Wrestling has opened the world to so many Americans

Updated: July 14, 2023

Photo: WIN founder Mike Chapman visited the tomb of Achilles, at the site of ancient Troy in 2006. It is located on the west side of Turkey and located about 900 miles from Belgrade, Serbia, where the 2023 UWW World Championships will take place this September.

By Mike Chapman

An old recruiting slogan for the United States Navy once proudly boasted — “Join the Navy and see the world!”

Today, that slogan could very well apply to many elite wrestlers from our great country.

For example, take Jordan Burroughs, who leads all U.S. wrestlers with seven gold medals in World/Olympic competition. You will need an up-to-date world map or globe on hand if you want to track his journeys as a wrestler. Jordan has visited an incredible 26 cities in foreign countries.

That stunning list includes the following:

This column appeared in the late June issue of WIN Magazine. Click on the cover or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

• Istanbul, Turkey; Budapest, Hungary; Paris, France; Oslo, Norway; Belgrade, Serbia; 

• Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Knur-Sultan, Kazakhstan; Guadalajara, Mexico; Toronto, Canada; Lima, Peru; 

• Mexico City, Mexico; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Acapulco, Mexico; Havana, Cuba; London, England; 

• Kiev, Ukraine; Minsk, Belarus; Ruse, Bulgaria; Baku, Azerbaijan; Rome, Italy; 

• Madrid, Spain; Vendor, Armenia; Tehran, Iran; Kermanshah, Iran; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Dortmund, Germany

And that’s not even counting the numerous spots in America where he has competed.

Soon, some of our top wrestlers, coaches, support team members and staunch fans will head to Belgrade, Serbia, for the UWW World Wrestling Championships, Sept. 16-24. And they will be walking into the deep, dark past … to a territory that was home to a legendary type of man-like creature known as Neanderthals.

According to some sources, Belgrade is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, going back thousands of years. It was home to the Vinca culture, “one of the most important prehistoric cultures of Europe,” says Wikipedia. In fact, it appears that humans could have lived in the Serbia area for nearly 50,000 years!

And even the mysterious Neanderthals once thrived there!

Neanderthals have been portrayed as subhuman creatures in literature and film for decades. “They had a very distinct appearance from their Homo sapiens counterparts,” continues Wikipedia. “One such feature was their large front teeth, which they often used like a third hand in preparing food and performing other tasks — as evidenced by scratch marks found on their teeth.

“Other classic Neanderthal features included a prominent brow ridge, a longer skull, and a large, wide nose which would’ve helped them adapt to colder climates. On average they were shorter, stockier, and more muscular than Homo sapiens.”

MY OWN international travel is limited to just two trips, both many years ago. (I should point out that I joined the Navy in 1962 at the age of 18, but was landlocked for three years in Vallejo, Calif., and never went anywhere.)

The first time came in 1970 with my wife, Bev, and was a trip designed to visit some of the most historic sites in ancient history.

We flew to Iceland and then to Luxemburg, and hitchhiked down through France and Italy, on our way to Greece, which was my ultimate destination. Once in Greece, we visited many fabulous sites, including Delphi, where the ancient Greeks (known as Achaeans or Argives back then) believed they could consult a priestess to learn the future. It is a mystical place, to be sure.

Then it was on to Mycenae, once the largest and most important city in all of Greece, and now a deserted pile of rubble. We were thrilled to walk through the famous Lion Gate, the oldest surviving carved monument in all of Europe.

Mycenae was home to the palace of Agamemnon, the king who planned the invasion of the city of Troy, known as the Trojan War. It is the subject of the legendary epic poems by Homer, known as the Iliad and Odyssey.

Then in 2006, my son Jason, Kyle Klingman (also a WIN columnist and writer for Flowrestling) and another Iowan went to Troy. The ruins are on the western tip of Turkey, overlooking the Hellespont, the narrow strip of water separating Asia from Europe.

We flew into Istanbul, then took a long bus ride to the site of the legendary conflict, located near a small village called Hissarlik. We spent four days there, and it remains the most exciting trip of my life.

I had just written a historical novel about Achilles, the greatest warrior in ancient history and the primary figure of the Iliad. At my request, our tour guide took us to the tomb of Achilles, far off the beaten path and hard to find. Many great leaders in history — including Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar — had made the journey there to honor the memory of Achilles.

I stood on the large mound and read quietly from my own book about this legendary figure from the distant past, who was also a wrestler!

So, to all the great athletes, coaches and fans going to Serbia, I envy your marvelous journey; not only for the competition you will be witness to, but to travel deep into history … and even in the footsteps of the legendary Neanderthal.

(Mike Chapman is the founder of WIN Magazine, the Dan Hodge Trophy, the National Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, author of 30 books and is a member of 11 halls of fame.)