He had once referred to folkstyle as the “f-word”. That clever little phrasing, uttered after claiming top honors inside of the Fargodome over five years ago, is what ingratiated Tommy Brackett (82 kg, Gator) to every Greco hardcore in the country.
Brackett, then a high schooler in Tennessee, was already hot on the National Program’s radar at the time. This is harder to accomplish than most might surmise. American Greco coaches, including National Team head Matt Lindland, take notice of the droves of superbly-gifted youths who populate Fargo and other age-group events, such as the Cadet and Junior duals. But they also know that only a very small percentage of the participants will consider opting for Greco-Roman competition. In Brackett, there was no reason to worry — for he had made his intentions clear at every available opportunity.
And he fit the mold of this directive perfectly. Brackett oozed talent, though talent alone was not what garnered him praise. Rather, it was his tactics. His attitude. While most young prospects catch eyeballs thanks to high amplitude throws and other searing offensive maneuvers, Brackett operated — and still does — by minding the bare essentials for meaningful Greco development. That means paying rapt attention to where his hip placement resided relative to his opposition, and constantly trying to improve the height of an underhook without abandoning his footwork. These small details are actually quite very important, which helped Brackett stand out more than so many of his contemporaries.
He was not devoted to making highlight reels. He was instead much more dedicated to doing the little things correctly so as to get a head start on his World-level aspirations.
With rapid development came consistent contention. As a high school senior, Brackett advanced to the first-ever U23 U23 Trial finals, where he fell to Kamal Bey (77 kg). The next year, Brackett was downed in the Junior World Team Trials best-of-three by Andrew Berreyesa (NYAC/Spartan RTC), who later in ’18 earned Junior silver and would edge Brackett again the next summer in the U23 WTT semis. In between and during were various appearances overseas as well as a few strong Senior performances.
He was gathering experience — but he was not making World Teams. Still, falling short of that goal failed to diminish Brackett’s zeal. A move from Michigan to Colorado Springs, along with pal and fellow top prospect Nate Grimes (77 kg), delivered a boost. The duo chose the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center — which, in a cruel twist, wound up temporarily closing soon after due to the pandemic — where they hooked up with resident coach Mohamed Abdelfatah. The change of scenery paid dividends nearly immediately. Last November, Brackett and Grimes both prevailed at the U23 Nationals.
And this past May, Brackett ran the table at the U23 Trials to grab hold of the 82-kilogram World Team spot.
Now everyone will get a chance to see what this all looks like with global hardware at stake.
In three days, Brackett will make his World Championships debut in Belgrade, Serbia. Some who are locked deeply into the US program’s swirling pool of conversations might feel as this has been a long time in the making. It isn’t. Brackett, still only 22, just so happened to generate a buzz at a much earlier age than is the norm these days. Not that he is impervious to disappointment; he had felt the sting of past defeats and didn’t enjoy it. But coming within arm’s reach and missing the dance never swayed his resolve. Brackett, going all the way back to ’16, has always stuck to the basics whilst adding requisite adjustments along the way. He also always knew that he would eventually get his chance.
Tuesday in Serbia may represent the first of many.
Tommy Brackett — 82 kg, Gator
5PM: For years now, over half a decade just about, you have been viewed as one of the country’s top prospects. A big reason why is because you have always minded very solid positioning. Your general style was and still is considered very mature. Now that you have been a full-time Greco competitor for a few years, do you understand why that is seen as such an advantage?
Tommy Brackett: I think it’s a big benefit. I came from not the strongest Greco background. But being able to pick it up from different camps and different coaches along the way, it has been a big benefit. Especially now that I’m here in Colorado with my coach, Mohamed (Abdelfatah). Having that base I think has also helped him make my game elevate even quicker.
5PM: Part and parcel with this, however, is that you have had instances where officials in the US have perhaps been overzealous at times in giving you cautions and passivities. You’ve lost a couple of pivotal domestic matches this way. Overseas for you, this has not been an issue. Have you ever been tempted to modify your approach for domestic tournaments?
TB: You cannot control the refs ever. So to me, that is not part of the game. I have to learn how to get on the better side of that. I have never been tempted to get away from good Greco. If anything, the lessons I have learned have made me want to learn better Greco and have even better position because, eventually, I know it’s going to win. The more I can crisp it up, the better. But you can’t control the refs. The better and better I get at wrestling will take the refs out of it. Even if I’m getting hit for passives, as long as I am scoring points and getting turns on top it will be hard to lose.
5PM: I’ve really enjoyed when you have had the chance to compete overseas, just because I think it is tailored to you well. When you have traveled, how did going with foreigners influence your perspective on positioning and par terre defense mechanics?
TB: One of the things you learn overseas, for sure, is that good position is very important. I always try to improve my position because of that. Plus, that is what I see is winning. And when I am over there, that is what’s beating me, too. That is one thing. The other, like you said, is par terre defense — and offense. But I don’t talk about par terre offense so much because I feel like I don’t have the best par terre offense at the moment. But the par terre defense part, you learn very quickly that is where most guys score from over there, and they are doing it at the highest level. That is where they can score the most points, from top.
Every time I am over there, it is a wake-up call that my par terre defense needs to get better. So, I try to assimilate and be the best that I can be from the bottom. It is a hard thing to do, for sure.
5PM: Now that you have been in Colorado Springs for a little while — and as a student of the sport you know that this is mostly a turn-and-not-get-turned game — how does your training address the various tactics in and around your weight range on the World level?
Tommy Brackett: Let me first off say that I have the best coach in the world in Mohamed. Most of my training is not even thought about by me. He has a plan and I act it out. How he has prepared me for this tournament is by putting me in a lot of simulated situations with fighting on the feet and then par terre defense. You’re going down, you have to stop this turn right now! And doing that with a bunch of fresh partners and doing what it takes.
Most of it is about dealing with having to do that while being tired, and then working through it. That’s the hard part. It’s not hard to go down and focus for 20 seconds when you’re fresh. But when you are tired, it is really hard to do it. My coach has a great plan for me as far as that goes. He has put me in a lot of different simulated situations and, like I said, I don’t even think about it very much. I just have to do it. I have to get it done.
5PM: Do you bother combing through the entries for the tournament when it comes to scouting?
TB: Definitely for this tournament it has been about preparing myself to be the best on that day. There are 25 guys in that bracket and I’m sure they are all animals, but I only have to wrestle four or five of them to win. So I haven’t scouted anyone in the bracket. I know some of the names and have wrestled some of the guys in the past at tournaments overseas, but most of them I don’t even know. I know more of the Senior-level guys because I pay attention to that, but U23 I’m not as familiar with. And I like that going into this tournament because then I can just focus on myself. And if I focus on myself, my best result will come. No matter who I wrestle.
5PM: Making this World Team, you know, I’d hate to say “finally” because you are still so young. But you had knocked on the door prior and you have been such an excellent competitor for a while. So winning the Trials and earning a ticket to a Worlds for the first time, was it a huge relief?
TB: I wouldn’t call it a relief, but I would definitely call it the “finally”. I came up short a lot in trying to make the Team many times, and I have been in the best-of-three many times and lost. So when I got it done, it wasn’t so much of a relief as it was just a great feeling of victory. I had finally gotten over that hump after so many years of trying to do it.
I had to go out there and earn my opportunity. I had to earn my way on this Team and I really fee like I earned this opportunity. I had to beat a guy who had already made the Team once before (George Sikes) just to make this Team. I just put a lot of time in and it paid off. It was a really special moment where it felt like all of those previous times when I had come up short led up to this big one. It finally pushed me over the hump. I wasn’t going to be the guy who lost again and didn’t make another Team.
5PM: You got to be a partner at the Senior World Team camp last month in Hoboken (NJ). Was there anything impactful about your time with the Seniors before Oslo?
TB: At the basic level, it meant getting to work with (Ben) Provisor some more, working with some of the foreigners who were in that room, Alan (Vera), and those guys. I mean, that is impactful enough right there, just to prove myself and wrestle those guys who I never get to wrestle. Also, being on that trip gave me the glimpse of what I’m trying to be. To become that Senior World Team member, to be the guy preparing to go to the Senior World Championships. I got to see the mountain that I am trying to climb and feel that out.
5PM: Sitting here now, you’re less that 48 hours away from leaving for Serbia. What are your thought processes like? Your emotions? You’ve competed overseas before but this is obviously a World tournament. Do you feel how you always envisioned you might given the situation?
Tommy Brackett: Maybe not, you know? Maybe when I envisioned it, I saw it as this… I mean, it is the biggest tournament I’ve ever competed in, obviously. But feeling like it is this big tournament and envisioning it that way? Instead, honestly, I feel very calm and very focused. And super-excited to get over there. Like I said, I believe that I have earned this opportunity and I really want to make the most of it. I think that I have done a great training camp. My coach put me through the situations he feels I’ve needed to get ready for this. I feel ready. I’m not nervous, I’m ready. I’m ready to wrestle the best I can.
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