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Tiger Style Explored: A Mizzou Wrestling Interview Series - Rocky Elam

I sat down with 3x All-American Rocky Elam to discuss Mizzou Wrestling, wagyu beef, and “one mores”

Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation

Welcome back to Tiger Style Explored, a weekly Mizzou Wrestling interview series that will take you inside the program in the coming months from the regular season to the NCAA Championships and beyond.

Week One, I interviewed the starter at 125lbs, Noah Surtin.

Week Two, I interviewed assistant coach Kendric Maple.

Last week, I interviewed assistant coach Tyrel Todd.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Let’s start with your last match, getting the 8-0 major decision in the Oklahoma State dual. Can you give a brief overview of the match and your key takeaways?

Rocky Elam: I’ve actually wrestled Haas a lot. I wrestled him a lot in high school, so I kind of knew what I was getting into. I was familiar with him and his style. We always had a lot of battles growing up and he’s from Kansas, so he wasn’t far from where I live. So we saw each other at big tournaments and local (tournaments). I was pretty surprised when I went out there, I thought I was gonna be able to see their starter, but honestly, I just wanted someone that would challenge me in a couple of positions and just help me to improve and reveal to me what I needed to work on.

I liked that I was more active on my feet. When I got to my single, I felt better. And then top was just pretty much just a long ride out. I think I spent like three minutes and 30 seconds on top. And it was working for turns a lot, but it ended up just being one of those matches where you get a long ride out. And that can get a little bit redundant, but you know, every match you’re gonna see something different, you’re gonna have different challenges.

So (I) just felt like I needed to get a ride out there. And then as far as bottom goes, just got away quick, so I was happy with that. I think I would like to see more more action in the first part of the match. You know, every match is different. Sometimes you get an attack early, you get to a leg and and that’s kind of ideal, but other times it’s more of a feeling out process where it’s a slow start and you’re kind of working to your attacks later in the match.

The match before that, you had a close loss to another really good wrestler in your class, Jacob Cardenas. What were the main things you worked on between the matches to ended up getting you the different result?

RE: A lot of the coaches were just really encouraging to me, and I’m really thankful for the people who were there for me at my side during those downtimes, because I think that’s the time where personally I need the most encouragement. It can be easy to be overly critical of myself, I find, when I’m either not wrestling well or I’ve just taken a loss. Having those people where it’s like, ‘okay, these are the things we need to work on, we’re going to execute them in our individual drills,’ things like that instead of just making it a big sob story.

So I think just like any other match, we reviewed it, looked at some of the things we can work on. But it was definitely kind of like a kick in the butt for me. I think it was something that I needed, I felt almost refreshed. I don’t know, sometimes after some of those down matches, or a bad performance or a loss, it makes it easy to see the things that that aren’t working for me. And I think when I discard those things, it just makes me a lot more efficient in my wrestling

Looking at the team as a whole, what do you think have been the main factors in the two consecutive dual losses, and how do you break the streak?

RE: I mean, the season is kind of like a roller coaster, and you’re just trying to peak at the right time at the end of March. So I think this is all part of the process, you know, having my individual loss and losses as a team. We’d much rather be in this position right now than at the end of the season where we’re trying to be at our best, so I don’t necessarily think that it’s a bad thing. I think you have to keep a long term perspective. After performances like this, we’re going through different different phases in our training. I think we’re starting to, you know, just hone in more, get more individual drills, things like that. And just hone in on those areas that are kind of tailored to our wrestling styles as opposed to, you know, always having team practices.

I think towards the end of the year, we always do more individual drills, and that just allows us to touch on some of these areas that we feel like we individually need. So I’m really not too concerned about where our team is at right now. When it comes to the dual outcomes that we’ve had, I was kind of reflecting and it seems like every year we have bumps in the road. Whether it be myself, you know, losing to somebody that I ‘shouldn’t have lost to’ or as a team where we’ve lost to a lower ranked team.

Just reflecting back on my time at Mizzou, I think every single year we’ve had both of those things happen at least once if not more times throughout the season, and I really see that it always helps our performance at the end of the year. It always helps us to adjust the things we need to act on in the regular season and and be able to perform in the postseason, because that’s all it really is, is just practice until the end of the year.

You’ve wrestled a lot of matches very successfully during your career. How does having all that experience help you overcome adversity?

RE: It definitely helps. I mean, when I was young, I remember it was my first year and I didn’t have any losses in the regular season. So I literally went out there (in the Big 12 championships) and my first match took a loss ,and just had to bounce back from that adversity. So I’m happy that some of these things are happening in the regular season when we get a chance to address them as opposed to, ‘okay, I just had a bad performance against this guy at nationals,’ and that holds a little bit more weight. So it definitely helps. I was talking with coach Todd the other day and we were just kind of discussing how every year, there’s ups and downs, it’s never linear.

You know, you always have to draw straight and crooked lines, and yeah, I’m really thankful that I’ve had this experience with hard losses. And another thing one of my teammates was telling me was like, there’s really no such thing as a bad loss. I mean, it’s just college wrestling. These things happen. There’s so many good wrestlers in the field and you have a lot to handle, so it’s not good to label (it) as a bad loss. It’s just another bump in the road that we can improve upon and look forward towards at the end of the season.

One of the things coach Smith talked about after last dual was finishing more takedowns. What are your thoughts on that, and what can be done to work on that between now and the next meet?

RE: I think that kind of comes back to a lot of the small things we work on in our training. When you really assess what happened in this position, what can I do to be more creative in my finishing? I think when you kind of workshop those things in practice, that’s when I find the most growth in specific areas is when I’m just honing in on those one things. It’s great to come in and work basic drills, but I think there’s times when you have to come in with an idea of like, I really need to hit this area. This is a position I’m seeing a lot, it’s a very common position in my matches and I want to be proficient here.

I mean, you can’t predict what’s going to happen in a match, there’s always going to be positions that you’re going to hit that you’ve maybe never seen, it might be the first time you’re seeing it. But the more you can be prepared for, okay, this is the position that’s most likely to hit and this is (how) I’m going to react when this position hits, or he does this, this is how I’m gonna react, it’s almost like chess. That’s pretty much the best way you can describe it is like, my opponent does A, I’m going to do this. My opponent does B, I’m going to do this. You come up with all these ideas of what’s going to happen, and it’s really just like a game of chess. You’re just trying to be two or three steps ahead.

Either personally or as a team, what are you going to be focusing in practice the next couple of weeks?

RE: I would say what coach Smith said, just finishing shots. And I think once you get towards the end of the year, you’ve got to be excellent at top, bottom position. There’s just areas that I feel like can kind of get you if you overload them. And for me last year, that was the bottom position. I wasn’t able to get out on bottom in one of my matches, and it cost me possibly winning a national title. So I think it’s the areas that maybe you least expect to to be the most important that you can’t overlook, you know what I mean? (It) could be simple as getting out on bottom or a good start on top, or how you’re going to set up your shots. So just those really simple and small things, I think we have to refine towards the end of the year and make sure we’re not overlooking it or getting too confident in areas that we need to work on.

Heading up to the Dakotas for two duals, what does the team have to do in order for you to consider it a successful trip?

RE: I would just say taking it one match at a time. I think there was a lot of chaos in that Oklahoma State dual. In the first five matches, we didn’t get one win, and you can kind of get down on yourself after that. We had the deal at 133 where we didn’t have a wrestler and they bumped up Daton Fix, and it was kind of chaotic, to be honest. We just looked at it like we have to take (it) one match at a time. We can all win our matches, we can still win this dual. Obviously that didn’t happen, but I think we had the right outlook on it based on how the dual was going. So I would just say taking one match at a time. It’s a back-to-back dual weekend, so just like the national tournament, you can’t be looking ahead at what’s next. You’ve got to focus on where your feet are at and what’s right in front of you.

You have a long stretch of road duals to close out the regular season. During your time in the Big 12, what has been your favorite place to visit?

RE: In the Big 12, I really enjoyed going to Utah Valley last year. It was a beautiful area, huge mountains, it was nice weather. Just really fun to be at. I would say outside of the Big 12, Arizona State was probably my favorite trip. Just always warm, we always went out (there), had a good time, it was never too hot. And obviously we’re a winter sport so it was kind of perfect out there, and it’s always been a fun dual out there. Going out west is a lot of fun.

I think Arizona State has come up multiple times when I’ve asked this question in interviews, definitely nice to have some warm weather in the middle of winter. Looking towards the rest of the season, what are your personal goals, and then what are the team’s goals?

RE: Definitely my own individual goal is to win a national title. I think that’s the best thing that I can contribute to to the team race is just my own individual best performance. So sometimes it distracts me a little bit when, even in duals I experienced this, I start to really focus on team score. Like ‘oh, if this happens, then there’ll be this score’ or ‘I need to do this and then Zach does this in order to win,’ you know, I kind of start to play those scenarios in my head.

So I try not to focus too much on the on the team aspect. I want to be focused and do everything I can to help my team as opposed to neglecting the team. I think my own individual performance will take care of how I contribute to the team and our score, and things like that. But yeah, I definitely am looking at winning a national title, and then definitely want to continue our streak of 13 conference titles. That’s our first goal, as a team.

The NCAA Championships are in Kansas City (Missouri, before any folks on the other side of the border try to claim this too) this year. Being from KC, what does it mean to you and the program as a whole to have the championships in the state of Missouri?

RE: Yeah, it’s awesome. I think we’ve hosted twice since I’ve been here including this year, first time was in St. Louis and now it’s in KC, So yeah, I’m so pumped to have it in KC. I can’t wait to go home and just have all my family and a ton of my friends there. I think everybody I’ve talked to that’s in Kansas City or even the Columbia area plans on going, so it’s going to be really exciting. I know there’s a lot of Tiger Style fans that are excited to go. It’s kind of a almost a sentimental thing. I don’t want to make it too much about that when we’re not competing, (I) just want to focus in on wrestling, but I have a lot of love for Kansas City and it’s going to be cool to compete there. And then after that we’ve got Philly, so that’s next year. But yeah, it’ll be fun. I’m really excited for it.

Your brother Zach will be able to wrestle in KC as well. What has it been like being on the same team with your sibling for so long?

RE: Yeah, it’s been fun. I mean, it’s gonna be awkward next year, because it will be my first time without having Zach on the team. So it’s gonna definitely (be) a new experience for me. But I think it’s cool that he gets to end his year, (his) last, in Kansas City. It’s just gonna be different because we’ve gotten all the dual trips together, roomed together, and kind of seen all the new places together. And obviously he’s been the one that’s followed my match after I get done wrestling. Zach is always the next one up, so I get to watch him, which has always been fun. So I think no matter what we do, we’ll stick together. No matter if we keep wrestling or (if) we go off to something different, I think we’ll always be together in some capacity.

Speaking of life after wrestling, you are an agriculture major. What led to your interest in that field, and what are your plans once you finish with college wrestling?

RE: So we have a family farm up in Macon, Missouri, which is about an hour north of Columbia. And that’s really what kind of sparked my interest for agriculture. We’ve always visited my farm, ever since we were young. It’s on my dad’s side, so he’s pretty invested into it. He’s not there full time but goes there several weekends out of the year, and we would always go up with him, and still do even even now. (It) makes it easier that we’re closer.

But I think I just really enjoyed learning about agriculture. I don’t know what capacity (in agriculture) I’m gonna be working in after college, if I do at all. But the one thing I am interested in, it’s kind of a niche area in agriculture, is wagyu cattle. So that’s something I want to definitely look into and explore options so that we can start doing that on our family farm in Macon, Missouri, breeding and raising some sort of wagyu cattle. Whether it 50% angus, 50% wagyu, I would have to figure out those dimensions later on. But that’s kind of the niche subject (in agriculture) I’m interested in.

What kind of farm do you have right now?

RE: We do a cattle operation right now, and it’s beef cattle, not a dairy farm. And then crops, (we have) a lot of soybeans grown on our land. My grandmother, who owns all the land, leases out a lot of the lands for others to farm on during growing season.

I’m sure the initial purchase of cattle must be pretty expensive with the prices you see people charging for wagyu beef these days.

RE: Absolutely. It can kind of be tricky because sometimes it’s marketed as, ‘oh, wagyu cattle,’ and then that word or that title will make it go up in price. But you really don’t know what the ratio is, if it’s 25% or 50% or 100%. You know, you can kind of tell by looking at some of the steaks, but I feel like the market is a little bit flawed in that area of how it’s priced and what the real ratio is of it. I’m crystal clear about what I’m buying and where I’m buying from, and I kind of want to implement that when we start doing it on our farm because I don’t want to be out here deceiving people.

Have you found anywhere in Columbia that has a good deal on wagyu or has a high ratio of wagyu beef in the meat they advertise under that name?

RE: I haven’t searched in Columbia too much because most of the wagyu that I buy is online. I shop at this website called Crowd Cow, and they have 100% Japanese wagyu. It’s nice because you’re not going to a restaurant and buying it. Like I said, some of the restaurants up prices of (wagyu) steak crazy amounts, like crazy amounts per ounce. I kind of compare what is that (at) a restaurant and then what is it when I can buy it myself and just prepare myself, and it’s always like way cheaper by ounce.

So that’s the route I usually take is just ordering online, look (for a) good website. And then there’s also a Mizzou alumni wrestler, he runs a business called Standard Meat Club and he has wagyu steaks as well. So just always finding good websites, and (I) usually have it shipped to me. And it’ll come in dry, so it’s perfectly fine to take out and put in your freezer and then take out again once you’re ready to cook it.

Switching back to wrestling now, Tiger Style is something that’s become synonymous with Mizzou Wrestling. What does the phrase mean to you, and what has it been like to wrestle for coach Smith?

RE: (It’s) always been great with coach Smith, very blessed to have him as a coach. I grew up in Missouri and he was always a coach, so I think he’s become such a better coach over all those years of experience. And I give him a lot of kudos because you see a lot of these top programs and there’s a lot of coaches that were extremely, extremely successful wrestlers, Olympic champions, multiple time NCAA champions, and coach Smith didn’t really have those accolades under his belt.

But he worked his way up in a very humble and right way. When I say right away, I mean, he’s just doing things that are ethical in our program. He’s not doing things that may get us an advantage but you’re not supposed to be doing at the NCAA level. So I think I give them a lot of kudos for that. And Tiger Style (is) just a great outline for our culture. Believe, compete, expect to win one more.

And I think the most impactful one for me would be “one more.” I find that a lot of the times when I’m staying after and doing my “one mores,” just thinking of what’s one more position I can work on after practice today, honing in on this for 10 minutes, I think that’s where I see the biggest jumps in my wrestling. And that kind of decides the separation between the top eight guys in the national tournament, because there’s not a lot that really separates those top guys in the national tournament. It really is a toss-up in a lot of the matches, just because everyone’s skilled, everyone works hard. So what separates you is those “one mores,” in my opinion

As we wrap up, is there anything you want to say to Mizzou fans?

RE: I’m just excited to go home for nationals, that’s all.