Next to kidney stones and Quantum physics, wrestling is one of the hardest things in the entire world to do. Two minutes on the mat with a guy like Jordan Burroughs can feel like a century of purgatory for anyone less than elite. But being the gluttons for punishment that we are, humans just freaking love wrestling, and have since the dawn of time.
But the sport of wrestling faces many uphill battles. One is the retention rate, which is almost non existent considering that for a overwhelming majority of athletes, there is almost zero platform for competition after high school or college. With ‘open’ tournaments being few and far between with mostly low turnouts, and the Olympics and other high level tournaments being solely for the elite of the elite of the sport, many former high school and college wrestlers simply stop competing after high school and college and turn to other means of competition like MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This low retention rate could possibly be one of the reasons that after 112 years of competition, wrestling was removed from the Olympic games from 2020 onward.
Another issue with wrestling is the damn-near inability to come to the sport late in life. Sure other sports have this problem, but it is very evident in wrestling. A majority of people who didn’t start wrestling before high school spend their entire high school career losing wrestle-offs and certainly attract next to zero college interest. And the avenues for getting into wrestling as a young adult are slim to none. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has a lure to its tournament systems that perhaps wrestling could follow suit to some degree- a belt system.
White, blue, purple, brown, and black. With varying degrees of black, red and black, and solid red for icons and pioneers of the art.
As one goes from white to black, obviously the time and experience changes but also the rule sets get more advanced and the length of the matches get longer. With white belt matches being 6 minutes long with rules like no wrist or leg attacks, and black belts being as long as 12 minutes with many more techniques allowed. Wrestling could certainly benefit from something like this and allow an avenue for young adults and even 25+ to get into the sport later in life and potentially follow a learning curve to the highest levels of the sport. This would also prevent 22-year-old Johnny who has taken 12 total wrestling classes at his local training center, from having to compete against 22-year-old Tommy, who came out of the womb shooting double legs and narrowly missed all American status in the NCAA the previous year. With ‘belt’ systems usually being attached to sports who train in the kimono, its understandable that a belt system in wrestling would perhaps make people feel a little uneasy, but a similar system for allowing young adults and sub-elites to break into the sport and have ample opportunity to grow as athletes is worth looking into.