Frank Chamizo is wrestling's glamour man

The two-time world champion tells Olympic Channel how he combined Cuban flair with European style to become the sport's top entertainer.
By Andrew Binner

Frank Chamizo is not your average freestyle wrestler.

In a sport renowned for its tough, uncompromising athletes, the Italian representative from Cuba adds a bit of Hollywood to proceedings.

His Instagram reveals a highly-dedicated athlete in peak physical condition, but also one who isn't shy of posing for male-model style photos, quaffing champagne or living it up with Italian actresses.

He even starred on the recent season of Dance Dance Dance - Italy's version of Dancing with the Stars.

But maybe this shouldn't be such a surprise outcome, when the Latin spirit of Cuba is mixed with Europe's capital for fashion, Italy.

Hold my Gucci sunglasses...

But Chamizo's rivals know better than to be fooled by his smoldering looks down the camera lens, oiled-up abs and designer clothing.

After all, this is a two-time world champion and Rio 2016 bronze medallist, who is strictly business once he gets on the mat.

The 26-year-old has also spent time in the rugged mountains of Dagestan in order to hone a his craft, a place where numerous Olympic medallists hail from, and luxuries are not even an afterthought.

"It's a fantastic place to train, because the other wrestlers are all on my level," he told Olympic Channel.

Such a dedicated and relentless wrestler that likes to enjoy life seems like a fair trade-off, given the trials and tribulations he has overcome to get to this point.

Tough upbringing

Chamizo grew up in poverty and was raised by his grandmother.

As the son of a former wrestling national champion, the Cuban government quickly realised Frank's talent for the sport and supported his growth.

The investment initially paid dividends.

In 2010, aged just 18, the boy from Matanzas claimed the 55kg world championship bronze medal in Moscow.

But what should have been the start of a fruitful career turned out to be a false start, as the next season he was handed a two-year suspension by the Cuban Wrestling Federation over weight management issues.

"The fury (from Cuba) has pushed me a lot," he said.

"When people don't believe in you, they throw you out. Then you can say, "Look what you have missed." - Frank Chamizo to Olympic Channel.

At this point he decided to make a fresh start in Italy, the home of his now ex-wife that is little-known in the wrestling world.

A star reborn

The move proved a master stroke, and Chamizo's career and life were resurrected.

In 2015 he debuted for his adopted nation, winning 65kg gold in the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas.

The Cuban-Italian combined a world-class defensive game with some dramatic take downs to win Italy's first freestyle wrestling gold medal since 1980.

An Olympic bronze medal followed at Rio 2016, before he struck gold again, this time at 70kg in the 2017 Novi Sad world championships.

"Hard work pays off. I always expect the best," the 26-year-old continued.

"If later it still hasn't happened, you have to be patient and work even harder."

Frank Chamizo wins gold at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas.

His style was very difficult to combat and highly entertaining for the crowd - making him a very popular figure both on and off the mat.

Modeling and TV opportunities started flooding in, as Chamizo became something of a celebrity in his new home.

"I really like this lifestyle. Restaurants, good food... I still have a child-like enjoyment of these things," he said.

"It (the reality dance show) was lots of fun and I felt like doing something different.

"I like to impress in any circumstance, in wrestling, fashion or dance."

The 'Rumble on the River'

As with most great Hollywood sports stories, here too there is an encapsulating rivalry.

For Chamizo that rival is Jordan Burroughs, one of America's best wrestlers ever.

With an Instagram following of over 500K, the 74kg Olympic gold medallist and four-time world champion even trumps Chamizo as an online influencer.

Despite their difference in weight, the two wrestlers were desperate to lock horns in a 'Super Match', to see who was the best in the world. It was Chamizo's masterful defence against the attacking genius of Burroughs.

In the run up to their New York contest in May 2018, the weigh-ins were televised, muscles were flexed and there was a cold stare-down between the pair. Both played their roles to aplomb in a scene traditionally associated with the bright lights of boxing in Las Vegas, rather than wrestling.

New Jersey native Burroughs came from behind to pip his Italian rival in a match dubbed the 'Rumble on the River'.

However revenge was sweet for Chamizo, who defeated the American at the Yasar Dogu international event and snatched the 74kg World No. 1 spot.

Burroughs then edged his rival in a bronze-medal match tiebreaker at the 2018 World Championships in Budapest.

But Chamizo showed huge respect, when talking about his great rival.

"He (Burroughs) is the best in this category (74kg)," Chamizo said.

"But I have time to catch him. This is a resistance career, not a speed one.

"I've got a lot of patience and I'm not worried, because this is the third weight category I'm competing in, and will improve."

Chamizo and Burroughs going toe-to-toe.

Re-match at Tokyo 2020?

In 2018 Chamizo moved to New York, in order to join Columbia University's New York City Regional Training Center team.

Perhaps it was the world-class facilities, or maybe he wanted to keep an eye on new neighbour Burroughs, who regularly trains at the nearby Lake Placid USA Olympic training facility.

In any case, their rivalry will continue to raise the sport's profile, particularly with the enticing prospect that their next encounter might be on the Tokyo 2020 mat.