Last October, I accompanied some friends to the pumpkin farm in Candor, and as always, it was packed. I pointed out a guy that looked like a few hundred other guys there, as he was trying to balance a basket of fries, and keep his glasses from sliding down his nose. I said to one of my friends, “Does that guy look like a world champion?” My friend replied, “A world champion in what?” I pulled up a name on my iPhone to show him…
A few minutes later, I saw the guy again. He had a big ketchup stain on his flannel shirt, and he had his toddler daughter sitting on his shoulders. I said, “Hey Kyle, does she get any riding time points for that?” He laughed, said hello and got back to his first pumpkin farm as a dad.
Since then Kyle Dake has seen the pendulum of emotion swing wildly. He experienced the thrill of winning a second world championship and the gut punch of learning the 2020 Olympics had been postponed until next year. Dake’s ticket to Tokyo has not been officially punched, but he has been working tirelessly toward making the U.S. Olympic team since he took to the mat as a youth, and when Flowrestling hosted an elite-level competition last weekend in Austin, Texas, Dake (Cornell class of ’13) and Vito Arujau (class of ’23) were among the grapplers to show up.
Dake would wrestle against Italy’s Frank Chamizo, a fellow two-time world champ (he won at 65 kg in 2015 and at 70 kg in 2017). Chamizo is also an Olympic bronze medalist (Rio, 2016), and the battle between the two mat monsters was the event’s featured matchup. It would also be the first time the two had competed against one another.
The fact that the Olympics have been postponed has resulted in plenty of pent-up energy for these world-class competitors, and there was no shortage of trash talk. Of his decision to meet Dake’s request that the match be held at 79 kg, Chamizo was quoted as saying, “I want to save the match,” he said of his desire to make the clash happen. “Let’s do it for the fans and for wrestling.
Of Dake, he said, “He doesn’t know what he wants for his career. Is he 79 (174 lb) or 74 kilos (163 lb)? He won one tournament at 74kg, but one victory means nothing.”
Well… I’ll tell you what else means nothing: Talk. While Chamizo scored first, Dake pulled off a rare reversal and a move known as a “gut wrench” against the defensive master, and held off a late move to win 4-3. It was a match worthy of its featured status.
Regarding the Olympics, Dake is in an odd position. He’s the best in the world (multiplied by two) at 79 kg, however, that is not an Olympic weight class. He could move up to 86 kg and do battle with his longtime nemesis David Taylor (who he beat 5-4 in that legendary 2013 NCAA final which gave Dake his historic fourth national title at four different weight classes), or he could move down to 74 kg and face another longtime foe, 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs. Given Burroughs is now 32 years old and perhaps nearing the end of his peak, many perceive that as Dake’s most logical choice.
Arujau’s match against Sammy Alvarez of Rutgers started out with its own dose of drama. The Big Red’s rising sophomore trailed 5-3 at the break, but found some higher gear, engaged it, and poured it on for a dominant 16-5 tech fall win. Arujau pulled off a 4-point throw and added a turn for a 6-point move that eliminated any doubt about the match’s outcome.
An interesting side note: Cornell’s website features a photo of Dake—in his role as volunteer assistant coach—mentoring Arujau during an NCAA match, and it was great to see the two Cornellians, whose graduation years will be a decade apart, representing the program so capably.