Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of the No Holds Barred international podcast, the publisher of the No Holds Barred blog, and a senior contributing editor at the ADCC News.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

No Holds Barred: Ben Askren on the Rebirth of Real Professional Wrestling 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman spoke with U.S. freestyle wrestling Olympian, two-time NCAA Div. I national champion wrestler, and undefeated MMA fighter Ben Askren.

Although he was their welterweight champion and still unbeaten, he was recently released by Bellator MMA. He is now a free agent in MMA, so with his future uncertain, he is focusing much of his time on returning to his roots, the sport of wrestling.

But rather than resuming his career on the international freestyle circuit, Ben Askren is now playing a pivotal role in the revival of real wrestling as a professional sport. He wrestled in the main event of the debut show of the Agon Wrestling Championships on October 27, 2013, handily defeating two-time NCAA champion and four-time NCAA All-American wrestler Quentin Wright by a score of 22-8. Agon uses a blend of freestyle and American folkstyle rules, and this match was held at 195 pounds. Now Ben Askren will also act as the matchmaker for Agon, whose second show is slated for December in Michigan, as he decides what his future will be in MMA and in wrestling.

We spoke with Ben Askren by phone Monday.

The vote in February by the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee, later overturned in September at the full IOC meeting, to remove wrestling from the program of the Olympic Games set off a firestorm of activity in the wrestling community. One key development in the U.S. was the re-emergence of a circuit featuring real professional wrestling. The Agon Wrestling Championships and Tour ACW had their first shows in October. The Victory Wrestling Challenge is debuting Friday, November 22, in Omaha, Nebraska. The second annual Grapple at the Garden event, set for December 1 at Madison Square Garden in New York, will be headlined by a professional freestyle match between Kyle Dake and Bubba Jenkins, along with its slate of NCAA dual meets and high school and middle school matches. Right now these events are operating independently, although several wrestlers have been competing in more than one of them.

"At this point we all have the same idea. It's just going to come down to who's going to execute the idea the best," said Ben Askren. But he believes that Agon has a bright future.

"We've already announced a second and a third and a fourth event. So we're getting pretty ambitious in this. I think we have a really good plan to be around for a long time, to the point where we're not really losing money off the bat. We're kind of breaking even with our events, and that way we'll be around for a long time."

We discussed how Agon plans to get more high-level wrestlers involved and run regular events, how they hope to create a situation where top wrestlers can make a good living from the sport, and how Agon is non-exclusive for the athletes. We also talked about the "untapped market" of both athletes and spectators in wrestling, his desire to wrestle Kyle Dake, the concurrent rebirth of catch wrestling, and much more.

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