Greco star Robby Smith is off to a great start in 2014

By Chris Casper | Feb. 10, 2014, 5:54 p.m. (ET)
Photos of Robby Smith from the 2013 World Championships by John Sachs,

2013 U.S. Greco-Roman World Team member Robby Smith is having a very good year. In January, Smith was undefeated in the heavyweight 130 kg/286 lbs. weight class, two events hosted in the United States

At the Jack Pinto Cup at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, he was named Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament with a 3-0 record. A week later, he defeated David Arendt of the U.S. Marines by a 3-2 decision in the finals, winning the Dave Schultz Memorial International, also held at the OTC.

Smith is proud of how he has been wrestling so far this year.

“It was my first Dave Schultz Memorial win so that was awesome. It’s a really big tournament; for us it’s probably one of the biggest of the year in the US, so it was a real honor to win it. I had some really great competition. I wrestled decently—I feel I could have wrestled better—but it was a really great honor,” Smith said.

“At the Jack Pinto Cup, I got Outstanding Wrestler there; it was an honor to get an OW at that tournament. To think about that little boy (Jack Pinto, killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in December 2012)—it’s so tragic. I’m glad we can host this tournament in his honor, and to be named outstanding wrestler there, it’s pretty cool,” Smith said.

Smith came off his best international season to date in 2013. He made his first senior World Team, and had a strong performance at the World Championships, where he placed fifth. He added a gold’s at the NYAC International and the Lavrikov championships in Russia.

Smith cannot point to any particular thing that is contributing to his recent success, saying the grind of the everyday work is what contributes to the wins on the mat.

“You put in the time and the work; it’s an everyday thing. I’m not where I want to be yet, so I keep striving every day. Coach (Steve) Fraser says try to be great every day and Coach (Momir) Petkovic pushes me to do that. It starts in the room and then I compete well on the mat. That’s basically what’s happening, and it’s working out so far. If I keep staying on the same path, it will be good,” Smith said.

In the Jack Pinto Cup and Dave Schultz Memorial, Smith wrestled in the new weight class of 130 kg/286 lbs. which is 10 kg. higher than last year’s heavyweight limit. Is he finding that the increased weight contributes to his performance on the mat?

“No, I actually want to lose some weight; I want to lose another maybe five kilos. I want to wrestle around 120, 122 kg. I feel better there—I feel more agile, my lungs are better. I know the weight class is 130 kg, and I’m asked why don’t I gain weight and get stronger. I want to be stronger, too, but I want to be fast and well-conditioned. I want to lose a little weight, get my lungs where they need to be, my feet where they need to be and I’ll be good,” Smith said.

Smith is beginning his ninth year training at the Olympic Training Center. He has seen many changes at the OTC and Smith is grateful for all he has been able to experience and learn from the wrestlers who have come before him.

“Now that I’m going on my ninth year, I have been able to see different waves of wrestlers. I’ve seen everything from when the OTC was very dominant to times when we were rebuilding. There have been many changes and I have to thank the guys who, when I came in and I was so young, helped to make me the wrestler I am today. I got my beatings from Brad Vering and Justin Ruiz and Adam Wheeler and RC Johnson. I was able to take those beatings and put them into my wrestling now. I can focus, knowing I have been through the hardest practices ever. I know I’ve been through it, and that I can make it through whatever is happening now,” Smith said.

Next week, Smith hopes to face the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Mijaín López Núñez at the Granma Cup in Havana, Cuba. The tournament will be held February 10 -15, and will include, along with the Cuban host team, wrestlers from the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Peru, and Spain.

Smith would like to step onto the mat and test himself against López, whom he calls “the best wrestler in the world.”

“Last year we went there and he had taken a year off. I got to wrestle him once or twice in training, but this year he’s supposed to be wrestling every day, so I’m real excited. He is, in my mind, hands down, the best wrestler in the world. I’ve seen him manhandle people who are the best wrestlers in the world and he’s made them look like kids. I’m honored to go down and wrestle him—I want to beat him,” Smith said.

“I do want to learn from him, but I also want to beat him. It’s just the taking steps to do that. It’s awesome that he’s right there in Cuba and so close that we can go down there and train with him. I’m real excited for that and really happy that we get to go. I love Cuba—Havana is my favorite city in the world, by far—it’s going to be a fun time,” Smith said.

Smith enthusiasm for his sport is nourished by past and present coaches and family. He doesn’t need to look far for motivation.

“I get motivated every day from my coaches, Coach Fraser and Coach Petkovic. I am also motivated by my coach back home, Mark Halvorson (of CYC Club). All three of them are great motivators, but my dad is, by far, my greatest motivator and my biggest supporter. I wrestle for myself, but he helps me with that. He reminds me that ‘you are doing it for the right reasons, and these are the reasons why you are doing it.’ He gets me going and he knows what to say to me to motivate me to do my best,” Smith said.

What does one of the world’s best heavyweight wrestlers do in his down time to stay balanced? The answer might surprise his fans.

“What do I like to do? Sleep! No, I just like to hang out with my girlfriend, friends and family, have a normal life. And I like to dance; I can bust a move or two. I also like to sing karaoke,” Smith said.

Smith’s favorite superhero, however, might not come as a great surprise.

“I’d have to say the Hulk. He is just one bad dude and can do anything to anybody. He kind of reminds me of a heavyweight!” Smith said.

When Smith’s wrestling career is completed, Smith hopes to be California-bound, returning to his roots.

“When I’m done I’d like to settle in Truckee, Calif. My dad is up there now, building log homes. It’s a little town right outside Tahoe; it’s got a river coming through it, you’ve got lakes, mountains, you have everything there. Or maybe Kaweah, near Princeville, my sister lives there and I just visited. Both are good,” Smith said.

As he looks to Cuba and beyond to 2016, what is Smith working on to get him to the podium? What does he want to improve upon?

“Everything, really. You’re never ‘perfect’ wrestling; you’re never ‘all set.’ Wrestling is evolving all the time, so I work at just the basic stuff: the pummeling on my feet, my parterre. I try to just get better and better at it. If I keep working at these things, everything is going to click together and I will be where I need to be in the end,” Smith said.

If Robby Smith’s start in 2014 is any indication, his goal to reach the Olympic podium may not be out of his grasp.