You might not be a fan of Wrestling if you do not know who Henry Cejudo is. Either way, please keep reading as this blog is relative to any sport and athlete. Henry won the Olympic Gold Medal in the sport of Wrestling at the ripe age of 21.
Being the youngest Olympic Gold Medalist in USA Wrestling History was quite the accomplishment. His Olympic run was your typical underdog story. He came into the Olympics seeded 16th and even lost his first period of his first match.
In the sport of wrestling, especially at the elite level, losing the first period can sometimes mean losing the match. Again in the quarterfinals and the semifinals Henry would go on to lose the first period and was forced to rally back to victory.
Henry went on to win his gold medal match and the gold medal. Henry’s personal struggle and life story made this unbelievable accomplishment even more amazing.
Henry was one of the country’s most decorated high school wrestlers. He won State Championships in two states (AZ and CO) and was the ASICS Wrestler Of The Year. He was also the first high-schooler to win U.S. Nationals since USA Wrestling‘s formation as the sport’s national sanctioning body in 1983.
Henry’s youth was another tale of overcoming accomplishments. He was born in the late 80’s in South Central Los Angeles, California. His parents were undocumented Mexican immigrants. Henry’s father was a frequent long-term visitor to many of the California Prisons.
Henry’s mother did what she could to provide for her six children and worked numerous jobs to provide for her family.
Henry’s family eventually settled in Phoenix, Arizona which was just a hotter version of the bad neighborhoods they had lived in the past. This is the basis for a story that many lead to tell from behind the walls of America’s prisons. Some could say he was destined for failure. Henry found wrestling and began to devote himself to the sport. Henry used the sport to build an opportunity for himself and his family. Henry and his brother dominated the sport of high school wrestling.
They were so talented the national developmental freestyle coach for USA Wrestling invited both Angel and Henry to attend the resident freestyle program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.
The fact that Henry essentially raised himself while his mother worked and his father paid his debts to society lead to the fact that Henry’s education was nowhere near the college level. Making it to the Olympics without college wrestling is the route less taken to say the least. Had Henry’s chosen sport been Basketball or Football he would have been on a full ride to any NCAA Division I powerhouse and playing in the NBA or NFL today, he is simply that good.
Henry took second at World’s losing to Matt Azevedo but came back the next year and won the spot on the 2008 Olympic team. This is normally a spot reserved for NCAA All-American’s and Champions. Henry would secure the Gold Medal in storybook fashion.
Henry was the poster child for the 2008 Olympics during his time in Beijing and when he came back to the US. He appeared on The Today Show, The Tonight Show, CBS Early Morning Show, ABC’s Nightly News, Oprah, and many more. For a short period of time he was an International Star.
I was sitting one row ahead of him when he and his posse rolled into a MMA fight in Phoenix. Most everyone knew who he was and a lot of kids were coming up asking for his autograph and he was even announced as being in attendance by the promotion. He must have had 12 to 15 people with him, who all seemed to be catering to Henry.
Henry was living the life of a rock star. Everyone wanted a piece of him and “just a few minutes of his time”. It seemed like wrestling finally had a star.
Now, fast forward to 2011 and we are beginning to approach the 2012 Olympic Games where Henry is again just one of many wrestlers in the 55 kg division competing for the one spot at the top. In the last 4 years we have seen All-American Wrestlers become Champions and millionaires in the sport of MMA. We have seen Wrestlers become the dominant force in the fastest growing sport in the world. Wrestling programs at the College level are under attack and stories like skipping college to pursue the Olympic Gold may become the only option. The PAC 10 Conference is shrinking and NCAA Division II powerhouses like Nebraska have been eliminated.
Wrestling is one of the few USA Olympic sports that still uses true amateurs when competing. Something the Eastern European countries stopped doing long ago. Athletes like Henry need to find ways to earn a living and remain relevant for 4 years before then hoping to secure the single spot on the Olympic team.
This may be the very reason that wrestling is considered a “poor mans” martial art. It also is likely the same reason the sport of wrestling is failing to thrive while wrestlers are able to use wrestling outside of the sport the thrive and earn a living. My very own brother has spent 20 plus years of his life sacrificing his time and efforts for about $2,800 a year. The Athletic Directors pay by season so it doesn’t seem as bad but any Wrestling Coach will tell you it is a year round commitment.
Why is USA Wrestling so anti-MMA? Everywhere I go I see BJJ gyms and MMA gyms opening in the same town where the Wrestling Programs are on life support. What was the plan with a guy like Henry? Obviously the USA Wrestling program knew he could win or they would not have even invited him to Colorado. Once he made the team and won the spot on the ladder, why not market him? When he won the gold and had all of the press and momentum, why not market him?
Instead they let a rising star succumb to gravity. Imagine an athlete like Henry competing in MMA. His wrestling skills alone would place him at the top of the 125 pound division. Then you take his story and his Olympic notoriety and he is everything the UFC was hoping for in a Cain Velasquez.
Imagine a wrestler like Henry after he has learned to contend with punches and submissions. He would be an elite Mixed Martial Artists and his participation in MMA would allow him to earn a living, promote USA Wrestling and make him a more complete athlete when the Olympic Games come around in 2012.
Instead Henry Cejudo is just another great Wrestler having to earn every inch he gets. He has to work harder and train harder than any other athlete in the world and all for a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent our Country for free. USA Wrestling needs to embrace MMA if it expects MMA fans to embrace Wrestling. MMA is the NFL for Wrestlers. MMA makes it possible for guys like Henry to continue building his brand outside of Olympic Trials and The Olympics.
If not MMA, what is the plan? There is an extreme lack of follow-through in marketing and little to no plan exists to keep amateur wrestlers who earn a place in the spotlight relevant. From Henry’s posse to USA Wrestling, they all have to take responsibility for Henry’s lack of exposure. If he happens to win another Olympic Gold, will we see even less than we have seen since 2008? Maybe USA Wrestling is waiting for Henry to save a baby from a burning building while overcoming the obstacles in his life and winning the US Olympic Gold.
No matter what the platform or stage, athletes and their posses need to find a way to stay relevant and engage with people of the sport. Do not expect those around you to do so because you are the current flavor of the week. You worked hard to earn this opportunity, make sure you have someone working hard to make it last. Do not become a Henry CeWHOdo.
For my wrestling readers, please do your part to support your local wrestling tournaments and teams. Give back to the sport. It needs you now more than ever. One of the greatest and oldest sports in the World has played a large part in building one of the fastest growing professional sports in the world. There has never been a better time to support Wrestling and Wrestlers. USA Wrestling works for you. They could not exist without your contributions so make sure you let them know you want more for the sport and the athletes of the sport.
April 7, 2011 | Categories: athletes, marketing, mixed martial arts, olympics, Social Media, wrestling | Tags: Advertising, Endorsement, genet, marketing, martial, Media, MMA, Sponsorship, ufc | Leave A Comment »