This Fan Post has been frontpaged by Ben Thapa. Photo is of Johny Hendricks and was taken by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting.
The criteria are listed below the body of my post if you do not feel like reading it, but the body defends the criteria I have chosen. Please realize I understand that pure wrestling achievements do not necessarily indicate the effectiveness of MMA wrestling.
The purpose of this post is simply to put some perspective on the wrestling pedigree of certain MMA competitors. It is also interesting to compare pedigree to actual effectiveness.
Some time ago, there was an article posted on BE discussing Pat Barry's oft touted "K-1 level" striking abilities and what this really entailed when put into proper perspective. The same ought to be done for "world class wrestling" a term tossed about liberally by certain Mixed Martial Arts commentators. It is important to define the term "world class" (WC for the purposes of this post) in a way which excludes the vast majority of wrestlers, otherwise the term becomes totally impotent. Unfortunately, defining WC is difficult but I believe that this post establishes reasonable parameters for the WC label as it applies to American wrestlers.
The first step in defining WC is limiting the number of wrestling styles in consideration. First to be excluded are any styles that involve submissions or the use of clothing. This is a matter of the conventional use of "wrestling" by the previously mentioned commentators. This then removes Judo and all forms of gi or no-gi grappling/submission wrestling. Second, World Class status can only be reasonably be conferred on a practitioner of a style which is contested throughout most of the world. Applying this restriction excludes all "folk-style" forms of wrestling, including American scholastic or folk-style.
The only styles of wrestling which are non-clothed, non-submission, and experience truly world-wide participation are Freestyle and Greco-Roman, the Olympic wrestling disciplines. For this reason the WC tag should only be hung on a wrestler based on his achievements in the Olympic wrestling styles.
In the last decade or so Americans have usually not the world's best in the Olympic wrestling styles, but we are consistently decent. Currently, World and Olympic wrestling championships award 2 bronze medals (I still have trouble wrapping my mind around this). World/Olympic tournaments are quasi-double elimination. If you lose a match to a wrestler who makes the finals, you are still alive and drop to a loser's bracket and have the opportunity to wrestle for one of the bronzes. If a wrestler reaches a bronze medal match and loses, he finishes tied for fifth; if he loses in the round before the bronze medal match, he finishes tied for seventh.
I will not take the time to elaborate on why this is not as arbitrary as it soundsv(I have good reasons), but I believe that if a wrestler is capable of placing top 7 in a world or Olympic wrestling championship, then it makes sense to refer to him as "World Class."
Even the worst wrestlers on our world/Olympic teams are capable of attaining 7th place with a favorable draw and great tournament. I will be very charitable and say that the US has, on average, three wrestlers per weight at any one time who are capable of reaching the top-seven plateau. I cut off the number at 3 because we frankly aren't that deep and this is evidenced by the fact that you sometimes see wrestlers place fourth at team trials who are almost definitely not world class. Following this reasoning, we should reserve the WC tag only for wrestlers who place top three at our world or Olympic team trials.
In addition to team trials, the United States has separate annual national championships in the Olympic styles. The fields at these national championship are generally shallower in quality than the team trials and therefore I consider it reasonable to stipulate a top two finish at a national championship event as a requirement for status.
Finally there are FILA age group world championships. The FILA Junior World Championships (U-20) is considered by some to be the second hardest wrestling tournament in the world, and while this is not the truth, a medal at this tournament should be enough to qualify someone as WC. The same is true for the FILA Univeristy World Championships.
These are the Criteria*
Top 3 at a World/Olympic trials
Top 2 at US Senior Nationals
Top 3 at FILA Junior/University World Championships
*It is certainly possible for a wrestler to not meet these criteria and then place high at an elite foreign wrestling tournament and be considered WC, though I am unaware any situation resembling this which is relevant to this post.
Here are the active MMA fighters who meet the World Class criteria, and their highest achievements, only greco will be labeled
Daniel Cormier (World bronze/Yarygin champion)
Muhammad Lawal (2 time World Team Trials champ)
Ben Askren (Olympic Trials Champ)
Cole Konrad (Senior National runner-up, University World Bronze)
Nik Fekete (Senior National Runner-up)
Bubba Jenkins (Junior World Champ)
Pat Cummins (Third place, World Team trials) [I believe he is going to be fighting again]
Joe Warren (Greco World Champ)
Dan Henderson (Greco Olympic/World Trials Champ, multiple)
Mark Munoz (Junior World Champ)
Alexis Vila (2 time World Champ/1 time World Silver/Olympic Bronze)
Yoel Romero (World Champ/Olympic Silver)
Vladimir Matsyushenko (Soviet champ)
NCAA D1 All-Americans who notably who do not meet the criteria:
Chad Mendes (Junior National freestyle AA)
Johny Hendricks (2 time Junior National champ)
Josh Koschek (8th place at Senior Nationals)
Phil Davis (5th place Senior Nationals)
Kyle Cerminara (multiple national placings)
Chael Sonnen (Greco, 4th at Senior Nationals)
Aaron Simpson (5th at Senior Nationals)
Let me know how I am wrong, please.