Five Point Move is proud to host US Greco-Roman National Team Head Coach Matt Lindland every week for “Coach Lindland’s Report.” For fans and wrestlers looking for insights regarding the US Greco National Team, we ask Coach Lindland questions pertaining to recent events, training, and other topics surrounding the sport of Greco-Roman. If you have any questions you’d like us to ask going forward, let us know via Facebook, Twitter, or through our Contact page.
This week, we speak to Coach Lindland following the release of the 2017 US Greco-Roman Pan Ams roster and the coach provides an important update that has apparently been missed. The topic then moves on to what it may mean for some of the country’s younger competitors should they prevail at the World Team Trials. In addition, the news about Greco re-entering the curriculum at an important University-level event and Coach Lindland’s take on the recent rule modifications are also discussed.
5PM: The Pan Am rosters were announced, what was the selection process involved with that?
Coach Matt Lindland: Well, for the selection process, obviously we wanted to get out number one’s to the Pan Ams, especially with the new seeding criteria you saw UWW release. The Continental Championships are important now and we want to get the best possible place at the World Championships, but we also have to go to the Pan Ams the week after the World Team Trials, which is a difficult task for anybody. You’ve got to make weight, you’ve got to compete, and you just peaked for a major domestic event, and now you have to get ready for the Pan Am Championships. The Pan Ams have continually become deeper. The countries in South America are developing in Greco-Roman wrestling. We’ve got Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, Ecuador, and it’s getting deeper. Ultimately, we would have loved to take our number one guys, but it could take 30 to 60 days for a Visa application, so we had to get those in. Obviously, you don’t want to buy tickets the week of an international event.
So we talked to the athletes to see who is healthy, who is ready, and that was when we were selecting. Who is healthy now may be different than who was at that time, but you have to go with your gut on that and pick the guys who first of all, want to compete the week after the World Team Trials; are capable of competing the week after; and from there, you make your selection. We had Martinez selected at 80 (kilograms) and he’s moving up to 85 kilos for the World Team Trials and I don’t suspect he wants to cut back down to 80 a week later. So we switched that with Geordan Speiller, who looks like he is moving up to 80 for the World Team Trials. That leaves Kamal Bey as the top contender at 75. I think it could really round out our team, Geordan at 80 and Kamal at 75, that’s pretty good. But we still have a tournament to compete and we’ll see who shakes out there.
5PM: What about 71 kilos?
ML: At 71, we had some guys who were healthy and we had Pat Smith won the US Open. At the same time, (Chris) Gonzalez was competing the week before at the World Championships, he made the World Championship team. RaVaughn Perkins, who is moving up from 66, was our Olympian. Everybody was healthy, everybody wanted that opportunity, so we got Visas in for all three athletes and we’ll see after the Trials and switch that name on a ticket and get that athlete over there.
5PM: When you say after the World Team Trials, does that definitively mean the Trials winner is going to go, or could there be potential extenuating circumstances involved in that decision?
ML: All three of those athletes wanted that opportunity and I can’t tell you who is going to win that tournament. They are all incredible competitors. We saw over in Europe, they kind of went back and forth, but Chris wasn’t there. We’ve had good results from all of these athletes recently. I don’t see a loser here. We take the winner of the World Team Trials, presuming he is healthy. I think that is our best shot. If he isn’t healthy, then we have to go with that number two, but we’ve got to make that ticket the next day.
5PM: There is seemingly a very good chance that there will be several first-time Senior World Team members competing that next week at the Pan Ams. Do you think there might be a boost from that kind of achievement? Maybe not a complete change in perspective, more like a “Wow, I just made the World Team and now a week later I’m at the Pan Ams.” That kind of vibe, especially since these could be a couple of young guys making the team?
ML: Yeah, I think it’s a great vibe. We should have a lot of fresh guys, we had several athletes move on after the last quad. We could potentially have a lot of new guys who haven’t made World Teams before and it’s like, I made the team, alright, here I go. I turn around Monday and I’m going to Brazil. We get back and we start training for the World Championships. We fly together and then it’s time to execute that. Part of that plan will be a tournament in Tbilisi and a training camp in Hungary.
5PM: Last time we talked, it appeared that the Greco-Roman portion of the 2nd annual University Duals was being removed. Now it is back in. I’m guessing that is not only happy news, but also, a relief.
Coach Matt Lindland: Absolutely. It was frustrating for me to see. It’s not the organizers’ fault, Teague (Moore) or Joe Russell, they were trying to put an event together and they couldn’t get a facility for Saturday and Sunday, so they are going to bring the guys in and do Greco on Friday night. Last year, they had 24 teams for freestyle and only four for Greco, so if it is anything like that it should be a quick night. But hopefully, there will be more teams getting out of their comfort zones and wrestle a style that could potentially help them in their college careers position-wise and technically. They can learn some things in those positions and make some adjustments. This is a dual meet, it’s supposed to be for fun. It’s not the World Championships, it’s not the National Championships, these are college dual meets with college wrestlers wrestling the international styles, which frankly, should be the only styles we are participating in, but we have a system in the United States where we have a lot of guys who focus on the collegiate scholastic style of wrestling.
Look at all the great athletes in this country. Imagine if all of these guys were focused on the international styles of wrestling? I don’t think anyone in the world would come close to touching us. Ever. But it’s the system that America has wrestling-wise. There are definitely some adjustments we need to make at the developmental age groups. We have athletes competing in way too many matches. They’re not training enough, they are not preparing. We have crazy coaches out there pushing their athletes to compete every other weekend. Overall, I’d love to see us convert over to the international styles, but I don’t know if that will ever happen or if that is just a dream. This is an opportunity for athletes to just relax, have fun, and get the chance to compete.
5PM: Picking up on that, obviously we are firmly established in the month of April and folkstyle season has finally ended with the last couple of national tournaments having wrapped up. Now there will be that swoon of wrestlers towards the international styles at the age groups. So the question is, from a coaching perspective, what would you say to a young wrestler who never tried Greco-Roman before and kind-of-sort-of wants to this year but is hesitant?
ML: I think it would be similar to the advice I gave my son last night on the phone. He called me and he got an offer for a new job. He was talking about all of the reasons why he shouldn’t take that job, he was basically trying to talk himself out of it. Change is good. If you’re in your comfort zone, you don’t grow. You’re either evolving or you devolving. If you are not putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, you’re not putting yourself in situations where you are at the edges of your abilities.
This isn’t a foreign sport. It’s a sport you compete in. It’s a sport you understand. Yes, it’s a different style, but it’s not like you’re going from wrestling and never boxed, and I’m asking you to step in the ring with someone who boxes. This is with someone else who wrestles, and has probably wrestled as much Greco as you because you’re going to compete at events in your age group. Most of the athletes domestically, like you said, are just getting back into the international styles of wrestling, unfortunately. They haven’t been preparing for that. It’s not like you’re throwing an athlete into the deep end. Hey, try something new, try something different. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you’ll have fun, maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe you’ll grow. And I think that is the most important thing. Change is like underwear, you’ve got to do it. I just think that it’s a really positive thing to make yourself uncomfortable. There are so many lessons an athlete can learn from putting themselves in uncomfortable situations. If you never do that, it’s hard to really grow.
5PM: Slightly off topic, and you are absolutely the best person I can think of to ask this. Considering that Greco-Roman, in this country especially, competes with folkstyle/freestyle, do you think there is a benefit to marketing Greco to younger audiences as not just a style of wrestling but also, it’s own specific martial art?
ML: It is it’s own martial art (laughs). It is a different martial art entirely. Let me tell you a story. The first time I ever wrestled, I was in seventh grade, eighth grade. We had like a four-week wrestling class. We did some training, we had some matches, and then it was, Okay, school’s about out, go do your thing. So it was actually in the springtime. We had a few matches and that was it. Then when I got into high school I found the sport again in gym class and they asked me to come out for the team, and I really felt like I found my calling in the sport of wrestling — but not until I got into my club, which is where I was introduced to Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling. I really became passionate about the sport and maybe it was because my coach was so passionate. I didn’t train any other martial art because I felt like, Wrestling is the best martial art. I’m going to train in the best one.
In 1996, I lost to Gordy Morgan at the Trials in the mini-tournament and it was back when there were one and two-point guts with hand-to-hand. He gutted me, I hit an elbow, I gutted him, he went hand-to-hand. So 2-1, I lost to Gordy. I was super disappointed, but I ended up making National Team that year, fortunately. But I really wanted to take a break from wrestling. It was the first time in my life where I was like, I just want to take a break. A week later, I found myself training with the judo players at the Olympic Training Center. Jason Morris was there, Jimmy Pedro, and there were a bunch of other great guys in there. I was having so much fun with judo and that was really my first exposure to any other martial art. That year, I did a toughman fight in Colorado Springs, I was known as “the toughest man in Colorado Springs” for that year.
5PM: Wait, I heard this story a long time ago, I either read it or heard it. Is this where you dove out of the ring, you guys like, ended up out of the ring somehow?
ML: I did, I did throw my opponent over the ring ropes and onto the judge’s table. He pulled me with him and grabbed me as we were going over. We hit the table, the floor, there was beer everywhere, we were fighting, they got us up and back into the ring. That dude did NOT want to get back in the ring (laughs). I wasn’t following the rules, I guess, of the sport. I thought it was “toughest man.” The way they marketed the event was “anything goes, all styles, no holds barred”, blah, blah, blah. We got there and they gave you 16 ounce gloves, headgear, shin pads, and then told us no takedowns — what the hell was I going to do? (Laughs) I just decided I was going to put on a show and fight. I ended up winning the event. That’s a whole other story, I could tell you about that.
The point is, I started becoming aware of other martial arts and I feel like that is when I started becoming an actual martial artist. I started understanding their differences but also, how they are all connected, but different. A lof of the skills are transferable from every martial art. I love the fact that mindset is embedded in me. When I’m coaching, I like the fact I want my athletes to become martial artists and to create technique. Take a foundation and the framework of a position and the position your body is supposed to be in, and take your opponent out of his position and be creative from there. That is what I love about martial arts and I think Greco-Roman is a beautiful martial art. But it’s underappreciated. Like any art, you have some people who get it and some people who don’t. Not everybody is an Andy Warhol fan. I saw the Mona Lisa and I was like, Damn, that’s kind of tiny. (Laughs)
Art is really subjective. We promote, market, and push a certain style in this country but as soon as you get out into the world, you understand that there are so many martial arts. There is a bigger world, a bigger picture out there. You’ve got a lot more nations that compete in Greco-Roman. It’s a much more popular art, they call it “the classic style of wrestling.” So yeah, I think it is it’s own separate art form that is underappreciated in America, and it’s unfortunate.
5PM: A little over a month ago, the modifications to the Greco-Roman rule-set were introduced, though they didn’t start making the rounds publicly until more recently. The two bullet points, one you’ve talked about, which is the concept of hooking and the other, the newsmaker, is the possible caution and two on the second finger-grab call. Your general reaction and perspective regarding these modifications?
Coach Matt Lindland: First of all, USA Wrestling did not make the rules, UWW did. We’re just applying the same rules the world is competing under. We want to be on the same page for our World Team Trials and we definitely want to be on the same page going into the World Championships. We’re going to apply the same rules UWW has handed down.
It’s really just the application of the rules. It’s not much of a rule-change. It’s saying, Hey, we’re going to enforce this. If you’re head is down, if you’re blocking, if you’re pushing away, we want constant contact in this sport because it is going to create action. The hooking, we talked about. Underhooks, overhooks, double under’s, over/under’s, you could score from either position. But you can’t score when you’re pushing away, you head is down, and you certainly can’t score when you are grabbing the fingers. It’s a stalling tactic, it’s avoiding contact. So they are going to be warned and the officials are going to be strict about calling a caution-and-two. Whether you think it’s right or wrong, it’s right in the sense that wrestling wins. It’s going to create more action, it’s going to create more excitement for the fans. And that is what we’re wrestling for. Fans want to see people thrown on their heads. They want to see people attack and putting opponents on their backs. If their head is down and you can’t get to the body, if you’re blocking with a collar tie, or your clinching the fingers up and you can’t get a hold on your opponent, you’re not wrestling. You’re not active.
I’m really hoping it continues the trend that we’re seeing. We’re seeing more action. Frankly, it’s not from the older athletes who competed in the last quad under the old rules where they were pushing and blocking, and hoping for par terre. You’ve had Russians spending 70% of their time in par terre, they want it back. They want that back. But wrestling is takedowns, wrestling is putting guys on their backs and pinning them. Sure, par terre is exciting, it’s beautiful, and part of the sport. But essentially, I feel for the betterment of the sport, and listen, I love par terre. I lifted dudes, it was part of my game. But I think for the betterment of the sport, we need to see action on the feet and when you get on top, take advantage of it. Lift somebody, roll them, finish the match. What do you need? A four-point throw on the feet and a lift, the match is over. Take him down, gut him twice, and lift him. There are lots of way to end the match. But it’s hard to end a match when your opponent is blocking, pushing away, and avoiding contact.