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Sunday, August 16, 2015

No Holds Barred: Steve Koepfer on First Combat Wrestling World Championship 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with Steve Koepfer, the owner and head coach of New York Combat Sambo.

He will also be serving as the head coach of the 2015 Men's U.S. Combat Wrestling Team, which will be competing at the 2015 Combat Wrestling World Championship. This is the first world championship hosted by the recently formed International Federation of Combat Wrestling (FICW).

This historic event will be held Saturday, August 22, at the Stadion Spartak (Spartak Stadium) in Varna, Bulgaria. Video of it will be recorded for showing at a later date.

We spoke with Steve Koepfer by phone Friday.

Late last year, he was contacted by Ivaylo Ivanov, the founder and president of FICW, about setting up a USA Combat Wrestling organization, and also that there would be a world championship event this year. Now less than a year later, FICW has national federations in at least 17 countries on four continents, with the world championship this coming week.

"It's amazing how far he's come in the last year," he said. "I would say the majority of the work has really been done internationally with Ivaylo leading the charge, and behind him, with full support of [combat wrestling founder] Mr. [Noriaki] Kiguchi, Masa Yoshizawa in Japan, who is the head official for the new FICW. And he'll be also bringing the Japanese team over."

The 2015 Men's U.S. Combat Wrestling Team, which is composed of the winners in each weight at the U.S. Combat Wrestling Team Trial which was held April 11 in Lowell, Arkansas, includes:

100kg - Kevin Sniff. Westside MMA, Little Rock, Arkansas
90kg - Anthony Sansonetti. Team Renegade, Levittown, New York
82kg - Morgan Bracken. Criqui BJJ, Topeka, Kansas
74kg - Roli Delgado. Westside MMA, Little Rock, Arkansas
68kg - Denny Lenormand. NOLA BJJ/Rdojo, New Orleans, Louisiana

The rules of combat wrestling allow for victory by points scored by takedowns, throws, pins, and superior positions, as well as victory by submissions. The wrestling takes place on a wrestling mat and is overseen by a referee and officials.

Combat wrestling, first popularized in the 1990s in Japan by Noriaki Kiguchi, differs from other types of wrestling and grappling in that it is not a style, but "a set of rules," Steve Koepfer said. Because of that, it has attracted many athletes from various styles of wrestling, sambo, jiu-jitsu, judo, and MMA.

"Combat wrestling has no cultural ownership over it," he said. Thus, athletes from so many different parts of the world have joined together in it, and federations have been formed, in such a relatively short period. Also avoided are the "turf wars" which have infamously plagued so many martial arts and combat sports, he added.

We discussed the activity of this new federation, which will have its first congress the day before the world championship, as well as an officials' certification. One key issue the congress will presumably address is the direction and governance of the federation, including whether or not to seek to become part of the Olympic movement, which is more and more engulfed in scandals and corruption, and facing popular resistance from Rio to Boston to Oslo and elsewhere.

In addition, we discussed some of the problems facing the catch wrestling movement, how there was a very small turnout at the catch wrestling North American championship in Montreal in July, plans for developing a combat wrestling circuit in the U.S., and much, much more.

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