Seminoles Kick Gator Handling Up a Notch: Now a Professional Sport
Freestyle Alligator Wrestling is now officially a professional competitive sport, thanks to the Seminole Tribe in Hollywood.
Under the aegis of Tribe President Richard Bowers and tribe member James Holt, who's been wrestling gators at the Seminoles' Okalee Indian Village for five years, the first officially sanctioned competition was staged last weekend, showcasing 12 competitors from around South Florida. Wrestlers were judged in six categories during ten-minute sessions in deep water: aggressiveness of the gator, difficulty of the moves, style, appearance, showmanship, and water wrangling. Thanks to underwater video cameras, spectators got to watch what was going on under the surface.
Holt told the Juice that he and his brother came up with the plan to make gator wrestling a sport because they're both so competitive themselves. Last year, he founded the first Freestyle Alligator Wrestling Competition in the world and he says they'll be holding competitions at least four times a year.
Potential gator wrastlers must join the new association, and Holt says they'll be subject to rigorous background checks. He hopes to start to draw competitors from out of state. "Florida is probably the best place for gator wrestlers because the Seminoles grew up with alligators," he says. He and his brothers are the fourth generation of gator handlers in his family. "But there are other states that can sure give us a run for our money." He adds that even Colorado has a gator-wrestling school.
And if spectators are worried about an amateur bloodbath, Holt is reassuring. "We'll invite only the best wrestlers to compete," he says. "The level of last weekend's competition was very high."
Juice's old friend, 58-year-old Bob Freer, founder of Everglades Outpost and subject of this profile, was one of last weekend's competitors. Freer has had to have tubes permanently implanted in his ears, thanks to an infection that stemmed from wrestling a gator in deep water years ago. But that hasn't stopped him. "Bob did very well," Holt says.
Competitors for the $10,000 in cash prizes will wrestle in deep water -- the way Holt himself learned the sport as a kid. "It used to be we'd wrestle in black water, so you couldn't see anything," he remembers. But competitors these days will have it easy: The wrestling pool at Okalee is crystal-clear.
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