On top of all the incredible athletes wrestling at Wednesday’s “Rumble on the Rails,” many familiar faces showed up to the event in support of the Keep Olympic Wrestling movement, including champions like Dan Gable, Cael Sanderson, and Kurt Angle, NFL hall of famer Ronnie Lott, ESPN personality Mike Golic, and Hollywood point man Billy Baldwin, who showed me a few wrestling moves between matches. But one surprise guest was Mark Ruffalo, who appeared as the Hulk in last year’s The Avengers and will star as Olympic wrestler David Schultz in the upcoming film Foxcatcher. We chatted with him about how wrestling has shaped his career, and how the IOC’s recommendation to remove wrestling might ultimately help the sport.
Why was it important for you to join the Keep Olympic Wrestling movement?
Well I was a wrestler in Jr. high and high school, and it’s been a really important part of my life. Really informative, and a lot of the things I learned at that time ended up helping me get to where I am today.
And you seem to be pretty popular among the community.
I was just cast in Bennett Miller’s new film Foxcatcher playing David Schulz, so I really got to know this community in a much deeper way. And when I heard the IOC was seriously considering pulling wrestling off its core roster of sports, I thought it was a real shame. So when they were asking for some help I wanted to throw my hat in the ring to and help in any way I could.
But it’s one thing to say you’ll help and another to make an appearance.
I wanted to give back. I came to know guys like Gene Mills, who’s a hero of mine, quite a great deal during the film. And all of these great American wrestlers and Olympic champions were coming in to support us. So I met guys like Bruce Baumgartner, John Guira, and Jesse Jantzen, who was my coach for the role. And I just became friends with all of them during the six months we were working on the film.
What does an event like this and an atmosphere like this do for wrestling?
It’s great. There’s a lot of passion here. There’s a lot of old-timers here, and fans from all over the U.S., Iran, Russia, and the world. I think these kinds of events are going to do a lot to reawaken people to the beauty of the sport and the importance of the sport, and actually the history of the sport. A lot of people don’t realize that it’s one of the original Olympic events.
Do you expect wrestling to be back in 2020?
Hopefully. Ultimately this is going to be a really good thing for wrestling. I kind of see these setbacks as an opportunity for growth and refocusing. I already think the changes they’ve made in FILA and the international scene are really going to help. And it’s a good chance to reintroduce wrestling to the world.
What about sports like squash that want their chance in the Olympics?
I think they’re great and should definitely be considered. But there’s this kind of seniority that should be honored. The Olympics has a great sense of tradition, and I think it’s amazing when they bring in new sports. But how many sports have survived 2000 years? Every athlete should have their chance to compete in the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean wrestling needs to be kicked out.