The German professional freestyle wrestling league, Bundesliga Ringen, remains something of a mystery to me. I've known about its existence for a while, but have yet to uncover much information about it. The fact that I don't read or speak German doesn't help matters, but even if I did, the league's website appears to offer little useful information.
Recently, distracted by other developments in worldwide wrestling, I had sort of forgotten about the wrestling Bundesliga, until I happened upon this video promoting the 2014 league final between the clubs ASV Nendingen and SV Germania Weingarten.
When I watch this video, three things jump out at me. Fans scream and energetically support their clubs, the wrestlers are colorful,regularly interacting with the crowd, and the audience packs the venues (reportedly, over 6,000 fans attended the league final). I'm sure the creator of this video cherry picked clips designed to show the league at its best, but even so, it would appear that the wrestling bundesliga is pretty successful, and an awful lot of fun.
This fun persists despite a fairly ordinary level of competition within the league. While the competitors certainly have real wrestling skills, very few, if any, contend at any of the world's truly elite wrestling events (though there is an even more mysterious professional league in Iran which features some of the world's best). The best wrestler whom I know has competed in the Bundesliga is current UFC middleweight and Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero, who wound up in Germany after defecting from Cuba. Videos of Romero clowning overmatched German opponents circulate the internet, but in the sequence below he gets over confident, and true to recent form, yields a takedown to a vastly inferior wrestler. Notice the crowd going absolutely bananas.
The number and enthusiasm of the spectators comes as a big surprise. Germany has not produced a genuine world-level star in freestyle wrestling since Alexander Leipold retired from the sport after 2004. I would assume that if freestyle wrestling had widespread popularity in a nation with the size and resources of Germany, that we would see quite a few more Germans competing for World and Olympic medals.
This leads me to believe that much of the league's fan base originates from communities of people with ethnic roots from farther east, in the wrestling-crazed lands around the Caspian and Black Seas; communities, which I'd bet, are quite sizable in Germany. I know of another large wealthy country where wrestling lacks mainstream acceptance but certain regions contain substantial communities of dedicated fans of wrestling : the United States.
Somebody needs to copy this German wrestling league model, and bring it to American shores, and they need to do it immediately. Any sort of viable professional, or even semi-professional wrestling league would do wonders for the profile of the sport in the USA.
Professional Olympic-style wrestling does exist in the United States, but it does not resemble the German league. The Agon Wrestling Championship has brought good crowds to their local shows in the Midwest, but they have abandoned the team aspect of the sport. Before Agon, professional organizations, like Real Pro Wrestling (RPW), have tried to hold ostensibly team-based wrestling competition, but have failed. I think their mistake was a focus on the individual wrestlers, and not the team element. RPW assigned wrestlers to region-specific teams, but this was inorganic. A great wrestling league needs to start at the grassroots, with communities that take pride in their local athletes, much like other American professional sports leagues in the early part of the 20th Century.
Like the early NFL, an American wrestling league would not need to attract the sport's best and brightest, and would not require a national presence. It would only have to gain a foothold in handful of blue collar rust belt/great plains towns, and grow from there. A league could only start on the regional level, and were it to attract invested and excited fans, and college wrestling proves it can, then maybe a wrestling league following the Bundesliga paradigm could become a commercial success.
Once we import the German model for a successful professional Olympic-style wrestling league, we can then look to bring other hallmarks of German culture to our country, for its enrichment and betterment. I want to see this guy gyrating down every main street in the United States.