Creating a Wrestling Bucket List

By Matt Krumrie | Aug. 05, 2015, 6:43 p.m. (ET)

Every sport has its can’t-miss events, its storied venues, its classic rivalries. These are places and moments that capture the essence of why the sport’s fans are so passionate about it. And wrestling is no different.

“Naturally, there are essentials that every wrestling fan must see and do,” says Kyle Klingman, Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa. But building a wrestling bucket list is as much about the journey as it is the destinations. “Each item on the bucket list should be an experience—something that you will remember and carry with you.”

What’s great about a bucket list is that while many will have the same items on the list, each person will find something unique that’s important to them.

  • Summer Olympics – This one is a no-brainer. Watching US wrestlers compete against the best in the world at the Summer Games is the ultimate experience. The combination of the competitive spirit and history and pageantry involved makes the Olympics a must-do pilgrimage for wrestling fans. Who can forget Henry Cejudo’s incredible comeback victories on the way to gold at the 2008 Games? Or Rulon Garnder’s world-shaking upset of three-time Olympic champion Russian Aleksandr Karelin to win the Greco-Roman gold in Sydney in 2000? And what about wrestling legend Dan Gable’s undefeated streak in 1972, which culminated with a gold medal at Munich Olympics? To be present at matches like these is to witness wrestling history first-hand.

  • World Championships – Though it can’t quite match the festivity and global excitement of the Olympics, the world wrestling championships still offer the chance to watch athletes of unsurpassed skill level—the best of the best. The advantage for wrestling fans is that the focus here is all on one sport. “It’s the best wrestling you’ll ever see,” says Klingman.  It’s not too late to make plans to check this off your list next month in Las Vegas, Nevada, as the US is hosting the World Championships for the first time since 2003.
  • National Wrestling Hall of Fame – Located in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the Hall of Fame is the perfect place to learn about the origins and history of the sport. Here you can also find out who were some of the sport’s greatest competitors and influencers. To heighten the experience, schedule your visit during Honors Weekend, when visitors flocks to the site to watch the annual inductions.
  • Dan Gable Wrestling Museum – A companion to the main site in Stillwater, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa offers wrestling fans a chance to learn more about on the sport’s all-time greats in an entertaining, educational environment. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to watch Gable instructing the next generation of wrestling greats at the Dan Gable Teaching Center.
  • ASICS/Vaughan Cadet /Junior Nationals­– Every July, thousands of the best young wrestlers in the country face off in the FargoDome in Fargo, North Dakota. For several days, the Dome becomes ground zero for families, friends, and coaches to watch and appreciate the sport’s impact on young boys and girls. Jim Nelson, who has covered countless high school and NCAA championships as a sportswriter for the sports Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, ranks the Junior Nationals right below the Olympics and World Championships as great wrestling pilgrimages.
  • NCAA Championships – Here you’ll be able to get a glimpse of future Olympians and World Champions in action. In fact, the names of the 10 wrestlers who have won a Division I NCAA wrestling title, a World Championship, and an Olympic gold medal—Wayne Wells, Dan Gable, Bruce Baumgartner, Dave Schultz, Mark Schultz, John Smith, Kenny Monday, Tom Brands, Kurt Angle, and Jordan Burroughs—read like a list of wrestling legends. But attending the Division III NCAA Championships can be just as rewarding. These wrestlers often go on to international success as well, but since there are no scholarships in Division III, these wrestlers really are competing out of pure love for the sport.

  • Iowa State High School Championships­– "For those who have a chance and can get a ticket, the finals of the Iowa state championships are incredible,” Nelson says. “The Grand March sends chills down my spine every year. Like Minnesota for hockey, Indiana for basketball and Texas for football, the wrestling finals in Iowa are definitely special.”
  • College Rivalries – Everyone should witness an Iowa-Iowa State or an Oklahoma-Oklahoma State dual meet, Klingman explains. And to get the full experience, you’ll need to watch these matches in person when one school is playing host to their bitter rival. Just as there are must-visit baseball parks and football stadiums, college wrestling has a number of mythic arenas that make watching a wrestling match an unforgettable moment. These include Rec Hall (Penn State), West Gym (Northern Iowa), Carver Hawkeye Arena (Iowa), Hilton Coliseum (Iowa State), Snake Pit (Lehigh), Gallagher-Iba Arena (Oklahoma State), McCasland Field House (Oklahoma), and the Sports Pavilion (Minnesota).
  • Olympic Training Center – Another worthy trip: a tour of the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  During a tour, you may be fortunate to catch the U.S. freestyle (men’s and women’s) teams and Greco-Roman teams practice at the OTC. An especially good time is to visit in the weeks and months leading up to the Worlds or Olympics.
  • Iconic Wrestling Movies and Books – Good wrestling movies are rare, but there are a few you must see. Most notable of these has to beVision Quest—the 1985 movie where Matthew Modine portrays a high school wrester who drops down in challenge the unbeatable “Shute.” Also worth checking out: the recent comedy Win Win and the darkly dramatic Foxcatcher, which details the tragic relationship between billionaire John duPont and Olympic champions (and brothers) Dave and Mark Schultz. And ESPN Sports Century’s documentary on Dan Gable is pure gold.There are numerous biographies of great wrestler you should read as well. None is more insightful than Wrestling: On and Off the Mat by Wayne Baughman.
  • Any Wrestling Event With Someone Who Isn’t Yet a Fan ­– Everybody’s wrestling fandom has to start somewhere. So, one of the most memorable things you can do is to introduce someone else to the sport by simply taking them to local youth club meet or high school match. Sharing the sport and what makes you so passionate about it should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list.