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Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands announced on Tuesday that redshirt junior Michael Kemerer will miss the 2018-19 season. Cody Goodwin, cgoodwin2@dmreg.com

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Wayne Boyd has long wanted to see wrestling on the same level as football and basketball in the United States. He was an NCAA Champion for Temple in 1969, and co-founded the Titan Mercury Wrestling Club, which has supported some of the country’s best freestyle wrestlers.

Earlier this year, Boyd met with Andy Barth, Titan Mercury’s Executive Director, and discussed the idea of a professional wrestling league. They both wanted to see wrestlers get paid for their efforts so they could make a living while still competing.

That conversation birthed the American Wrestling League, a professional league for amateur wrestling in the United States. Its debut event is on Friday at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. Action starts at 8 p.m.

“I sat down with Andy Barth, and said, ‘We’ve got to help these guys increase their income,’” Boyd told the Des Moines Register. “There are guys that are married, that own homes, and they’re still wrestling.

“They deserve to make a living at this sport.”

The AWL is another opportunity for wrestlers to compete after their college careers. Boyd hopes it will someday grow into a professional sports league, on par with the National Football League or the National Basketball Association. 

In doing so, he wants wrestling to gain in popularity and break into the mainstream, something it has routinely struggled with. There have been previous attempts at professional wrestling leagues before, but Boyd feels his model has staying power.

“I believe what’s going to make this work is everybody finally coming together and wanting it to work,” Boyd said. “In the past, it’s been a private thing. I’ve opened this up to everybody. Everybody is invited.”

Boyd arranged a dual-style competition for this first event. A draft was held earlier this month in Iowa City. Kyle Dake and David Taylor, former college star wrestlers at Cornell and Penn State, respectively, who recently just won Senior freestyle world titles, were chosen as team captains.

Dake and Taylor selected wrestlers who made themselves eligible, and constructed 10-wrestler teams using international weights — 57, 61, 65, 70, 74, 79, 86, 92, 97 and 125 kilograms.

Many wrestlers with Iowa ties were ultimately picked — former Hawkeye wrestlers Cory Clark and Tony Ramos, who will compete against one another at 61 kg, as well as Brandon Sorensen (70 kg), Sammy Brooks (86 kg), and former Cyclone star Kyven Gadson (97 kg). 

“We’re really counting on Iowa fans to make this a success,” Boyd said. “We’re hoping for 6,000 people.”

Big money prizes are involved. Boyd said there’s $10,000 up for grabs at each weight. Any wrestler who competes automatically earns $2,500. The winner of the match gets the remaining $5,000.

“We’re backed by people that love the sport,” Boyd said, “and have the money to back it.”

Boyd hopes state-represented teams will soon form — like one in Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. — and that the number of teams will grow into the double digits. He wants this to be an actual league, so that wrestling can have more of a professional future.

“I think it’s going to be a big benefit to the overall sport,” he said. “It’s going to give high school kids the idea that one day they can be a professional wrestler. It’ll give college guys, who maybe aren’t good enough for a world or Olympic team, the chance to compete and make money.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

AWL I: The Beginning

When: Friday, 8 p.m.
Where: U.S. Cellular Center, Cedar Rapids

Matchups

  • 57 kilograms: Frank Perrelli (Team Dake) vs. Nico Megaludis (Team Taylor)
  • 61: Tony Ramos (D) vs. Cory Clark (T)
  • 65: Jordan Oliver (D) vs. Zain Retherford (T)
  • 70: James Green (D) vs. Brandon Sorensen (T)
  • 74: Richie Lewis (D) vs. Tommy Gantt (T)
  • 79: Isaiah Martinez (D) vs. Alex Dieringer (T)
  • 86: Nick Heflin (D) vs. Sammy Brooks (T)
  • 92: Deron Winn (D) vs. Mike Macchiavello (T)
  • 97: Jacob Kasper (D) vs. Kyven Gadson (T)
  • 125: Dom Bradley (D) vs. Zach Rey (T)
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