By Mike Finn, WIN editor
An opponent rarely, if ever, rode Kyle Dake when he won four NCAA championships while wrestling college folkstyle for Cornell University.
But now that Dake has ventured onto the international scene, he’s had a hard time shaking a friend: USA Wrestling’s national Greco-Roman coach Matt Lindland.
“Matt was on me every single day trying to get me to do something,” said Dake.
And that something was to compete in Greco — the upper-body style of wrestling — at the same time Dake is trying to become the World’s best in freestyle. Despite being sidelined with a foot injury last year, Dake is ranked third by USA Wrestling at 163 pounds behind Olympic/World champion Jordan Burroughs and former college friend/rival David Taylor.
Dake said he did not want to move his mind away from freestyle and initially declined Lindland’s suggestion. But Dake also realized he needs to improve in freestyle and believes Greco can help him. And that’s why Dake has been training in Greco and will display those skills, Dec. 21, in New York City at the Grapple in the Garden event where the American will take on Greco World champion Arsen Julfalakyan of Armenia.
“Matt thinks I would be an excellent Greco wrestler and I believe I would too,” said Dake, who has not wrestled in Greco since he was a junior at Lansing High School in Ithaca, N.Y.
“I want to become a better wrestler overall and my par-terre offense and par-terre defense is getting much better from being around the Greco guys,” said Dake, who spent time training with national team members like Cheney Haight at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“My pummeling and my tie-ups are much better. I’m more comfortable about going in and keeping my hips in there. Being able to dominate in tie-ups is huge, especially with those foreign guys. That’s a big area where Americans lose so it’s good to improve there.
“As you get into that style of training and at that high of a level, you want to find new angles and get better. Greco is a great way to do it. My par terre is going to get a lot better and it had in just the three days I was (at the OTC).”
There used to be a time when America’s wrestlers used to compete in both styles, including at the Senior level. But nowadays, most young wrestles compete in freestyle and Greco only until they finish their high school careers.
“When you get to college, you realize how good the guys are you say, ‘I have to lift my game and really focus for my team,’ ” Dake said. “And if you go to any college program, every one of those coaches had success at freestyle and not too many Greco guys go into collegiate coaching.
“I believe that is what Coach Lindland wants: to get more Greco guys coaching in college. I think that would be beneficial for all college programs.”
Dake believes his involvement in Greco will help promote that style.
“(The national Greco team is) happy to have me there,” he said. “A lot of (college folkstyle) people don’t know (the Greco wrestles) so this is bringing more of a spotlight to (Greco). For me to go and saying something about Greco is huge, even if it’s just 10 kids who can see that I’m using Greco to improve my (folkstyle/freestyle) wrestling and they may want to do it too.”
This past year, Sam Hazewinkel finished second in both styles when it came to the World Team Trials, which were held in separate locations and different weeks. Dake said that is not a road he wants to take.
“I don’t want to finish second and second,” said Dake, still unsure how far he will take Greco or if he will compete at the Greco Trials this spring. “That was a great accomplishment by Sam but I believe he would have traded either of those second-place finishes for a first-place finish in one and not place in the other.
“I want to make sure I’m focused and give myself the best chance to win in either Greco or freestyle. Right now, I’m much closer to a freestyle title than in Greco, but we will see (at the Grapple in the Garden) how close I am in Greco.”