Friday, July 6, 2007


When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for archives of good wrestling footage. I hardly ever found any. But now YouTube has tons. I accidentally came across this amazing match between Mo Lawal and a very game Russian opponent. Lawal is wrestling much heavier than he used to, and still looks awesome. The counter-wrestling in particular is amazing for both athletes.

I had the opportunity to see Lawal wrestle at the state championship when he was a senior (I was a sophomore), and he was by far the most impressive wrestler there. Even his finals match was totally lopsided. You see a lot of high school phenoms that don't pan out at higher levels, and this is especially true of wrestlers from states like Texas, where the competition isn't always top-notch (at least back then, I understand we're on the up-and-up). But Lawal has continually managed to elevate his game at successively higher levels of competition. He is one of the top wrestlers in the world at his weight (whether 84 or 96kg), and he's arguably the best wrestler to ever come out of Texas. Props to him.

The first time I watched the video I didn't have sound, but when watched it again with sound I wasn't surprised that the announcers had commented on exactly the thing I found most striking about this match. Most people who truly understand combat sports like wrestling, boxing, and MMA appreciate that the best fighters are usually the lightest. Pound for pound, upper weight divisions rarely compare. But as far as commercial appeal, it's always the heavyweights that draw the crowd. When Muhammad Ali hit the boxing scene, one of the greatest complements paid to him was that he was "a heavyweight who fights like a welterweight." And so it goes with this match; these are big athletes, yet they wrestle fast and aggressive like the smaller guys from the more technical weight classes. As one announcer puts it (is that Kendall Cross?), we should name these guys "honorary lightweights." This match is just awesome. It's great wrestling, and it's also great entertainment. That's great for wrestling.

By the way, I met him a very long time ago, and I've heard a few interviews with him and talked to a few of his former teammates. Everybody says he's a stellar guy, and I buy it. It's nice to see a class act of an athlete.

This match exemplifies the way great lightweights wrestle. John Smith is amazing. A really cool thing about this match is that while Smith is nothing short of legendary for his low single, he destroys this guy with a high crotch (he does hit his trademark single at the end though). He also has an incredibly effective leg lace, which I never knew, because I hadn't gotten to see him wrestle. I'd have to find some more Gable footage to compare, but I think the guy who posted this video may have a legit claim that Smith is the greatest (freestyler) of all time.