The American is from Orland Park, a suburb of Chicago and started his journey in wrestling thanks to an American Football coach when he was only ten. "At the end of a football practice one of my coaches gave a speech on why wrestling is the greatest sport ever and why we should sign up. His words resonated with me, and I told my parents it was something I wanted to do. I wanted to become a better football player and was intrigued in the one-on-one aspect of wrestling”.
Speaking about his parents, Mitch wanted to thank them and the rest of his family: "My family is super supportive of my wrestling endeavours. Without their support, specifically my parents Tom and Laura, I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in now doing what I love with the opportunity to travel throughout the world, compete, and build friendships with some of the best wrestlers out there.”
Having signed up for the wrestling Mitch quickly discovered he had a talent; a natural born team player, he really enjoyed helping to foster a team spirit: "My greatest achievement to date is winning back-to-back team state titles with my high school in 2012 and 2013. I have had decent individual success but being a major contributor in competitions and the practice room, helping to keep everyone on the same page and buy in to the necessary hard work for one common goal is something very special that I take pride in."
Wrestling is life for Mitch and he couldn’t imagine doing anything else: "If I wasn’t a wrestler I don’t know where I would be or what I’d be doing to be totally honest. It’s my life. Hopefully I’d be doing something that brings joy to other people”.
How did he discover Beach Wrestling?
"I first practiced beach wrestling in spring 2021 with the high school team I assistant coach for. Our head coach wanted to mix up training to help keep things fun and it surely was. Him and I discussed competing in the Beach Nationals and I stuck to my word. The 2022 USA Beach Wrestling Nationals was my first beach competition. I went 3-1, placing 2nd”.
Following this result in the nationals, Mitch decided to step up his beach wrestling career by joining the Beach Wrestling World Series where he was given somewhat of a baptism of fire on Silgar Beach, coming up against the back-to-back 70kg World Champion from Georgia, Levan Kelekhsashvili, in his first ever Series bout.
The American saw this as an opportunity: “In a way I’m glad I faced up against Levan first, it meant there was zero pressure on me and I could use the experience to learn from one of the best in the business”. His second fight saw him come up against Marwane Yezza of France, who would go on to reach the final.
Not surprisingly, he lost but rather than be disheartened he used the experience to help him prepare for the next stop in Saint Laurent Du Var, France, where he won his first two matches before just missing out on a place in the finals. “I definitely used the experience from Spain to have some success in France. Both the wrestlers I competed against finished in the top 2 of that tournament, and my first match was against the defending world champion so I learned a lot wrestling from both of those guys. I stayed focused and really studied all the matches going on in Spain to see the tactics that were successful and did my best to analyse the wrestlers in my weight class.”
“I went back to the US in between tournaments where I resumed training with a little more direction, lots of adjustments and all of what I did paid off. I still have work to do but the competition experiences have been priceless.”
When asked about the differences between beach and the mat-based wrestling Mitch pointed out it’s more the footwork that can be tricky: "Beach wrestling is like a combination of the wrestling styles I’m used to. The hand fighting and setups are similar to folkstyle and freestyle because we can attack the legs in beach, but it also adds an element of sumo where you can score by bringing the opponent down without having to spin behind or expose their back. Wrestling in deep sand can be tricky because it makes the footwork and reactions different than a smooth mat.”
He was keen to speak about the advantages of wrestling in the sandy circle and looked at this from both a competitor and a fan’s point of view: "One advantage of beach wrestling for the athletes is making sure when you go for a leg attack that you have a clean setup because if you miss the takedown, the other wrestler can score without doing much offensively themselves. This forces the hand fighting to be top level. Another advantage is with the spectators. Beach wrestling is extremely entertaining and all the points are very obvious making the matches easy and fun to follow for the average fan who might not be a wrestler themself.”
"My favorite thing about beach wrestling is the quick 3-minute match length and the point system, first wrestler to 3 points wins. This encourages a fast pace and holds each wrestler accountable for mistakes because the match can end so quickly. My least favorite thing about beach wrestling is the scoring that comes from one wrestler touching their knee to the sand. I’m biased in that aspect though because I have such strong habits of sprawling when my opponent takes shots from my folkstyle background, so sometimes in beach I overreact and have given up what I consider ‘cheap points’. It is fun to work on controlling those habits and making adjustments.”
Even when he’s not competing during an event Mitch is fully focused on gathering as much intel on his fellow competitors. He has a routine in place immediately after a bout which sees him relax a little: "In between matches I like to unwind with either a beachside shower or a dip in the ocean, running through the match immediately in my head. Usually, my opponent is somewhere near or doing the exact same thing and it is really cool to congratulate each other on a hard-fought match while we each decompress. Once I get the sand off it’s right back to watching the competition and taking mental notes to see what the best of the best are doing and how I could implement it in my own game. Lots and lots of water too!”
Having just reached Greece for this weeks’ event it’s safe to say the beautiful Katerini has captivated the Chicagoan with that special beach vibe evident since he has arrived: "So far my favorite beach is Katerini, Greece. The atmosphere in this city is like a party so immediately I felt at home. The waves seem to be constantly crashing and the water has just the right chill to it. Sanxenxo, Spain was also just as beautiful. The city in Nice was gorgeous but my feet weren’t so happy about the pebble beach when I wasn’t wearing sandals. Thankfully they had an excellent venue setup like a stadium with a nice warmup area for the wrestlers”.
Mitch is a wrestling coach in his own right as well as a competitor and when asked if there was different cultural styles or techniques as there are in other sports, he explained how it’s done stateside: "In the United States we are typically introduced to wrestling with folkstyle, which has an emphasis on ground control, pinning, and grinding out long tough matches. It differs from freestyle, which is wrestled internationally, because you must secure control before points will be awarded. Also, if a wrestler is on bottom, they must have the ability to escape from the top wrestler which is not an aspect of the typical Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, or beach for that matter.”
It's clear to see the passion Mitch has for both the mat and the beach versions of the sport and he looks forward to an exciting future in and around the sandy circle over the next decade: “I see beach wrestling as an Olympic sport in 10 years and being the style of wrestling that really captivates audiences around the world in a way freestyle and Greco-Roman have not. I don’t see myself still competing ten years from now, I see myself being a beach wrestling coach in the Olympics for USA. I would still love to coach folkstyle and freestyle wrestling but my passion towards beach wrestling, and specifically doing my best for USA Beach Wrestling, keeps growing by the day.”
His words of wisdom for anyone looking to take up the sport: “If someone is interested in taking part in beach wrestling the best advice would be to practice in sand and don’t just walk into a competition blind. Also, some advice I recently received, ‘forget the mat’!”
We look forward to seeing Mitch take to the sandy circle this weekend as the Beach Wrestling World Series reaches its penultimate stop and we would love if you could join us sand side, but if not you can see how Mitch and the rest of the sand superstars get on through the live coverage on beachwrestling.org.