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‘AWL: The Beginning’ provided a big pay day to true professional wrestlers

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Updated: January 3, 2019

Photo: Alex Dieringer (left), the 2016 Hodge Trophy winner and three-time NCAA champ from Oklahoma State, had a physical match-up with Isaiah Martinez, the two-time NCAA champ from Illinois. Dieringer prevailed 4-2 at 79 kilograms in the American Wrestling League event that took place on Nov. 30 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo by Justin Hoch)

Note: The following story appeared in the December issue of WIN Magazine. Click here or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

By Craig Sesker

Kyven Gadson planned to use part of his prize money to buy diapers for his new baby daughter.

James Green was going to use his winnings to pay bills.

Gadson and Green were among the wrestlers who cashed in with a nice payday when the American Wrestling League made its debut on Nov. 30 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Each of the AWL participants collected $2,500 to wrestle in the freestyle wrestling event, which was streamed on Trackwrestling.com. The winners picked up an additional $5,000.

The latest real professional wrestling venture provided some of the country’s best international wrestlers an opportunity to make some money while putting on a show for the fans.

The athletes competed in front of a vocal and boisterous crowd on a Friday night on the last day of November.

The 10-match card featured an entertaining show with a number of action-packed bouts.

The pro league debut included two-time World medalist James Green along with numerous past NCAA champs and All-Americans.

For Green, the timing of the AWL event worked well for him as he prepared for an upcoming competition in Russia. He rolled to a 10-0 win over past Iowa All-American Brandon Sorensen in the night’s first bout at 70 kilograms.

“It’s exciting to have a chance to wrestle at an event like this that’s in the U.S.,” Green said. “I had a disappointing performance at the World Championships and I was anxious to get back out on the mat to compete again. It was fun having a chance to put on a show for the fans. And it’s great to have a chance to win some prize money in the process.”

The three reigning U.S. world champions — Kyle Dake, David Taylor and J’den Cox — were all at the event. But none of them competed.

Dake and Taylor were captains of the two teams with Taylor’s team winning 7 of 10 bouts. Cox sang the national anthem.

None of the seven Americans who won world medals at October’s World Championships took part in the event. Having the event just a few weeks after the Worlds likely was the biggest reason for that.

Cory Clark relied on rock-solid defense to down two-time World Team member Tony Ramos 8-0 in a battle of past Hawkeye NCAA champions at 61 kg.

Clark received a huge ovation when he finished the win over Ramos, who received a mixed reaction from fans. Ramos left Iowa City in 2016 to train at the University of North Carolina.

“It was a lot of fun out there and the fans were really awesome,” Clark said. “I really like this event — it was fun to wrestle in it and I’ve enjoyed watching some of the other matches. It’s nice having an opportunity to make some money and wrestle in an environment like this.”

Past Hawkeye All-American Sam Brooks drew the loudest cheers of the night when he rallied from a 4-0 deficit to beat Nick Heflin 11-4 at 86 kg.

The hard-charging Brooks set a torrid pace and eventually broke Heflin with his relentless attack in the second period.

“I love this kind of an event — wrestling needs more of it,” Brooks said. “Hopefully, the prize money they awarded is a steppingstone for future generations. I hope this is the beginning of something good where young guys like Spencer Lee and all of these young studs can make millions like an NFL player eventually.”

Past Iowa State NCAA champion Kyven Gadson edged Jacob Kasper 5-3 at 97 kg before heading to the hospital with his wife on the verge of delivering a baby girl to their family.

The final match of the night lived up to its billing. Past National Team member Jordan Oliver came out aggressively, scoring an early double-leg takedown and adding a spectacular throw to build a 13-4 lead over 2017 World Team member Zain Retherford.

Oliver weathered a late charge by Retherford, a two-time Hodge Trophy winner, before prevailing 13-11 at 65 kg. These two wrestlers could meet again with a World Team berth on the line this season.

Another highly anticipated bout saw Alex Dieringer score a pair of takedowns to earn a 4-2 win over Isaiah Martinez at 79 kg in a battle of wrestlers who combined to win five NCAA titles.

So what is the future of the AWL?

No announcement was made indicating there would be another event, but there has been talk about another AWL dual being held in February.

“I thought it was a good event — the production and the wrestling was great,” Dake said. “The guys went out and wrestled really hard. It was a very positive experience and I’m excited to see what is going to come next. Hopefully, I can be a part of it.”

A number of wrestlers who weren’t No. 1 on the U.S. ladder also received a chance to earn some money and compete in a pro event.

“It’s awesome for the guys to have an opportunity like this,” Dake said. “There is a lot of money on the line. It’s not as easy as you think to just go out and do it — there is a lot of preparation and training that leads into a competition like this.”

Promotions for the AWL event referred to it as “The Beginning.”

U.S. National Coach Bill Zadick was at the event and he said it was entertaining to watch.

Zadick said holding the event on a Friday night, with the University of Iowa basketball team hosting Wisconsin just 25 miles down the road in Iowa City, likely didn’t help attendance.

He also mentioned that holding an event like this may work better on a Wednesday or a Sunday, where there are less potential conflicts with other events.

Large high school wrestling tournaments being held in the state in Independence and Cedar Falls may have impacted the AWL event’s attendance as well.

One thing was certain at the AWL event on Friday. The 10 wrestlers who won their matches were big fans of the format. It’s not often they earn a $7,500 check for winning a wrestling match.

“It’s awesome — I wonder what my wife is going to do with the money?” Gadson said, flashing a smile. “I’m sure we will use it for diapers, baby clothes and those types of things. I’m appreciative of having this type of opportunity.”  

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