• World champions compete on outdoor mat in Times Square
  • Event benefits Beat the Streets, teaching wrestling to youth

As after-work activities in Times Square go, watching world-champion wrestlers go at it on an outdoor mat is awesome. Who needs a Burr/Hamilton duel on a Broadway stage when you can see Adeline Gray try out her high crotch moves or J’Den Cox score four second-period takedowns?

Adeline Gray, left, wrestles Justina Di Stasio
Adeline Gray, left, wrestles Justina Di Stasio
Photographer: Julie Jacobson/AP Photo

Once a year, Beat the Streets, a nonprofit that promotes wrestling and achievement to youth in New York City, organizes the matches and a gala as a benefit. On Thursday, the event was called United in the Square and raised more than $1.5 million. The nine evening contests consisted of two three-minute rounds each. In the afternoon, middle and high school students competed, including Public School Athletic League champions.

The intense, intricate tussling of muscular combatants showed off what announcer Kenny Berger called "the world’s greatest, oldest sport," so ancient it’s depicted in cave paintings. And these athletes are well-rounded: Cox, at the gala afterward at PlayStation Theater, played guitar and sang a song he wrote. Gray’s other skills include braiding her teammates’ hair.

Fomer Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, a wrestling star in high school, huddled with the U.S. team, encouraging them to "grab opportunity" on the mat, "one on one, mano a mano."

Mike Novogratz, founder and chairman of Beat the Streets, and currently a private investor after leaving Fortress Investment Group in December, kicked off the event.

"We’re hoping the kids of New York City grow up with a little more discipline, a little more toughness, and go on to do great things," Novogratz said.

Jordan Burroughs of the USA and Peyman Yarahmadi of Iran battle.
Jordan Burroughs of the USA and Peyman Yarahmadi of Iran battle.
Photographer: Elsa/Getty Images

One aspect of wrestling is becoming confident enough to take a chance on a bold move. "It’s about overcoming fear and trusting yourself," said Novogratz.

The international rules of wrestling penalize players for failing to take risks, as demonstrated when Canadian Justina Di Stasio, going against Gray, received warnings for passivity, giving her 30 seconds to score. When she didn’t, Gray got a point.

Is there a parallel in investing? "That’s right. If you stay in cash, you’ll get penalized," York Capital Management’s Jamie Dinan said after the matches.

Jamie and Zach Dinan
Jamie and Zach Dinan
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Dinan’s son Zach, who wrestles for Harvard and interned with Novogratz at Fortress last summer (and will be at PJT Partners this summer), also addressed the topic.

"In terms of risks in finance, it’s really tough, it’s really tough to make decisions," Zach Dinan said. "I think it’s a lot easier to take risks in wrestling, because the worst thing that happens is you get pinned, and you get up the next minute. It hurts a lot more when you take risks in finance and you lose."

Gray, who started wrestling when she was six and will represent the U.S. in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, crushed Di Stasio, 11-2. Gray scored three takedowns and had a pair of ankle lace turns.

Adeline Gray with girls who wrestle
Adeline Gray with girls who wrestle
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

"I hit that high crotch -- I’ve been trying for so long to work on that, so I’m so stoked," Gray said after her victory, in an interview on the mat with teammate Robby Smith. "It means so much to have a dream like mine, to win a gold medal. I know young girls will be better for it, and that’s going to make all of us better too."

Jordan Burroughs, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, had an 11-2 win against Peyman Yarahmadi in one of six matches pitting the U.S. against Iran, a traditional power in the sport. The U.S., Iran and Russia joined forces to keep the sport in the Olympics, persuading the International Olympic Committee to reverse a surprise 2013 move to exclude it from the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Mike Novogratz touts hugs
Mike Novogratz touts hugs
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Cox beat Meisam Mostafa Jokar by 10-5 after two two-point takedowns in the match’s final seconds.

"You can bash each other on the mat, but then you shake hands and you hug and you’ll break bread later on," Novogratz said, with his remarks broadcast on big screens in Times Square. "We’d like our world leaders to pay attention."

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