I have touched upon this before but I have great respect for High School, Collegiate and Olympic wrestling. I cringe every time that I see or hear it referred to as “amateur wrestling”. There is nothing amateur about what can often be a high-speed, physical chess game with a crowd watching. I wrestled in middle school and high school and it was probably the most physically demanding thing that I have ever done. Training to wrestle competitively is an exercise in conditioning and adding to your physical memory. When you’re out there facing an opponent, you must pull the correct series of moves out of a mental Rolodex in order to win. You must learn about leverage and at least a little about human anatomy and how to dominate another human being. That’s why I call it “real wrestling”.
I am especially proud of my little brother who went to several local and state championships and dominated because he combined fitness with intelligence. My own career paled in comparison because he truly had a passion for the sport.
That being said, I wanted to pay tribute to just a handful of the real wrestlers who decided to become sports entertainers when they retired from the sport. There are more guys than are contained in this list but I don’t want to take that much of your time up. By and large, those who were wrestlers first have a larger list of moves their capable of doing, adapt easier and have the best conditioning. This makes them the best performers in the ring and if they are blessed to have charisma, they usually excel in the business.
Even those who have just dabbled in amateur wrestling did better than their bodybuilder co-workers. To name just a few dabblers: Ric Flair, Mick Foley, The Rock and Owen Hart. All of them wrestled in high school and are some of the best at putting a solid match together. Compare them to guys like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior and you can see where the benefits of being a real wrestler come in.
I have three words about Real Wrestling’s effect on Dolph Ziggler’s in-ring style: Conditioning, conditioning and conditioning. It really seems to me like the man could wrestle forever. His athleticism is unquestionable and he portrays a vicious tenacity. He is currently one of the best at showing pain in his body language and facial expressions and I bet he got a lot of practice during his real wrestling career. After all, he was an All-Mid-American Conference champion three times and is second all-time in victories at Kent State.
Look at the bottom of this post to see who Shelton Benjamin first teamed with when he hit the mainstream. The WWE immediately embraced Benjamin’s real wrestling career and brought him in as a trained tactician who had speed and agility on his side as well. Benjamin’s career shone bright as he used a combination of kicks, high-flying and mat skills to take on opponents. Unfortunately, he left the bright lights of the WWE when they dropped the ball but he still continues in Japan and independent promotions in the US. He won the South Carolina State High School Championship two times and had a win-loss record of 122-10.
There is no questioning that Swagger was involved in real wrestling. His build and the way he moves are clear indicators and he obviously understands leverage a lot. There have been some bumps in the road of Jack Swagger’s career because he lacks some of the necessary charisma but nobody has ever questioned his skill or athleticism. He does his best work when paired up with a mouthpiece so that he can do all of his talking in the ring. He was a two-sport athlete at The University of Oklahoma but once he quit football he was an All-American.
A controversial success story like no other, Brock Lesnar keeps taking the time to stop by and dominate the world of sports entertainment. Brock Lesnar is a physical specimen and it shows with how easily he picks up and manages a human being. Even with the power game he has had since day one, he has tried to update his list of moves every so often. Unfortunately, this resulted in him blowing a shooting star press and landing on his head but everybody has setbacks. I wish Brock would either stick around or leave sports entertainment but I like his current run as champ. He was a two-time NJCAA All-American, 1998 NJCAA Heavyweight Champion, two-time NCAA All-American, two-time Big Ten Conference Champion and the 2000 NCAA heavyweight champion with a record of 106–5 overall in four years of college.
I have been pretty impressed by Kurt Angle since day one. He showed up in the WWE during the late nineties at the height of the attitude era. He became a heel because he was a legit athlete and was not afraid to tell everybody in the building at home about it. His gold medal was shoved down our throats so much that we hated him for it. However, looking back his accomplishments are amazing and completely impressive. He is from a pretty exclusive club of real Olympic athletes and there aren’t many of them in the business. It’s a shame his later career was marred a bit by drug abuse but he seems to be mostly past that and still outperforms younger guys. He is one of only four people to complete a Grand Slam in amateur wrestling (junior nationals, NCAAs, World Championships and the Olympics).