USA Greco

Prior to ’21 Worlds, Provisor Says He Is Here to “Help Save Greco”

ben provisor, greco-roman, 82 kg, 2021 world championships
Ben Provisor -- Photo: Sam Janicki

He sits there relaxed. Still. A casual air surrounds his every gesture. Nothing about the situation or environment feels out of place. It is morning on Day 3 of World Team Camp, and Ben Provisor (82 kg, NYAC, world #4, 5PM #1) is perfectly at home, comfortable and confident whilst massaging his right elbow. 

Provisor is relaying what had happened. During his two-match victory over Spencer Woods (Army/WCAP, 5PM #2) in the World Team Trial finals early last month, Provisor and Woods were mired in an unconventional exchange. Not surprising given Woods’ aggressive yet unorthodox mechanics. Provisor’s arm got caught inside of Woods on the opposite side when attempting to scramble, with the movement pulling just hard enough on the soft tissue to cause a little damage. 

This, too, is comfortable territory for Provisor. He has dealt with so many injuries across his sparkling run on the Senior level that one more in a long line of tweaks or tears or pulls is met with an almost instant brand of acceptance. It’s how it goes. The only item of consternation at the moment is that Provisor is adjusting how he attacks on the feet, at least until the appendage is close to normal. 

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Other than that? Unflappable. Provisor — a two-time Olympian, four-time National champion, and now two-time World Team member — is emanating calmness following a live practice match against Alan Vera (NYAC, 5PM #2). The simulation didn’t go Provisor’s way on the imaginary scoreboard, so he is mentioning a thing or two he could have managed differently. In doing so, he sounds joyful. As if he just discovered a missing piece, the realization laying one more brick of self-assurance onto his considerable foundation. He won’t make the same mistake again, be it opposite Vera in practice — or when tangled with an adversary in Oslo next weekend. 

The forthcoming World Championships are not of a small concern for Provisor. He is totally committed to, and focused on, earning his first chunk of hardware. “I’ve been in this game for too long and know too much not to bring home some medals for this country,” he said. So there is no question regarding Provisor’s competitive priorities. He has never exhibited much shyness when discussing his chances at big events, but it all sounds a little different these days. 

Maybe because Provisor himself is a little different these days. 

He is forging a new lease on life as a college freshman. At 31 years of age. Grand View, in Iowa, an NAIA school, is where Provisor is planting his flag as he looks to embark on educational pursuits once abandoned. Yes, wrestling is part of the picture. Provisor has never competed in scholastic college wrestling, and the sheer idea of it intrigues him. Senior international competition will not take a backseat; that said, Grand View is offering a fresh perspective on both the sport and his life off the mat that he can’t help but feel optimistic. 

The plan is to parlay all of it. At this stage, Provisor is still wrestling for a near-multitude of reasons. Personal milestones to accomplish, the fact that he continues to lead the way for American upper-weights, to further set an example for his daughter, and the dream of opening the doors, one day, to his own training center. There are more, but those are the preeminent bulletpoints. And he likes it that way. Deep down, Provisor has never required motivation — other than perhaps there were times when he was unsure of the well from which to draw. That is no longer the case. It hasn’t been in quite some time. He is an athlete, a man, who knows very well why he is here. He has gained clarity. Along with it, resolve. There are many ways a wrestler might attempt to come to grips with who they are supposed to be. These days, Provisor understands that he just has to be himself to attain success. And being himself is more than enough. 

Ben Provisor — 82 kg, NYAC 

5PM: You are, and not even just within the Greco community, a high-profile athlete. “Mainstream” is the term I prefer. Your career is followed closely, and every move you make, basically, often drives conversation. Do you ever feel judged by outsiders because of this, particularly compared to others in Greco?

Ben Provisor: I don’t know. I guess I don’t really look at it that way. Maybe I do receive a little more publicity because of the career I’ve already had. But I also think that everyone in the United States knows that when it comes to Greco, it is going to be hard to beat me in that situation. I think everyone has a high regard for me because they know that when I’m practicing, and doing all of the right things in my life, that it is going to be really hard to beat me. That has come over the last ten years of me wrestling.

I guess also that I have a unique situation because of my mom. My mom was, if you could imagine having a crazy wrestling dad, I had the “mom version” of that. My mom definitely didn’t like to see me lose; so I found joy in wrestling and fighting, and whatever, just because it sort of let me release anger issues that I had from my mom being all nutty about me winning and losing (laughs).

5PM: We have younger guys who have started to perform consistently over the past few years, which is common. But sometimes, younger guys who begin breaking through have to get used to the new expectations that accompany their competitions. You’ve been in this spot for a long time now, over a decade. Are you desensitized to that, how any time you’re in a major domestic tournament that you are expected to win?

BP: Hmmm. Not really. I think when I was at Penn State that I had a little problem with it just because Cael (Sanderson) and all of them wanted me to score a lot of points. If you look at my weight class, 87, 82… Even 77, but at 77 you score a little more. But in my weight class, there isn’t a lot of scoring just because it is so tough to score. People have such good defense that it is really hard to score on them. But when I was at Penn State, they wanted me to try to score a lot, and that has never been my style. 

Being at Grand View has helped me be smarter again because I have a Serbian coach who has helped me realize again that I don’t have to score for six minutes, I just have to hold good position for six minutes. I know that I can hold a good position for a long time, hand-fight for a long time. That’s when I can define a few opportunities to score. It is okay to win 4-1, 3-1… A win is a win. That’s how Greco goes, honestly. If I can shut someone down, it is usually a very easy victory. 

5PM: I think a lot of people don’t grasp that in the upper-weights, a 3-1 win can actually be quite dominant. 

BP: Oh, yeah. And it is so normal, too. It happens all the time. If you look at the history of 87 kilos, a lot of those matches are 1-1, 2-1. A lot of those guys don’t even wrestle in the first period. Because, they know that they don’t need to score. Especially with the rule-set now? If you are really good strategically and hard to score on, it is better to stall in the first period because you get put down first. Then in the second period, you go harder; then he goes down (in par terre) and I get a chance on top when I’m fresher and know that I haven’t gone hard, when he might have tried to go hard to score. It’s just strategy. And I know that from top and bottom in the United States, you’re not going to beat me.

5PM: On its head, I like the current rule-set, but as you are saying, it is also predictable. Most top guys game it similarly. Do you think that sort of thing is harmful to the sport?

BP: I don’t think the rule-set hurts. I mean, it could, but people have to find a way to score, anyways. They have to call it one way or the other. I don’t know, that’s a tough question. I don’t even know how to really answer that. I will say this: there have been a ton of rule changes since I was a kid. You go from the clinch a long time ago to the reverse lift… It’s like, Greco has always been that way. They always change the rules to make it more exciting; but when it really comes down to it, if you just hold really good position and pummel hard for six minutes and win 1-1… I mean, why wouldn’t I do that? I am going to take a “W” in the World Championships or Olympics any way that I can. And if that’s how I have to do it, then that’s what I’m going to do. I think it’s just part of our sport. It’s not easy to score on the best guys in the world if they know what they’re doing. It’s really not. 

Another thing is, because of all those rule changes… At one time, we had it to where we were wrestling for a minute on our feet and then going :30 in par terre. This was when it was best two out of three periods. So we had it where wrestling on our feet wasn’t even really important. You didn’t even need to score. I could be in the worst shape possible and not let anyone score on me, and then go wrestle in par terre. 

5PM: When you coach, is it a challenge for you to explain to kids all of this? How do you explain Greco tactics to inexperienced age-groupers?

Ben Provisor: Oh man, honestly, the first thing I’m teaching them is basic position and defending. Aghasi Manukyan, rest his soul, always told me that if I’m going against a guy who is better in Greco — and he’s probably going to beat me if I wrestle him his way — the first thing I’m going to do is try and defend all of his attacks. Once I am able to defend all of his attacks, then it is time to start working on my offense. What he told me was, Once you’re able to defend everyone on the feet, then you have a chance to be a World Champion.

I think that is sort of the mindset that Greco is about. It is supposed to be hard to score. The way that I always compare Greco-Roman is offensive linemen and Sumo. Strategy-wise if I am teaching a kid, it is about controlling positions. I make sure that my hand is on the inside. Whether it is a tie on the wrist, an underhook, or a two-on-one, my hand is always on the inside so that I will be able to pull and win that position. Try to control it as best you can. Keep your elbows in, hold position, keep your chest up, and move with your hips in and without bending over. That is what I would start with. 

But in America, it is a whole conundrum because we only have a few World Champions in Greco? Are they supposed to teach the entire US how to wrestle Greco when it is such a huge country? 

5PM: Is it then your opinion that kids are coached too much on how to do moves instead of first understanding position?

BP: 100%. 

5PM: The Olympic Training Center has served as the headquarters, the centralized location for the program since Mike Houck started it. The OTC has basically been closed since the pandemic, and there was talk even before that how Greco’s presence there might be coming to an end. Now we don’t know if it will ever be open for Greco again. If it’s not, how do you see Greco surviving in the country?

BP: I think Tracy (G’Angelo Hancock) has the right idea with what he’s doing. Going overseas right now is the best option for Americans to get better, and I think his results speak to that. Having Alan (Vera) and foreign partners is huge, but if the OTC is closed then we truly only have our education center at Northern Michigan and WCAP (Army’s World Class Athletes Program) as training spots. Those are great programs that I hope only continue to get better — but I think Greco in America needs to be taken overseas for our really, really good athletes. 

I don’t know, man. It seems like Greco is dying in America. We have a little bit of Minnesota Storm, but there is really not much else. It is sad to see, because we were World champs in 2007 and the talent didn’t change. We don’t know what changed, but it’s not popular in this country. The Olympic Committee dropped the education center (Northern Michigan) funding, as well, and they didn’t get the grants from the government anymore. They just don’t like Greco-Roman wrestling, I guess. I don’t know. They don’t like the image of Greco or something. Maybe they think it’s a boring product. 

For me, I know what I am going to do for the next four years. I am going to do my best at Grand View, go overseas as much as I can, hopefully build the program at Grand View as big as I can with this Serbian coach because I’ve already learned a ton from him. I am really excited to work and coach with him for quite a few years and see what we can build. Maybe we can have a training center there. Having a Greco training center has always been my goal. I tried having one with Dennis (Hall) but that one didn’t end up working out. It’s still my goal. Hopefully, I will be able to do that in the future and maybe that will help save Greco in America.

5PM: Last year, about a month from the Olympic Trials, you wrestled Vera in an exhibition match and you weighed 83 kilos. Privately, I thought that you looked fantastic right there, at that weight. You went 82 for the April Nationals, won, and then obviously there was the Trials a few weeks ago. Is this weight class as good of a fit for you as it looks like it is?

BP: It definitely is a great weight class, 184 (lbs). It is a comfortable weight for me to make and not hurt myself. I did this new diet, too. I just cut back my calories for two days mainly. I walk around at 90 kilos. I just didn’t have any power at 77. I tried. I had never eaten as good as I did then, and I was in great shape. I mean, that match with Vera, I was in great shape. Even for me to just make 77 kilos, I had to be in great shape. I felt good, it just didn’t end up working out. I was still cramping 15 minutes before my match. 

At 82, I feel really good. I’m eager going into this World Championships. I’m going for it and hopefully I will bring home a gold medal. I need to bring home some medals. I’ve been in this game for too long and know too much not to bring home some medals for this country, and then hopefully help build the country back up in Greco in some sort of manner. 

5PM: This has all come together quickly. You had the Trials, and then it was, Hey, the Worlds are three weeks away. You’ve competed so much overseas and against so many top guys. Do you even bother looking at the other 82’s who are on the entry list for the Worlds?

BP: Definitely my coaches have scouted some guys and sent me some stuff about it. But I tweaked my elbow a little bit at the Trials so I have to wrestle a certain way right now and I’m not really worried about the way they have to wrestle. I know the positions that I need to get into and wrestle hard from at these Worlds.I truly think that is something where it is a fight with a strategy and there are holes you might see but, in the end, you need to get to your offense and where you’re comfortable. It really depends on how much you want it, and how you’re going to get it. 

5PM: Maybe it’s the fact that it is a strange situation or that camp was held in a low-key environment, but it seemed like there was a good vibe this time. Good morale. 

BP: Yeah, honestly, I think it has to do with the team leader. I know that Matt (Lindland) has been working his butt off. He really does want to see us succeed and do the best that we can, and he has been great for our Team to have for however long he has been the coach. But the team leader we have right now is really passionate about us succeeding, too. He took us around the city this past weekend and it was really fun. I do think it (camp) is a little more lighthearted. I think all of us Greco athletes now understand that we are not going to get better training without each other. We all need to get better together in the United States. Because, what we were doing before without training together didn’t work, and our results have shown that. Hopefully, that mindset in America has changed. 

5PM: You’re going to leave on Friday for Scandinavia. You’re so easy-going most of the time. Do you need to be in some different mental place coming out of a camp heading into a World-level tournament?

Ben Provisor: I just need to be myself and wrestle hard and wrestle tough, like I know I can. The biggest thing for me is to know that I am ready physically with regards to my preparation. That is what has always made me feel super-confident. When I felt really strong in Rio (‘16 Olympics), I knew my preparation was better than everyone’s. I knew my cardio was going to be better than everyone else’s. That is something that comes with preparation, and I know that I am super-prepared for this. I’ve been working my butt off over the past three months since I moved to Iowa. I am just excited to keep getting better leading up to this college season. We’ll see how my elbow feels. I’m excited to keep getting better, to get my education, and to keep advancing my life. That’s what I’m here for. I need to get my education so I can coach and secure that phase of my career. Before that, I want to go knock some heads off in the UFC, and then coach for the rest of my life. 

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