Igor, Gregor and Rolles, the sons of Rolls Gracie, have been trying their hands at freestyle wrestling.
All three competed this weekend in New York City’s Grapple at the Garden. It’s fun to see decorated BJJ practitioners dabble in an Olympic style of wrestling, and though none of them won on Sunday, they performed admirably. The brothers’ high-level grappling background, and athleticism, allows them to pick up wrestling technique much faster than an average adult taking his first steps into the sport.
Even with their advantages, neither Igor, Gregor, nor Rolles will ever offer real competition to the world’s upper-tier freestyle wrestlers. Despite this reality, and due to his size and the quirkiness of the Olympic qualification process, Rolles Gracie, if he so desires, could actually wind up wrestling in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Rolles, in the last couple months has competed in three freestyle wrestling events at heavyweight (125 kg): Long Island’s Bill Farrell International, the Copa Brazil (where he placed fourth) and the aforementioned Grapple at the Garden. Despite his age and lack of experience, the 36 year-old Gracie won matches in each of the first two events. Both the wins came against Western Hemisphere wrestlers, one against a Canadian opponent who has been around for a while. Additionally, wrestling Mo Lawal this past weekend, Gracie only suffered a decision loss.
These results mean two things: first, Gracie is now Brazil’s most active freestyle wrestling heavyweight in international competition, and possibly the best his country has to offer (Brazil also has Hugo Cunha, of whom I know little other than he finished 7th at the 2014 Pan American Championships). In 2012, Adrian Jaoude, then Brazil’s number one freestyle heavy came one match from making the Olympics via the Pan-American qualifier (Jaoude now competes at 85 kg).
Second, this means that Rolles already has the skills to beat lower-level competition in wrestling, and that is all he would need to beat to make the Olympics.
In most cases, qualifying for the Olympics in wrestling is quite difficult. Each Olympic weight class features only twenty wrestlers, give or take one of two. Half of the field qualifies for the Olympics at the previous year’s World Championships; wrestlers who finish in the top ten in the World Championships preceding an Olympics, earn a berth for their country at their weight. The remaining wrestlers earn Olympic slots through qualification tournaments.
These qualification tournaments come in two varieties: continental and final. Two of the continental tournaments, European and Asian, as well as the final qualifiers are brutally hard, and only a true world class wrestler can hope to claim the one of two Olympic bids up for grab at each of these events.
The other three continental qualifiers, African, Oceanian and Pan-American, are much easier roads. Gracie would have to make the finals of the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier to make the Olympics. The bad news for the Brazilian is that the Pan-American wrestling “continent” features three countries with excellent freestyle heavyweights, the good news is that, odds are that at most only one of these three will appear in the Pan-American Qualification tournament.
The USA’s heavyweight, likely Tervel Dlagnev, will almost certainly finish in the top ten of the 2015 World Championships, sealing an Olympic bid before the qualification tournies take place. The Canadian heavy, probably Korey Jarvis, is quite good and has a decent shot at a world top ten finish in 2015. Finally, Cuba has a stable of tough big men, but, for reasons one can only speculate on, has neglected to field a heavyweight in freestyle at a World Championships or Olympics since 2011.
Assuming that Gracie can defeat his domestic rivals, Jarvis qualifies for the Olympics at the 2015 Las Vegas World Championships and/or Cuba stays out of heavyweight competition, at least one Olympic spot will sit within reach of Rolles gracie at the 2016 Pan American qualifier.
This precious Olympic berth will remain accessible because, frankly, none of the other big men in North and South America are very good. The next best is probably Jesse Ruiz, a product of American college wrestling who competes for Mexico. I like Ruiz, and he has a ton more experience than Gracie, but he’s no world beater, and has but a fraction of Gracie’s athleticism.
I seriously believe that if Rolles Gracie trains in freestyle wrestling full time for the next 18 months, he will have the ability to beat any non-Canadian/Cuban/USA heavyweight in the Americas, and that is all that would need to happen for a ticket to the Olympics and the addition of a fascinating footnote to the legacy of combat sport’s first family.
[Note: Igor and Gregor are smaller than Rolles, and the depth at their weights would probably make Olympic qualification totally impossible.]
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