Freestyle wrestling is much better, but not yet perfect

In his first month on the job, the leader of the international wrestling governing body issued a two-fold statement that seemed to set the direction in which free wrestling was heading.

FILA President Nenad Lalovic said his main mission was to make wrestling “much more viewable and understandable”.

There is no doubt that the sport is in a much better place than it was 15 months ago when wrestling was temporarily placed on the Olympic chopping block. It’s a lot more watchable now, and FILA deserves a tip of the hat for it.

The fast scoring trumps the slowdown strategy. The shooting of bullets and melee are extinguished. The seeds were planted for a product capable of capturing more traditional followers.

As former Iowa star Brent Metcalf said, it’s wrestling again. From a pure entertainment standpoint, freestyle may be struggling at its best right now.

But FILA still has work to do to make the sport more understandable.

“Let’s go to perfection, then fine-tune that,” Dan Gable said. “We’re not quite right yet.”

When Lalovic took over, he said he wanted “spectators who come to the wrestling hall for the first time to know the rules by the end of the day.”

Still, spectators, coaches and athletes were all left behind at last weekend’s World Team Trials when officials allowed one point for positions labeled “near retirement”. Six-time world and Olympic champion John Smith said he saw three separate cases on Sunday that left him puzzled over the interpretation of the rule.

“They have to fix it and make it very simple,” he said.

In its latest rulebook, FILA lists 11 different ways for a wrestler to score a point, including four maneuvers that do not achieve an easily definable two-point out. While Smith and Gable have a hard time interpreting the rules, they are far too complicated for a novice viewer to grasp.

“This withdrawal story is really confusing,” Gable said. “It could turn into a pretty complicated mess.”

Speaking of complicated …

Penn State rookie Bo Nickal won a gold medal at last month’s International Junior Champions Tournament in Turkey and seemed to have no idea he had won the title match until the official raises his hand after the end of the fight with a score of 10-10.

Weeks earlier, Illinois freshman Isaiah Martinez thought he’d won a FILA Junior Nationals title until California prep official Anthony Valencia raised his hand after a 10 final. -10.

If the guys on the mat don’t know who wins, how are the people in the stands supposed to know? Who wants to enter a wrestling tournament with a notepad and a criteria sheet just to know who wins?

I am for overtime. The most dramatic moments in competition occur with sudden death in golf, extra innings in baseball, the green and white checkered finish in racing, and overtime in virtually every other sport. But I also understand that wrestling cannot afford to exceed its allotted time at the Olympics and a few 15 minute bouts can disrupt the schedule.

At a minimum, FILA scoreboards must show which wrestler has the criteria advantage when matches are tied. It is not too much to ask.

While we’re on the subject of FILA additions…

Don’t be surprised if the governing body of international wrestling adds a non-Olympic weight or two in the future. Freestyle and Greco-Roman each lost one Olympic weight class last year to women’s freestyle, leaving all three disciplines with six weight classes at the Games.

FILA, however, added a pair of non-Olympic weights in all three styles. A question remains, however: why stop there?

There is no reason that FILA cannot add at least one more class, especially something between 163 and 189 pounds in freestyle. There are dozens of wrestlers around the world – recent college stars Chris Perry and Andrew Howe, to name a few – who would be better suited for, say, 176 pounds.

One last thing…

It’s been a hell of a three-month race for Tony Ramos.

Prior to March, the 2012 Lindenwood Open could have been his biggest tournament win while in Iowa. The 23-year-old’s award collection has grown significantly over the past three months.

Ramos closed his senior season with the Hawkeyes by winning his first Big Ten and NCAA championships and buzzed through the 125.5-pound bracket on Saturday in his rookie run at the World Team Trials. His next goal is to conquer the planet.

“One goal at a time,” Ramos said when asked why he hadn’t competed in more freestyle events during the college offseason. “I wanted to focus on a national title, a world title, another world title and then an Olympic title.”


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Robert J. King