Adam Coon may be the most complete wrestler in the United States when examining his success in all three styles of wrestling.
This year the 23-year-old Michigan heavyweight reached the national finals in folkstyle (NCAA), Greco-Roman and freestyle, proving that wrestlers can be successful competing in all three styles of wrestling, even at the highest level.
Coon, who defeated Olympic champion Kyle Snyder once in three tries this season, wants to go against the norm and prove that wrestlers can be successful in all styles of wrestling.
“Yes, I have areas I need to work on, which would probably be more developed if I specialized, but you can still do it with both styles,” Coon said after winning the U.S. Open. “That’s kind of what I want to show everybody. You’ve got to put in a little extra conditioning. You have to put in a little extra wrestling. You can do both styles.”
Last year, Hayden Zillmer, a Minnesota native, earned a spot on the U.S. National Team in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.
Zillmer burst on to the national wrestling scene in 2007 by winning a USA Wrestling Cadet Triple Crown (national titles in all three styles) as an 84-pound 15-year-old, becoming only the third wrestler ever to accomplish the feat.
He went on to capture three state championships in high school and become a Division I All-American at North Dakota State.
According to Zillmer, it was never about choosing a style growing up. Many of his wrestling friends in Minnesota competed in all the styles.
“It was kind of the culture,” Zillmer said. “It’s just what everybody did. On the weekends they would wrestle Friday night Greco and then on Saturday they would freestyle. When you would go to Fargo, you would be able wrestle Greco first and then you would wrestle freestyle second. When you would go to the National Duals, you would wrestle both styles.”
Sam Hazewinkel competed at the highest level in all three styles of wrestling. He represented the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games in freestyle and was ranked in the top 10 in the world in Greco-Roman. He won four U.S. Open titles, two in freestyle and two in Greco-Roman. Prior to his international career, Hazewinkel was a four-time All-American in folkstyle at the University of Oklahoma after an undefeated high school wrestling career. He also participated in sambo growing up.
“Wrestling is wrestling,” said Hazewinkel. “The more you know the more well-rounded you become.”
Hazewinkel’s father Dave was an Olympian in Greco-Roman, as was his uncle Jim. He was coached by his dad growing up. Sam and his father are the first and only father-son Olympians in American wrestling history.
“My dad had a way of integrating the styles together,” said Hazewinkel. “We did things like throws at the end of almost every practice regardless of style.”
Jake Clark, a two-time U.S. World Team member in Greco-Roman, was successful in all three styles growing up. In high school, Clark was a Fargo finalist in both freestyle and Greco-Roman, and claimed two high school state championships in folkstyle.
For Clark, his passion for the sport drew him to all the styles of wrestling. He also enjoyed the camaraderie and friendships he formed competing whenever and wherever he could.
“I loved the sport and was excited for any opportunity to get on the mat,” said Clark. “At tournaments I’d get to meet up with my friends and have a chance to win a trophy. I would have done other styles if there were more options.”
Clark, who now serves as the director of wrestling and martial arts at Takedown Gym in Brainerd, Minnesota, subscribes to the same theory as Hazewinkel, that wrestling is wrestling.
“The more positions you learn, the more areas you become comfortable with, and the more mat time you have, the better you will be,” said Clark.
According to Zillmer, many wrestling skills can be transferred across all three styles.
“I think both freestyle and Greco play into each other pretty well,” said Zillmer. “Hand fighting is a big thing with Greco. If guys start wrestling a lot of Greco, I feel like their hand fighting is a little bit better. You have to stay in pretty good position or you’re going to get tossed. It’s harder to score. You have to work a little bit harder. You have to hand fight a little bit harder to get in those positions.”
Hazewinkel believes his Greco-Roman background helped him excel in college wrestling.
“I think it helped a lot because people didn’t know what to expect,” said Hazewinkel. “It also made college wrestling easier because I pretty much only worried about people shooting on me. No one wanted to go upper body. That doesn’t leave a lot of options for people. It was like a get out of jail free card. If I didn’t like a tie I was in, I just started jacking people up like I was going to throw, and they would back out of a good tie.”
With college wrestling being folkstyle, Clark understands why some coaches and parents might encourage wrestlers to specialize in folkstyle.
“I believe a wrestler having a background in each of the styles definitely gives them an overall advantage on the mat,” said Clark. “However, I know a lot of parents and coaches want their wrestlers concentrating on folkstyle with college scholarships in mind. That makes sense to me, and I won’t knock that thought process. From my experience, though, I know there were several wrestlers that were considered freestyle or folkstyle wrestlers that I beat because of knowing Greco and being able to take them into positions they were uncomfortable with.”
Hazewinkel doesn’t believe it’s necessary to specialize in a wrestling style or any sport at a young age.
“I’m not a fan of specializing,” said Hazewinkel, who was hired as head wrestling coach at the University of Central Oklahoma in late March. “It is gaining traction in the U.S. right now in a lot of sports and it seems to me it hurts way more than it helps. I think more kids burn out. I think more kids get injured than kids that become great at that sport versus the same results in kids doing multiple sports. There is a place and time to start specializing. I can’t tell you when that is. I’m sure it varies from person to person, but I highly doubt it is before college for the majority.”
Clark, who spent nine years in the military with the U.S. Marines and U.S. Air Force, focused primarily on Greco-Roman wrestling after high school. He dabbled in freestyle, but most of his training was in Greco-Roman.
“To reach your peak in our sport I believe you need to learn as much wrestling as possible, no matter the style,” said Clark, a nine-time USA Wrestling national champion. “You need to have an open mind in learning different styles to become dominant in all positions, and to have different options when finishing or defending against other wrestlers. However, at some point — definitely at the senior level — I think it’s necessary to concentrate on one style to maximize your peak in that specific style, as the international wrestlers train solely in freestyle or Greco, not both.”
Coon has won age-group world medals in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. After his NCAA wrestling career concluded this past March, speculation swirled about what style Coon would contrate on for his international wrestling career. For now, Coon is not choosing one style. He wants to wrestle both freestyle and Greco-Roman and believes others should consider doing the same.
“Everybody is starting to specialize now,” said Coon. “I don’t think that’s the direction everybody should be going. I just think people should be wrestling to wrestle.”