Funicello finds challenge and fun competing in Beach wrestling

By Gary Abbott | July 17, 2009, 6:21 a.m. (ET)
It's summer, and for Jeff Funicello, it is time to get ready for the U.S. Beach National Championships and World Team Trials.

Funicello will be leaving the blazing hot weather in the Phoenix, Ariz. area and flying to Rochester, N.Y. where he will test his wrestling skills in the sand on July 17-19. The most successful U.S. Beach wrestler in history, Funicello has used a lifetime within wrestling and the mixed martial arts to become very successful in this developing style.

"It is still fun and challenging," said Funicello. "Through all the years I wrestled Greco internationally, I was used to wrestling in a sweaty gym in the Balkans. This is a nice change of scenery, a breath of fresh air."

Funicello, 38, is the only American to have won two Beach World medals, capturing bronze medals at the Below 84 kg/185 lbs. division at the last two World Beach events held at the World Wrestling Games. He won his first bronze medal in Antalya, Turkey in 2007 and added another bronze medal in Durres, Albania in 2008.

Find a combat sport, and Jeff Funicello has done it. He pursued Olympic dreams in Greco-Roman, but also wrestling in freestyle and folkstyle. In his youth, he did judo, boxing and kick boxing. He is currently competing in Grappling and other forms of submission wrestling. At his club Phoenix-area American Pankration club, Funicello trains athletes in Mixed Martial Arts.

You might think that Beach wrestling doesn't have a lot of technical skills. The first wrestler to get two points in the match, either by getting a takedown or a pushout, wins the bout. According to Funicello and others who have competed on the international level, there are many skills and strategies that you must have in order to win on the beach.

"Your footing is different. You have to make adjustments. It is a whole new chapter in wrestling," he said. "It is not that forgiving with the rules. You don't have room for mistakes. You don't get too many chances."

Funicello likes that athletes who compete in different wrestling styles can get out on the beach and see who is the toughest.

"It sounds sill, but I like to say that it is ¾ Greco and ¼ freestyle," said Funicello. "Certain moves in freestyle work in it, and certain ones don't. It is a good mix of the two. It is a way for freestyle guys to meet in a common, even playing field."

Although Funicello knows the subtlety of Beach wrestling, he has not been doing much outside training for this weekend's action.

"I am doing my Greco stuff and mixing it up with freestyle," said Funicello. "It is so darn hot down here. Training in the sand is tough. Most of my training for this has been in the gym."

He considers Beach wrestling a great way to promote the sport, especially to those who are not hard-core wrestling fans.

"The crowd loves it. They understand it more. It is a simpler form. People come by on the beach, stop, watch and enjoy it. They did not know wrestling, but they stayed, liked it and understood it," he said.

There have been a number of changes in his life since his last World Beach medal. Jeff just opened up a new MMA gym call the American Pankration Fighting Spartan Academy. He and his wife Jennifer had their first child this year, and they are bringing seven-month-old Jacob with them to watch the Beach event in Rochester.

"It is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me," said Funicello about his son Jacob. "He is phenomenal. Every day, I make mistakes all of the time. But he is perfect."

But summer has arrived, and it is time for Funicello to turn his attention to the beach.

"I look forward to the Beach wrestling," said Funicello. "Of all the styles, it is the most fun. All of the styles are serious, including on the beach. I really enjoy the beach style. It also is a style you can continue to do as you wean yourself off of Greco-Roman and freestyle. It is hard for a wrestler to just quit cold turkey."

However, Funicello is not entering this Beach wrestling event or future Grappling events just to quietly go into the sunset. He has high goals in both styles.

"I am looking to go overseas and come home with the right color medal this time, a gold medal," said Funicello. "I would like to get one in Submission Wrestling also."

For information on Funicello's American Pankration facilities, visit: