RaVaughn Perkins (71 kg, NYAC) is not in search of sympathy. Or empathy. Or even your cursory understanding of what the last 18 months of his career has entailed. If Perkins desires anything, it is simply the opportunity to continue on his path towards World glory without so many ill-timed detours.
The roller coaster began its ascent in April of 2016. That’s when Perkins, originally of Omaha, Nebraska, won two heart-pounding bouts versus Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) to clinch his spot on the Olympic Team. But to actually compete at the Olympics required his qualification of the 66 kilogram weight class for the US. Perkins came close — painfully close. At the 1st World Qualifier in Mongolia, he advanced all the way to the match for “true third” before dropping a tight decision to Edgaras Venckaitis (LTU). Two weeks later in Istanbul, Turkey, Perkins looked just as sharp and won his first two bouts, but was derailed in another narrow loss, this time to Ruslan Tsarev (KGZ), who eventually made it to the finals, thus punching his own ticket to Rio.
It was found out later on that Perkins was anything but the picture of health. Virtually all Greco-Roman wrestlers are going out on the mat with some form of injury or soreness, but the story read a little differently in this case. Unbeknownst to him, Perkins had been competing with a spinal fracture. For how long, no one really knew. He might have had it for years. That he had somehow managed to perform as brilliantly as he did proved to be equally inspiring and head-scratching.
Months and months of rehab also meant a prolonged break from competition. Rested, healed, and up a weight to 71 kilograms, Perkins returned in February to emerge victorious for the second year in a row at the Dave Schultz Memorial. A month later he went 2-2 at Denmark’sThor Masters Invitational and the week after that, he earned a bronze in Croatia. However — just as Perkins had begun to regain his stride, the injury bug bit once again.
During that trip overseas, Perkins endured a minor separation in his right shoulder that necessitated more time off the mat during the most crucial phase of training leading up to the 2017 World Team Trials in April. As one of three primary contenders for the 71 kilogram crown along with Smith and reigning World Team member Chris Gonzalez, Perkins zipped into the semis where Smith shut him down en-route to his groundbreaking tournament win. For his part, Perkins regrouped enough to seal up another National Team appearance after defeating rising prospect Colin Schubert (NYAC/OTS) for third place.
And that’s where we leave off. Every career is filled with ups and downs, peaks, valleys, and other clichéd tales of adversity which are bandied about to foster some sense of motivation in a sport where the body and mind are rarely forgiven for their sins. The funny part is, Perkins is the forgiving sort. He has perspective, and possesses an almost eerily tranquil understanding that so much of life is out of his control. He just soldiers on. He also claims to feel better than ever, stronger than ever, and that at next month’s Dave Schultz Memorial, fans will get to see the “real” athlete that had previously been obscured. If you recognize what Perkins has shown capable of in the past, it’s probably a good idea to take him at his word.
RaVaughn Perkins — 71 kg, NYAC
5PM: Let’s just start here: how are you feeling now and how has training been going post-injury?
RaVaughn Perkins: I haven’t been experiencing any problems at all. I’ve been practicing and we’re going pretty hard, but the real test is going to be the tournament, because sometimes I feel good, and then I go to a tournament and something can go wrong. So hopefully, I’ll be good and I won’t have any problems, but Dave Schultz is going to be a test like every other year. It’s always a test for me to see if I’m ready to go overseas or not. We’ll see.
I feel like I’m good, though. I’ve been going with Pat Martinez, Corey Hope, and Kamal Bey, and they all have different styles. Kamal is athletic, so I have to do a lot of moving around with him. With Pat and Corey, you’re pummeling the whole time, and that has been helping my shoulders a lot, all of that pummeling and everything. I haven’t had any problems with that, but we’ll see. We’ll see when we get to the tournament.
5PM: You’re the furthest thing from an excuse maker, but it’s pretty much widely known by now that you didn’t go into the World Team Trials near 100%, is that accurate?
RP: No, I wasn’t even close to 100%. My mind was telling me that I was ready, but at the same time, my body wasn’t ready at all. I was just talking to Matt (Lindland) about this. He knew I wasn’t ready, but I had to just try it. But even if I had won the Trials, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the Pan Ams, I would have pulled out. My shoulders weren’t ready. At first, it was the only right shoulder. Then a week before the Trials, the same thing happened to my left shoulder. They (trainers) kept telling me these were minor injuries, and they were kind of minor. But it didn’t feel that way.
I tore up both biceps, both shoulders, everything, but I fought as much as I could. Coach Herb (House) wanted to pull me out of the tournament after I lost but I couldn’t go out like that. I had to keep going and come back to take third. I didn’t want to just bail out. But like you said, I hate making excuses, but it is what it is. That’s what happened. I fought as hard as I could. Pat Smith and all of the other guys wrestled good matches, they just didn’t wrestle the RaVaughn Perkins they are going to see in the future.
5PM: Three times now over the last year and half you’ve had to deal with disappointment. In 2016, it was the Olympics and then after that, the spinal fracture that kept you out of the Non-Olympic Trials. Fast-forward to 2017, you come back strong, but you get injured again going into the Trials and you don’t perform like you wanted to. Was this another mental challenge for you to somehow reconcile and get okay with eventually?
RP: It was definitely a disappointment. Look, when I lose a match, I’m pissed off. Who wouldn’t be? But I knew I wasn’t 100%, everybody knew — coaches, my mom, everybody. I was definitely mad about the situation. I know how the world stage is. I’ve wrestled several world-level guys from overseas. Pat Smith, he hasn’t had that experience as much I have, I don’t believe. So I’m not mad I didn’t go to the World Championships this year, it was probably best for him to go with me being injured. Even if I had won the World Team Trials, I still would have been injured and there would have been a possibility I probably couldn’t wrestle at the Worlds, anyway.
I think it’s best for the healthy guy to go to the World Championships instead of the guy who won Trials. I could have been over there at the training camp and just completely stopped. Then we would have been out a 71 kilo guy or we would have had to fly Pat Smith or Chris Gonzalez to go wrestle out there. So I think that was probably the best thing. I didn’t mentally get down on myself, I knew that I wasn’t myself. My body wasn’t in-tune with my mind. My mind was telling me I could do that, that I was ready to get back on top. But my body just wouldn’t let me do anything, you know?
I didn’t have any trouble with my back, and that was probably the most disappointing thing, not losing, knowing that I just gotten healed with everything involving my back and then my shoulders started acting up. That was really the only thing, not the losing part.
5PM: When was the exact moment or what was it that originally led to your right shoulder becoming injured?
RaVaughn Perkins: I’m not really sure. I just know that it was back in March when we were in Denmark at Thor Masters. I didn’t know what happened to it, I just started feeling pain and I kept wrestling matches. Then when the tournament was over, I talked to Matt because we had a training camp after. I just told him I wouldn’t be able to go to the training camp because my shoulder was injured. We got it checked out and I think they told me it was separated. I don’t know, I had different people telling me a bunch of different things. I was like, I don’t think it’s that bad, I could go to Zagreb and still win it.
5PM: Right, well, you took bronze.
RP: Yeah, we had that a week later. I skipped out on the training camp and just wrestled straight into Zagreb. I felt horrible that tournament, I felt horrible. My shoulder seemed like it was out of place. It would just hang and it was killing me. From there, I just sat out for awhile and I didn’t come back until like, the week of the Trials. And right then, the week of Trials, I couldn’t use my right shoulder, so I began using my left more, and that’s when the left shoulder started hurting. I didn’t really think anything about it, but when I got to the tournament I just knew that something wasn’t right.
5PM: How long has it been since you’ve gotten back to full capacity?
RP: I got back on the mat when they came back from Worlds. I felt ready, I felt good, and I’ve been doing good. Matt said he’s been seeing me get back to the old me, the “2014-me”, the one who was hitting high dives and duck unders. I cut my hair, so it’s easier for me to hit duck unders and everything now (laughs). It’s a lot easier to hit duck the unders.
I feel like a new man. Like I said, how I was in 2014, I feel like I’m back to that RaVaughn now. When I would practice, it seemed like I had to protect my hair a lot. But now, I don’t have to protect my hair, I don’t have to keep pushing it out of my face and stuff. It feels a lot better.
5PM: 71 kilograms will now become 72. That’s another kilo coming down the pike. Is that going to be a little easier on your body and something to look forward to?
RP: It’s going to be real good for me. Last year, it wasn’t really a problem at all. You know how I am, these summers I keep getting bigger. I wound up getting up to 82 kilos over the summer, so now I am getting my weight back down and maintaining about 77, 78 kilos right now. That extra kilo helps a lot and it’s not going to be a problem at all.
I know some tournaments Matt might want me to go up because there will be events that are still doing the old weights. Like the Clubs Cup, he asked me if I could go 75 kilos. I said, Why not? It’s not going to hurt me. It’s just a test to see where I’m at. I’m big enough for it. But 72 is definitely going to help my body a lot, especially since I feel like I’ve gained a lot of muscle. It’s probably the best thing that could happen for me.
5PM: You’re close with Ellis (Coleman). Knowing what he went through prior to the World Championships with camp and all that, that must have been tough to see. To discover that there’s an issue with your body even though you feel fine in every other way, you probably felt like you knew where he was coming from.
RP: Yeah, Ellis didn’t really even know what was going on at the time. He kept hearing all kind of different things from the doctors. That has to be the worst thing, not knowing what’s going on but you know something is going on. That is probably why he pushed through the way he did. It’s tough, but you have to try and get through that type of stuff. He tried as hard as he could. But this was tough. He’s been dealing with injuries his whole career and now he has to deal with that. It’s about how long and if he wants to continue wrestling.
5PM: We covered the new weight class. With the weight class being 72, I assume that come 2020 you’ll be going for 77?
RP: Yes, yes, I’ll definitely be doing that. Next year I’ll likely start going up to 77, for 2019. I don’t think I need to tack on too much weight. Like I said, I got up to 82, 83 and being around there will be good for me, gaining the muscle and everything. If I go to the Clubs Cup, that will be a good test for me. I will get to see a few of the guys who were at the World Championships at 75. However it works out, I’m happy to do it. I’m happy to go up to 75 and see how I do there. It’s just going to be another test for me.
5PM: We’re a couple of weeks away from the Schultz, where you’ll obviously be looking forward to competing. Outside of that and the Clubs Cup, are you aiming for the same kind of situation like last year in regards to traveling? Is going overseas a big part of what you are looking to do, especially considering the schedule change with everything coming later?
RaVaughn Perkins: I have to talk to Matt. We’re supposed to go to Russia at the end of November and then after that, Finland. We’re going to talk after Schultz and see how I feel. If I’m good to go, I’m good to go over there. But I am definitely looking forward to getting overseas again. I believe every wrestler from the US needs to be going overseas and getting different partners. You don’t need to be training with the same partners every day. I want to get with WCAP, train with them. I want to get with Northern Michigan, train with them, train with (Alex) Sancho a little bit. It’s good to have different partners.
Right now at the Olympic Training Center, the only people I can go with are Kamal, who I love going with, he’s a great wrestler, he’s so slick. Then I have Pat and Corey, who are pushing me and pushing me the whole time. That’s good, but you want to go with different people, you want to train with other partners and get different feels. You could train with Kamal one day, and then you can train with Corey and Pat one day. But then you want to go overseas and train with those guys and get a different feeling.
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