Federation hopes grappling takes hold
By Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY
Last year the world governing body for Olympic wrestling noted the appeal of beach volleyball and held its first World Beach Wrestling Championship in Turkey (yep, headlocks in the sand). Now it aims to ride the wave of the mixed martial arts craze.
The new addition called grappling (yep, choking allowed) has been recognized by the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles. Known by its French acronym FILA, it hopes to broaden its amateur appeal with a “new world of wrestling” theme.
Its first grappling world championship is set for Sept. 7-9 in Antalya, Turkey, along with the beach wrestling worlds. USA Wrestling will hold its grappling world team trials this weekend in Las Vegas.
FILA has eliminated some of the mayhem and danger of pro mixed martial arts circuits such as the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC). Unlike the UFC, kicks and punches are forbidden in grappling. But submission holds, including some chokes, are permitted.
“If you just take out the punches and kicks, it’s exactly the same,” says 275-pound class entrant Bryan Vetell, 29, a mixed martial arts pro with the New York Pitbulls of the International Fight League.
Competitors still can use arm and leg holds to force submission. They may not grab a foe’s throat with the hands, but they can choke with the legs and arms.
“The only thing you’re not allowed to do is grab the front of the trachea (windpipe) pretty much with your hands,” says Jeff Sato, 23, a former Ivy League wrestler entered at 136.5 pounds.
“It’s almost anything goes after that â€¦ as long as you’re not really ripping the guy’s face off,” Sato adds.
A grappler can submit by tapping the mat or his foe with a hand or foot, or they can do it verbally. There is no official word, but “submit” and “tap-tap” are common. The rules say if a grappler “will not be able to escape without harm,” the referee also can end the match instantly by calling “catch.”
If a six-minute match does not result in submission, the winner is decided by points based on such things as throws and escapes.
Trials Saturday and Sunday at the Las Vegas Convention Center also will decide world teams in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. There will be five grappling weight classes for men and four for women.
Jason Townsend, a member of FILA’s Grappling Committee and co-author of the rules, says this weekend is a “monumental event” for grappling.
“I personally believe grappling will be the most popular style of wrestling in 20 years. It is my vision, my dream this will be an Olympic sport,” says Townsend, a former college wrestler and coach.
But is grappling too dangerous for amateur sport?
“Our main goal was to regulate the sport so that we can provide the safest possible environment,” Townsend says. “Grappling is just as safe as any other wrestling style with these new regulations in place.”
USA Wrestling says it expects about 75-80 participants in the grappling trials. It will be a mix from many disciplines, including wrestling, judo and the mixed martial arts. They will fight (shoes optional) on a mat, not in an octagon ring like the UFC.
What motivates a pro such as Vetell to compete in the amateur trials?
“You have Olympic team dreams and world team dreams when you’re younger,” he says. “Maybe this will be my Olympics or my world team.”
Sato, a wrestling co-captain and two-time NCAA tournament qualifier at Columbia University, has been training in judo in hope of making the Olympics.
“Judo has submissions, too,” he says. “This is the most similar thing you get to an actual mixed martial arts contest, besides the striking.”