After a year of turnover, the UFC has a new star in Featherweight Champion and Irish native, Conor McGregor. The UFC has ten champions and only two of them have retained their belt for more than a year. UFC President Dana White will now promote this star with the ferocity of a thousand suns including as many events in Ireland as possible. Just as he did while Ronda Rousey appeared unbeatable, Dana White will take advantage of this window and popularity in every way possible. That's what he's supposed to do as the UFC President, and he does a good job of it. It's profit driven, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
Some of our sport's biggest stars will descend upon Las Vegas this weekend to compete for very important spots for the Olympic Trials in April. These stars, freestyle specifically, will be put in to brackets and wrestling will start at 10am local time Saturday in front of a couple hundred people. Every match will be broadcast on Flowrestling which is nice, but myself, along with 90% of USA Wrestling's fan base, will be in a gym at a high school wrestling tournament.
On this week's podcast, with special guest Jim Harshaw, we discussed the business side of wrestling and how it needs to be treated differently in order to grow. I said a throw away line of wrestling perhaps needing a Dana White. While that may not be necessary, I know Dana White would not allow Kyle Dake, David Taylor, and Ed Ruth happen in front of a nothing crowd while the audience that would watch online is unavailable. The idea that this will happen is a failure by USA Wrestling.
What would I have done? Well glad you asked because I would hate to be the guy who offers up problems without any solutions.
First of all, get the hell away from Las Vegas. If you look at where your audience is, cater to that audience geographically. Your target audience, as USA Wrestling to grow the international styles, is in the midwest. This tournament should be in the midwest just like Iowa City has the Olympic Trials in April. A card in Pennsylvania featuring David Taylor vs Ed Ruth would probably draw thousands alone. The idea that this match may happen at 10:30 am on Saturday in the desert is troubling. When's the last time an All-American was from Nevada?
Secondly, and this is a little more radical, break up the weight classes over three Sundays. Three weeks in three different locations, have two weight classes from each style compete. Logistically, it doesn't need to be in arenas (it'd be a nice problem to have) because a large high school gym will work just fine. You'll put stars in front of people in the midwest in international styles, which is most likely something that's never been so close to them. I love the idea of barnstorming! Also, it helps greco and women's freestyle gain exposure as well. It can be on live streams at a time people can watch as well.
It'll look something like this:
December 6th, North Allegheny High School, Pennsylvania (MFS: 86 & 125, GR 75 & 98, WFS 48 & 63)
-Just an absolute no brainer to have David Taylor & Ed Ruth competing in Pennsylvania when ever possible. They are legends with huge followings.
December 13th, Rockford High School, Michigan (MFS 65 & 74, GR 59 & 130, WFS 58 & 69)
- This is a little homerish since I drop off my daughter right next to this school every day, but they have a really large gym and a great wrestling tradition. Kellen Russell & Adam Coon would draw home crowds. Joe Warren grew up 15 minutes away. Julia Salata & Rachel McFarland are also from Michigan.
December 20th Glenbard North High School, Illinois (MFS 57 & 97, GR 66 & 85, WFS 53 & 75)
- Doesn't it feel like we don't use Chicago enough? I know some Northwestern hosts the Midlands and some freestyle in the past, but it's the 3rd largest city in the country and it happens to be located in the middle of "wrestling country".
1) This is a lot of work and easier said than done.
- Of course it is, but are we trying to grow the sport or take the easy route? Getting officials, score clocks, and everything else to three different locations is more difficult. Where's that wrestling mentality though? Success doesn't come without hard work!
2) The athletes may not attend.
- Balderdash! Nonsense! Poppycock! This is part of the beauty of this plan. The athletes will come because they have to qualify for the trials. Besides most of them can drive (since most are based in the midwest) to these locations, rather than fly to Vegas. Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Grand Rapids do have airports you know....it's okay. The desire to make the Olympic team will make sure these men & women make it to these locations.
3) A lot of people may not show up.
- That's possible....but it's better than the 200 people that'll be in Vegas. Plus, at least we tried.
4) This will cost money
- No shit. See response to #1.
5) You want us to go to these places instead of Vegas?
- Yes!!!! If Conor McGregor was from Estonia, guess where Dana White would have people looking to host an event in the future. I don't know the arena situations in Tallinn, but do you know who would in this scenario? Dana White would already.
6) You're just some nobody from Michigan.
- Yes, yes I am. But I am throwing out a suggestion to get some stars in front of wrestling fans in the international styles to grow the sport. If you have suggestions, I am all ears. USA Wrestling needs to be too.
We just have to think differently and take some risks when it comes to promoting our sport. Let's get these stars in front of people. Even if it seems like a cheap gimmick to put David Taylor & Ed Ruth's bracket in a Pittsburgh suburb, why not do it? Why miss this chance? The question of how can we get these matches in front of the most eyes doesn't even appear to have been brought up at USA Wrestling in the previous months. For what it's worth, which isn't much, I think that's unacceptable.