photos courtesy of Richard Immel
Our world teams are set (aside from women’s 57 kg), and with Final X behind us, it’s the time to reflect on the big picture of the event itself and what was great about it and what could use some improvements. I enjoyed Final X, and I think that more positives came from the idea than negative. So let’s get into it and start with the negatives or areas for improvement.
Three Separate Sites – The biggest negative for me and the most common feedback I’ve heard from fans is that the event was held three different weekends at three different sites. For those of us that have always been accustomed to watching the entire world team be assembled over the course of one weekend, under one roof, this is a hard item to get past. If you wanted to see Jordan Burroughs, David Taylor, and J’Den Cox compete live, it wasn’t going to happen unless you traveled three straight weekends and depending on where you live, it would be very costly. After years of taking this for granted, it will take a long time for fans to get over this if the format were to continue, as currently constructed. Ideally, if we are keeping the men’s and women’s competition together, I think that either two separate weekends or one event with two days would be more fan friendly.
Presenting a Professional Broadcast – This is not to take a shot at FloWrestling who, all in all, did a great job of broadcasting the series. However, there were a few hiccups along the way that need to be addressed. My twitter feed filled with annoyed fans, coaches, wrestlers who had trouble accessing the live feed of the true-third place matches Saturday evening. Also, though it was not a part of the Final X Series, the final best-of-three series for the Greco-Roman World Team Trials had a feed that dropped for at least two and a half matches. Before you say “be grateful for what you have now compared to ten years ago,” this should not happen. I’ve never watched a football game on Fox or a baseball game on ESPN, hoping that the broadcast is not interrupted. I’ve found myself doing this with wrestling. Even though there are sixty minutes of a football game, people would lose their minds if they missed five minutes of game time. The same thing for Final X Lincoln, where the camera cut away from the action to show Beacon Burroughs, who although very cute, did not need to be displayed at that point time. While he was featured, viewers missed his dad getting a takedown and exposure points. Going back to the other sports, does a camera go away from the action to show something of the human interest variety that forces you to miss game action, only to pan back as the runner is crossing the goal line? If so, they would quickly make a replay available.
You may think these items regarding the broadcast presentation are nit-picky, but raising the sport’s level of professionalism has happened in other avenues, which will be discussed later, so continuing to improve the broadcast is a must.
Get the Greco Guys Involved – This one is a two-way street. The Greco team and its leaders have to be on board and convinced that this would be a positive for their style. It’s proponents claim (and rightfully so) that there is a disproportionate amount of coverage toward freestyle in this country, compared to Greco. This type of event is the opportunity for more focus on their stars and the entire style of wrestling. I heard chatter from fans at multiple events saying how they were impressed with the women’s wrestlers at Final X when they had never followed the women’s competition in previous years. This type of newfound respect for the product could happen for Greco, as well. Hopefully, the forces that be, behind Final X, are interested in getting the Greco team involved if this format is used again in 2019.
Come on Fans, Step Up – Simply put, fans of wrestling need to step up. There’s plenty that Flo, USA Wrestling, and the media need to improve on going forward, but fans need to help, as well. I was not at Final X Lincoln, but I was at the final two events. From most accounts, the attendance in Lincoln was not great. In State College, it was better, but there was still plenty of empty space in both end zones. Lehigh’s Grace Hall seemed to be about 60 to 75% full, but it has a seating capacity of 2200. It’s crazy to me that this wasn’t sold out with 1000 fans standing outside. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is in the heart of Pennsylvania’s District XI, one of the top five areas in the nation for wrestling and its proximity to major east coast cities made it very accessible for millions of people. Pittsburgh, PA; Washington DC, New York, NY, Albany, NY, Boston, MA, New Jersey and all points between are all within 400 miles of Bethlehem. These are some major wrestling hotbeds. We can’t draw 2200 fans to an event like this in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania? I know it’s tempting to sit back in the comfort of your home and watch wrestling on the big screen, but go out and support the efforts to promote our sport. This goes for everything wrestling-related, not just Final X. Don’t wait until college programs get cut, or the US Olympic Committee tries to kick us out, be proactive!
Here are some of the positives that came from Final X….
Improving the Professional Feel – I mentioned earlier how we need to improve the professional broadcast, but the overall improvement of our sport and the product has already begun. The press conferences and open weigh-in’s give it the feel of a big event and a professional wrestling organization. I enjoyed these portions of the event. As they progressed, you saw more athletes coming out of their shells and showing their personalities. Once these athletes have to do this more and more, the interviews and the weigh-in’s will be even better for fans.
The actual in-house presentation of the events was remarkable. Jason Bryant and Bryan Hazard are excellent on the microphone. The fog, pyrotechnics and intro music all make it look like a professional event.
Creating a Level Playing Field – With Final X, instead of a contender having to win three or four matches in one morning/afternoon, only to face the returning world medalist that evening or the next day, there are a minimum of two weeks turnaround time and as much as four weeks, between the World Team Trials and Finals X. I never saw the previous set up as a problem, the incumbent has earned the right to have an advantage, but many fans thought this was unfair. This current setup is fairer all the way around.
Promotional Time for Matchups – This was something I saw early on in the process as a big positive for Final X. Under the single day/weekend tournament, you could speculate on who you thought would emerge from the challenge tournament to take on the Open champion or world medalist, but that’s all it was speculation. There were plenty of exciting subplots with this year’s matches, and if there were only a few hours to discuss them, they probably would have gone unnoticed. I like examining the matchups for two-plus weeks, watching footage on each wrestler and having that time leading up to the matches themselves. I’m sure from a preparation standpoint, wrestlers and coaches liked knowing their opponents ahead of time.
Showcasing all athletes – I said earlier that I did not like three sites, on three separate weekends, however, what I found as the events grew closer is that we could focus more on each match. With only six or seven matches taking place per evening, nobody was overwhelmed. Each week while researching for my previews, I noticed a match or two that probably would have snuck under the radar for me, if ten men’s and women’s matches were going on during one day or one weekend.
For instance, I went back and watched Erin Clodgo and Rachel Watters US Open match again. After watching that match other matches of both women, I was very intrigued by their bout and wasn’t quite sure who would emerge. What ended up happening was a three-match, hard-fought series that could have gone either way and it seemed like the State College crowd was impressed by both wrestlers. Again, with 19 other matches going on, that could have gotten lost in the shuffle. This is also why I’d like to see Greco get into the mix.
Saturday Night Wrestling – Another positive to the three-week format is that it gave fans something to look forward to each week. A Final X event on Saturday night. I know some people had watch parties and get-togethers to watch that particular week’s matches. It helps consumers when they know they can watch an event at the same time and day each week. Plus in the evening, you can get whatever you need to be done during the day and kick your feet up and enjoy wrestling on Saturday night. The initial thought process behind Final X was to create a “wrestling season” for these athletes. I don’t know if that was accomplished, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.