• TC LIFONTI / tclifonti.com
LEAD WRITER FOR ILLINOIS MATMEN
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY • Braden Stauffenberg went from a five-year-old first-year wrestler who was afraid to get on the mat and battle, to a Cadet World Team Member with no front teeth and a desire to get into a fight every time he steps onto the mat. Of course, getting into that fighting mentality took some time, but now that he has it, he is ready to put his fight-all mentality on display at the Cadet World Championships this week in Budapest.
As a young boy, Braden watched one of his father’s wrestling matches, and he was immediately pulled into the sport. “My father [guided] me into the sport,” Stauffenberg shared. “I saw some film of him wrestling in high school at Oswego, and that sparked a light in me—that was my path. Ever since then I’ve just grown and loved the sport.”
However, even though a light had been sparked, when Braden stepped into his first practice at the Yorkville Wrestling Club, there was not much ignited in the way of a competitive streak. “That first practice,” Stauffenberg remembered, “it was something I was not used to, and it took me a while before I got used to it. At those first tournaments I was always super scared. I would have these butterflies in my stomach and I just didn’t want to go out there. But my dad pushed me. He told me to go out there and wrestle—to just stay strong and confident and it will be okay.”
And his father was right. As Braden grew in the sport and found his confidence, he found some ground to stand on; that was when he started to learn how to compete. “As I grew into the sport,” Stauffenberg explained, “I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t super nervous—I still got those butterflies—but knowing that I trained almost twice as hard as the person I was about to wrestle gave me the confidence that I needed.”
According to Braden, the greatest change in his wrestling came when he was in fifth grade and he decided to make the shift from one club to another. “Truthfully,” Stauffenberg admitted, “I made the move to Izzy Style to better myself. I felt I needed something different, something more—I needed a big change. The change I made was one I would make one hundred out of one hundred times. So far, it has been the biggest step forward in my wrestling career.”
Once Braden walked into his new club, he noticed a few things that captivated him. “There wasn’t just a mentality and a ruthlessness and a strive to be the best,” Stauffenberg explained, “it was the practice partners being top notch and the best coaches and a fight for everything—that’s what I was looking for.”
While Braden had now found what he was looking for, he quickly found a little more; he found some role models and wrestlers to look up to who were at a level he wanted to wrestle at. “Practicing with Will Lewan at an early age, and even training and wrestling with Joey Melendez and Real Woods, it was an eye-opener to me,” Stauffenberg remembered. “They were not just great wrestlers, they were [amazing] people. They go into a tournament ready to wrestle. They fight. They put on a show. Then they leave and are right back to academics. That was huge for me—it wasn’t just the wrestling in the room, it was the academics—that was super important—and I saw it all with those guys.”
In April, up in the Wisconsin Dells, Braden had his opportunity to put everything he had been working toward on the mat during the Greco-Roman Cadet World Team Trials in the 71 kg weight class.
“At a young age,” Stauffenberg explained about why he was attracted to Greco-Roman wrestling, “I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with its throw or be thrown attitude, with its grind, with its fight, with its hand-fight. I just love to fight. It’s funny because all the coaches know I don’t have my two front teeth because of wrestling, but I love to fight and I approach it as I have nothing to lose. When I go out there, I have to give it my all and I look to just fight for everything.”
As soon as the tournament started, Braden would open very aggressively, and, even though he was a little nervous, his preliminary match would set him at ease. During the opening Round of 64, he would win an 8-0 technical fall over Zane Grams of the Lakeland Wrestling Club. He would score two takedowns before ending the match with a heavy left-handed four-point headlock.
Now in the Round of 32, Braden would have an opponent in Grant Moraski of the MWC Wrestling Academy that would test him. Just twenty-one seconds into the match, Braden would be chasing four points when Moraski hit a standing gut wrench out of bounds as Braden was holding his quad-pod trying to avoid giving up a takedown by falling to his knees.
The two would exchange takedowns, with no turns for either wrestler, and, with sixteen seconds left in the period, Braden would score his second takedown. Then, with four-seconds remaining in the first period, Baden would hit another left-handed headlock, but Moraski would defend; however, Braden was still able to capture exposure points in the process to close out the period with an 8-4 lead. From there, Braden would add three more points in the second period to end the match with an 11-6 decision.
He was now in the Round of 16 and he would, again, give up a four-point move to open the match—his composure would be called upon. Wynton Denkins of Ohio would hit Braden with slick duck under as Braden charged toward him that would end in a belly-to-back throw out of bounds.
“When I was down and I got four’d,” Stauffenberg said, “Izzy always tells us to keep our composure, and that’s one thing I feel like I’m pretty good at; so, I kept my composure and I stayed strong in that match. I knew there was time and I just had to wrestle.”
Eighteen seconds after giving up that initial four, Brayden would battle into his position and create four points of his own by muscling, almost bullying through a lateral drop. Denkins would fight off his back, but Braden immediately went to his high-gut and scored another two points before he scored two more turns with the final one resulting in a fall.
In two of his first three matches, Braden had to battle back—and it suited his style. “My style, personally, is I’m digging for those underhooks,” Stauffenberg explained. “I’m digging, I’m driving, I’m trying to bully into my positions, but, at the same time, I’m trying to play it smart. Once I get those underhooks, I feel like it’s bread and butter—I feel like I can score my four’s. Sometimes I end up like I did in two of those matches, but I know that if there is time on the clock and I push it, my gas tank is full, then there is time to score.”
His battling and banging and digging had earned him a spot in the quarterfinals. He would have to wrestle Delaware’s Nicholas Hall and, after the first period, he would be chasing four points. Hall would score with a passivity, a gut wrench, and a pushout. For the first two minutes, Braden was being beaten with his own style—he was being bullied. However, when the period ended, he received what he needed from his corner.
“When I got to my corner,” Stauffenberg recalled, “my coaches had to remind me to breathe; I sometimes forget to do that. Izzy calmed me down. He told me, ‘Breathe. Enjoy the moment. Go out there and fight. We’ve worked for this. We train hard. We know what to do. And make sure to breathe.’ That breathing reminder is a big thing with Izzy and I and our relationship. He sees sometimes that I’m a little stressed out, so he tells me to breathe and it helps me a lot.”
Once the second period started, and Braden was calmed and breathing, it was his turn to be the bully. With around one minute remaining in a hard and heavy hand fight with a great deal of head and hand positioning, Braden would muscle through a throw and score a takedown as he cranked through Hall’s arm. From there, he transitioned directly into a gut wrench. The score was now 4-4, but Braden would be winning on criteria with his two two-point moves.
After Hall had to have his right shoulder checked, the match would resume and both wrestlers would push and pull and grab and drag and dig and lead and step and snap in the middle of the mat until time ran out. It was a great display of Greco-Roman hand-fighting and positioning.
With two matches to go before claiming a spot for Team USA, Braden would battle Jake Jones of Pennsylvania in a clash of six one-point moves.
Jones would score the first two one-point moves via two pushouts by using Braden’s aggressive underhooks against him. Braden would answer with a pushout of his own and the period would end 2-1, in favor of Jones.
In the second period, Braden would have better control of his underhook and his aggressiveness and force Jones into three one-point push outs to put himself into the championship match.
As Braden advanced into the best-of-three series for the 71 kg Cadet World Team spot, he felt calmer than he had felt the entire tournament.
“Going into the finals,” Stauffenberg explained, “my mentality just spiked. I constantly told myself that I never wanted anything more than making this team, and nothing was going to stop me. I felt calmer and more controlled than any other match heading into that best-of-three series.”
In the first match of the series, Braden took a very convincing 7-3 victory and knew that all he needed was one more win in order to make the Cadet World Team.
“After that 7-3 win,” Stauffenberg commented, “I was like, ‘This is mine.’ I wanted it more and I was going to go get it.” But, between matches, he needed to be focused and not get too excited too quickly. When he met with his coaches, “Staying composed and keeping my composure was what they were telling me,” Stauffenberg recalled. “They told me not to get overly excited and to keep my energy level—making sure I was being smart. I didn’t want to go out too excited, since I won that first match. If I came out with too much, then I could get caught and get upset and force a third match.”
When the second match started, Braden was composed. However, Braden did not back away from his aggressive style—he still battled and dug and tugged and pulled and hipped and underhooked and just fought—and he scored. And he scored. And he scored and scored and scored. The match would end with Braden earning a 9-3 win, and a trip to Budapest for the Cadet World Championships.
“It felt amazing,” Stauffenberg said of having his hand raised. “I have never wanted anything this bad and I truly believed nothing was going to stop me from winning. It was such an amazing feeling.”
Once the celebrations ended and he returned home, it was time for Braden to improve. “Once I got back in the practice room,” Stauffenberg explained, “I worked to make my par terre defense better. I am confident on my feet, and when I’m on that gut, on top, I know the people in Europe will be very solid in that position. So, I had to work on my par terre, my guts, right side, left side; that’s what my coaches and I strived to improve. They are making sure I am moving—moving straight, moving right, moving left—breaking that grip right when my opponent gets that grip, if he gets that lock, making sure I’m rolling it and putting pressure on it to break it.”
And now the time has come for Braden to head to Budapest. He had trained hard and he believes in everything that he has been asked to do and that he has done. “I believe I have been successful and will do well because I trust my coaches,” Stauffenberg said of his preparation. “They know what I need and that’s the biggest thing. That trust with the coaches and the program—they know what’s best. They are great coaches and they know what we need. It’s really great to be in this position.”
As for how Stauffenberg wants to approach his matches, he said that his mentality will come from a focus one of his newest coaches shared. “Something that Cory Clark had told us before we left was telling ourselves that we belonged there,” Stauffenberg shared. “So, that’s going to be one thing I am going to try and do with my mentality. I’m going to keep telling myself, ‘I belong here. I belong at this arena. I belong on this mat. I belong in this USA singlet. I belong here.’ That’s going to be a huge thing for me when I am out there.”
Braden Stauffenberg’s tournament will begin on Saturday with the medal matches taking place on Sunday. He will be competing at the same time as one of his friends, teammates, and training partners, Nathan Wemstrom, who also made the Cadet World Team, but at the 92 kg.
On Saturday, once his tournament begins, “I’m hoping to fight,” Stauffenberg said. “And if I fight like I fought at the trials, like how I fight in practice, like how I fight and wrestle every day in the practice room—if I fight, just fight, then I can do it. I can win. I want that gold medal.”