his career. Two, he has observed a change in the dynamics of Greco Roman wrestling, specifically at the lowest weight. Nowry feels that 59 kilos has dragged down not only his style, but also that of most of his competitors’. Some of that could perhaps be traced back to the rule-set, though a case could likely be made that once the weight class changed, overall scoring dipped. He noticed the effects in himself before realizing it in other places, and believes that 55 could ignite an overall resurgence to the sport he has been looking for.
“The first thing that comes to mind for 55 is intensity and the pace,” offers Nowry. “I have become a little too relaxed. I’ve kind of grown my style these last two and half years off of the pushing and pulling from whoever I’m wrestling. I think we wrestle a little slower. There are some high-paced wrestlers but the majority of us are wrestling like we’re bigger guys, and we’re not. Guys like (Hayden) Tuma and (Ryan) Mango wrestle how little guys should be wrestling and I’m hoping that comes back. I’m hoping that is what I bring my wrestling back to, which is more scoring and not waiting for par terre and for someone to come and open up for me.”
There is also no denying the fact that if it is true and 55 kilograms is indeed being reintroduced to Greco Roman next year, Nowry will immediately be seen as a favorite to win virtually every domestic event. That’s what happens when a reputation has been established. It’s not something Nowry is hiding from. A normally-reserved athlete, the 26-year old is even willing to agree that 55’s return could net him the kind of success at the international level every Senior athlete strives for.
“The reason I say that is because during my last full year at 55 kilos, I was doing really well,” Nowry says. “I took second at the Trials to Spenser (Mango), I won the Pan Ams, I won the University Worlds, and I was in a bronze medal match or two at other foreign tournaments. I was traveling so much more and I was right up there. I was chipping away and chipping away, and I started to see a lot of results. That’s why I believe I could be one of the top guys if 55 is really coming back.”
History is on his side. As it stands currently, Nowry won’t make excuses. He knows there are expectations and he also knows what he’s capable of. All the same, a Max Nowry who is comfortable and confident is a dangerous person to tangle with. If his wish comes true next year, there is going to be a re-education process in effect. What was once his will have returned, just in time for an epic second act.