What to do when your sport is suffering public disinterest? Take the competition to the beach — and remove your shirts. That’s the strategy of one wrestling league, and low and behold, it just might work.
USA Wrestling’s New Jersey board member Danny Mullan organized July’s New Jersey State Beach Championships, which appears to have been as excellent as it sounds: men grappling other men, shirtless, in the sand. (Says Mullen: “High school girls love cut and in-shape high school guys.” High school guys, too.)
Is beach wrestling going to save the sport? Not all by itself. While high school wrestling numbers are healthy, colleges are swapping funding for men’s wrestling with women’s programs to even things out, and plenty of would-be wrestlers are gravitating toward “sexier” sports like mixed martial arts (or at least the anecdotal evidence suggests as much). And with wrestling suffering an interest slump worldwide, it’s no surprise Jersey isn’t the only place you can find fit dudes pummeling each other.
FILA, the international wrestling authority, made beach wrestling an international sport shortly after the 2004 Olympics. This year’s FILA Beach World Championships will happen in Obzor, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea Coast Aug. 28-30. Previous world championships were held in Turkey and Albania.
Beach wrestling is less technical than the Olympic and collegiate styles. The rules are simple: The first wrestler to get three points wins. If you throw an opponent out of the ring or take him down, you get a point. And all the moves must be made on sand, which places an emphasis on brute strength rather than quickness and technique. “A lot more brawn comes into play just because of the logistics of it,” said Mr. Mullan.
While charging spectators nothing to watch, like they’re doing in Jersey, may be a smart move to generate interest in the beginning, we’d bet there’s enough sweaty male skin enthusiasts willing to pay for the privilege. Make money, make money.
(Photos: Matt DeTurck/WSJ)