Brent Metcalf primed for huge season on international level
Brent Metcalf battles Russian Magomed Kurbanaliev in the Beat the Streets Dual on May 7 at New York City's Times Square. John Sachs photo.
When the NBC Sports Network aired its same day, tape-delayed broadcast of the Beat the Streets Dual, wrestling fans were eager to see one match in particular.
Brent Metcalf’s dramatic, come-from-behind win over World No. 1 ranked Magomed Kurbanaliev of Russia at New York City’s Times Square.
But the hard-charging Metcalf’s gritty 11-8 victory at 65 kg/143 lbs. was not among the matches that made the one-hour television show on May 7.
“I just put that on myself,” Metcalf said. “If I go and win a gold medal, then they are going to put me and Jordan Burroughs on national TV.”
Metcalf, a two-time World Team member, is on track to gain more exposure and achieve his lofty goals this season. He dominated the field at April’s U.S. Open. He outscored his four opponents by a combined 39-0 in winning his first Open title.
The win over Kurbanaliev was another big step in the right direction for Metcalf. Kurbanliev won a World bronze medal in 2013 before winning the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix and the European Championships this year.
Metcalf also beat Kurbanliev two years ago in the Ivan Yarygin event in Russia. He dropped the first period 1-0 before winning the final two periods 5-0 and 6-0.
“I did some silly things in the match in New York that kept the guy in the match,” Metcalf said. “The positive part of it is that I overcame it and came back to win the match. I gave away some points when he countered me early in the match, but I just kept wrestling and found a way to score more points.”
The rules changes in 2013 have benefitted Metcalf. Matches are now more wide-open with cumulative scoring. Opponents can’t wrestle as defensively as they did in the past to slow down an offensive-minded wrestler like Metcalf.
Metcalf is lethal with his leg attacks, notably his left-handed high crotch that has been virtually unstoppable this year. He also has been scoring points with gut-wrench turns from the top position.
“The rules are good now and I use that to my advantage,” he said. “I’ve done a good job of getting to my offense, and finishing hard and smart, and getting to my turns. Now you’ve got time to wrestle, and you can go out and just let it fly.”
Just over a year ago, before rules changes were made during wrestling’s 2013 fight to stay in the Olympics, Metcalf wasn’t having much fun wrestling.
“At the Open last year, I lost to Jordan Oliver (in the semifinals) and I was the only guy to score a takedown and I still lost the match,” Metcalf said. “That was very frustrating for me. I was training my ass off and I wasn’t having the results I wanted. I feel better now this year because the hard work is translating to the mat now.”
Metcalf made World Teams in 2010 and 2013, but lost both times in his first match after drawing tough opponents at the World Championships.
In 2010, he lost to World silver medalist Otar Tushishvili of Georgia 1-0, 2-2 in the first round in Moscow, Russia.
Last year, Metcalf fell to two-time World champion Mehdi Taghavi of Iran 5-2 in the opening round in Budapest, Hungary.
“It’s been very frustrating at the Worlds,” he said. “Those were my two worst performances of my career at a wrestling tournament. Those are the only times in my life I think I’ve gone 0-1 in a tournament. I just tried to learn from it and move on. I can’t pout about it. I have to suck it up and move on.”
Metcalf has excelled in numerous international events over the past five years. He has placed in the top three in nine international competitions. Most recently, he won the World Cup after going 5-0 at the dual-meet event this year in Los Angeles.
Metcalf, 27, continues to train in Iowa City, where he won a pair of NCAA titles and the Hodge Trophy for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He led Iowa to three national team titles.
He and his wife, Kristen, have a 13-month-old son, Chase.
“Your priorities obviously change when you have a family,” Brent said. “I have a great wife who allows me to keep wrestling as a high priority. At the end of the day, family always comes first for me. It’s been a joy for me to start a family. It’s been great having a son now. He’s running around all over the place – he’s a maniac.”
Metcalf said he has benefited by training with Burroughs, the Olympic gold medalist and two-time World champion who is in the weight class above him now. Metcalf was unbeaten against Burroughs in college when they both competed at 149 pounds.
“Burroughs wrestles hard, and he continues to come at you and attack,” Metcalf said. “He’s been given gifts with his speed and strength, but that alone doesn’t win matches at this level. He’s become unbelievably tough mentally and that’s what sets him apart. Not just any normal person can come back like he did in the match with David Taylor at the U.S. Open.
“When I train with Burroughs, it’s been great. He brings the same mentality to the mat that I do. I know it helps me to have the opportunity to wrestle with him.”
Metcalf said he and Burroughs are part of a close-knit American squad.
“Jordan is a likeable guy who has a good relationship with everyone,” Metcalf said. “The whole United States team is that way. (Past U.S. National Coach) Zeke Jones did a good job with building that type of mentality and team unity. We have a pretty tight group with the guys on the U.S. team.”
Metcalf said he is looking forward to working with new U.S. National Coach Bruce Burnett, who led the American freestyle program back in the 1990s before becoming the head coach at Navy.
“I was around him quite a bit at the World Cup, and he has great energy and seems to be a good leader,” Metcalf said. “I like his approach. He speaks boldly and tells it like it is. We need that. Guys need to be held accountable, including me. I need a guy who is not scared to tell me, ‘Hey, let’s change this.’ He has a great history of leading our team in the past. He brings a great perspective to our program.”
Metcalf’s weight class is now one kilogram (2.2 pounds) lower this season after the classes were changed by international governing body FILA. He had to make scratch weight at 65 kilos for the first time at the Open.
“I have to make sure my body is lean,” he said. “I am on a pretty good routine with it. I felt great at the Open.”
Now Metcalf’s focus shifts to the U.S. World Team Trials, set for May 31-June 1 in Madison, Wis.
Metcalf is in a very strong weight class. In Vegas, the weight class included two-time World Team member Reece Humphrey, Junior World medalists Jordan Oliver and Logan Stieber, and 2013 Open champion Kellen Russell.
Metcalf beat Humphrey 10-0 in the semifinals and downed Russell 9-0 in the finals of the Open.
By virtue of his U.S. Open win, Metcalf has earned a spot in the best-of-3 final-round series at the World Team Trials. He will meet the winner of the Challenge Tournament for the U.S. spot at September’s World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
“I will just approach it like any other tournament,” he said. “I need to be ready to go right off the bat and be ready to take on anybody. I just need to go in there and give myself another chance to represent the United States at the World Championships. I will make sure I’m ready to go.”