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American Wrestling League set for debut with former Penn State greats leading way

Reigning world champion and former Penn State great David Taylor will captain one of the first teams in the American Wrestling League dual on Friday night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Taylor drafted a team that included former Nittany Lions Zain Retherford and Nico Megaludis.
Reigning world champion and former Penn State great David Taylor will captain one of the first teams in the American Wrestling League dual on Friday night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Taylor drafted a team that included former Nittany Lions Zain Retherford and Nico Megaludis. Associated Press, file

There are several successful professional wrestling leagues around the world. However, there hasn’t yet been a successful one in the United States.

“I’ve been trying to push for a professional wrestling league in the United States for a while,” reigning world champion and Penn State great David Taylor recently told the Centre Daily Times. “There are so many guys that come out of college, and to be successful on the international level is challenging. Only 10 guys can make the world team and only six guys can make the Olympic team. There are a lot of other good wrestlers out there. This gives an opportunity for a lot of people to add wrestling depth, wrestle longer and to be able to provide for their families.”

The American Wrestling League is set to make its debut on Friday night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Taylor will captain/coach a team he drafted against fellow reigning world champion Kyle Dake. No, Taylor and Dake won’t be wrestling, but there are going to be plenty of other good matches.

Each guy drafted 20 wrestlers for their team, a starter and an alternate, from a pool of 67 wrestlers who committed to join the league.

Former Penn State wrestlers Nico Megaludis, Zain Retherford, Dan Vallimont and Frank Molinaro were included in that pool. All four were drafted, but only Megaludis and Retherford are getting the starting nod for the inaugural dual of the AWL.

“I got asked to do this early on, and I wasn’t sure what it was about, really,” Retherford said. “The day before they were going to decide the teams, I got excited to compete. I texted David and asked him if it was too late to sign up for this. He said, ‘No, but you know who you are going to wrestle if you decide to wrestle.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that was kind of the point.’”

Retherford is slated to take on Jordan Oliver in the 65-kilogram bout. According to Taylor, it is going to be the final match of the night — and with good reason.

Wrestling fans have been wanting to see this matchup since the pair squared off in the U.S. Open semifinals. Oliver topped Retherford and won the tournament, but had the title stripped from him due to a failed drug test.

Retherford went on to claim a spot on the world team after beating Molinaro and helped the team win the world championship in France.

Since that time, Oliver has been calling out Retherford all over social media.

“I don’t really feed into the hype,” Retherford said. “I think he naturally feeds into that stuff. He was reaching out to me and talking about me online for the last year or so. I don’t feed into it. I don’t see a point. The only thing that really matters is what happens out on the mat. I’m looking forward to putting on a show.”

The AWL was created to help guys continue wrestling but to also be able to make a living off of something they love doing. Of course, these wrestlers have been putting in a lot of work to get to this point of their wrestling careers but Taylor knows money talks.

“This is just an opportunity to make money,” he said. “You’re making money regardless. The winner is making some extra money. Money is a good way to incentivize people to compete.”

According to Taylor, Retherford and Megaludis are set to make $2,500 apiece for just competing. If they win, they each get an additional $5,000. Not a bad payday for six minutes of work.

Retherford admitted the prize money was part of the reason he decided to make the late commitment, but the chance to continue wrestling competitively after graduating was also a plus.

Taylor is hoping the AWL can continue to grow and will eventually have four teams that have an affiliation to an area, much like the major professional sports teams in the NFL, MLB and NBA. He said ideally, there could be Pennsylvania, New York, Iowa and Ohio teams. The idea behind it would be that college programs in those states could help field the teams but drafts would still occur.

“Dual meets are what is exciting and what you want to follow,” Taylor said. “Using this dual meet concept, eventually we will get teams. If you’re a Penn State fan, naturally you’ll want to root for the Pennsylvania team. Eventually, you’ll have guys on your team because of a draft, that aren’t from there, but you will have guys slotted to teams. For example, Zain and I would be on the Pennsylvania team.”

Taylor’s team has a Pennsylvania flair to it with three former Nittany Lions in Megaludis, Retherford and Vallimont on the squad; Ben Provisor, who trains with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, and a couple of wrestlers who have ties to the state.

Retherford is just excited to be competing again, but is also looking forward to being alongside some former teammates.

“The last time Nico and I competed together was after our redshirt year,” Retherford said. “We are on the same team, and that’s who I’m going to be working out with to lose weight and get ready for the match. I know he is going to do well. He is fun to wrestle alongside. I haven’t been on the same team as David since my true freshman year.”

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AWL I: The Beginning

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: U.S. Cellular Center, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Online: Trackwrestling.com (paid subscription)

Team Dakevs.Team Taylor
57kg: Frank Perrellivs.Nico Megaludis
61kg: Tony Ramosvs.Cory Clark
65kg: Jordan Olivervs.Zain Retherford
70kg: James Greenvs.Brandon Sorensen
74kg: Richie Lewisvs.Tommy Gantt
79kg: Isaiah Martinezvs.Alex Dieringer
86kg: Nick Heflinvs.Sammy Brooks
92kg: Deron Winnvs.Michael Macchiavello
97kg: Jacob Kaspervs.Kyven Gadson
125kg: Dom Bradleyvs.Zach Rey
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