Daniel Etchells

"THE REAL LAS VEGAS FIGHT WEEK HAS STARTED #vegasworlds2015", tweeted Jesse Campos, a former San Francisco State University wrestler, on Monday (September 7) as he sat among the crowd watching the opening day’s action here at the Wrestling World Championships.

If tweets could be longer than 140 characters, it may well have said: "Forget about the build-up to the final fight of Floyd Mayweather Jnr’s glittering boxing career against Andre Berto on Saturday…the Wrestling World Championships are taking place this week #vegasworlds2015"

Rightfully, in my opinion, earning a place on insidethegames’ live blog on wrestling's showpiece event, I can’t think of a comment from throughout this week that better sums up the appetite for the sport this side of the Atlantic than Campos’ quip.

Twelve years have passed since the United States last played host to the World Championships in New York City, with the men’s freestyle competition being held in the Big Apple, and based on what I've experienced over these past six days, both in terms of the atmosphere at the venue and the torrent of tweets using the event hashtag #vegasworlds2015, it’s been far too long a gap. 

Now a combined event, bringing together the disciplines of freestyle and Greco-Roman, one of the main challenges that organisers have had to contend with is being able to get a traditionally men’s freestyle fan-base to watch women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, as Rich Bender, the executive director of USA Wrestling, explained in a press conference here on Thursday (September 10).

"You could not buy a ticket in the first, I believe, eight months without buying an all-session ticket," he said.

"So our strategy is pretty simple; we’re trying to encourage our traditional freestyle fan-base to watch women and Greco-Roman wrestling and hopefully develop fans.

"And so, did that work? I believe we’re sold out on Saturday night.

"We’ve certainly had some empty seats the first couple of days of this tournament, so obviously some of those people that bought the all-session tickets maybe haven’t been here.

“But I think overall we’re satisfied."

Organisers of the 2015 Wrestling World Championships have tried to increase American interest in Greco-Roman and women's wrestling
Organisers of the 2015 Wrestling World Championships in Las Vegas have tried to use the event as an opportunity to increase American interest in Greco-Roman and women's wrestling ©UWW

No matter how high or low the attendances have been over the course of this past week, the event has certainly reflected the huge strides that wrestling has made under the guidance of international federation President Nenad Lalović.

The Serbian took over as head of the then International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) on February 15, 2013, three days after the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) ruling Executive Board had recommended that wrestling should be dropped from the Olympic Games programme after Rio 2016.

His leadership led to wrestling's reinstatement during the IOC Session in Buenos Aires and in September 2014, Lalović was re-elected to a six-year term on the same day that FILA officially became United World Wrestling (UWW).

Last month, the 56-year-old became the first member of the International Wrestling Federation to be elected to the IOC at the organisation's 128th Session in Kuala Lumpur.

Asked at Thursday's press conference how his election will help further wrestling’s cause when it comes to preserving its place at the Olympic Games, Lalović responded in a typically diplomatic manner, saying: "I was elected for the IOC membership, not to protect wrestling only.

"This is not the idea of Olympism.

"The idea of Olympism is to protect the IOC members and all the sports, and to upgrade all the sports."

He added: "The French have a way to say that a very well informed man, is valued like two men.

"It is very good for the sport to have an absolute understanding of the future of the IOC and the sports taking part in the Olympic programme."

United World Wrestling President Nenad Lalović has plans to further develop the sport he heads
United World Wrestling President Nenad Lalović has plans to further develop the sport he heads ©UWW

Having already overseen a major re-branding initiative, as well as the modernisation of internal governance, improvement of competition rules and creation of a robust media operation, it’s clear to see how Lalović has revitalised the sport of wrestling when it needed it most.

Nevertheless, he acknowledges that there is still a lot more work to do with a number of issues coming to the fore during these World Championships.

A perceived low-standard of refereeing at the event was the first to be put to him as he sat alongside Bender in front of the gathered media.

While that will remain a debate across all sports until somehow human error is completely eradicated, there were other matters more specific to wrestling that Lalović was pressed on.

Most pertinently were those surrounding the presentation of the sport and the over-complicated team scoring system at major events.

Lalović described the singlets that wrestlers currently wear as "old fashioned" and suggested that uniform changes could be brought in as soon as Rio 2016.

He then went on to question how Turkey, a country which has won two of the eight Greco-Roman gold medals on offer here at the World Championships, failed to make the discipline's team podium, claiming he was "shocked" they didn't. 

Despite being the only nation to win two individual Greco-Roman gold medals, Turkey missed out as Russia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine finished one, two and three respectively.

Rather than rewarding countries for the number of victories, which if I’m not mistaken is what sport is ultimately all about a convoluted scoring system that would probably take another blog to explain is being used. 

"It’s a little bit strange," said Lalović.

"We adopted this kind of team ranking a long time ago and I think that it should be revised."

The development of women's wrestling is a particular area of focus for the international governing body
The development of women's wrestling is a particular area of focus for the international governing body ©UWW

There have also been growing calls for a seeding system to be introduced at major events given that top wrestlers from the respective weight categories have often met in the earlier rounds here as oppose to in the all-important latter stages. 

Lalović admits he is cautious about making sweeping changes on this front.

"If we change the system and we have a ranking of the athletes for these draws, then many small countries will not have a single chance to go to the Olympics and this is very dangerous for the sport," he said. 

"The geography of the sport is very important and it is very important for the IOC.

"Maybe we should have - and we have already spoken about this on our Board - only the two best-ranked wrestlers divided for the draws on competitions like this.

"Maybe we’ll test this on junior competitions like we do with the rules at the moment."

Add these matters to the questions surrounding the re-introduction of Greco-Roman contests for women, and it becomes evident that for all the exceptional work that Lalović has done thus far, he still has much to deal with.

Increasing gender equality is a priority for the sport of wrestling in the eyes of its leader, but it's expected that there would be considerable reservations from the male wrestling community about adding a female discipline, mainly because it's unlikely that the IOC would reward such a move with extra Olympic places for the sport.

Across all walks of life it's inevitably difficult to please everybody, but one thing's for sure; if Lalović can tackle these latest issues with the same assurance and fervour he did when taking over office some two-and-a-half years ago, he won't go far wrong.