LOS ANGELES -- U.S. women’s wrestlers won six of the 10 bouts on Sunday night at Beat the Streets Los Angeles.
For the 700 fans watching at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Los Angeles, though, the event was about more than just the results.
The all-women’s competition featuring top wrestlers from the U.S. and Japan was staged outdoors in the section of Los Angeles known as Little Tokyo and also served as a fundraiser for Beat the Streets Los Angeles, a nonprofit that provides sports-centered youth development programs in underserved neighborhoods in the city. Beat the Streets uses the sport of wrestling as a way to empower and transform the lives of youngsters.
“As you can see, women’s wrestling is totally growing and it’s changing,” said Olympic and two-time world champion Helen Maroulis. “For all these kids, today, they are going to reach their goals through programs like Beat the Streets. It’s more than just wrestling.”
Maroulis, considered the world’s top female wrestler in her class, was scheduled to headline the event but was replaced by 2016 junior world bronze medalist and U23 world team member Kayla Miracle. Yet even without competing, Maroulis was still the fan favorite, signing hundreds of autographs and posing for photos.
Miracle lived up to the big stage, defeating Japan’s Yoshimi Kayama in the 57 kg. class. She was one of six Americans to win their matches, including Adeline Gray (72 kg.), Tamyra Mensah (68 kg.), Mallory Velte (62 kg.), Sarah Hildebrandt (53 kg.) and Victoria Anthony (50 kg.).
One of the hardest fought bouts of the exhibition was the 59 kg. match that featured Alli Ragan, who was defeated 9-2 by Kiwa Sakae. Other Americans to fall short were Maya Nelson (65 kg.), Gracie Figueroa (55 kg.) and Victoria Francis (76 kg.).
U.S. coach Terry Steiner said his team was honored for the opportunity to compete against Japan.
“The Japanese program is second to none,” Steiner, said. “They have set the standard in the sport of women’s wrestling, and we are happy to be on the same stage with them tonight. It’s a great tribute to them to come over to our country and be a part of this and support the cause of Beat the Streets.”
Beat the Streets Los Angeles operates a summer wrestling camp and wrestling academy with more than 650 boys and girls participating annually. This was the fourth annual benefit in Los Angeles.
“There is a lot of talent in the inner cities across the country,” Steiner said. “There is a lot of talent that don’t have the opportunity. What the Beat the Streets is doing is opening up those opportunities not only in the sport of wrestling, but in the game of life.”
The exhibition consisted of 10 bouts in the newly established weight classes. All 10 of members of the U.S. team had qualified for a world championships team at either the senior, junior or cadet level. Seven have earned at least one medal from a world championships event spanning the different age levels.
Olympian Gray, a U.S team member and three-time world champion, was competing for the first time in nearly a year, and beat Japan’s Mei Shindo.
“We’re excited that we are equals,” said Gray, on being part of an all-women’s event. “We are excited that we have a right to step on this mat and be treated as an athlete.”
Anthony, who won her match 10-0 over Kika Kagata, was competing in her third Beat the Streets event. She also competed in a Beat the Streets event in Times Square, in New York City, and in a Beat the Street Los Angeles event two years ago.
“This event just improves every time,” Anthony said. “It’s huge to have two high level, all-women teams in a dual meet like this. It’s pretty revolutionary actually. We haven’t seen anything like this before.”