The Cliff Keen Wrestling Clubs’s Jimmy Kennedy will spend the next two weeks overseas, heading first to Kuortane, Finland, where he will represent the United States in the University World Championships at 60kg/132 pounds, before meeting up with several other U.S. wrestlers, including CKWC’s Tyrel Todd, for a training camp and tournament in Grozny, Russia. Participating in just his second international competition overseas, Jimmy will periodically share his progress, results, experiences and photos from the road.


So after a great deal of travelling, I finally made it home only to learn that one of my checked bags was lost in the process. No worries, I’m sure it’ll turn up soon enough. It feels good to finally be back in America, especially after I found some success in that second trip. The trip was such a good experience, and it only gives me renewed vigor looking upon the season to come. Winning that bronze proves that the things we’ve been working on back in Ann Arbor are working, and I’m sure that more success will come for our team as we continue our training schedule.

I met a lot of cool people and saw some really interesting places that, without wrestling, would never have been possible. I’d like to thank all of you for the support, and I hope that this blog was at least somewhat as entertaining for you as it was fun for me to write. I’d like to thank Brandon Slay for the help and coaching throughout the trip and Zach Sanders for warming up and working out with me those past few days. You da man.

I hope you’ll continue to support me and the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club as we are all very excited for the outlook of our team and our future

Welp, see ya later.


SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14 | Tournament Time

Coming into this tournament, I knew in my head I could win it. I felt like I was right there with these guys, so that’s the mindset I approached it with. I wanted to make sure I did what I knew I was capable of.

In my first match, I wrestled the master’s world champion from Russia and beat him, 7-0, 6-0. He was pretty old though. I actually would have wrestled the Ukrainian who won universities in the second round, but he injury defaulted out. Then I wrestled a Russian and lost the first period 3-0, then won 4-2, and 5-3. It was the kid who wrestled in the USA vs. Russia dual in New York last summer. I had him really gassed and then even penalized him a point for not returning to the center of the mat after his second or third breather timeout. They were doing everything they could to try and give him that match.

My next match, in the semifinals, I wrestled the eventual champion. First period went to the ball grab and he pulled his color then second period, I was down 1-0 with 20 seconds left and got caught
on my back trying to score. I wrestled another Russian in the bronze-medal match, won the first period with a pushout, and surprisingly won a ball grab and won the second period.

I thought I wrestled extremely tough this tournament. I got on my attacks right away and was able to score. It was a real big ego booster winning that quarterfinal match the way I did, coming back after losing that first period. I was winning 1-0 in the second period and hit a real nice single, changed it off to a double when he went to bodylock me and planted him right on his back. After that score, I really started feeling it.

I just didn’t want to get comfortable losing to foreigners and being okay with it. So after universities I told myself I wasn’t coming home empty handed. This tournament was more of a test against myself than anything else.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12 | Approaching Competition

The past few days have gone by fast. We were able to visit the downtown market area that had a lot of cool knockoff shoes, watches and clothes to look at. I really wanted to get a watch, but couldn’t pull the trigger on any of them, knowing it’d probably stop working by the time I got back to the states. I got a few chocolate bars that I’m looking forward to trying when I get back home.

We’ve been basically on our own these past few workouts, doing whatever needed for weight loss and feeling good. After making scratch a week ago, my weight has been really good, hovering between 1-4 kilos depending on time of day. The majority of the guys are weighing in today and competing tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to competing here soon. I’ve been really relaxed wrestling lately, and my flow’s felt a lot better. Bill Zadick said something to me that’s been in the back of my mind since we got here: “There’s no reason you can’t learn and improve while still being successful.” It really hit home, and I feel like I may not have wrestled to my full potential at Universities because it was supposed to be a ‘learning experience.’ I’m not going to let that thought prevent me from wrestling how I know I can. I’m so anxious to get out there and just wrestle.

Other than that, there’s not too much new on the Grozny front. For all of you who have been reading and following us on this trip, I appreciate all the support you’ve shown. Although the trip is almost over, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Can’t wait.


MONDAY, October 8 | Facing the Russians

Today was our first day in the practice room with the local Russians. Upon walking in, you could feel the stares from everyone. We grabbed a spot on the bench and started putting our shoes on. Listening to the guys talk around us, I could only make out the word ‘American,’ which seemed to be used in every sentence. It was a cool feeling knowing we were the talk of conversation even before practiced started. We lined up and the Russian coach told the guys what to expect of the upcoming practice. After he was done talking, I asked one of the Russians to go, motioning with my hands “you, me, wrestle?” He either had a partner or something, but he pointed away further down the line and muttered something in Russian. When I didn’t understand what he was saying, he and the other guys around started laughing a bit. So I hit him in the face and walked out…

That didn’t really happen, but anyway, we started warming up and eventually one of the guys asked me to go. Before we were all done stretching, one of the 66-kilo guys walked up to Angel and started wrestling him. None of us knew if he was wrestling live or drilling or what. It took Angel a few seconds to realize what was going on when he lowered his stance and blast doubled him to his back signaling to everyone else that it was time to start practice.

I drilled for about five minutes with my guy when he tried talking to me, asking my name, weight, etc. It’s even hard to find out that information because of the language barrier. Using my fingers, I said, “6, 0… Jimmy.” He said he was 66 kilos and then we went back to drilling. I had barely broken a sweat when he started going live. We went about 10 minutes or so before he needed a break. A lot of these foreigners can wrestle, but if you stay on them, they gas fairly easily. We drilled and wrestled a little more after that, but the thing that was so much different between our practice styles is structure. In America, practices are structured from the warm-up all the way to the cool down. Here it was like there wasn’t even a coach in the room. Besides that opening speech, I didn’t hear him talk the rest of the practice.

Later that night we went back over, and the practice room was much more crowded with the addition of kids and high school wrestlers from the area. It was quickly a sweaty mess and hard to even spar. I wrestled with Hazewinkel, and we just did some sparring and position work. It was a relief wrestling with someone who actually spoke English. With those foreigners, most of the time, you don’t know when you’re wrestling live or when you’re drilling. What I’ve learned is, when in doubt, just start going live.

Afterwards, we went back and sat in the sauna before dinner. That night the rest of the guys from Yakutsk showed up, and even my boy T. Todd made it out alive. Team USA has its whole squad and everyone’s pumped to compete. These next few days will be a lot more about weight control and feeling good, so I’m excited. 55, 66, 84 and Hwt will compete on Saturday, while 60, 74 and 96 will wrestle on Sunday.


SUNDAY, OCTOBER 7 | Off-Day Adventures

Today was our off day to let our bodies heal before this upcoming week. So far we Americans were the only wrestlers on the complex, but starting tomorrow, more and more wrestlers will be flooding in from all over, so it’s good to have a little down time before that. I woke up around 8 a.m. this morning and went down for breakfast with Zach. We both wanted to make sure we got up early so falling asleep tonight won’t be a problem. Sometimes on those off days, you tend to relax too much and then either can’t fall asleep that night or feel like crap the next day.

Zach talked to one of the guys who works on the complex using a translation program on his iPad, and he agreed to escort us outside the gates and take us to a market area. Grozny’s not a place you want to go walking around by yourself. Aside from the soldiers and machine guns, kidnappings are a real threat, so you can’t be too careful. He said the market was only 200 meters away so we were all pumped to get out and see what kind of stuff we’d find. Unfortunately, the translation wasn’t perfect, and the place he ended up taking us too was some antique shop. If we wanted to buy tea sets and wine glasses, we’d have been set, but that just wasn’t the case. Outside the grounds we didn’t have any wi-fi or ability to translate anymore so it was hard talking at that point. We did find a grocery store we stopped in, but that was it for that trip. A little disappointing, but it was good to get out.

We decided on going to the futbol stadium at 5 p.m. to move around a bit. I did a few laps around the track focusing more on stretching than I did running. Hazewinkel’s a huge disc golfer so he brought a few discs on the field, and we threw those around for a good 20 minutes. Afterwards, we walked back and went down to the sauna area for about an hour, alternating from sauna to cold pool. The pool feels so good especially after a few sauna sits.

The rest of the night we spent hanging out in the hallway watching movies, playing games and going on the web. Unfortunately the service is almost nonexistent in the rooms, so the hallway has turned into the place to be. It’s not bad at all but the floor kills you to sit on so your pillow doubles as a butt pad. I’m going to turn in now, but tomorrow should be much more interesting of a day so I’ll keep you informed.

Have a good Sunday. Lata.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6 | Life in Grozny

We woke up for a light breakfast at 9 a.m. that consisted of two over easy eggs and a couple hot dogs. I didn’t mess around with the hot dogs all that much, but I did get my hands on a few cups of coffee. Tea is a huge deal overseas, but I’ve never really liked the taste. Coffee’s a different story.

We were able to get on the mats later that morning, and I rolled around with Angel. Slay put us through a few different situations as well as some light pummeling and sparring goes. Besides a few sauna sits in between travelling, I hadn’t worked out since the competition so it felt good to get back on the mats. At lunch they served some good borscht soup and some chicken and rice.

The food has been awesome so far and water has been quite easy to get ahold of, so there’s no complaint there. We planned on doing a run/sprint workout later that evening. The ‘futbol’ stadium is literally right around the corner, so we walked over there and ran a few miles on the track. It’s crazy how at their major complexes or arenas there are gigantic posters or banners of politicians wearing their most stern faces staring off into the distance — a little different than America. After the two-mile run we did a real tough sprint workout. Slay made sure we were all breathing hard by the end of that one. We walked back to our hotel and immediately went down to the sauna room. They had a nice three tier sauna with a big cold plunge pool that looks more like one of those steady swimmer pools you see in magazines or on late night paid advertising programs.

That brings me to now. We’re waiting for dinner and apparently it smells really good (my nose doesn’t work and I can’t smell). Anyway, sorry for not posting in a while, but between travelling and all this, it’s been hard to get into a routine.


FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5 | From Russia with Love

We took another hour long cab ride to a different airport somewhere in Moscow. When we got there, it was a little chaotic as none of us could speak or read any Russian whatsoever. But when we finally found our airline, we learned that it would be another two-hour delay before boarding. We walked the few shops they had, and some guys bought crackers, chocolates or candy before we headed over to Grozny.

Time to buy things is rare, so you always feel the need to buy stuff when you can. Sanders, Sponsellor, and I found a table in this lounge area where we threw back a few cups of coffee and surfed the web for a while before we finally were able to board. In Europe, it’s customary to walk down to the runway, hop on a bus, and then they shuttle you to your plane. So, when we got to our plane I was a little shocked to see we were boarding from the back bottom of the plane. It’s hard to describe but I was able to snag a pic before boarding. This flight was easy — only a couple hours and we were there.

In Grozny, a few Russian wrestling consulates picked us up and sped us to our hotel. It was more like a scene out of the movie Taken than it was a taxi ride. I was surprised when we arrived at our hotel, because of how nice it was. Apparently, Grozny was a very war-torn area years ago and some places had to be rebuilt. Luckily for us, the hotel was one of them. (I’m assuming) That night we ate a real good meal and got to browse on the internet for a while before getting to bed.

I was finishing my movie and had my headphones on when Zach called over to me. I took my headphones off and immediately noticed the noise. It at first sounded like someone was wheeling a very heavy garbage can over somewhere creating a loud “click, click, click” noise. After the noise didn’t go away for some 30 seconds, we started wondering if it could actually be gunfire, because what else could make that kind of noise at midnight? The noise didn’t stop and it sounded like small artillery was bombing an area just about 500 feet from us because the noise was getting louder. I looked out the window, but could only see faint flashes reflecting off the metal siding on one of the buildings. This continued for about five more minutes when we finally ventured out into the hall and ran into the other guys smiling and staring out the window of the hallway. They were all thinking the same thing initially, but we were all happy to see it was only a late-night firework show. I still don’t know what they were celebrating that late, but at 3 or 4 a.m. it happened again. That was our first night in Grozny, so I’m just hoping this isn’t an everyday sort of thing, otherwise I’m going to have to start sleeping with some ear plugs.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4 | On the Road Again

We left Finland at 3:15 a.m. for the airport. I was brutally tired lugging my things from place to place as we flew to Copenhagen and then to Moscow. I didn’t sleep that night and the only sleep I got was in between airports and on the flights… although how good is that sleep anyway? The Copenhagen airport was probably the nicest airport I’d ever seen. It looked more like an upscale mall than it did an airport. There were tons of stores from Mulberry to Coach to diamonds to whatever you really wanted. The entire airport was actually floored in some sort of nice wooden finish. I was so tired from travelling that I didn’t really bother to shop or admire anything all that much. Looking back on it though, it was pretty intense.

When we got to Moscow, Slay, Sanders, Sponseller and I still had another long taxi ride to the hotel we would be staying at. I thought Chicago rush hour was bad, but this might have put it to shame. I saw people getting out of their car in the middle of the highway to grab stuff out of their trunk; it was that bad. Luckily our cab driver had no shame and wasn’t afraid to get off every exit and re-merge just to save a minute or two.

When we got to our hotel we met up with Angel Escobedo and Sam Hazewinkel and quickly got to it. We threw our stuff in our rooms and went downstairs to sit in the sauna. It was a little different than any sauna area I had been to. There was a bed, chairs and some very blatant Russian style decor in the back room. (I don’t even want to make assumptions on what kind of stuff goes on back there.) Needless to say, we sat, and we sweat. It felt amazing to get that 10-or-so hours of travelling out of my body. My ankles, hands and feet were all swollen from the flying and travelling.

We went around the corner and ate at a very nice Russian restaurant. A few other guys and I got some pasta and some Borscht soup, which is one of Russia’s main choices of soup. I figured I’d be eating a lot of Russian food when I got to Grozny, so I thought it might be good to vary it up a bit.

We went back to the hotel, and I slept like a baby that night. I think I slept some 10-11 hours before I finally woke up, unfortunately, to some more travelling.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 2 | Competition Day

The tournament started off on a great foot. I got a good warm-up in with Zach Sanders and made sure I got my heart rate going before that first whistle. My first match with the Canadian ended up with a fall. I won the first period 4-0 then was winning 4-0 in the second when I countered off his shot and took him to his back.

My second match against Moldova went to the ball grab after the first period, in which he picked his color. I defended his shot, and we went out of bounds with what I thought was his head first. They originally signaled no score, but after Moldova challenged the call, it was reversed and he was given a point for the pushout. I had a much higher sense of urgency that second period and scored a takedown about a minute in for the only score of the second. In the third period, I scored on a pushout and had a 1-0 lead going into the final 20 seconds. He faked and my head must have come down on his, because the next thing I remembered, I was getting leg laced twice. I came back for another takedown but lost the match 3-2.

He lost his next bout to the Ukrainian, who ended up winning the tournament. It was hard to watch, because I had beaten the Ukrainian while overseas last year. The important thing is that I take something from this loss and find somewhere to improve. It seems my freestyle career has been too highly dependent on the ball grab, which seems to always come up the color of my opponent. I’m going to focus on scoring and really attacking more in this next tournament in Russia. I have to pick my head up and start preparing for these next few weeks. I don’t plan on coming home empty handed.

The rest of the U.S. guys wrestled well with Sanders taking a silver and Colt Sponseller a bronze. After the tournament, Sanders, Jason Chamberlain, Sponseller and I may have splurged a little at the buffet of seemingly endless kinds of ice cream — most of which weren’t that good but somehow ended up eaten anyway. We tried teaching Sanders how to play Euchre, but the poor little guy couldn’t wrap his head around it and we never finished the game unfortunately. Maybe next time.

The final three weight classes will finish up tomorrow, so I’ll be there supporting the U.S.


SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 30 | Ready to Weigh In

It’s the night before weigh-ins. Nuff said.

… is what I wanted to say. On a serious note, my weight is really good. I ate a good meal and had a few pounds of liquids after my second workout, so I’m extremely happy with how I feel right now. I almost went to bed not knowing my weight, but we were lucky enough to run into a girl on the U.S. team who brought her own scale. This was after I had already had my final meal, so I was pleased to see I was only 1.8 kilos over. That was a good enough excuse to finish my protein shake I had chilling in the freezer at the time.

I’m assuming it rains a lot here, because it has either been raining or just got done raining every time I go outside. It could be worse, if it was snowing though. I didn’t pack for that kind of weather so I’m not exactly losing sleep over it.

I got some use out of the washing machine tonight, although I’m not exactly sure I set it right. Everything is in Finnish and when I finally got the machine going, it said 2 hours and 15 minutes. Personally, I’ve never done a wash that takes longer than an hour, so I guess I’ll find out in the morning when I go to put everything in the dryer.

One more rough night of sleep then weigh-in tomorrow at 5 p.m. I’m sure a lot of you know what that feeling is like, so I needn’t preach much. Only 19 hours baby, then I can start focusing on that title. Until then, it’s all about doing the right things and making my body feel good, starting first with this sleep. I’ll be in touch tomorrow.

Go Bears! … And Aaron Rodgers (who’s on my fantasy team. Is that politically incorrect?)


SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29 | Getting Acclimated in Kuortane

Today was a long day of travelling. Our flight to Finland from Chicago was delayed for about an hour, but we finally got off the ground around 5 o’clock Chicago time (1 a.m. Finland time). I tried sleeping as much as I could the entire flight, so I could quickly adjust myself to the time change. When we landed in Helsinki, it was 10:30 a.m., and we still had another one-hour flight to Vaasa at 1. From Vaasa we hopped on a bus and drove about an hour and a half to Kuortane, the place where we will be staying and competing.

Kuortane is a fairly remote place, but the facilities are very nice from what I saw today. A huge lake slumbers peacefully just behind our dorms. I was pleasantly surprised to find our dorms have everything you could need — TV with a great deal of American stations, four bedrooms, each with a keycard lock, closet, desk and of course a bed. Two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a laundry room complete the apartment setup with only one key essential item missing — Wi-Fi. The main dining and resort area have a very good Wi-Fi connection thankfully though.

After we acquainted ourselves with the area, we decided it best to get in a workout so as to get that jet-lag, rustic feeling out of our bodies as fast as possible. I threw some plastics on and did a short run on their indoor track area, which coincidentally is the exact building we will wrestle in. I only ran about 2-3 miles, but I spent a great deal of energy stretching and loosening up the joints in between laps. I ended the work out with a set of eight 50-yard sprints to really get that heart rate going and to open up the lungs. It’s amazing how fast my body adapted to the time change and just how well I felt after the workout.

We were then able to sit in a small sauna inside the hotel room. Each of the rooms in the hotel is equipped with its own personal sauna. It being late Saturday, all of the major sauna buildings on the compound were either closed or closing and will be all day tomorrow as well.

It’s about 10 p.m. here, and I’m looking forward to getting some much needed rest. I think I’ll finish the day with an episode of Mad Men and then call it a night. I’ll be posting more updates as the trip goes on, and I’ll try to get some pictures to go along with it. My phone was dead the entire day so pictures were out of the question today. Before I go, I’d like to personally thank Tony Hernandez, my coach growing up while in the Wrestling Factory, for helping make this trip possible. I know you got a few big weeks ahead of you as well so I wish you luck. Thanks all.

Jimmy Kennedy