Kamal Bey holding USA flag in Five Point Move Athlete of the Year Graphic
Five Point Move Graphic, Photo by Tony Rotundo

Kamal Bey is the 2023 Five Point Move Athlete of the Year

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Kamal Bey named Five Point Move’s 2023 Athlete of the Year

by Tim Hands, Five Point Move

Published with permission from Five Point Move.


They watch with widened eyes and are fixated on what might happen next. No one knows, not exactly. There are presuppositions. Probably a bodylock, they think. That would do it. Or a monstrous reverse-lift, or a duck-under to side-lift variation. Or a scrambly sequence resulting in the sort of a takedown that, even now, some seven years into his career, still transcends the linear baseline understanding of what is possible, never mind plausible, on the highest level of Greco-Roman competition.


They don’t know how he is going to score. They just know that he will, and that however it is accomplished, and whatever it looks like, will excite them.


This is just part of the reason why Kamal Bey (77 kg, Army/WCAP) is Five Point Move‘s 2023 Athlete of the Year.


Bey — who turned 26 today — was unanimously selected by the 5PM Athlete of the Year committee following a 12-month campaign that was defined by consistent results, a string of remarkable victories achieved both at home and abroad, and included his third Senior World Team appearance as well as his fifth and sixth US National titles.


There is more: Bey did not just walk away with his second Athlete of the Year distinction (’17), he was also the winner of our two other year-end honors, Impact Performer and Outstanding Individual Performance as determined by the fan vote. It is the first time in the history of Five Point Move that a competitor has swept all three awards.


Recognized around the globe for his dynamic, aerial attacks and lightning-fast scoring chains, Bey has become accustomed to piling up points en-route to dominating victories. He indeed earned plenty of wins in ’23 which fit that description, but likewise adorned on his ledger were examples of perseverance backed by a desire to, as he puts it, finish.


Bey entered ’23 feeling physically-emboldened after enduring a knee injury during the previous season. But in the first tournament of the year in Zagreb (CRO), he re-injured said knee and surgery was the recommendation on the part of his doctor. He hardly considered the option. “I threw a brace right on it, went back out there, and started wrestling,” he says. If there were any ill effects, they were indiscernible. Bey coasted to his fifth National crown in April, where in the final he defeated ’09 World bronze Aliaksandr Kikiniou (NYAC) via technical superiority.


In May, Bey ran the table at the Pan-American Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Among his vanquished was multiple-time continental champ Yosvanys Pena Flores (CUB), who had gotten past Bey in a controversial bout four years prior. It was an important triumph, but he was not quite done with his spring tear just yet. Just a few weeks later, Bey downed Kikiniou twice more in their best-of-three series at Final X: Newark to secure his spot on the ’23 World Team.


Then came the summer and the USA World roster’s trip to Budapest, Hungary for the last United World Wrestling “Ranking Series” event of the season. 77 kilograms at the prestigious Hungarian Grand Prix was an exceptionally-deep bracket crammed with a host of top foreign competitors. No easy matches, nor was there an alternate expectation. And the American stepped up.


In order, Bey downed Iranian Mohammad Naghousi, Oldrich Varga (CZE), and Sanchino Davitaia (GEO) to make the semifinal round opposite ’22 World silver Zoltan Levai (HUN). Bey and Levai had only met once prior in competition, way back at the ’16 Junior Worlds in a bout that went to the Hungarian. Not this time. On the strength of a beautiful duck-under takedown sandwiched between two step-outs, Bey jetted out to a 5-0 lead in the second period before eventually prevailing by a score of 7-3. A tight loss to another recent World runner-up, Sanan Suleymanov (AZE), closed out the Illinois product’s showing in Budapest with silver — which delivered to the US program their first medal from the event since ’19, when retired World bronze G’Angelo Hancock earned gold.


Bey got off to a good start at the ’23 Worlds by beating Fabio Dietsche (SUI) but was on the wrong end of the scoreboard against Suleymanov in the next round. The Azer did find his way to the final, thus providing Bey with a chance for bronze through the repechage. A win over Jonni Sarkkinen (FIN) kept him in the running until a hard-fought criteria loss to ’22 U23 World silver Alexandrin Gutu (MDA) cut short his potential march to the podium. Gutu, who later finished 8th, would go on to win the U23 Worlds the following month.


The US Team did not enjoy a lengthy respite upon returning home from the World Championships. There was enough time to decompress and re-evaluate, sure. But not enough to get comfortable. That is because one more major tournament still remained on the international calendar — the Pan-American Games. A competition of significance. The Pan-Am Games — not to be confused with the annual “Championships” — holds firm as a cornerstone event for Team USA. Held once every four years, the gathering precedes each Olympiad and is a priority for all of the wrestling programs co-located within the continent. Every Pan-Am nation brings their best athletes who occupy Olympic weight categories.


For Bey, it meant another showdown with Cuba’s Pena. But the way it worked out, neither wrestler had to wait very long. Bey decimated David Choc Huoc (GUA) in the opening round to ensure their second clash of ’23 and third overall. Again, tight. It was not because Bey chose to operate in that manner. Pena would press, and then close-off, with the action at times sputtering. Bey did not become frustrated. He instead took the points where he could get them and came away with a 4-3 decision. A VSU over Eduardo Bernal Molina (ECU) in the semifinal was recorded next; and with gold on the line, Bey pinned noted Brazilian rep Joilson de Brito Ramos. The US would gain two other medalists from the Pan-Am Games as Ildar Hafizov (60 kg, Army/WCAP) also claimed gold whilst heavyweight Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist) finished with silver.


Bey was back under the domestic spotlight in his most recent outing. Due to having earned a medal at the Pan-Am Games, he (along with the aforementioned Hafizov and Schultz) received a bye to the finals of the US Nationals/Olympic Team Trials Qualifier in December. In other words, Bey had just one match of which to speak. Squaring off against ’22 World Team member Benji Peak (Sunkist/NTS), Bey countered a lift attempt and reversed position to garner the victory via fall. In the process, he had collected the sixth National title of his career — in six appearances.

Kamal Bey (blue) after defeating Yosvanys Pena Flores in the quarterfinal round for 77 kg at the 2023 Pan-American Games in Santiago, Chile. Bey would eventually win two more matches and give the US their second gold of the tournament. (Photo by Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors)

BEY ON WHAT HIS GOAL WAS FOR 2023

“My top goal was just to finish. I remember starting out the year after 2022 and after losing first-round at the World Championships. I was like, ‘Man, I had so much left in the tank’ after I wrestled (Viktor) Nemes from Serbia. I had so much in the tank. When I look back at that match, I was so disappointed in myself. Not because I lost. A loss is a loss. It is what it is. We get better from those. I was upset because I had so much left in the tank and I didn’t do anything. I got on that mat and I got off. I didn’t try one thing. Not one attempt. I did not wrestle like Kamal Bey wrestles. That stuck with me for a little bit. That loss was probably the worst loss I had in a long time — because all I could remember was my childhood coaches talking about ‘The score is 1-0. You lost 1-0. You didn’t try anything? You didn’t try anything and you lost 1-0.’ And that’s how I felt.


“After that match, right then and there… I remember, I was sitting at the table in Serbia eating KFC chicken… I’m eating KFC chicken to make me feel better (laughs). And I said, ‘I will never feel like this again.’  I vowed that I will never feel like that again. I was like, ‘I don’t care what tournament I’m at, if I start it, I’m finishing it. That’s the bottom line. If I start, I’m going to finish.’


“And then sure enough, the first tournament of the year I go to Croatia and I blow my knee in the first match against the kid from China (Rui Lui). You can only imagine how I felt. I was ballistic. I was like, ‘There’s no way.’ I was so in-shape, I felt so good, everything was going good, and I blew my knee. So now in my mind I’m thinking, ‘I didn’t get to finish that one.’ So I added a second goal to that list. The second thing was, ‘No matter what happens to me, I’m going to get up.’


“I remember going to the specialist and people telling me, ‘Oh, you’re going to need surgery.’ LCL, MCL, all that stuff — gone. Meniscus, gone. Everything except my ACL. The ACL was the only thing attached. I remember limping out of that room and I was just so angry at the world and I’m like, ‘I’m not about to sit out for who knows how long, another six to eight months when I just got back a year ago.’ So my second goal was, ‘I’m always going to get up, I’m always going to get up.’ And about a week and a half later, they’re telling me that I’m going to go to rehab. I threw a brace right on it, went back out there, and started wrestling. At some point, you’ve got to get tougher than the injury. You have to think about how bad you want it, and I wanted it so bad. Like I said, I never wanted to feel like that again. Like I didn’t give anything, like I didn’t try anything. I was boring. Kamal Bey and boring? It just doesn’t mix. It doesn’t sound good in my head and I know that I’m so much tougher than that. So much tougher.”


BEY ON HIS INFLUENCE AND OTHER GOALS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

“Even more, I have young dudes on the team now. The WCAP program has been so good to me and these guys on the team, they’re like my younger brothers. And if I’m sitting there getting slapped around, they’re going to think it’s okay to just get slapped around. They’re going to think that if you get hurt, it’s okay to just lay there. It’s not okay. It’s not. I meant it when I said that I’m the leader of USA Greco. This was my brother’s inheritance, this is my inheritance now. When people step on the mat with me? Yeah, you should be afraid, because for that six whole minutes I’m coming after you.


“I felt like crap at this last World Championships. I remember throwing up right before I went out there and competed. It was bad. It was bad. But that brings me to my third goal — ‘You don’t get to pick your days, and all you can do is show up.’ And I showed up that day. I gave everything I had. Six minutes. When I lost my second match at the World Championships, Gutu felt that. When he went out there, he didn’t have anything left to wrestle the Kazakhstan dude (Demeu Zhadrayev) with. For some people, they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re out of the tournament’; but for me, that made me feel better because I know that he (Gutu) didn’t have anything left — at my worst.


“I had a group chat of people to help me cut weight because they had me on anti-diarrhea pills. I couldn’t move anything for Day 2. I had to wake up at 4:00am and run eight miles to make weight the second day. People don’t talk about that, but that’s the type of grit that I want my younger brothers to have. That’s the type of grit that I want Britton (Holmes) to have, I want Spencer Woods to have, Juice (Justus Scott) to have, Billy (Sullivan) to have. Those are the guys coming up after me. I just wanted to finish and I made that my goal for every match. Every tournament that I went to, I didn’t care how big or how small, I just wanted to finish. And it helped me grow so much. It helped me grow so much out there. Looking at my hands, I just feel unbeatable sometimes. The challenges that I used to think were hard aren’t hard anymore. When your goal is just to finish, you’re not worried about anything else. It’s not about making anything look pretty. It’s about getting the job done.”


Much more is coming with Kamal Bey on Episode 57 of the Five Point Move Podcast along with David Stepanyan.


FIVE POINT MOVE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

2022: Max Nowry

2021: G’Angelo Hancock

2020: G’Angelo Hancock

2019: G’Angelo Hancock & Max Nowry

2018: Adam Coon

2017: Kamal Bey

2016: Jesse Thielke

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