KINGSTON — Rewind the clock to five years ago and the sport of wrestling was not publicized nationally very much.
Sure, you could’ve seen the finals of the NCAA Championships live, but that’s about it.
In the current year, you can watch a live wrestling match between world opponents on television during the off-peak months.
It wasn’t that easy to get the sport national attention. A fall from grace had to happen first.
In February, wrestling took a hit when it was voted as one of the sports to be dropped from the 2020 Olympics. An uproar started among the sport’s faithful, as several worldwide campaigns began to help the sport get reinstated, including a nationally-televised match between the United States, Iran and Russia in May.
Last month, the hard work paid off as wrestling defeated baseball/softball and squash, getting the majority of votes to ensure a return to the card for the 2020 Olympics.
“That was a real blessing in disguise because a lot of people were really just standing by and content with how wrestling was going,” said four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake, who was at Wyoming Seminary on Sunday instructing a clinic. “They didn’t think they could make big changes like we did now. But once they found out wrestling might be taken out of the Olympics, that got all hands on deck and that was huge for us. Yeah it stinks that wrestling could be dropped and not considered a core sport, but it’s taken us so far. We’ve gotten so much more out of the people in wrestling and out of wrestling itself because of one committee’s decision.”
That’s just the beginning of what’s to come for the sport, which has instituted many fan-friendly changes to make wrestling more watchable and marketable from a viewer’s perspective — including electing a new president, scoring changes and possibly the addition of music or other special effects. The new changes will be in place prior to the 2016 Olympic Games.
“Making it more fan friendly is really going to help us get more athletes out and see wrestling grow,” Dake said.
Dake, who finished his career at Cornell last spring, has a busy upcoming schedule, where he will wrestle several times at big venues. One of those will be on Sunday, Dec. 1, when he takes on 2011 NCAA champion Bubba Jenkins in the second annual Grapple at the Garden at Madison Square Garden in New York. Jenkins, who wrestled for Arizona State University, is currently participating in MMA for the promotion company Bellator MMA.
The freestyle match will be the main event of an NCAA Division I event featuring 12 teams in a dual meet format.
Already busy, Dake will be getting even busier next year. He recently inked a deal with Fox Sports in which the network will televise 20 consecutive weeks of wrestling programming once a week. He will be doing everything for the network, either wrestling, being a part of a technique video or even being analyst or host.
“I’m trying to grow wrestling as much as I can. I’m trying to be kids’ hero. I want to be the LeBron James. I want to be the Michael Phelps. I want to be the Kobe Bryant,” he said. “All those guys are role models because they’re on TV and people can see them everyday. Wrestlers, you can’t see us everyday and hopefully we’re making the right steps to fix that.”
Trip slated for Grapple
If you’re interested in going to the Grapple at the Garden on Dec. 1, there’s good news. Wyoming Valley West is running a bus trip to see some of the top colleges in the nation and the match between Dake and Jenkins.
The cost of the trip if $50 and includes breakfast and dinner, but tickets to the event are not included. The bus will leave the Wyoming Valley Mall at 6:30 a.m. and depart from New York City at 6:30 p.m. For more information or to make reservations, contact WVW coach Drew Feldman at 570-417-9431.