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No. 5 Story of 2013: New ventures let wrestlers compete in sport after college

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What can a college wrestler do after graduation?

In the past, wrestlers could pursue an Olympic dream, become a wrestling coach, or attempt to make a living in football, pro wrestling or mixed martial arts.

In 2013, there were new options that make it possible for post-collegiate wrestlers to continue competing in the sport they love… and earn money doing it.

This past year saw the debut of Agon Wrestling, Tour ACW (Association of Career Wrestlers), and Victory Wrestling Challenge. While all three used forms of amateur wrestling as their foundation, each venture was unique, with its own rules and personality.

Tour ACW

Tour ACW took to the mats first, in what was called a “test event” at a Pittsburgh airport hotel on Oct. 20. This venture, which has Oklahoma State mat champ and current American University head coach Teague Moore as one of its business partners, was built on the idea of a tournament with five weight classes… and differentiated itself with its unique “first to ten” scoring system that eliminated traditional time limits for matches, declaring the winner to be the first wrestler to score ten points in the match (rather than who was ahead on points at the end of, say, seven minutes as in college wrestling). Tour ACW also allowed competitors to wrestle in fight shorts or in traditional singlets.

Realizing that it was a test event, Tour ACW did not have some of the flashier, MMA-inspired elements of the other two ventures; it was, essentially, straightforward wrestling in a hotel ballroom.

The Tour ACW test event brought out a number of former college wrestlers of recent vintage, along with a couple guys who were pursuing a dream denied by other life obligations. Among the champs crowned at the inaugural event: Frank Molinaro, and Cam Simaz.

Agon Wrestling

Agon Wrestling Championships had its debut event in Las Vegas on Oct. 27. Instead of being based on a tournament model, Agon had four matches on its Agon I: The Revolution card, with the headline event featuring Ben Askren, two-time NCAA champ for University of Missouri, taking on 2013 NCAA champ Quentin Wright of Penn State. Matches were wrestled following unique rules that drew heavily from collegiate folkstyle. One significant difference: the Agon bouts were nine minutes (three equal three-minute periods) instead of seven minutes in college.

Since the debut event, Agon hosted a second event, Agon II: Home Front, in Flint, Mich. on Dec. 22, featuring a number of wrestlers with connections to the state of Michigan. The main event featured University of Iowa champ Brent Metcalf (a Michigan native) taking on Iowa State titlewinner Chris Bono (see poster above).

Both Agon events were part of large, existing youth/high school tournaments. That said, Agon had the look and feel of big-time MMA events, from the promotional posters to weigh-ins to pre-event interviews, some which had the trash-talk elements of MMA pre-match interviews, and, yes, ring girls. One departure from MMA: all wrestlers at both events wore custom singlets, not MMA-style fight shorts sans shirts.

Agon has already scheduled a third event for late January 2014 at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Victory Wrestling Challenge

The first Victory Wrestling Challenge event took place in Omaha on Nov. 22 The event, sponsored by the MMA organization Victory Fighting Championships, had eight individual matches between (mostly) recent college wrestlers, many with Nebraska and Iowa roots, using slightly modified freestyle and Greco-Roman rules.

Thanks to its parent organization’s experience in putting on MMA events, Victory Wrestling Challenge served up some of the glitzy elements of MMA, including walk-out music, lighting effects, and fog – what former Iowa State wrestler/Victory competitor Trent Paulson described as “one of the coolest wrestling environments I’ve ever wrestled in.”

As Amateur Wrestling News editor Jason Bryant wrote in his Ultimate Tiebreaker column for the magazine’s Dec. 15, 2013 issue, “Why does Victory have potential? In part, it’s the rules. With USA Wrestling consistently taking flack for its perceived failure to provide athletes with a living wage, Victory events can be plugged into the freestyle and Greco calendar and provide athletes who don’t currently receive national team stipends opportunities to compete and cash in… They got a check for appearing, then a bonus if they won, a common practice in MMA.”

Déjà vu?

When it comes to these new opportunities for athletes to get paid to wrestle under amateur rules, some wrestling fans may be having a powerful feeling of “been there, done that.” There have been earlier forms of “paid amateur wrestling” most notably Real Pro Wrestling, which was shown on cable TV in 2005 then disappeared. (Two of its contestants were Teague Moore and Chris Bono.)

College wrestling fans can only hope that the organizers behind Agon, Tour ACW and Victory Wrestling Challenge have studied previous attempts carefully and learned from their mistakes to ensure college mat stars have new opportunities to continue to compete and make money at it.

About the photo: Images from the three new wrestling ventures. From left: Frank Molinaro collects a check for being crowned champ at the Tour ACW test event; Agon Wrestling Championships promoted its Agon II event in Flint, Mich. with this MMA-style poster featuring main event wrestlers Brent Metcalf (left) and Chris Bono (despite being bare-chested on the poster, the two wrestled in singlets); and poster for the inaugural Victory Wrestling Challenge.

College Wrestling Examiner’s Year in Review: For the fifth straight year, College Wrestling Examiner will be taking a look at the Top Ten stories of the year. Now through the end of this year, we’ll be posting our choices for the ten most significant stories in the world of collegiate wrestling in 2013. Want to be among the first to know? Click on the “subscribe” button on this page, and you’ll be notified right away when a new story is posted.

Top Ten Stories for 2013 (so far):

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