Russia team leader Christakis Alexandridis (right), Iran coach Ali Reza Razaie (center) and interpreter Paul Kieblesz appear at the World Cup press conference on Thursday in Los Angeles.
LOS ANGELES – The words of Russian team leader and coach Christakis Alexandridis were prophetic.
“From our side, our politics is wrestling,” Alexandridis said.
Those words spoke volumes during the World Cup press conference on Thursday morning at the LAX Hilton.
Regardless of what is going on politically around the globe right now, the top 10 freestyle countries are here in California to battle for world supremacy. But only on the wrestling mat.
The annual dual-meet competition has returned to the U.S. for the first time in 11 years and it will be staged at the Forum, presented by Chase, on Saturday and Sunday in Inglewood, Calif.
Alexandridis was joined at the press conference by Iran coach Ali Reza Razaie, Turkey coach Adam Bereket and U.S. coach Zeke Jones. They were joined by Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs and World bronze medalist Tervel Dlagnev of the U.S. along with actor Billy Baldwin.
Alexandridis talked about the close relationship between the Russian freestyle program and the U.S.
“Our federation and our team have the best friends on the American team," he said. "They are our partners. Every political change in Russia, they have always been our friends. And we are their friends. This will carry on in the future."
Wrestling, perhaps more than any other sport on the planet, has excelled at bringing the countries of the world together.
That is definitely the case with the Iranians, who hosted the 2013 World Cup in Tehran, Iran.
Held just days after the shocking Feb. 12, 2013 recommendation by the International Olympic Committee to remove wrestling from the Games, the World Cup brought the U.S, Iran, Russia and other countries together in an important event showing the unity on the mat between these nations.
Despite political differences between the U.S. and Iran, the Iranians fully embraced the Americans when they wrestled in Tehran last year. Wrestling is the National Sport in Iran. Their fans are as passionate as any fans in any sport worldwide.
The Iranians treated American Jordan Burroughs like a virtual rock star last year, screaming and chanting his name every time he stepped into the arena.
“I loved it,” Burroughs said of the trip to Iran. “I thought it was awesome. Originally, I was scared to go to Iran based on the public and media perception of the Iranian people and with some of the turmoil and our politics with them. I had just watched the movie Argo, so I was really scared when I saw that.
“But when we got over there, it was awesome. It was great. We were treated extremely well. All of the fans were extremely hospitable and gracious. I had a great time. I loved going there to compete. Iranian fans treated me better than I had ever been treated in my entire life, regardless of location or situation.”
Fans in Iran were treated to a great show at the 2013 World Cup where excellent competition went on between some of the best athletes on the planet. Iran defeated the U.S. and Russia en route to the title. The Americans ended up third.
Russia and Ukraine, despite the tense political situation going on with those countries right now, are scheduled to meet on the mat this weekend. Expect a very competitive match, as is always the case when those two countries wrestle. But you can also expect the athletes to be good sportsmen and shake hands after every match.
Another interesting battle will match the U.S. and Iran this weekend.
Razaie was asked during the press conference why the Iranians would come to L.A. this weekend.
“Because the World Cup is here,” he said through an interpreter. “And we want to get first place.”
The bottom line is that this is a unique opportunity to watch some of the best wrestlers in the world compete in an event like this. Get your tickets because this is an event you don’t want to miss.
As Burroughs stepped onto the practice mats for the Team USA workout late Thursday morning on the bottom floor of the hotel, the Iranian team was just finishing their session.
Among the Iranians walking out of the room, with shirts dripping with perspiration, was top young wrestler Ezzatollah Akbarizarinkolaei.
Burroughs beat Akbarizarinkolaei 4-0 in the 2013 World finals in Budapest, Hungary.
Following the medal ceremony, Akbarizarinkolaei had a request for Burroughs.
He asked Burroughs if he could have his wrestling shoes.
Burroughs then pulled off his shoes, a pair of his signature Asics JB Elite model gold shoes, and gave them to the guy he had just beat for a gold medal.
That’s what wrestling does.
It transcends politics. And truly does bring the world together.
Politics is wrestling.