Twenty years of MMA here in the States and it is has become an irrefutable truth that the art of wrestling is an essential component for success within the cage. Whether it’s about getting the fight to the ground or diligently keeping it on the feet, if a fighter doesn’t have at least a working knowledge of the intricacies of takedowns and sprawls, he or she is going horizontal in the worst way possible.
I’ve never donned a wrestler’s singlet myself, but the aforementioned truth is what prompted me to go to Madison Square Garden on Sunday morning to check out the second installment of Grapple at the Garden – an event that can best be described as “more amateur wrestling than you can possibly keep track of at once”. There were eight mats laid out on the Garden’s massive floor, thousands cheering from the stands, music pumping out of the speakers, and entire teams representing such colleges as Rutgers, Cornell and Boston University, their individual wrestlers battling it out for superiority and an ephemeral concept of points. Yet for all the mysteries of the scoring process (and to me there were plenty), what was crystal clear was the action, and the elation of the crowd when one competitor skillfully ragdolled his opponent to the mat. Therein lies wrestling’s general appeal.
Of course, if that wasn’t enough to warrant getting out of bed on Sunday and trekking to MSG, there was also a team fielded by jiu-jitsu legend Renzo Gracie clashing with a team helmed by Bellator star Joe Warren, and a marquee match-up pitting former UFC champ Frankie Edgar versus former TUF star Phillipe Nover. That alone did it for me.
A stroll through the bowels of the Garden.
The view from the floor.
If you’ve ever watched any Bellator product, you’ve seen Joe Warren touted as a fighter with a ton of personality. This is true even more so in person.
Even without knowing how points were earned, it was easy to look at the scoreboard and see who was cruising down the highway to Loserville. This helped create drama – especially when a come-from-behind win unfolded before our eyes.
Team Renzo earned some victories, but it was clear the jiu-jitsu guys were working at a disadvantage. After his loss on points, I asked Dave Branch if he’d ever wrestled before. He shook his head and laughed, and admitted he was pretty fuzzy on the scoring stuff.
He may have personality in spades, but Warren has no shortage of wrestling skills either. Seriously, the dude is a beast, as evidenced by his performance when he took to the mat.
Warren won via tech fall – whatever that means.
Frankie Edgar’s background in wrestling is well-known. He was a Division I All-American and an assistant coach at Rutgers University, and those grappling chops saw him through to a UFC championship and wins over some very impressive opponents. He lives and breathes wrestling. Nover, on the other hand, never wrestled, and only began learning the techniques when he took up mixed martial arts. But like Edgar, he’s a competitor by nature, so why not slip on some wrestling shoes and take on the former champ on the floor of the Garden?
Prior to the match, Nover was resigned to the fact that Edgar held just about all the cards. “I just want to score a point,” he told me with a smile. “Just a point.” Nover went on to score three to Edgar’s eight. And then Edgar pinned him, and they grinned at each other, and shook hands and hugged.
There was a main event to Grapple at the Garden, a match that saw amateur wrestling star Bubba Jenkins take on Frank Molinaro, but I’m an MMA guy so my entree was Edgar vs. Nover. Still, to go to Sunday’s event and not appreciate wrestling as a sport would’ve been impossible. From the throws and takedowns and pins, to the fervent cheers (one University of Maryland fan brought a trumpet – yes, a trumpet), wrestling by itself has a lot to offer. Grapple at the Garden just made it awesome.