Candid Kevin: Meet the National Champ Who Is Still Figuring It Out

kevin radford, us greco roman wrestling, interview

Maybe you shouldn’t have been so surprised. After all, things can turn around awfully fast if you’re not paying attention. That’s how life goes, right? You plant seeds, water them, and when they aren’t growing quick enough for your liking, there is almost a dismissal of the circumstances. A scoff, even. Until one day, after having kept at it enough, you stroll out into the garden and there is the crop, fully bloomed and ready to harvest. 

Then again, you might have had every right to perch your eyebrows towards the scalp. For Kevin Radford always a seed with some promise, but not one that could have been expected to yield anything substantial so soon. It was but a mere four weeks ago when Radford, a folkstyle crossover from Arizona State, saw himself on the receiving end of the most brutal of educations. An 0-5 ledger in Budapest at the World Wrestling Clubs Cup served as just the kind of severe reckoning lesser athletes usually fail to bounce back from. This, even with Radford struggling to stay all the way afloat against significantly-less primed US competition.

Then something occurred. They say these games are mental, that it is often just a matter of connecting the dots, fusing together that mysterious pipeline which travels from the brain to the heart. A wrestler’s self-evaluation, never a pretty picture, beckoned Radford to discover that it was perfectly fine to be on a learning curve, to be a seed in need of water. He probably just didn’t expect that he would also be in charge of watering. 

You can glean a lot from someone who is bright. You get even more out of it when they aren’t afraid to share their side of the story. Such is the gift of this conversation with Radford. If you want to understand how a Greco Roman athlete who isn’t afraid to start over ticks then by all means, keep reading. 

5PM Interview with Kevin Radford

5PM: What happened in your life between the time you left Budapest, Hungary and showed up in Las Vegas, Nevada?

Kevin Radford:What happened? I just got perspective, pretty much. I got my ass kicked in Budapest. It wasn’t fun. I kind of had to take my lumps and start all over again. I’ve had some success wrestling in the States but when I went over there I was like, Damn, I’m trying to get to the top of the World for 2020, bring back a medal and these guys out here are taking it seriously. It was a lesson learned and as soon as I got back to the States, I took a day or two to rest my body up and then I had to mentally go over everything that I learned, everything I’ve got to get caught up with, and then start moving from there. It was a lot of fun.

Looking back in hindsight, even getting my ass kicked was not a lot of fun. I’m not going to lie to you and say I was going to Budapest and expecting to win, I didn’t really know what I was walking into. But to go out there and I wasn’t even competitive? That lit a fire in me just because with my mindset, I could wrestle with anybody in the world. But going out there and I wasn’t even close to doing anything? It changed my mindset on what I need to get done. I went into Vegas and I was like, You know what? Let’s just let it fly. My mindset was to just go out and wrestle, but I wasn’t feeling 100%. My focus was to go out there and control what I could control, do what I was supposed to do, just wrestle, and let the chips fall where they may.

My first match I started off sloooow (laughs). I was getting beat up pretty bad. But then I had to re-focus, come back, and do what I had to do when it came to each match. My semifinals, that was the biggest hurdle where I knew Budapest really paid off because I had never beaten Lucas Sheridan before, he beat me twice last year at the Open. I had to focus on doing what I had to to get out of his positions. I said to myself, I’ve got to get this win. After the semifinals, I didn’t really know who I had until probably an hour after I got back to the hotel. JJ told me who I was wrestling. I was like, Alright, I can beat this kid. But he was in the finals for a reason, so he was going to come at me hard. I knew if I wrestled hard, it’s difficult for anybody in any style to beat me if I go out there and do what I have to do.

5PM: You scored on double-overhooks, you took Johnson over for four. Not that that move isn’t in your arsenal, it’s in everybody’s arsenal. But the timeliness, the confidence. He was kind of hawking in on you went with it and that right there seemed to change the tone of the match. Did you feel that yourself?

KR: Yeah, well, usually my mindset when I go out to wrestle Greco is to try to score points one way or another. I figured that out at the Open last year, I kind of have a knack for scoring a lot of points. If I score a lot of points, I’ll probably win the match because I know a lot of guys aren’t used to scoring a lot of points. The throw, that is not one of my favorite throws, but kind of watching Kamal Bey wrestle the day before I figured just go for it. I had the position. Once I had the position, my mindset was like, Do or die. It’s going to go bad for someone, it might be bad for me, it might be bad for him. I couldn’t really sit there and contemplate what happened, so he got in position, I got in position, and I had to go for it. And when it happened, it was like, Huh, alright. We’re in this. Then I was still looking a couple of times to score, maybe it would come. But I noticed after looking back at the film there were a lot of different opportunities I could have capitalized on and try to end the match.

I know that I’m there with the guys. I’ve never felt like I was too far behind them, it was always one or two mistakes. But, hey, if I am going to make those mistakes, I am going to try and score points to rectify those mistakes so that it doesn’t even matter as much.

5PM: For some of the newer Greco guys, like yourself, I mean, you’ve been competitive for a little while now, but it’s not like you’ve been around for two quads, but you hear people say, “They might as well take more risks because that’s how they’ll learn.” Is that something that applies to you? Or do you find yourself going back and forth?

KR: I think it does apply to me. Like you said earlier, I’m still learning this, so I don’t have anything to lose. I want to take risks because if I mess up, I can go back and figure it out. But if I don’t take risks and I lose a match where I didn’t try (to take risks), then I can’t go back and correct myself to do better. Because I don’t know where to start from.

I feel like, for me, it just opens up the match and I don’t want to wrestle in a boring, passivity-filled match because number one, I’m not going to win. In my heart of hearts, I believe if I wrestle a match full of passivities I’m not going to win because that’s not my gameplan, that’s not my style. I go out there and try to leave it all open. If I get caught, it happens, it’s part of the sport. If I don’t, then I try to go out there and have fun. I want to go out there and have fun because at this point, I finished folkstyle, I didn’t have the career I wanted to have. I got into this for fun more than anything. If I’m not having fun, there is no point really in me going out there. I’m not doing this for anybody, I’m doing it for myself and I want to have as much fun as I possibly can, you know?

5PM: I think it’s always been clear that you have the innate wrestling ability to be successful in this style. But maybe not too long ago, the book on you was “Kevin Radford is okay, he might have something and maybe he’ll be a problem for certain guys, but he’s not going to win the tournament.” Now you’ve won “the tournament”, the Nationals, by the way, and expectations are going to follow. Are your own expectations raised? There’s no more under the radar for you. You’ve pretty much arrived. Does that change things?

KR: Yeah, it did change things for me because I’d wrestle around a lot with the guys on the ASU team or go out to Greco practice before that or get a workout in. But now, realizing that I can make something of myself here, changes need to be made. They are going to be happening soon. I’m not completely sure when or where I am going to go but like I said, everything has changed. A lot of people are noticing me. I’m on Instagram and a lot of new people are following me and I’m like, I don’t know who these people are (laughs). Someone tagged me in something and then almost 100 followers tried to follow me and I was like, This is different.

Learning is the biggest thing for me. Even if I win the World Team Trials, win the Worlds, I win the Olympics, I’m still learning. It’s a process I am always going to be trying to build on. And if one day I am going to be the best, I have to do my best every day. As for my expectations, they haven’t really changed. I am just going to go out there, wrestle, have fun, and score points. I know that the Nationals was a big tournament, but in my mind I didn’t make it too big of a deal, trying to be like, Oh man, I won the Nationals, blah, blah, blah. Just because then I start thinking and put a lot of emphasis on it and my mindset changes because now, I am not going to go out there and try to score points, I am going out there to wrestle not to lose and every time I’ve done that, it is a sure-fire way for me to lose. I try to keep everything as casual as possible. I went out and wrestled in a tournament. I won it. That’s cool. There’s another one coming up. That’s cool, too. I get it in my mind, “breaking necks, breaking necks, and cashing checks.”

If I go out there with that kind of mentality, it doesn’t matter if I am going up 6-0, it’s just a tournament. It’s not some big tournament I have to go out and win and do all this stuff. I am going out there, like I said, breaking necks and cashing checks. It keeps it fun for me and it keeps it motivating. I don’t really do much in Arizona anyway, I’m not going to lie (laughs). Usually I’m with my friends watching Netfix every time (laughs). So I’m not the type of person who says, “Oh man, I have this big tournament I am going to, don’t bother me.” A couple of days before the tournament it’s like, “Hey, you ready for Vegas?” Yeah, yeah. I just try to keep it relaxed and not put too much of an emphasis on rushing and I don’t like to be rushed (laughs).

5PM: In other words, just because you won the Open, you don’t want it to tighten up your game.

Kevin Radford:  I mean, some people are like, “I won this, I won that.” I’m not going to be that type of person. “Oh, you won the Nationals? Congratulations.”Thanks, man, and then I keep on moving. I had a couple of friends who brought it up, “I didn’t know you won Nationals!” Oh yeah, I did. And then I kept on eating my dinner. I don’t want anything to change the kind of person and wrestler that I am. I just stay relaxed so I could go out there and do what I can do.

Radford (red) tying up with Lucas Sheridan (Army/WCAP) at the 2015 US Nationals. (Photo: John Sachs)

5PM: You have probably been asked this before, but how has your folkstyle collegiate background played a role? In what ways has it helped, in what ways has it potentially hurt?

KR: For me personally, there are still some positions that I am not confident in or used to wrestling in Greco-wise. But I think for the most part, collegiate wrestling has helped me because of my environment. It is pretty tough and you always have to keep wrestling.

5PM: While you were in Budapest, you had five matches. Obviously, this is not a Kevin Radford-only situation, but one of the issues is that foreign opponents have elements to their wrestling that are different. What were the differences that you felt going up against these guys?

KR: Good question. It’s kind of hard. One thing I did feel from wrestling a lot of them was positioning. They felt stronger in positions but they were also very relaxed. That is what I noticed and it is sort of hard to describe. When I was out there, mind you, I was just getting my bearings but still, against some of the guys I couldn’t get going and they were beating me at whatever I was trying to get to. If I pushed too hard, they would lightning-pivot and I would fall on my face. It could be a slick move or even a simple move, and I’m falling on my face. Their balance, their positioning, and the fact they were so relaxed felt different to me. It wasn’t something I was used to. I’m used to guys trying to push me all over the mat and not doing much. They are just trying to be tough and push me around. I was getting pushed around there, too, but it felt different because they were doing something and taking some ground on me. I was doing something and they were taking all this ground on me and it was hard to recover back from that. I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to describe.

5PM: If you could talk to the 2014-15 version of yourself, what would you say about training and preparation? I think it’s an interesting question at this stage in your career.

Kevin Radford: Interesting. What would be the advice I give to ‘14-’15 me? Oh, this is kind of easy: “Relax, it’s not the end of the world.” What I mean by that is that in ‘14-’15, that was my senior year and I made wrestling way bigger than it had to be. I’d tell my friends, Oh, I can’t go out with you guys, I have to make weight. I can’t eat that or drink that because it’s going to affect my wrestling. For my personality, I could have been way more laid back my senior year and had more fun trying to learn instead of trying to force everything. Going into my senior year, I still enjoyed wrestling but I was forcing myself to do it. It was like, I have to do this, I have to do this. And that kind of ruined it because that year, I sprained my ankle and I should have been out for a while but I pushed it to come back in a month. That was just because it was my senior year, Oh, it’s going to be alright, just get back out there. And then at the end of it, it just became a chore instead of something that I loved to do. I probably hindered some of my progress that way.

Now I just tell myself to relax and that it’s not the end of the world. I’m convinced that things might have been different for me. Granted, if I had a better career I probably wouldn’t be in Greco right now, but that’s here nor there, there is no way to change that. But I realized that once I graduated, I had to take a little while off because I was devastated my career didn’t end the way I wanted it to. Once I started wrestling again because I wanted to and had nothing else going on, it was like, “Shoot, why you going to practice?” Because I wanted to. Everybody else was saying, “When I graduate, I’m not doing that.” Well, I like doing this. And then I actually started learning more and felt like I actually grew as a wrestler because it wasn’t end-all be-all.

It wasn’t something I was forcing myself to do or my parents made me do, or my coaches. I was doing it because I enjoyed it and I wanted to make something of myself. It felt kind of like redemption for me, but I had to do it under my circumstances, my choice. My attitude was basically, Take your time, have fun with it, and actually learn things. If you actually learn it instead of forcing yourself to get it done and actually understand it and grasp it, you might take your lumps but once you get it, it’s going to be down-pat. My mindset isn’t that “practice makes perfect.” For me, it is “practice makes permanent.” I know if I focus on doing it right each and every time it will become a permanent habit.

5PM: How does a wrestler, a National-caliber competitor with the schedule, training, and traveling achieve balance in their life?

KR: For me, it’s easy. I go home and relax (laughs). There’s that fine line between training, and over-training and hurting yourself. I learned to instead of push myself super-hard all of the time, usually I know when I’ve gotten a good enough workout to say, “Okay, I’m finished for today.” And then after that and traveling and everything, as soon as I get home, I’m relaxing. Hanging out with my friends. I know when it’s time to go to work and I know when it’s playtime. When it’s playtime, I’m around the house and it’s Netflx and…I don’t really do much (laughs). I’m a pretty simple person. I watch Netflix, I watch TV, play some video games, and probably go find a hot tub to chill in. No matter what time of year it is, I’m looking for a hot tub to chill in. I don’t really go out too much. I’m into relaxation and I am pretty good at it.

Even if I’m traveling, like when we went to Budapest, I was back at the hotel laying down. I went out a couple times to a bath house here or there or a little market but for the most part, I was laying down watching TV or doing something relaxing. That for me is the easiest way to achieve balance. I’m a pretty low-maintenance person. I don’t need a lot and I don’t do a lot. If I can get somewhere I can just go into chill mode, put on some music and zone out, I can do that anywhere, really. My favorite place is my room and on my bed. That is the one thing I missed while I was in Budapest. I want to go home and lay in my bed (laughs).

5PM: I know you’ve been around a lot, but what is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been to yet?

Kevin Radford: That is tough. That is a good question, I’ve been to a lot of places. I want to visit Spain. I’ve always wanted to go to Spain.

5PM: Spain?

KR: It seems like a lot of fun and the women are probably gorgeous over there. Spain is pretty high on my list. It’s hard because my parents are military and so I’ve been to a lot of places. I lived in Japan for four years, I liked Germany, I was there for four years. I lived in Turkey when I was little. I’ve been to Guam and Korea. This isn’t even me traveling because of the military, this is me because I wanted to go there for vacation. Where haven’t I been to that I’d like to visit? I’d like to go to Australia.

5PM: That’s a good one, no one says Australia.

KR: I’ve been to most of the continents, so Australia would be a great place to go to.

5PM: What have you discovered about Greco that you didn’t see coming?

Kevin Radford: It’s a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I remember in high school a couple of coaches tried to get me to do Greco. I was like, I don’t want to go out there against somebody my size who is going to pick me up and toss me on my head (laughs). Then I started watching it and it looked just boring, like they were just shoving each other for no reason. But as I got into it, I started noticing subtleties that an outsider of Greco doesn’t realize. Even still, it is pretty difficult and there’s a lot in terms of figuring out all my holds, but once I start learning how to throw like Kamal? It’s going to be game over (laughs). I’m going to be out there having a LOT of fun. Just putting points on the board and tossing people. That’s how I look at it.

Follow Kevin on Instagram to keep up with the latest on his career and adventures off the mat. 

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