This past weekend, the Freestyle World Cup of Wrestling came to Inglewood, California’s newly-reopened Forum. With wrestlers competing under their home nations’ flags, the defending champion Iranian team looked to repeat their home turf title earned last February in Tehran.

With the Forum having configured its competition space to accommodate the wrestlers and 3,000 spectators, ten nations –- Armenia, Georgia, India, Iran, Japan, Mongolia, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States –- split into two groups, the winners of which would compete for gold medals, while second-place finishers in each group would compete for silver, progressing down the ranks from there. The event built off the success of the May 19th, 2013, United4Wrestling match in the L.A. Coliseum, which acted as a successful in-action petition for wrestling’s reinstatement as an Olympic sport.

An early loss to Iran kept the U.S. team out of contention for gold, although the team’s final-round win over Ukraine secured a third-place result. In a move unusual for international sport, the sizeable Iranian fan base cheered for the U.S. in its final match before their athletes rewarded them with a win over eventual second-placed Russia.

Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs carried the U.S. team via the 74-kilogram weight class, improving his World Cup record to 15-0; Nick Marable, however, took his 13-pound-lighter frame to a late victory over Ukranian Andriy Kyvatkovsky, a win which helped seal USA Wrestling’s third-place result. Despite finishing the weekend at the bottom step of the podium, U.S. competitors took heart from their performance, with the 86-kg Clayton Foster telling, “We’re knocking on the door of a world championship. That’s when it’s going to show.”

Ali Reza Razaie, technical manager (skill coach) for Iran, told after his team’s dominant showing that, “For each of our matches we had a plan. Ninety percent of our plan came through today.”

American coach Zeke Jones was circumspect about his team’s result, saying after the match, “I think the next time we wrestle we will believe we can beat [Iran]. But we’re not going to do it if we don’t do the little things. We got to do the little things, fight for the center of the mat, control the tie-up, take charge of the whistle. Those are the things we talk about. They beat us to the punch on those things.”

Wrestling, then, while an exhibition of both pure strength and deft movement, is as technique- and strategy-driven as it is athletic, traits it will showcase to even the non-wrestling public in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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