Roberts, much older & wiser, meets Hafizov again in Final X
Photo: Dalton Roberts (left) beat Ildar Hafizov at the 2023 U.S. Open...
Republished from the Aug. 10 issue of WIN
Editor’s Note: David Taylor, like many Senior-level wrestlers, received some international experience this past summer competing in freestyle tournaments. The former two-time Hodge Trophy winner and NCAA champion from Penn State recently spoke to WIN publisher Bryan Van Kley about his time overseas … and other personal moments that happened to the “Magic Man,” including getting engaged.
WIN: Talk about your overseas trip.
TAYLOR: The trip went really well, I wrestled in the Spanish Grand Prix in Madrid and had four matches. Then I wrestled four matches in the Stephen Tsargasan in Armenia. I wrestled well and thought it was great international competition.
I won both tournaments. I thought I competed better in Armenia, where there was better competition, which was nice. In Spain, the guy I wrestled in the finals was the Italian guy; I think he wrestled in the World Championships.
In Armenia, the guy I wrestled in the finals — Kakhaber Khubezhty — represented Russia in 2013 at the World Championships. He was probably the best guy I wrestled over there. He’s got a lot of tricks, he lives and dies by the front headlock and turns from there. In first period, he tried it and I was able to defend and take him down by the edge. I was able to take him down two more times and defended another front headlock to win 8-0. When you beat a guy that caliber 8-0, it was a great way to end the trip.
WIN: What’s the biggest thing people would be surprised by with these overseas tournaments?
TAYLOR: First of all, it’s just a random draw. You pick a number at weigh-ins, and that number puts you where you’re going to be in the bracket. The best two guys could wrestle the first round. There’s no straight-line bracketing. When you go into a bracket with six Russians, eight Georgians and eight Armenians, you don’t know which guy is the best guy.
You can have a World medalist one year who doesn’t make their team the next year. You see that all the time. You have to be prepared every single match. It could be the fifth or sixth best Russian, but he’s still really good. Each of those guys is very talented.
One of the things that international guys really focus on is they’re very good on the mat. When they get takedowns, they get turns right away. You relax one time and the match can be over when they get a trap-arm or gut sequence or leg-lace. Things can happen very, very quickly in freestyle in general, but especially overseas.
WIN: Were there any distractions or interesting stories from the two tours?
TAYLOR: The food was very good and the facilities were nice. It was very, very surprising. You hear horror stories. My first trip in 2007 was in China, where they were serving us chicken feet for meals. This trip was very accommodating. I brought a bunch of extra food along not knowing what to expect over there, but I hardly ate any of it.
WIN: We talked about it briefly a month ago, but how does it feel to be engaged. Tell readers about it.
TAYLOR: We’re in the process of picking a wedding venue. (My fiancée) Kendra (Kennedy) had a few picked out. The day I got back from being overseas for two weeks, we went to Chicago and picked a date and the venue. It’s really reassuring, exciting and a little relieving. On and off the mat, it was a great two weeks for me and my family.
Our wedding date is September 24, 2016. The venue that Kendra really liked and is really popular was booked for now until the weekend we’re getting married a year and half from now. It was pretty crazy. It was definitely nice to pick a place, and Kendra really likes it. As they say, “happy wife, happy life.”
WIN: Can you tell us more about the proposal and how it played out?
TAYLOR: I had it all planned out for the week after the Trials. I planned out that I was going to do it in the Signature Room 95th. It’s the 95th floor of the John Hancock building in the Chicago. It’s pretty cool as the building looks out over the city and the water, and as it gets darker you see the city lights and the boats on the water. The window seats are obviously the best spots. I don’t understand the process really, as it’s first come first serve.
I called ahead, but when we got there they told them it was going to be an hour wait until a window seat. Kendra went to the bathroom, but when she got back they were seating us and it was actually the primetime window seat.
I knew Kendra would use the bathroom at some point during the dinner, when she did, I went over to the waiter and asked him if he could help me out as I was going to propose to my girlfriend. He said sure, “What do you want to do?” I asked if he could take the ring and put it on a desert cake, take chocolate and write, “Will you marry me?”
It was a little tough because I didn’t know when that was going to happen.
We were in the middle of conversation and I saw (the waiter) walking in around behind her and I thought, ‘This is it!’ He did a great job with the presentation and opened it up in front of her. She kind of started crying. I got down on my knee, grabbed the ring of the cake and asked her if she would marry me. Everyone in the whole restaurant was clapping and whispering, so it was a definitely a cool, unique experience.
WIN: Talk about wrestling Kendra when you were younger and now how humorous it is that now you’re getting married.
TAYLOR: It was when we were 10 at a Reno Worlds Jack Roller tournament. I was pretty nervous because she was actually pretty good. She beat a lot of wrestlers today who were studs who I used to wrestle with who were good, but I won’t name any names. She was pretty good. But I pinned her in like 1:20. My dad has the bracket somewhere.
Afterwards, Mr. Kennedy had Kendra take a school picture and send it to me that had “Love Kendra” on it. It’s pretty funny that back then our dads joked I was going to quit wrestling and marry Kendra. We became Facebook friends and stayed in touch.