The 2016 Bill Farrell Memorial/NYAC International Open was not only the sight of the US Non-Olympic World Team Trials, it was also the first time the updated Greco Roman wrestling rules were on display stateside. The removal of ordered par terre received a lot of attention back in September , particularly from American wrestlers who were happy to see the change. Not everyone in the community was equally as enthusiastic, primarily because many recalled the previous par terre-free era with disdain and demonstrated outward reluctance upon the announcement.
Aside from getting the chance to see some of the country’s finest Greco Roman competitors get back on the mat, observing how the new rules played a role was certainly part of what made this year’s edition of the Bill Farrell Memorial/NYAC Open a can’t-miss event. But it was also an opportunity for learning, and a mechanism to compare the pace, style, and officiating with how the sport was governed previously. A couple of performances were also noteworthy. So…what did we learn?
1. There are still “levels to this”
That is a favorite phrase of Floyd Mayweather’s he used to describe the difference in skillsets between he and his competition. Coming from him, it reads with a touch of arrogance, but it isn’t far off. There is a difference in skill between athletes in combat sports that is readily apparent when they are in there with each other. Now, with par terre gone from Greco Roman wrestling, pockets of coaches and fans wondered if the playing field would be evened out a little between the solid, tough, but “fringe” competitors and the top athletes in the sport who are either on or have made (World) teams. One of the prevailing schools of thought was that the best guys know how to defend the lift, but that practically all Greco wrestlers share a similar acumen on the feet. That wasn’t really the case in New York.
Outside of Justin LaValle’s (Minnesota Storm) upset of Ryan Mango (Army/WCAP) in the round of 16 at 59 kilos, the wrestlers most predicted to be in the hunt for medals were, especially at the two Non-Olympic weight classes, where each bracket’s semifinal featured the four men who were deemed potential favorites.
Were there some eye-popping throws during the tournament? Absolutely. But whether or not there were more of them than usual or if they were a direct result of athletes feeling “free” of a looming par terre call cannot be adequately determined (this is why Greco needs analytics). There is no question that the Non-Olympic finals in both weight classes were competed tightly. That was a given going in. Between the six matches that were contested at both 71 and 80, there were two legitimate throw attempts, with one being a desperation chuck by Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS) at the end of match three against Chris Gonzalez (Army/WCAP).
The best are still going to be the best, and they have the resources and coaches to make sure of it. And it is why whenever the rules are updated, they stay ahead of the curve.
2. The officiating is going to need time to adjust
It doesn’t matter that this is the rule-set the Cadets and Juniors have been competing under for a couple of years, translating passivity at the Senior level has been a tougher task for officials and will continue to be. Senior athletes exhibit more individual styles and nuances that are difficult to govern. Time in the sport and experience against seasoned competition are largely responsible for that. Include higher-level defense in that equation. So that end of it is not an indictment on the referees as much as on the ambiguous nature of passivity to begin with. But now that actual points can be doled out on a seeming whim, the enforcement of passivity needs now more than ever to be guided by revised, simplified language that encourages wrestlers to be the ones who decide how a match ends, not the officials.
No one expected “open” wrestling at the Bill Farrell Memorial/NYAC International Open, though there were a few reasonable facsimiles in the earlier rounds of the tournament, specifically in the Olympic weight classes. However, in tight, tense matches, verbal warnings made appearances during questionable moments, particularly early on in bouts. On the same token, there were times when a wrestler or two could have used a cattle prod to get going and a warning wasn’t issued. It’s this very subjectivity that is at the heart of the problem.
Point is, if you are going to attempt to go to a ruleset that is predicated upon the encouragement of more action, officials are going to have to become more adept at determining patterns and recognizing negative wrestling when they see it. Otherwise, the removal of par terre will have been in vain.
3. Two weight classes just got more interesting
The first one obviously being 59 kilos, where a bevy of potential future contenders provided solid performances. Hayden Tuma (Army/WCAP) impressed the most by making the finals and expressed energy and conviction in each match that hadn’t been seen from him since he was an age-group competitor. Whether or not he is ready to take on the likes of Jesse Thielke (NYAC) or teammates Ildar Hafizov and Ryan Mango remains to be seen, but for now, a weight class that was in need of another name to mix things up at the top received one over the weekend.
75 kilograms did not offer a deep bracket at the Bill Farrell Memorial/NYAC International Open, but what it did do was deliver a platform for Kamal Bey (Sunkist) to fully announce himself as a problem here. Bey only had two matches — Bradley Dolezal (Minnesota Storm) and Karim Hawash (NYAC), but he was dominant in both. Domestically, 75 is not the shark tank it had been more recently. With several of the biggest names at this weight either on hiatus or moving up (or even down) to a non-Olympic weight, there is room here for both Bey and Jesse Porter (NYAC-OTS) to progress as Seniors while getting important on-the-job training in major events. Bey is going to get all he wants on that front when he makes the trip to Azerbaijan next week.