clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Former NCAA champ starting professional amateur wrestling group

New, comments

Wayne Boyd, who has participated in wrestling for 57 years, has big dreams, which start with the creation of the Global Wrestling Championships, a professional amateur wrestling league that debuts on Saturday.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Wayne Boyd is more passionate about wrestling than almost anyone, and his latest goal is to succeed at something that everyone else that has tried and failed: the idea of running a promotion doing professional amateur wrestling.

Boyd's new venture, The Global Wrestling Championships, debuts with a Saturday afternoon show with three main event matches, featuring six of the country's top wrestlers. The event brings four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake back to Cornell University. It will be a combination of prelim matches streaming for free at 2 p.m. Eastern time on GoFightLive.tv and the championship matches as a $6.95 Internet pay-per-view if ordered in advance, at 3 p.m. ET.

Boyd's goals are ambitious. He wants to present real wrestling, with the country's best wrestlers, in a professional sports league team format. He wants to present the shows like MMA, with interviews, storylines and grudge matches. The idea is for the teams to be from the ten to 20 best wrestling clubs in the country, doing dual meets. The goal is to generate enough revenue that 88 of the best wrestlers in the country would be able to earn $50,000 per year with the hope it will help sustain them so they won't have to work a full-time job while preparing for international competitions. They also want the U.S. team to surpass Iran and Russia for the top spot in the world. It would also gives those so inclined the experience of competing in a sports league and learning to promote matches before moving into MMA.

It's something that is the reverse of two decades ago, when people like Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland, Mark Coleman and Tom Erikson originally started fighting in MMA as a way to earn money to support their Olympic wrestling dreams.

For Saturday's event, the prize money will be $7,500 to the winner and $2,500 to the loser, for three championship bouts.

In marketing, Boyd wants to change terminology. He doesn't like the term amateur wrestling. And he wants to use boxing and MMA terms for weight classes.

When Sam Hazewinkel, a member of the 2012 Olympic team, faces Tony Ramos, who won the NCAA title last year for Iowa, they'll be battling for the GWC flyweight championship, complete with a title belt. The actual weight of the competitors isn't even decided, but it will be something in the neighborhood of 126 or 127 pounds.

Dake, the only man in history to win NCAA titles in four different weight classes and the best U.S. college wrestler in recent years, will battle Andrew Howe, a former NCAA champion from Wisconsin, for the welterweight title, which will be at around 163 pounds. The two went into triple overtime last year when they were in a tournament for a spot on the U.S. team in the world championships.

The heavyweight championship will be decided with Tervel Diagnev, who placed fifth at the last Olympics, facing Tyrell Fortune, a former Division II national champion who lost to Diagnev in the finals of the tournament in 2013 to make the U.S. team for the world championships. Both men will be about 285 pounds, and Boyd wants to go back to the past the make the heavyweight division an unlimited weight class, bringing back the days of the behemoth 400-pound heavyweights.

Boyd, 68, won an NCAA title in 1969 while going undefeated in dual meets during his college career at Temple University. He's finishing his 57th year in the sport, and still trains twice a week. He notes that in 1981, he became the only man to ever pin Victor the Wrestling Bear. After the age of 45, he won seven age group national championships, the most recent being in 2009. He's also produced movies about wrestling, most notably the 1996 movie, "One More Shot." 

The idea of a professional league for amateur wrestlers isn't new. A number have sprung up in the last 40 years, usually lasting very little time. The AGON promotion tried it in recent years.

The most visibility any of these projects got was nearly a decade ago, when Real Pro Wrestling had a run on national television. RPW was on both PAX TV (now Ion) and Fox Sports Net, but folded after one season, with minimal ratings and an inability to get sponsors. But that league featured some of the best wrestlers in the country at the time, who a decade later are now names in MMA, including 184-pound champion Muhammad Lawal (King Mo) of the Oklahoma Slam, teammate Daniel Cormier, who won the 211-pound championship, and 264-pound champion Patrick Cummins. Also in the promotion was current Bellator bantamweight champion Joe Warren.

"It's a real challenge," said Boyd, about the promotion. "I'm really hoping we can do what UFC accomplished. We're looking to give wrestling a bigger audience, more entertainment value and get more media interest. That's what we are looking for. For years, we've called ourselves amateur wrestling. If you call yourself amateur, how do you expect to get any attention?"

The amateur wrestling community has constantly been trying to figure out a way for its top stars to be able to earn a sustainable living while full-time training for national and international competitions.  And it's come full circle, because Boyd is in discussion about putting on a second show in conjunction with the annual amateur wrestling spectacular held in New York's Madison Square Garden, on Dec. 21. He talked about getting Lawal and Warren to wrestle on the show, and wants to get in touch with Tito Ortiz.

Ultimately, he's talking about major arenas and pay-per-view, and hoping to be a circuit where guys can make some money, make a name, and then some would then transition into the UFC or another MMA promotion.

They are experimenting with rules. On the first show, each match is a series of a best-of-five series of three-minute rounds, calling them rounds and not periods. The rounds will be scored both separately and together. If there is a pin, the match is over. If not, the first person to win three rounds takes it. However, if the loser wins his rounds stronger, enough to where after four or five rounds, he has more cumulative points than the winner, they go into a three round overtime to decide the championship. If that fails, they stand up and have a sudden death, first person to score round. If neither man scores after three minutes, there will be three judges who decide the champion.

"We're pushing scoring more points, wrestling longer and wrestling harder," said Boyd. "Our guys, if they go to the world championships, when they wrestle the Russians and Iranians, they'll have trained for 15-18 minute matches, so they'll have a little edge in conditioning. We want the U.S. to dominate wrestling and dominate Russia and Iran."

"I need to see what happens after ten minutes," he said. "We need to see how it looks when they're exhausted. I may find the magic number is 12 minutes, not 15, maybe nine, but I want the matches to be longer. Whose ever heard of an entertainment event that lasts six minutes?

He's talking to NBA owners, with a goal to get exposure by putting on wrestling matches at halftime of games.

"People call me crazy, but without vision, you'll just do the same things over and over," he said. "We've never been able to pay our athletes. We're looking at being a bridge to UFC. If I can sit down with Dana White, we can map something out."

He looks back at the early 1900s, when Frank Gotch was one of the biggest sports heroes of the time, and battled George Hackenschmidt before 29,000 fans at Comiskey Park in Chicago, or when Joe Stecher battled Earl Caddock in Madison Square Garden in legitimate matches for the world championships.

"I'd like to do a match in Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium, a big match where the lure is that the winner would get $1 million," said Boyd. "If people knew two guys were fighting for that much money, they would get interested."

He thinks that will lead to more participation in the sport.

"The characteristics of being great in any sport are common in wrestling," he said. "Any ten year-old boy, or ten year-old girl should experience wrestling for at least one season. It'll make him a better baseball player or a better football player. It builds character. It's the world's oldest sport, the original sport of the ancient Olympics, and it's a natural teacher of life experiences."