Kamal Bey hasn’t had a tough time impressing people since he burst onto Greco’s national scene. For one thing, there are the throws. He hits a lot of them. From basic positions, from odd positions, down three points or up seven, it doesn’t really matter. Bey doesn’t discriminate too much when it comes to entertaining both himself and the crowd. If anything, he sees it as a responsibility of his.
He’s also quick to laugh. At nearly anything. At something he says, something he hears. Whatever. There’s nothing wrong with someone who likes to laugh. But for as much as putting on a show and enjoying the ride are a part of Bey’s approach, make no mistake about it: He takes competition quite seriously. Seriously enough that he relocated from Chicago to Colorado Springs while still in high school. Seriously enough that he locked up a spot on the Junior World Team and all he can think about currently is taking home a gold medal in France.
As the US Greco Roman Wrestling program continues its rise, the younger generation of athletes have been called upon to step up and Kamal Bey has become one of the main faces of this charge. It’s one thing to have potential and some age-group success. Things start appearing all the more differently when these kids change their entire lives around and are able to compete at an international level successfully. There’s a handful of them around now and the list is growing. And Bey’s name is one of them everyone is familiar with.
However, as you will soon find out there is more to Kamal than wrestling. He is an exceedingly bright, engaging, and thoughtful young man. Bey wants you to feel comfortable because he is. He wants you to laugh because he does. It’s just that at the same time, being devoted to Greco and winning at the World level are of paramount importance to Bey and he doesn’t want you to forget that, either.
5PM Interview with Kamal Bey
5PM: First and foremost, why Greco?
Kamal Bey: I chose Greco because it’s harder, you know? The wrestling clubs I’ve been a part of, the Harvey Twisters, the Gladiator Wrestling Club, it’s what we worked on. It’s easier for me because if you can’t touch my legs, you’re kind of in trouble. I’ve been wrestling Greco since I was three years old. I started off with a lat drop, caught a bodylock, and ever since then I’ve liked throwing people.
5PM: So you got introduced awfully young. Even still, you’ve wrestled against plenty of talented kids who started later so do you think starting that early makes such a difference?
KB: It’s a definite difference. Starting out at three years old I was around some of the best wrestlers. Juwan Akui, he was really good coming up. Me and Isaiah (White), we scrapped a couple times as kids and he’s really good. Even my wrestling coaches, Carl Forside and Quintroy Harrell, they were both dominant coming up. You just get a feel for it starting at a young age. For me, starting off there was folkstyle and freestyle, but I liked Greco. I didn’t even know what a shot was until I was like five years old. I’ve liked headlocks and bodylocks since I was a kid.
5PM: When was your first time competing against Senior level athletes? This year?
KB: Yes, at the Dave Schultz.
5PM: What’s the biggest difference you have noticed wrestling Seniors?
KB: Probably just their experience level. My first tournament I guess I was kind of nervous, but it was a good nervous. For Juniors, I know everyone is around the same age as me. But the Seniors are stronger and have more experience up top.
5PM: There is a movement going on that you are a part of and it is that we are starting to see more and more wrestlers bypass traditional post-high school competition to concentrate on Greco. Even recently, Nick Boykin committed to the OTC to finish high school and you know him. Do you think there is steam behind this with the Greco program in this country?
KB: I think there really is. Ever since I changed my mind about wrestling folkstyle my Senior year I’ve had a lot of success. Me and my brother Tracy (Hancock) are having a lot of success wrestling Greco. I feel like we wait too long. Other countries, kids are winning World titles at like 17 and 18 years of age. It’s like, why wait to win World Championships?
5PM: Part and parcel to this has been in this country the popularity of folkstyle and even freestyle. There had been much more exposure for those styles yet what gets me is that someone like you, who is always landing big throws, media outlets are quick to post clips of that. It’s odd because that kind of thing gets people’s attention but they don’t see enough of it.
KB: You’re right about that. People always show Greco guys getting thrown. And it’s a difference because freestyle is men and women and Greco is only men. Women don’t wrestle it. It’s harder to grab somebody in Greco Roman than it is to get in someone’s legs. Anyone can get in on someone’s legs, low singles and stuff. That’s not entertaining. But somebody getting tossed over their head? Now that’s exciting, that gets publicity and people coming to watch Greco wrestling.
I do it for entertainment. When I did folkstyle and freestyle I did it for fun, that’s why I used to dance on the mat and stuff. But when Greco came around I was serious.
5PM: Well that’s a piece to all of this. People tend to like Greco once they get to see it, they just might not be exposed to it enough. Do you agree with that?
KB: I agree with that totally. Why would you want to wrestle a style you don’t know? But if you do get introduced to Greco, I swear, anyone can fall in love with this. It’s easy to learn. All you need to do is focus on positions and you work your moves from positions. People make it seem like it’s so much harder than what it actually is. If you want to focus on folkstyle and freestyle, it helps you. Now you can attack from a shot and come upper-body and throw someone. Become an all-around wrestler, don’t just focus on one position, one style. Get exposure. Because you know, other countries are doing this, you don’t want to fall behind.
5PM: Okay, let’s get a little technical. You do throw a high percentage of the opponents you go against…
KB: If there’s an opportunity, I take it.
5PM: (Laughs) But is that a goal always? Or do you have certain sequences running through your head to set traps so you can hit what you want to hit?
KB: Transition moves? Yeah, there’s transition moves to everything from a lift. You can go gutwrench, lock him hard, come across, take him back the left way for a lift. But I tend to not think about moves, I just wrestle. Because thinking of moves, it slows you down. It’s more just muscle memory.
5PM: Your “Human Highlight Reel” nickname is a really cool one. How did that happen?
Kamal Bey: Like I said, I do this for entertainment. Ryan Holmes from FLO gave me that nickname because I come out and I always throw somebody, you know? People used to say wrestling is so boring so I would purposely try to make it more entertaining by doing crazy stuff on the mat. I used to dance and I can throw people, too. It just came along and I always put on a show win, lose, or draw. That’s how this all came about and it just kind of stuck.
5PM: Having a nickname like that, does that give you any kind of pressure or expectations to perform a certain way?
KB: To be honest, I never really feel pressure when I wrestle. I just go out there and do what has to be done. I let my wrestling do the talking. If I lose, you know I gave 100% of my heart into that match. And that’s more important to me than winning a match, knowing I couldn’t have done anything else to change the outcome.
5PM: Was it a tough adjustment for you moving out to Colorado?
KB: Not really. I’m a pretty cool guy. People knew me before I came out here. I had friends. TC (Dantzler) has a son, Tommy, and he introduced me to people. We’ve just been hanging out giving the rest of the guys on the team advice, some of the football guys advice. Because I played football too in high school and I was pretty good.
5PM: What position did you play?
KB: I played receiver, man. I played receiver, I was all over the field.
5PM: What is there to do in Colorado Springs at your age? Does it get boring?
KB: Only if you don’t know anybody. And I know everybody. There’s stuff to do, you just have to be willing to go out there and be open. I like to walk around if I have nothing to do or drive around. People say, Oh, Springs is boring, but they don’t try to get out there. Because you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. But I have a blast out here, I have a lot of friends and there’s a lot of stuff to do. There is mostly outdoors stuff, but indoors stuff, too.
When I first moved out here I didn’t really go anywhere. I was new and didn’t know my way around. But after awhile, I got out there. People here are real nice compared to the city where they are so rude.
5PM: Who are your current workout partners?
KB: Tommy Dantzler, RaVaughn Perkins, Corey Hope, that’s pretty much it.
5PM: It’s interesting, especially getting to work with RaVaughn, who is an extraordinarily talented individual who won the Olympic Trials. What’s it like going with him? Has it been like a mentor situation?
KB: Wrestling with RaVaughn? It’s more fun wrestling with RaVaughn than anything because it always turns into a competition. It doesn’t matter if we’re drilling or something, next thing you know, we’re both trying to throw each other for five and we’re not even working on that (laughs).
For me, he’s just like an older brother. When I see him we talk on it and everything. He’s a real cool guy. We do pretty much the same moves but yes, definitely working out with him has been a huge help.
5PM: Let’s talk about TC. TC Dantzler is practically royalty in this sport in this country. I know that he has meant a great deal to you over the years. Give me the basis of your relationship with him.
KB: Who doesn’t know about TC in the Harvey Twisters wrestling room? I’ve known about TC since I was a little kid. We have a Harvey Twister camp and he used to come back every year and show us technique. I was one of the only kids throwing so he spent a lot of time working with me on my throws and stuff. He coached me a couple of times at Fargo and when he heard I was coming out here he said, “You’re going to be under my wing” and he mentors me. He’s more like a dad, if anything. He took me in and everything. It’s been a great year for me. He encouraged me through school, through matches. And I just feel real comfortable with him around, he’s a real nice guy.
5PM: Does he try to keep you level? Calm under fire?
KB: Oh, always. He always tells me to keep calm with my wrestling style. And just through life. He gets to the real. He’s like a dad. He’s a dad, he’s a coach. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just different.
5PM: It’s something because normal people like myself, we see TC as this star competitor, you know? So it must be a pretty big advantage to have someone like that in your life.
KB: It is an advantage. He knows a lot of the game. His reverse lift, which is brutal. Every time I think my reverse lift is all that he usually shows me it isn’t (laughs).
5PM: Do you have anything coming up before the Junior Worlds?
KB: Fargo. I might be going to Fargo.
5PM: How are you seeing Fargo this time around if you go? Is this high on your radar or do you look at it as a tune-up for the World Championships?
Kamal Bey: It’s a tune-up for the Worlds but I’m looking at Fargo like I always have — it’s time to put on a show. It’s time to win.
5PM: Have you been to France yet?
KB: No I haven’t. I’m excited for it, really excited.
5PM: What are you excited about?
KB: Well first off, I’m excited about the competition. But I’m also excited about the culture. I try to talk like the people when I go places (laughs). I’m a real big goofball. I’ll ask some of the guys around my age what are the things that tick French people off (laughs). And then we usually argue about it, but it’s all good.
5PM: This is a big deal for you, this is the Junior World Championships and it’s a big deal especially this year. How has your approach been since coming out of the World Team Trials and everything else since then? Have you been locked in towards France, going to practice thinking about a World title?
KB: You know it. When I’m wrestling I’m saying it in my head, when I’m on the bike I’m saying it in my head, and when I’m in the sauna I’m saying it in my head. This is all getting me ready for the World Championships. It doesn’t make me nervous, it makes me more excited. And the stronger I get, the more confident I feel. The faster I get, the more confident I feel. The better my technique gets that I’m using, the more confident I feel. The better my partners are I’m going against, the more confident I feel. This is just building me up and once my momentum reaches the top and I know there’s nothing else I can do, I’m going to take a little break and get my body back because it’s a little beat up right now, but I’m cool. I fill up an ice bath every day.
5PM: If you had to choose one, which has been your favorite country to visit so far?
KB: I like Hungary. The way they wrestle is really different. There they teach you to wrestle first, to be relaxed. They flow like water, it’s crazy.
5PM: When you’re not at practice and want to unwind, what does your downtime look like?
KB: Oh I go hang out friends, I play video games. I do mini golf ands I take that real seriously.
5PM: Mini golf you take seriously?
KB: Mini golf I take real seriously. Volleyball, too. And if you want to play me at ping pong, it’s going down (laughs). I play basketball. You know, just typical stuff that teenagers do. My life is serious, but you don’t want it to get to that point that it’s all you know. If you wrestle all the time, you will burn out. You’ll get to the point where you say, I’m tired of this. And because my lifestyle is so easy-going, I train, I train hard, but then I get free time to do what I want to do and it makes the feel of this whole Greco thing much better, you feel me?
5PM: That’s an impressive perspective for an 18-year old. Usually that is something athletes learn post-college, not when they are your age.
KB: You train, you train hard but in wrestling, you need as much rest as you do training. Most people forget that. I’ve seen people come in and just work out all the time and I’m like, Man, you’re just tearing up your body. You have got to save your miles when you wrestle at this level.
5PM: If you could put together the “Kamal Bey Summer Camp”, who would be the instructors along with yourself?
KB: My brother Tommy, my friend Jordan, I’m going to invite RaVaughn Perkins, Ellis Coleman. Definitely TC, man, his par terre is impressive.
5PM: Okay, if people would be surprised to learn one thing about you, what would it be?
Kamal Bey: I do theater.
5PM: You do theater?
KB: Yes, I’m in theater.
5PM: Like for school or as part of a community center or something?
KB: I took theater this year for school and I wrote a couple of plays. It’s different. I do theater, I write poetry every now and again with my friend Gabe and we kind of go back and forth. Sometimes we even have rap battles.
5PM: Wow, this is different. So you have an artistic side to you.
KB: Oh yes. I draw, too, if I have time. Me and my brother draw all the time. He’s better than me, I’ll give him that. But it’s just for fun.
5PM: I studied poetry in college, my mentor for writing to this day is actually a very well-known poet and I have a lot of respect for that art, but I never really got into that side of literature. Some people do have that in them, though.
KB: When you write poetry, it’s what you feel. No matter what you put down there, it’s poetry. Because it’s coming from the heart.
5PM: What a line. Alright, let’s go back to the theater part for a second. You’re a bright, outgoing kind of guy. Do you see acting as something to pursue in your future at all?
KB: Oh, I can act like crazy. I remember lines people give me. If you tell me something, I can remember it right off the bat. For my final, I had to learn this paragraph piece in like, ten minutes. I had ten minutes to learn it because I forgot the final was that day.
5PM: So you did it that day?
KB: I did it that day, I learned it ten minutes. To learn lines, you read them, go back, read them, and it’s just what you’ve got to do.
5PM: You’re going to school next year in September. Are you going to pursue theater there also?
KB: Probably. You know, I really liked it. I had to get out of my comfort zone a little bit and do something that people wouldn’t expect me to do my senior year. And theater was it.
5PM: What’s your favorite cutting weight snack?
KB: It’s Swedish Fish, man (laughs). I love Swedish Fish.
5PM: How about post weigh-ins, what do you like right away?
KB: I like to have a bagel with peanut butter and a banana with honey on it. It is so good.
5PM: Training at altitude, as the OTC residents and anyone else who trains out there does, is an advantage. Do you notice that difference when you’re competing closer to sea level?
Kamal Bey: Oh yeah, I don’t get tired when I come down. It’s impossible. Yeah, I lost my first match to Jesse Porter but after that, he was done. I was ready. And that was a big difference, just the training. I saw him over there, he was laying down face-first trying to catch his breath. I’m standing up.
5PM: Okay, one more. If someone is going to a dual meet or tournament where you’re competing and this person has never seen you wrestle before, how am I describing you to them?
Kamal Bey: He usually does something cool after he scrapes his nose. He’s a dude with an unorthodox mat-wrestling style. He’s weird, he’s exciting. Even though it looks like he’s joking around, he’s definitely serious.