Episode 57 of The Five Point Move Podcast features two Greco-Roman wrestlers with whom most in the United States are certainly quite familiar: 2017 Junior World Champion/multi-time Senior World rep Kamal Bey (77 kg, Army/WCAP, world #5) and ’21 U23 World Teamer David Stepanyan (67 kg, NYAC/NTS).
Last week, Bey was named 5PM’s Athlete of the Year for ’23 by the voting committee, with the news being released, coincidentally, on his 26th birthday. But there’s more. In addition to having garnered his second Athlete of the Year distinction (’17), Bey was also selected via the fan vote as the winner for this platform’s two other year-end awards, Impact Performer and Outstanding Individual Performance. It was the first time in 5PM history that an athlete has swept all three honors.
In his segment, Bey divulges a litany of interesting insights and peripheral details which helped define his remarkable year of competition. He recalls his two victories over Yosvanys Pena Flores (CUB) at both the Pan-Am Championships and the Pan-Am Games, respectively; his run to the final at the Hungarian Grand Prix (which came attached to a significant triumph at the expense of ’22 World silver Zoltan Levai of Hungary); and the uniqueness of enjoying a bye to the National final last month in Fort Worth, Texas. Most importantly, however, was the recounting of the goals he had set in ’23 and their subsequent realization.
Each objective was conceived in the aftermath of encountering adversity, be it physical, mental, or emotional. For example, following his tight decision loss to ’17 World champ/Olympic bronze Viktor Nemes (SRB) at the ’22 World Championships, Bey was dissatisfied with what he deemed to be a lack of output on his part. As he processed the result while still overseas, Bey’s goal henceforth became to “finish”, which in context means to exhaust all effort when engaged in a competitive opportunity. But four months later at the Grand Prix Zagreb Open in Croatia, the first tournament of ’23, Bey’s knee that had been injured the previous season had been re-aggravated and, in fact, worsened, against Rui Lui (CHN). The American was unable to continue wrestling and was forced to injury default out of the event. Thus, his next goal for ’23 included a mindset which said, ‘No matter what happens to me, I’m going to get up.’ Bey describes and explains each goal from last year, how they were pursued, and closes out with his thoughts on recruiting more high school-aged wrestlers into Greco-Roman.
United States wrestling fans are beginning to learn more and more about Stepanyan, who first enrolled at Northern Michigan University for the ’18-’19 campaign. A Senior National and World Trials runner-up in ’21 and U23 World Team member that same year, Stepanyan has developed into one of the nation’s top lightweights as well as a contender for the ’24 Olympic Team spot at 67 kg. He had been close to breaking through on the Senior level previously. In ’21, Stepanyan advanced to the final of both the US Nationals and World Trials. Last season was when he moved up in weight to the Olympic weight category; and while he still managed to produce solid results, there was an adjustment process. Thus far this Olympic Year — even after defaulting due to injury in November at the Bill Farrell Memorial — it is clear that Stepanyan has become even more comfortable in the higher weight class and it certainly showed at the Nationals in December.
Needing to fight for placement in the Olympic Trials, Stepanyan earned a string of impressive victories, one of which was a hard-fought decision over four-time USA World rep Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm). That match was followed by a close loss to eventual finalist Peyton Omania (NYAC) in the semifinal, and then Stepanyan recovered on the back-end of the bracket and qualified for the Trials. It was for this tournament why Stepanyan was nominated for 5PM 2023 Outstanding Individual Performance.
After Stepanyan provides an overview of his Nationals performance, the conversation pivots to more philosophical fare. One topic is his competitive outlook, upon which he expounds by describing how he views each individual match. Another is his approach to the upcoming Trials training block, and the steps he plans to take in order to adequately prepare for the biggest domestic showcase of his still-young career. One subject of particular interest is how wrestling is treated overseas. Stepanyan, whose parents hail from Armenia, is a student of the sport and beholden to a refined understanding of the noted differences between the domestic expression of Greco-Roman wrestling and how the discipline is cultivated internationally. He explains the systems in place in most European countries and notes the contrast witnessed in terms of youth development stateside.
A Few Highlights
Stepanyan on how he sees competition in general
“As far as mindset going into a match, I don’t differentiate any matches. Just because I’m wrestling a friend, or it could even be someone I don’t know at all, it’s all the same mentality going in. I’m going to wrestle my match and that’s it. I’m going to try to wrestle with all of my little tactical pieces. I don’t put any higher stakes on any match compared to a particular one.”
Stepanyan on how Armenian athletes do not practice multiple styles of wrestling
“Whenever you’re going to start — seven, eight-years-old — you’re either going to pick freestyle wrestling or Greco-Roman wrestling, and then that’s it. Mixing the styles there is unheard of. The system there is the Soviet Union system. It’s a very traditional wrestling system that, by numbers, is probably the best system in the world. It has probably produced the most World and Olympic champions, the Soviet Union wrestling system. All of Europe use it, and the Cubans also have that same system intact. They’ll choose one style, either freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling, and that’s the only style they wrestle their whole lives.”
Bey on beating Cuba’s Yovsanys Pena Flores twice in ’23
“I could have taken him down as many times as I wanted to. Once he has to open up, it’s a completely different match for me. Because, people are really good pummelers; but, in my mind, I’m the world’s best wrestler. If you have to wrestle me, you’re in a crazy situation. I tell people all the time, six minutes? For some people, that’s a really long time. That’s a scary time. Six minutes with me? That’s dangerous. You never know what’s going to happen. I’m always looking for opportunities to throw you, I’m always looking for opportunities to put you to your back. That’s a hard match. I’ve mastered pummeling for myself and I don’t get tired anymore. I can go.”
Bey on training overseas
“People don’t realize that a Greco-Roman camp internationally is way different from a freestyle camp or folkstyle camp domestically. You’re fighting everyday. You get there, and right away, in your first practice, you’re going live. You’re going live the entire time. People are getting banged up and, you know, misery loves company. Camp is rough but you make a lot of friends having to fight everyday.”
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