What's Love Got to Do With It?

Legendary wrestler Wayne Baughman wants you to know something: He never liked the sport.

Besides, he didn't embrace positive thinking. "I've stepped on the mat many, many times not thinking I was going to win and surprised and feeling lucky that I'd won," Baughman says. "I don't believe everything has to be positive. The fear of losing -- the frustration and fear of losing -- is much more motivating. Losing is permanent. The satisfaction of victory is more fleeting than the pain of losing."

NCAA rules at the time prevented him from competing as a freshman. Sophomore year, still battling his sport, Baughman came in second in the NCAA. His junior year, he won the whole thing, earning a national title for the Sooners at 191 pounds. When he came in second his senior year, he felt a mixture of disappointment and relief -- disappointment because he lost a match he should have won, and relief because he was finally done with the sport that he'd never embraced.

"I was never interested in competing again," he says. "I was ready to quit." Instead, OU's coach, Tommy Evans, told him he couldn't go out a loser. He suggested the National Amateur Athletic Union Championships. Baughman balked: He wasn't keen on freestyle wrestling -- it was different enough from the collegiate style to be a difficult adjustment -- and he had barely tried Greco-Roman at all. Still, by then Baughman knew better than to argue with a coach. Besides, Evans pointed out, "Greco-Roman is a legal street fight -- and you've done plenty of those."

Wayne Baughman knows no love in the world of the 
John Johnston
Wayne Baughman knows no love in the world of the mat.

Baughman had just under two weeks to familiarize himself with the new styles. He finished second in freestyle at the national tournament, and won the Greco-Roman competition. His pride reinstated, he announced once again that he was done with the sport. "I was ready to retire from wrestling and get on with my life," he says.

While at Oklahoma, Baughman had signed on with the ROTC -- not out of any great feeling of patriotism, but because he saw the military-training program as the path to an easy career. The plan was to finish ROTC, go to pilot school, do the four-year commitment and then fly jets. "It was a great job, and me and my family would get to fly for free," Baughman recalls thinking. "I grew up poor, and I wanted to travel, so I thought that was the ticket."

Although his victories at the AAU meant an automatic qualification for the 1963 World Championships, "I hadn't even remotely considered wrestling again," Baughman says. His Air Force commander suggested he do it anyway. It would be an easy way to kick off his commitment to Uncle Sam.

After the 1963 World Championships, of course, were the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, and Baughman reluctantly agreed to stay on for the Games. After finishing eighth there, he returned to the States, finally ready to begin his military career and leave wrestling behind for good.

Once again, however, the sport refused to let him go. In the time since he'd graduated from college, Baughman's eyesight had deteriorated; he was denied admittance into flight school. At the urging of his superiors, who recognized that a champion wrestler brought recognition to the country and their branch of the military, Baughman grudgingly returned to what he knew. In 1965, he came in fifth in the World Championships. In 1967 he won the Pan American Games.

Finishing a disappointing fifth in Greco-Roman at the 1968 Olympic games, Baughman tried to get out of the sport again. "That was it for sure this time," he wrote later. "I never wanted to step on a mat again."

He told his commander he quit -- no more wrestling. This time he meant it. Fine, the colonel said. Just come out to one last Interservice meet -- a competition between branches of the armed forces -- and give the guys a pep talk. Baughman agreed -- until an Army wrestler told him it was too bad he'd chickened out of actually participating.

Out of shape and uninspired, yet fueled by indignation and pride, Baughman won the tournament. His superiors "suggested" that -- because he did so well -- maybe he should try the national championships again. "I was furious," he recalls.

And so it went. "Even when I wanted to get out, I kept getting channeled back into it," Baughman says. Against his wishes, he agreed to represent the country in the 1972 Olympics, which, of course, meant attending more national championships, more world-championship tournaments. More sweat, more cutting weight. By the time the '72 games rolled around, Baughman was 31 years old.

He attributes his success in a sport he never really liked to his ability to see beyond the pain and sacrifice of the mat to the less obvious payoffs that arrived in character and discipline. "Most people, when it ceases to be fun, they cease to do it," he says. "Wrestlers say all the time, 'This is no fun. I want to quit. I'm not enjoying it.' I say, 'What does that have to do with it? If it was fun and easy, everybody would be champions.' I could make myself, force myself to do things I hated, couldn't stand to do, but do them at a very high level over a long period of time. Anybody can do things they enjoy, or which are fun."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help