I am a wrestler.
For those who wrestle or have wrestled, you know what I'm talking about. We are wrestlers. We don't play anything. We live and breath something. It is the core of who we are and it never goes away. It defines us.
We are not defined by the Olympic Games.
On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee decided to cut the sport of wrestling from the Olympic Games beginning in 2020.
My first reaction, likely on par with every other wrestler on the planet, was anger. After a while, my thought process changed. I started to realize that the Olympic Games does not define our sport. I decided I'm alright with the sport of wrestling not sharing a platform with the likes of synchronized swimming, synchronized diving, table tennis and trampolining.
I feel like perhaps the sport of wrestling has evolved past the Olympics and moved to a better place. It will always be a niche sport, but every once in a while, it will toss itself into mainstream pop culture to remind everyone all that it still exists.
Mixed Martial Arts is arguably the fastest growing sport on the planet in terms of both participation and popularity. Wrestling is at the very core of Mixed Martial Arts. An extremely small fraction of MMA bouts don't end up on the ground at some point. When they do, the participants, in addition to having a knowledge of jiu-jitsu, had better know how to wrestle.
This is no secret to those who compete in MMA. Of the eight current UFC Champions, six of them are world-class wrestlers.
One of the faces of Bellator, another MMA entity and competitor of the UFC, is Ben Askren. Askren, a wrestler by trade, is a former Olympian.
Wrestling, though it has been kicked around, spat on and forgotten at many colleges and universities around the United States, continues to draw large crowds at the collegiate level, especially in the Midwest.
Next month at a sold-out Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, Cornell University's Kyle Dake has a chance to provide perhaps the greatest moment of the year in college sports. Dake will attempt to become the first wrestler in NCAA history to win four national championships at four different weight classes. Should he make it to the championship final as expected, the nation will watch on ESPN 2 in prime time.
Being cut from the Olympics will not mean the end of the sport.
National and world championship events will continue to be held every year, just like figure skating and swimming.
Kids who begin wrestling at age five will continue to strive to be state, national and world champions as their careers progress.
Wrestlers will continue to advance their careers, either as coaches for the next generation or as MMA fighters.
The International Olympic Committee may have eliminated wrestling, but the sport will survive. Wrestlers are the sport. We are survivors by nature. If we get taken down, we are constantly looking to reverse and improve our position, both on the mat and in life.
We've been around longer than the Olympic Games and we will continue to exist. We will not lose, especially to an organization made up of politicians and aristocrats that has lost its way.
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