If there were ever an iconic American figure in the sport of wrestling, Dan Gable would be it. Few wrestlers can boast they won at every level and dimension of the sport as Gable did: multiple-time high school champion, multiple-time NCAA Division I national champion, 1971 gold medalist at the World Championships, 1972 gold medalist at the Olympics, 21 Big Ten titles as a coach for the University of Iowa as well as 17 national team titles. There’s even a grip named after him.
I caught up Gable recently at the ‘Grapple in the Big Apple’ wrestling exhibition in Times Square to talk about the Olympics, but also wrestling’s ever-changing relationship with mixed martial arts. Despite the slowly interweaving,there is still a sense of tension, unfamiliarity and distance between the wrestling and MMA communities. MMA has popularized wrestling at a grass roots level, but has incentivized world-class talents to move into fight sport. And while collegiate wrestling seems to be on the verge of a mild resurgence in popularity, most MMA fans do not enjoy wrestling as a spectator sport.
I talked to Gable about whether MMA gives back to wrestling as much as it takes, his thoughts on Olympian Steve Mocco entering MMA, the prospects for gold at the 2012 Olympics for the U.S. men’s freestyle team and much more.