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SESKER COLUMN: Wrestling displays unity, camaraderie on eve of United 4 Wrestling dual in L.A.

Craig Sesker USA Wrestling

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – There is something special about being involved in the sport of wrestling.

And the last 48 hours certainly are proof of that.

Just two days after the Iranian team elected not to compete at the United 4 Wrestling event, set for Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, I couldn’t have been prouder to be affiliated with this great sport.

Within an hour of gaining confirmation on Thursday night that Iran would not compete in L.A., USA Wrestling National Events Director Pete Isais was on the phone in his Colorado Springs office inviting the wrestlers from Russia to compete in L.A.

The Russian team had just competed in the Beat the Streets event in New York City, along with the Iranians, and was set to fly back home. The Russians graciously accepted the offer to come to L.A. and extended their stay in the U.S. despite the fact that the Russian Nationals are coming up in just two weeks.

USA Wrestling National Freestyle Coach Zeke Jones, meanwhile, was on the phone trying to bring a team from Canada down for the event on extremely short notice. The Canadians agreed to fly into town for the event.

The next day, USA Wrestling National Women’s Freestyle Coach Terry Steiner scrambled to line up four women’s bouts with the always strong team from Canada.

This is one of the aspects that is so special about this sport. It brings the countries of the World together, no matter what their cultural, political and religious beliefs are. It really was amazing to witness so many people, including California businessman and wrestling leader Andy Barth, step up on extremely short notice to ensure this event would still take place.

As most of you know, wrestling is in a fight to stay in the Olympics after a February vote by the International Olympic Committee Executive Board recommended that wrestling be removed as a core sport in 2020.

The wrestling family from all over the globe has been incredible in the way it has banded together in a unified fight to keep this sport in the Olympics.

The U.S., Russian and Canadian teams attended a function on Saturday night at the historic Beverly Hills Hotel where the Semnani family was honored. Khosrow Semnani, a successful Iranian-American businessman, has led the charge to organize the event in L.A.

Semnani is very passionate about the sport and effectively conveyed that in a speech during the banquet. He reminded everyone that Iran remains very committed to keeping wrestling in the Olympics as well. Iran put on a great show in New York and remains one of the strongest teams in the World. The Iranian team showed great sportsmanship with the U.S. team and represented themselves in a very positive manner. No country in the World is more passionate about wrestling than the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Even with Iran pulling out of the event, Semnani remained committed to making this event in L.A. a successful one.

Actor Billy Baldwin, who also has played a huge role in the Olympic fight, delivered an inspirational speech about his commitment to keeping wrestling in the Games. Billy is as passionate about the sport as anyone I know. He’s very knowledgeable about what is going on and has done a superb job with the numerous interviews he’s done with media around the country.

Billy also has recruited a number of his friends in the entertainment business to join him in this fight and a number of them are expected to join him at the dual on Sunday.

Coaches and athletes from the U.S., Russia and Canada were recognized during the event on Saturday night and coaches for each team spoke about how unified the world has been during this fight to keep the sport in the Olympics.

It was an enjoyable and inspiring evening in Beverly Hills.

I sat with Iowa coach Tom Brands, an Olympic and World champion, on the bus ride back to our hotel after the function. Tom is a coach and a person who I have great respect for, and he was very excited about the unity and camaraderie shown by wrestling nations at the banquet.

Tom got me pumped up when he talked about how much he is looking forward to seeing some of the great wrestling matchups that are set to take place on Sunday. Fans in southern California have a unique opportunity to witness some of the best athletes on the planet who will compete at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the L.A. Sports Arena.

The best matchup may come at 60 kg/132 lbs. with Olympic bronze medalist Coleman Scott of the U.S. set to battle Russian standout Opan Sat, who is ranked No. 1 in the World.

Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs and World champion Elena Pirozhkova are among the other U.S. stars set to compete.

Burroughs will face the same Russian, Saba Khubetzhty, who took him to three periods on Wednesday in New York. The dynamic, explosive Burroughs is 53-0 on the Senior level and puts on a show any time he steps on the mat. He will face another tough test against Khubetzhty, who is ranked No. 2 in Russia behind two-time World champion Denis Tsargush at 74 kg/163 lbs.

Pirozhkova will battle Junior World champion Danielle Lappage of Canada in what promises to be an entertaining bout at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. on Sunday.

Rising star Jordan Oliver, a two-time NCAA champion and past Junior World medalist, also will be in action at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. on Sunday. Oliver is an exciting wrestler who is very dangerous on his feet. He looks to have a very bright future internationally.

Another aspect of Sunday’s dual that will be intriguing is that the new international rules, approved at the FILA meetings on Friday in Moscow, Russia, will be used in this dual.

Matches now consist of two three-minute periods with cumulative scoring, a much-needed change that will improve the quality of the sport. Matches will last longer now with more of an emphasis on conditioning. Takedowns are now worth two points with a pushout staying at one point.

These new rules are among a number of alterations being made that are going to improve the quality of wrestling at the international level.

The last three months have provided more than its share of challenges and obstacles for one of the original Olympic sports.

But the way the wrestling community and family around the World has come together, I feel confident that this sport can win this fight to stay in the Olympics for 2020 and beyond.
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