Jake Herbert and I created BASE wrestling, but before we get into what it is, I am going to tell the history of our friendship.
Jake Herbert and I have know each other since he visited Michigan on a recruiting trip while choosing which university to attend. I was his host for the weekend and showed him around the campus. He ended up picking Northwestern over Michigan, but we’ve remained friends since.
During Jake’s redshirt year at Northwestern in 2003 he competed at the US Open. At this tournament we would eventually wrestle each other in a match in which I tore his ACL. The way Jake tells the story, I tore his ACL, stood over him, spit on his knee then called him a wimp. I actually felt so terrible for what happened that I went to check on him at the medical tent. Jake eventually had surgery, went through rehab and placed 3rd at the NCAA championship as a freshman that next season. You can watch Jake speak about this experience at the banquet before the Dapper Dan all star match on Flowrestling.
That spring we become training partners at the Overtime School of Wrestling under Sean Bormet. While Sean was at Overtime he attracted many top wrestlers from around the country including Donny Priztlaff, Matt Gentry, Ryan and Josh Churella, Andrew Howe (started training with us as a high school junior), Clint Wattenburg, Damion Hahn and Teyon Ware (just to name a few). Even current UFC Champion Chris Weidman found his way to Overtime for a training camp. These camps were set up as a training ground for the New York Athletic Club wrestlers in preparation for the biggest events of the season. Before Sean was able to get all the wrestlers training together each athlete would be home training themselves with a limited number of partners. The idea behind this kind of training is genius, but most wrestlers are too scared to train with their competition in fear of giving up secrets. Despite that idea, we looked at this opportunity as a way we all could get better by taking advantage of each other. The best relationships are the ones that are mutually beneficial and what we had at Overtime was exactly that.
Though the two of us were in the same weight class, we could see the benefit of training with each other. The results proved it and by 2006 Jake was 2nd at the NCAA Championship and I had made my first world team. In 2007 I was 2nd on the National Team after losing to Joe Williams in three matches at the trial. That year Joe would end up 5th in the world in Azerbaijan. Jake, on the other hand, won his first NCAA Championship going undefeated the entire year. Heading into 2008 we felt that we were two of the top contenders to make the Olympic team and Jake took an Olympic redshirt so he could chase his dream to do just that.
Since Jake was not in class that year, I invited him to Ann Arbor so we could train for a few days and wrestle a match during the intermission of a dual between the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois. I approached Joe McFarland about the possibility of this match to get practice in while getting some exposure for freestyle wrestling. Nobody had scheduled a match like this before so it was a pretty new idea. By luck the Big Ten Network picked up the dual to be their match of the week. The Big Ten Network was excited to find out we had this exhibition set up and they were more than happy to broadcast the match during intermission when they usually take commercial breaks and do commentary. I ended up losing to Jake, my second loss to him that year - he’d beaten me for the first time at the Sunkist Kids International Tournament in Phoenix, AZ at the beginning of that season.
As history would tell it, I made the Olympic team and Jake would go undefeated the following year to win his second NCAA Championship. After graduating in 2009, Jake made the world team at 84kg and placed 2nd at the World Championship in Herning, Denmark. I moved up a weight class for the world team trials and placed 2nd behind Jake Varner. During this summer I moved to Colorado Springs to train at the Olympic Training Center. Zeke Jones had just taken the job as National Team coach and Brandon Slay was hired as the resident coach of the training center. We also had a new freestyle team leader in Mike Novogratz. To give some incentive to athletes to move out to the training center Mike rented myself, Jake and the Paulson twins a nice house on a golf course. I enjoyed this arrangement, as everyone else had only committed at living there part time and most of the time I had the house to myself.
At the end of the season in 2010 Jake remained number one in the country by winning the World Team Trials. He went on to be eliminated in the first round of the world championships in Moscow, Russia by the same Cuban wrestler who eliminated me two years earlier in the first round of the Olympics. Personally, I was having the worst year of my international career. The previous four years I was 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd and now after recovering from a staph infection in my ankle I lost one match at the world team trials and finished in 4th place. I was very disappointed in my performance which lead me to make the decision to move to Vladikavkaz, Russia full time to train for the next year. Vladikavkaz, Russia in one of the top cities in the world to train and they have produced many of the world’s best wrestlers.