photo courtesy of Justin Hoch; jhoch.com
1) A Failure in Leadership
“What you do has far greater impact than what you say” Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.
One of those little catchphrases we always seem to hear in our sport is “Grow Wrestling”. I think everyone wants to see our sport gain more popularity, receive more mainstream media attention, and be more available for high school and college-aged students. Unfortunately, oftentimes, a phrase like “Grow Wrestling” is just lip service. That’s where FloWrestling comes in.
Before I get started, FloWrestling has been an incredible asset in the wrestling community. The catalog of great wrestling history that is stored within the website is amazing. I only wish that such a site was available when I was growing up in the sport. FloWrestling deserves a lot of praise for the advancements they have made in wrestling, which have also pushed other sites to step up their game, as well.
Also, let me state that this is not coming from some professional rivalry or just “hating”, I speak for a large chunk of the wrestling community when I’m writing the following words. By virtue of their accomplishments from a streaming perspective, FloWrestling has achieved the status of the number one entity in wrestling media. Frankly, there’s no clear-cut number-two either. So whether they meant to or not, FloWrestling is the current leader in wrestling media. However, after last night and the week leading up to Sunday, that title of leader is in name only.
Sunday evening marked the first time in over 100 days that live, competitive wrestling matches were conducted and broadcasted as the “Rumble on the Rooftop” was shown on FITE TV. As you may guess from the name, the bouts were held on the rooftop of a building in Chicago, with a serene view of the skyline in the background. Proceeds from the event will go to Beat the Streets Chicago and the individual athletes who competed, along with their Regional Training Centers.
If you had paid attention to the leader in wrestling media in the days leading up to Sunday, there was no mention of it. This is not an accident. This is not a one-time occurrence, it’s a regular marketing strategy from FloWrestling. If it doesn’t happen on their site, it’s not important. Sure, there are a few exceptions that are impossible to ignore, like the NCAA Championships and various age-group World Championships. But those tournaments are so prestigious that they have to cover them if they have any journalistic integrity.
In the past, it may have snuck under the radar when notable events like the Beast of the East, the ACC Championships, and the Virginia Duals have gone underreported or totally ignored by FloWrestling. Those events are smack-dab in the middle of the wrestling season, and there’s tons of other options for fans to consume. They weren’t in the middle of a national pandemic with a 100-plus day drought of wrestling action. Fans are desperate for any sort of competition. There’s only so many “Best of (insert team name), Best of The Decade, Top-moments” articles that fans can read.
Being in the industry of managing a wrestling website, I know it’s not good business to promote other people’s events. No one is asking you to do that. You can acknowledge the existence of other events without shilling for someone else’s product. The NFL does it all the time. If FOX broadcasts a 1pm game, their halftime/postgame crew still shows the highlights and scores of CBS games. They don’t run commercials promoting the CBS games on their network, but they talk about it because it’s newsworthy and they have integrity. Even ESPN will have the channel that broadcasts each game on its scoreboard.
By completely ignoring the Beast of the East, the ACC Championships, the Virginia Duals, the Rumble on the Rooftop, etc., you’re insulting your fanbase’s intelligence. Wrestling fans aren’t naive. We know that this event was being held on FITE TV. Be secure enough in yourself and your product to say, “There are some great matches going on this weekend, I can’t wait to watch JO/Nolf.” You don’t even need to tell fans how to view it or when, but at least mention it, especially since we haven’t seen live wrestling in over 100 days. Your fanbase doesn’t see it as being shrewd business-people; they see it as being petty and insecure.
For comparison’s sake, in 2016, the last year the Beast of the East was shown on Flo, they sent out seven tweets in the days leading up to the tournament, publicizing three different preview articles. Given the more aggressive nature of their social media team in 2020, I’m sure those numbers would be multiplied (especially considering Instagram). The next year, when it was not on Flo, the only pre-tournament article related to the Beast was a list of the teams competing…back in August.
A tweet from a Flo personality on Friday really personified this entire “if it didn’t happen on Flo, it didn’t happen” mindset. It read, “Boom! Get to watch live wrestling in two weeks”. While I’m sure it was referring to an event they are promoting, in-person, the wrestling community jumped all over it. Two days from Friday, the “Rumble on the Rooftop” was set to go down. Because of the site’s repeated history of glossing over events they don’t run, many assumed it was a veiled shot at the Rumble or a tone-deaf, bit of blind-homerish towards his employer.
Back to our quote from the top of the article. You can say until you’re blue in the face that you want to grow wrestling. We all want to. But when it comes down to it, and you have the opportunity to acknowledge an event that will benefit young wrestlers in Chicago and Senior-level athletes, you choose to be quiet to not boost a possible competitor. I know, I know. After the blowback from Friday’s quote from the Flo personality, other Flo members had a few well-timed tweets as if to say, “Hey, look at me. I’m watching”. Again, the wrestling community can see through that, they’re not dumb.
To address the competition part of this equation. We cover wrestling. These men and women, boys and girls that participate in our great sport, continuously hear the phrase “Iron sharpens iron”. I also like “A rising tide raises all ships”. I want all of our respective wrestling sites/organizations to thrive. It’s only better for the sport in the long run. If FITE TV wants to throw their hat into the live-streaming ring…great. If it forces Flo and TrackWrestling to do better with their streams, the wrestling community wins. It’s also more sources of revenue flowing through the sport, which is a positive. Instead of looking at other websites as rivals or competitors, I look at them as inspiration for me to improve at The Open Mat. I don’t look at a great new feature Flo did as something that’s going to bury us, I see it as a bar for me to climb over. Same goes for Track, USA Wrestling, Intermat, Rokfin, Home Mat Advantage, Mat-Talk Online, anyone that’s putting out wrestling content. You put out something good, I’ll read it/listen to it, maybe even reach out and congratulate you, but my mindset is “That was really good, I want to top it”.
Change starts at the top. As the leaders in the wrestling-media business, FloWrestling, do better! Instead of looking at the media as Flo vs. the world, acknowledge your shortcomings, pledge to be better, unite the wrestling media, and lead us forward in our promotion of the world’s greatest sport.
We reached out to FloWrestling for comment and received the message, “We appreciate your interest in how FloWrestling covers our sport. We wish The Open Mat all the best”.
2) Nazar leaves the shoes
Is there a better sign of a retirement in sports than leaving your wrestling shoes in the center of the mat? Not, in my opinion, at least. Nazar Kulchytskyy did so after a 10-0 tech fall over Illinois’ national qualifier Danny Braunagel. Kulchytskyy was a three-time DIII national champion for the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh after coming to the United States from Ukraine in 2009. After gaining citizenship in 2015, Nazar has been a mainstay on the freestyle circuit, making the US National Team in 2018. Nazar was always entertaining and in the mix with the top wrestlers at 65/70/74 kg. In his post-match interview, Kulchytskyy expressed his desire to give back to the sport and how he was ready to dedicate his time to the club he’s established in Wisconsin. While Nazar will be missed on the Senior level, it’s great to see his passion for helping the next generation of wrestlers.
From a big picture perspective, let’s take this event for what it was, a lot of fun—an oasis in the middle of a desert without any wrestling action. When we’re breaking down picks and possibilities for the Olympic Trials, these results should be taken with a grain of salt. Depending on where some of these athletes live, many have had limited mat time over the last three months. Most have had to resort to makeshift weight rooms in their garages, rather than actually wrestling with world-class partners at their respective RTC’s. Joe Rau admitted as much after his win over Pat Downey in a battle of 2019 world team members, Rau in Greco, Downey in freestyle. Hopefully, with more of the country opening up, the next time we see these caliber athletes in a major event, they’ll have enough time to shake the rust off. I would expect some during Flo’s event in late July, headlined by Kyle Dake and Frank Chamizo.
4) Can Zane Richards and Zach Sanders wrestle every day?
Early Sunday morning, I was on a podcast for Home Mat Advantage, and Tony Ramos was our guest. When asked about what he was looking for from Sunday’s matches, Zane Richards versus Zach Sanders was the first one he mentioned. Tony said he thought it could be a really exciting match. That proved to be an understatement. Richards used a takedown in the final ten seconds to prevail 13-11 in a barnburner. Zane led 7-4 at the break, but Sanders battled back in the second period to make it a match. Sanders has already qualified for the Olympic Trials by virtue of his fifth-place finish at 2019 Senior Nationals, while Richards still needs to. With the lull in action, can these two wrestle a best-of-three series every day until wrestling resumes?
5) The FITE TV Product
A considerable portion of the wrestling community tuned in Sunday evening to the “Rumble on the Rooftop”. I’m anxious to see how many buys the pay-per-view event generated if those figures are made public. “Wrestling Changed My Life”’ host Ryan Warner and legendary Illinois high school coach Mike Powell were on the call for the event. Three-time Illini All-American Jordan Blanton handled the PA announcing duties and joined the Warner/Powell duo in the broadcast booth. For those who have watched events on Flo or Track for years now, it was undoubtedly a different presentation. While some of the different camera transitions and overall production was a little rough, it didn’t hinder the on-mat product. I’m sure most armchair producers/commentators (including this one) were just grateful to watch wrestling and graded the overall product on a curve. Without a shot clock on the graphic or a visible scoreboard in the background, it was difficult to keep track of those situations. Live play-by-play commentary in sports in one of those things that seems much easier than it actually is. I don’t know if the team of Warner/Powell/Blanton had any previous experience (aside from Warner’s podcast), so I would say they acquitted themselves well, without being seasoned veterans. If this is a new avenue for FITE TV, I’m looking forward to a second event, to see if they’re able to tighten the overall production up and make it an even better viewing experience. All things considered, in the middle of a wrestling drought, outside of a wrestling gymnasium, it being FITE TV’s first broadcast of its kind, I was happy to lay my $19.99 down and will do so again.