USA Greco

USA Greco Family Remembers Aghasi Manukyan

Remembering Aghasi Manukyan (Photos: NMU, Nick Alvarez)

THE problem with sorrow is the power that it wields. Not to be confused with sadness, which is a touch more impermanent and can eventually be replaced like the clouds after a storm, sorrow tends to stay awhile. Even as you laugh through the teardrops or force a smile to let someone else know how, No, really, I’m okay, bubbling underneath is the acceptance that life is now different. Not as good. Not as colorful. Not as warm, not as safe, not as complete. How could it be? A piece of you has gone missing, never to return. Not anytime soon, at least. All you can hope for is that along with the sorrow is a constant reminder that its very presence is the product of having already received the gift of joy. And that joy shall remain forever.

Monday, the United States Greco-Roman community lost one of its most unique and influential members in former World Champion Aghasi Manukyan, who passed away tragically at the age of 51.

Originally from Armenia, Manukyan moved into coaching following his career before winding up in Wisconsin where he trained with US legend Dennis Hall. They were contemporaries, wrestled each other a few times years prior, back when the world was still young and days like Monday were unimaginable. Manukyan returned to Armenia and then reappeared stateside several years later, setting up shop in Stevens Point. He worked in construction. The occupation suited him, the things he could make his hands do, the dignity found in building something.

A World champ in the grandest, most decadent country on the planet and he existed in practical anonymity until Hall began showing him off to the wrestlers who came up to Wisconsin for tutelage. That’s just how it was. That’s how Greco is. In Armenia and other nations nestled in and around the Eastern Bloc, Manukyan would be recognized immediately. Here? Suffice it to say, America is the only wrestling country where a man boasting Manukyan’s competitive history in the classical style could somehow fall through the cracks.

Thankfully, his time in the shadows inevitably reached its conclusion.

Manukyan joined the staff at Northern Michigan University in 2011 under head coach Rob Hermann. He was no longer a secret resource. Right away, Manukyan’s knowledge, quirks, incomparable work ethic, and natural compassion for would-be contenders made a deep, if not unforgettable impression. These wrestlers had never encountered someone quite like him before. A 45-year-old man who chain smokes and is a clean decade-and-a-half removed from competition isn’t supposed to outhustle and outperform a bunch of 20-somethings, is he? Is he? Well, that’s what happened. What also happened is every athlete virtually every day got a little better. In some way. Maybe it was through imitating Manukyan’s unforgiving, rib-crunching reverse lift; maybe it was picking up a wrinkle to more efficiently roll a gutwrench, or how to pop an elbow to create an angle for an arm drag. Or maybe it was the fact that when all of these college-age thoroughbreds battled episodes of doubt and frustration, all they had to do was grab the man’s ear and let him refill their self-belief in ways only he was capable of.

Such will be Manukyan’s legacy in our sport. Back home in Armenia, they’ll celebrate how he became their first World Champion for the new independent republic following the USSR’s dissolution. Old coaches will spin yarns about what they saw a couple of decades ago. They will watch grainy videos, break out scrapbooks, and grin because he was their own. They deserve this, all of it. He was theirs.

But he became ours, too.

Aghasi Manukyan’s impact cannot — and will not — be summed up in a cursory obituary, some scrambled fact-based words spit out for the sheer sake of doing so. The measure of a man can only be adequately understood if communicated by the people he cared for and whom reciprocated that love.

Therefore, this platform felt the most appropriate manner in which to celebrate Manukyan’s contributions was to provide an opportunity for (some of) those who knew him to share a story or two, to make it crystal clear that they will continue on knowing that their lives were enriched by his influence. And sorrow can’t compete with that.

Remembering Aghasi Manukyan

Rob Hermann (head coach, Northern Michigan University/Olympic Training Site) “Aghasi was a great mentor to everyone in our room over the past four years. He was a great friend, teammate, and what a great asset to have for the Northern Michigan-Olympic Training Site program.

“Even after he left the job he stayed in touch with a lot of the athletes. At the end of his time on this Earth he had about eight of us at his house for a barbecue on Friday night. Then on Sunday, we got together and had a great sauna, which is what he loved to do. He’ll be missed by a lot of friends and family, not only in the US, but around the world.”

Dennis Hall (1995 World Champion, 1996 Olympic silver medalist) “He was a genius in the sport and in his body. Basically, he taught me that position and how to use your body is more important than technique. The technique will come from how you’re using your body. It’s more of a feel thing, it is reading your opponent’s reactions and taking your opponent where he is telling you he wants to go. That’s one thing he helped me out with.

“I mean, the guy was unbelievable. I remember him standing in the room at my kids club and he does a back arch, hits his head, and then kicks over — in one motion. He doesn’t use his hands. He touched his head on the mat and kicked over after. The amount of body control the guy had was phenomenal, his core strength was unbelievable. That was one of the reasons I brought him over. I wrestled him, I knew he was an animal on the wrestling mat but I wanted to get inside his brain and see how he thought. And I’m a better coach and I was a better athlete because of him.

“What people don’t understand is the impact guys like him have on other people. He helped me become a better coach because I wasn’t thinking technically like we do in the United States, it was more about position with technique coming from those positions. That is where the foreigners are so much ahead of us and why we can learn a ton from them.

“I brought him over in 1999. We spent six months training together and working out. I was doing well at that time wrestling-wise. But he goes home. He’s in Armenia and then I think about 2005 or 2006, I go to a local grade school right next to my house. I’m dropping my son Tyler off so he could go play some baseball with his friends. I’m talking to his mom because she’s going to bring Tyler home and I see this guy kind of in the distance. I said, ‘Man, that looks like one of my old training partners, he’s from Armenia. It ain’t him, but it looks like him.’ But then I see this guy with his kid and he does a handstand at the bottom of the slide. So now I’m like, It’s him. There is no doubt in my mind it’s him, because there is no American who is going to be that straight and have that strength. So I walk over and it was him. I go, ‘Hey, how you doing? You’re back?’ He says, ‘Yeah, I got my green card when I was here, my green card is good.’ So then I ask, ‘What brought you to Stevens Point?’ And he goes, ‘It’s the only place I knew.’ It was pretty funny.

“And then we reconnected and became even better friends. Just the times together, having a beer, hanging out, and his kids would come up to my club a little bit when they were younger. Aghasi would help out at the club, too, and he was around my kids. It was pretty cool, seeing him back in the United States, and in Stevens Point no less, after having been gone for almost seven years. It was neat to reconnect with a guy I didn’t know I would ever see again.

“All I know is that this is a man who I have a ton of respect for. He was a fighter. He loved to grind. You know what, he got the best of me most of the time. I just knew I couldn’t let him get his hands on me otherwise I was in trouble because technically he’d eat me alive if I hung out in positions where I didn’t belong.

“Aghasi was a good man. I had to teach club last night and I told the kids how a real close friend passed away. How he was a World Champion I competed against who became a training partner. Some kids had heard of him because I’d mention his name sometimes, you know? So I wanted to show a couple of techniques that he used, and then I talked a little bit about him. It was cool. I’ll miss him. I wish Aghasi was in the room last night so he could’ve helped me show what he did.”

Alex Sancho (67 kg, NYAC) “People need to know who this man was and what he did for the Greco community, especially at Northern. This guy made me who I am today. He was my mentor. I looked at him as a father when I was out there. He was a great Greco technician, one of the best in the United States and one of the best in Armenia. He was awarded Best Technician in his country. He taught me everything I knew. Aghasi trained me since 2011 at Big Brother Camp, that’s when I met him. This is heartbreaking for me.

“I knew he had some demons and was going through some health problems. I tried my hardest to see him a lot. When I was in Marquette, I’d go to his house after he retired. It’s heartbreaking, it just is. I owe him my Greco career.

“After the U23’s I went to go see him at his house. He just got home from work. We talked a little bit. I said I was going to bring him back a medal. Aghasi is like, ‘Oh, wait here one second.’ He went and grabbed his European Championships silver medal. He said, ‘Here, have this. I want you to bring me back a gold medal one day.’ That really hit me hard. The next medal, especially from the World Championships or any other big tournament, I’m going to dedicate to him.

“He was just a great guy. He was funny. He was also a hard worker and stayed after practice to help the team out. Aghasi was a great coach. He and Coach Hermann would run practice every day and he never missed one. He would go to church with us, help us out. Aghasi developed us at a young age, 18-years-old, to become Greco athletes. He would always be in my corner at tournaments. Win or lose, he’d pat me on the back and tell me what I did wrong, what I did right, and what I could do to improve.

“It’s really hard to talk about him because he was such a great guy. A great individual, a great man. I’ve been thinking about him a lot. I don’t hear him talking, I just see his face. I had goosebumps all day yesterday. It was really hard for me.

“I’m going to take this as motivation to work hard, be the best I can be at Greco, and dedicate it to him. I loved this man. He was a great guy. A fucking superhero. He’d be at practice, 50-years-old, doing backflips off the wall. Aghasi had cancer, and then he fought that cancer and beat it. He was made out of metal. He was unbreakable.

“I knew his kids, I knew his wife. Aghasi was a great father, a great husband. Back in the day when he didn’t have a house in Marquette, he would drive how many hours to Wisconsin on the weekends to see his family. But he’d be at practice bright and early the next morning at 6:00 am. Just a great man. I’m sad to see him go.”

Alex Sancho at the World Team Trials being coached by NMU assistant Aghasi Manukyan

“This guy made me who I am today. He was my mentor.” Alex Sancho was coached by Aghasi Manukyan for five seasons. During their time together, Sancho earned a spot on the Junior World Team and became a two-time US National Team member.

Sammy Jones (63 kg, NYAC/OTS) “Well, it has been a little emotional as I’m sure you can imagine.

“You can ask anyone on the team about Aghasi and they will all have a personal story that’s special to them. With Aghasi, I think he was probably a man not understood by many who were looking in from the outside. He was unique, that’s what made him so special. He would tell me, ‘I don’t give a fuck of no one’ or ‘I do my shit’, and that’s just how he was (laughs). He didn’t really care about appearances too much but he left everyone with the passion that he had.

“I remember after the 2016 Olympic Trials, I didn’t do very well and didn’t make the team or whatever. We were just talking and he goes, ‘I want to get on a plane with you and crash it, I’m so upset for you.’ That was the kind of like, wild…I mean, who says that kind of stuff? But it was his heart behind it and his passion for the sport. He cared so much about his athletes. He felt every single win and loss that I had and it was the same way for every teammate I’ve had.

“It was evident in practice that he wanted it as bad as we did. Even when he stepped down from his position, he would still come over to my home. We would barbecue and sit out late at night, and he would tell me, ‘I can’t be in the room because I can’t give you everything in my heart right now. It’s like I’m stealing from you if I can’t give you everything I have.’

“Just knowing how much he cared about me as an athlete. He instilled in all of us this love for the sport and his belief that we can accomplish our goals and our dreams. I know that Austin Morrow and I were talking, and it’s like he trained us every day, but he also always told us how much he believed in us. That mindset of not settling and not giving up on your dreams, that’s what every coach aspires to do but I don’t think many do it as well or in the same fashion as Aghasi Manukyan did. He was a unique man, for sure, and he had so much passion that was displayed in ways I have not seen compared to many others.

“After he was no longer coaching I’d still run into him all over town, Marquette is a small town, and he’d stop what he was doing and talk to me whether it was for 10 or 15 minutes. He would say, ‘Come over to the house and have dinner tonight’, or ‘I’m coming over.’ And then he’d come over to my home and bring peppers, eggplant, and random vegetables. He would make a fire, throw the vegetables in the fire, have a couple of beers, chain smoke cigarettes, and tell me stories. I just miss those conversations. It was the way he invested time. He was a giver. His heart was just to give. It was his demise. He’d give everything he had but he wouldn’t take anything in return. But that’s what made him really special. He would drop everything he was doing at the drop of a hat if I needed something. Anyone — not just me, anyone on this team, everybody — if they needed something he would be there in a heartbeat That was just his character.”

Austin Morrow (67 kg, NYAC/OTS) “First off, I’d like to thank he and his family. Aghasi always went above and beyond expectations that would ever be required of a coach. He would spend hours after practice if you needed just to correct a technique or wrestle. Aside from the wrestling aspect, he was just a great role model for what it takes to succeed.

“He had his demons. He’s human, everyone has those. But it’s a great loss for the wrestling community and I’m devastated for his family. It’s just crazy to think I was sitting there in the sauna with him Sunday, just talking to him and picking his brain still. He was joking around, talking about how he could still kick all of our asses.

“I have Aghasi stories that I’ll never forget just because he is such a big deal in my life.

“Five years ago I was in Colorado wrestling with (Steve) Fraser. He said he was going to have Rob call me and he did. ‘You like snow?’ Rob asked. What? Yeah, I like snow. ‘Cool, you’ll love it up here.’ I packed up and moved all my stuff to Marquette. I had wrestled Greco a little bit but I’m nowhere near where I needed to be or wanted to be. Immediately, I think Aghasi saw the work ethic I have and just how much I love wrestling, and he feeds off that. He picks you out like, This guy, I’m going to take this guy under my wing. He was there for me through everything, through losses that I had.

“There were two losses I had at the NYAC tournament four or five years ago. I got pinned by Japan and then Marco Lara, he kicked my ass (laughs). Afterwards I was just freaking out. I thought I was working hard, I had just gone to Sweden and did well over there. But now I’m freaking out in the corner crying and Toby (Erickson) comes up and consoles me, like Hey man, this happens. So Toby is helping me through it and then Aghasi comes over to sit next to me. He doesn’t say a word at first, just puts his hand on my shoulder. Then Aghasi said, ‘You’re doing everything right, just keep doing this.’ He was just always there, he always believed in me no matter what. I could have a terrible match and lose 400-0, and he would still say, You are looking good, you almost got the tech. Just keep focusing, don’t change your style. One day, it all just clicks and I started winning. He comes up to me and goes, ‘I told you, keep doing.’

“After I won my first University National title I called to tell him. It was so simple. I was all, Hey Aghasi, I won… And he responds with, ‘I know, I didn’t expect you to lose. Now get back on the mat and do even better.’

“It’s just the way he approaches it. He instilled a sense of belief in myself. He and Rob were always in my corner 100%, we’re busting our asses every day, and they are believing in us. Just the confidence Aghasi had in me made me believe in myself, and I think that’s why I’ve started to taste success, because of them. He was almost like a parent to me, it was always unwavering support no matter what. You’re the best, now go out there and fucking show everyone why you are the best. And you couldn’t ask for something better than that in a coach.

“Aside from that, he was just a crazy, tough son of a bitch (laughs). One of my favorite stories, and it’s pretty recent, was when Dalton and I ran that marathon. We were like, Yeah cool, let’s run a marathon. We found out a couple of months in advance, a month, whatever it was, and decided to run it. We went to watch Aghasi’s son play soccer two days before and Aghasi hears we’re going to run the marathon. He says, ‘Oh, you run marathon, huh? That sounds cool.’ Didn’t say anything else.

“Two days later we’re at the starting line, Dalton and I are warming up. All of the sudden we see Aghasi running up with his poofy hair at the time, he’s got a little hat on his head, a jacket, and shorts. And he just jogs up and starts stretching. Dalton and I are like Aghasi? He goes, ‘Oh, hey guys, I am here to run. Where do I sign up?’ We’re laughing because you sign up in advance, you have to prepay, you get your bib the day before. So we’re telling him he missed the signup. He says, ‘Okay, I will go get my number.’ He goes up to the head table asking how he can sign up and get his number. They tell him he’s not in the database so they don’t have a number for him. ‘That’s okay, I will run anyways,’ is his response. And he does. He does! He runs the fricking marathon. He just showed up, smelled like a pack of cigarettes saying Hey guys, I am here to run, and he did. By the time he finished no one was there, they were all packing up. But he crossed the finish line and they are like, Sir, you don’t have your tracker on. He goes, ‘Oh, I know, but do I get medal?’ They do, they give him a medal, hand him a blanket, and there he was, he ran a marathon in four-and-a-half hours. He had to call a taxi to get home because his wife was at work and his feet were blistered. And it was so cold that day, I don’t know how or why he just decided to do it. He was just the toughest son of a bitch on the planet.

“God bless his family and God bless him. They’re in our prayers and our thoughts.”

Austin Morrow and Aghasi Manukyan

When Morrow first arrived at Northern Michigan, he was a wide-eyed newbie to Greco-Roman wrestling just looking to continue his career. Now considered one of the best at his weight class in the country, Morrow credits Manukyan with instilling the confidence and overall self-belief that has led to his success. (Photo: Nick Alvarez)

Parker Betts (NMU class of ’17, former University National Champion & Senior National runner-up) “We had a whole group of guys who were the first ones there when Aghasi got to Northern. We were there throughout the whole time, so this has affected us all equally, I would say.

“I had a pretty tight relationship with him. I’m still at a loss for words and this kind of came out of nowhere. It’s what he implemented in us and what he taught us. He never missed a practice. It was like he cared more sometimes than we did. He was just so concerned for our well-being, our wrestling, everything, and you could see it every single day. To have a coach like that was just unbelievable.

“The biggest impact on me had to do with my mental strength. I remember there was a situation where we were in the sauna. I wasn’t even cutting weight but we were just in there after practice and he was with us. And that sauna up at Northern can get really, really hot. He just kept pouring water on and kept pouring water on, and now it is blazing hot. So we’re like, Okay, let’s get out of here, and he said, ‘No, this is part of wrestling a match. Are you soft?’ He was kind of breaking us down to the point where we were like, No, we’re tougher than this. So he kept making it hotter, kept making it hotter, but he also kept encouraging us to picture it as a wrestling environment.

“It was situations that he put us through, these little things like that helped us out so much.”

Toby Erickson (130 kg, Army/WCAP) “The one thing that separated Aghasi from most coaches is that most good coaches will do about 60% of what their athletes will do whereas Aghasi would do anything we did.

“When he was first diagnosed with cancer and had surgery to remove his tumors, he was out there wrestling live the next week. He wasn’t drilling, he wasn’t play-wrestling, nope — the guy was wrestling live.

“I was just talking to some former teammates, Austin Morrow, Nick Alvarez, and Joey DeNova, and my favorite story that came along with it was we had this one week where practice was brutal. It was a helluva week. We still had a Saturday morning practice at around 9:00 am. We all just dragged ass in there. It was cold, it had just snowed the night before. I want to say it was like -30 outside. Aghasi told us to bring our sweats and a winter jacket. Most of us thought, Oh, we’re going to go for a little jog. Okay, no. Instead, we did like 20 down-and-back 50-year sprints in three feet of snow (laughs). But he was right there doing it with us. At one point he stopped and said, ‘What? Are you guys soft? This is nothing. If you can do 20 of these, no one will be able to stop you. Just keep going.’ So we did, and Aghasi was right there with us.

“What I will miss most about Aghasi was how much he cared. I remember the first time I was wrestling Robby (Smith) at the 2014 World Team Trials. It was the first time I made the finals. Aghasi was all excited about that, my first Senior Trials final. He was just super-excited and proud. After the matches, he came up to me and said, ‘You know, you have only tapped into maybe 40% of your potential. You’ve got so much more in your tank and I can’t wait to see what happens when you finally start tapping into the rest of what’s left inside of you.’

“He just pushed everyone to give more. That’s one thing I’ll miss most about him. He knows how great every person can be and brought it out of them. That’s how he showed you he cared. If he didn’t think you were doing everything you could, he’d smack you in the head and say, ‘Let’s go. You have more to give.'”

Dalton Roberts (60 kg, NYAC/OTS) “It all came at me real quick. I was literally just in the sauna with the man Sunday.

“I’ve had coaches before in high school and junior high growing up, but I’ve never had a coach impact me as much as Aghasi has. He was one of those guys who never wanted help yet he’d always give help. What I mean by that is he would give you the shoes and socks off of his feet if you needed to run. He’d give you everything you needed. But if you wanted to go out and do something for him, he wouldn’t want it. That’s just the man he was. There are very, very few people in my life I’ve come across who are like that.

“A couple of summers ago after I made my second Junior World Team, I came back to Marquette and called him up. It was the middle of the summer so he’s working construction. But I called him and it was a Tuesday afternoon. I asked him to come in and wrestle with me. So we drill a little bit and then he says, ‘Ooh-kay, we are done for too-day.’ You know, he’s got that Armenian accent. ‘Tomorrow, we wrestle match.’ Okay, I thought, no problem. So I took the rest of the day off.

“Tomorrow comes and I’m waiting for him to walk into the wrestling room. It’s just me and him and the lights are on. It’s the middle of summer, so it’s hot. He comes walking in with a cucumber, this huge ass cucumber. I had never seen a cucumber so big. He grew it in his garden, he didn’t buy it from a grocery store. That’s what he told me. Agahsi looks at me and goes, ‘Dalton, winner gets cucumber.’ I looked at him like, What? I don’t even like cucumbers! And then he beat the living shit out of me for seven minutes. He couldn’t just beat me up for six minutes, no, it had to be seven minutes. He then breaks the cucumber in half and says, ‘Okay, this is consolation prize,’ and gives me half of a cucumber. It’s an Aghasi thing, we wrestled for a cucumber. I had never done such a thing. I got my ass handed to me and never valued half of a cucumber so much in my life.

“One day, Austin Morrow and I had to run. I can’t remember if I took first or he took first, but we were first and second. Agahsi takes out this pack of Juicy Fruit gum that had probably been in his pocket all week. He breaks it in half and goes, ‘Okay, here is prize.’ He gave both of us a half a stick of gum. And just like that cucumber, I never valued a small thing so much before in my life. If he would have given me a penny, I would have loved that penny.

“It was just the little things he did that moved me and I will forever hold those weird, quirky stories dearly, and I’ll continue to tell them. It’s just, it’s an Aghasi thing.”

Dalton Roberts with Aghasi Manukyan

Roberts (left) holds a deep respect for the lessons Manukyan taught him and appreciated the unconventional methods that were introduced during training sessions. “I’ve had coaches before in high school and junior high growing up, but I’ve never had a coach impact me as much as Aghasi has,” Roberts said. (Photo: Nick Alvarez)

Nick Alvarez (NMU class of ’16, former Junior & University World Team member) “We used to call him Superman. Aghasi was 49 and still doing push-ups with no legs. Everyone on the team was like, Oh man, I can’t do that. this old dude is making us look bad in front of all the other sports, because we had to share the weight room. I actually have videos of that.

“He was there (in the practice room) before most of us and stayed until after most of us had left. Rob (Hermann) said a couple of times that Aghasi wanted to be on the mat more than we did. Aghasi didn’t like mediocrity, he really didn’t. He’d say, ‘You come here to train everyday and I am here longer than you? No, it should not be this way.’ That fired up most of the guys who wound up becoming more successful.

“He’d make the sauna as hot as possible and then stand up and put his arms on top of the roof with his head on the ceiling. ‘This does not get hot, this is normal’, that’s what he’d say. We had a lot of fun times with him, man.

“You could say he was in beast mode during practices. Outside of practice in the cafeteria it was, ‘No, you must eat like this because champions eat like this. If you want to be champion, you eat like this.’ I love doing his accent. He told me, ‘Wow, you do my voice really good.’ I thought that was funny.

“Aghasi just had these stories. He had one where he goes, ‘One time, me and Karelin work out so hard we fall asleep. I fall asleep longer, he woke me up, and it was three days later.’ We were like, What do you mean, did you fall into a coma? So he says, ‘Doctor was concerned but I was okay.’ But he was able to do these crazy things to where you’re like, Wow, I don’t know if it was three days, but I believe him.

“Norway, oh man, Norway was fun. We won the University age group, the Junior age group, and we were overall champions. And then Aghasi jumped on the bus with the Swedish team. ‘My brother lives in Sweden. I go visit, I surprise him.’ An hour later I hear a knock on the door, I’m figuring it’s him and he forgot something. Instead, a chubby version of Aghasi is standing at the door. The guy says, ‘Hello! Oh, wait, you are not Aghasi. Where is my brother?’ His brother drove nine hours to see him at the tournament and Aghasi jumped on the bus to go visit him (laughs).

“I just have crazy respect and love for him, man. I’m really going to miss him.”

Alvarez with Aghasi Manukyan at NMU's Superior Dome

Like several NMU Greco athletes, Alvarez forged a deep bond with Manukyan that transcended the wrestling room. This past Christmas, Alvarez bought Manukyan’s children a collection of Nerf guns. When pressed by his wife as to where they came from, the coach said, “Nick bought them, I’m on the phone with him now. See? I told you it wasn’t me.”

Max Nowry (55 kg, Army/WCAP) “Aghasi came across so many people at Northern Michigan and that is a developmental training center. He helped shape and mold so many young athletes. He was a guy who pretty much broke everyone’s ribs winning a World Championship and then here he was, helping get guys started.

“He was a big influence but he didn’t have to say much to be a big influence. He did a lot of unorthodox things as far as training, whether it was walking along the rocks on Lake Superior or doing sprints in like, a foot-and-a-half of snow. We were doing crazy things, but very cool things. Aghasi brought a lot of ideas from overseas and he made his athletes believe in what he was doing.

“I was thinking about it earlier, and you know how they have that Most Interesting Man in the World, that Dos Equi guy? That’s how I view Aghasi in the Greco world, he’s the most interesting man. He was just very unique, and it goes for off the mat, too. He was very crafty in every single thing he did. Aghasi could pick something up and be the best at it. He could take an orange and with the he’d peel it, he could peel it into a stick figure-type guy. Aghasi was crafty with everything he did on and off the mat.

“I had a lot of trust in him right away. He comes from another country, and he was very technical and very smart. It’s the same thing with Rob, too. When you get guys like that, but especially Aghasi who was a World Champion and so established, he’d still come in the room and beat up on guys. I felt like I got so much better wrestling with him. And even when he was sick he would still wrestle with the guys. Nothing was ever about him, it was always about his guys, which is who so many athletes clung onto him. It’s hard for everyone. I didn’t get as much time with him as some of these other guys, but he was one of those coaches you gravitated towards. The way he was just attracted those guys who are hungry and wanted it more. And Aghasi was always there to do whatever he could for anyone who asked.”

Matt Lindland (US National Team head coach) “I didn’t know Aghasi as well as the athletes he coached. Obviously, he was closer with Rob and the athletes he worked with directly. But I know he’s had his cancer and it sounds like that came back.

“There will never be answers as to why. No one should look for those answers, don’t look for those answers. All we can do now is pray for his family and see how we can help and support them in any way we can.”

Nate Engel (2018 US Junior World Team coach, US Naval Academy assistant coach) “Aghasi wasn’t my coach but I would go to Dennis Hall’s to train and he’d be there. He would come in, teach me, and beat the crap out of me. He was an amazing coach and an amazing person. His legacy in the sport of Greco-Roman wrestling will be secure forever, being a World champ and everything else he’s done, plus moving out to America and helping Dennis with his career. He was just a fantastic human being who touched a lot of lives during his short time on this earth.”

The family of Aghasi Manukyan can use your help during this all-too difficult time. If you would like to contribute to the expenses surrounding Aghasi’s passing and funeral, as well as to help ease the financial burden on his family, we ask that you please donate directly via this Go Fund Me page.

The funeral for Aghasi Manukyan takes place on Monday, March 26th at:
Canale Tonella Funeral Home
526 North Third Street
Marquette, Michigan, 49855

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