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Fighting talk: Why wrestling is booming in Senegal

updated 7:47 AM EDT, Tue March 13, 2012
Wrestling rivals football for popularity in Senegal. Wrestling rivals football for popularity in Senegal.
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Senegalese wrestling
Errol Barnett and Gris Bordeaux
Dakar beach workout
Imporvized gym
Wheel-rim weights
Bench press on the beach
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Wrestling is hugely popular in the West African country of Senegal
  • Star wrestlers can earn $200,000 per contest, and others want to emulate their success
  • Wrestling legend Gris Bordeaux says the sport has allowed him to support his family

Dakar, Senegal (CNN) -- In most of Africa, football reigns supreme among sports, but in Senegal wrestling challenges it for popularity. It provides entertainment and exercise, and offers young men dreams of fame and fortune.

Wrestling's popularity in Senegal makes it big business. For the sport's superstars the rewards can be huge, with the biggest names earning up to $200,000 per contest. In a country where unemployment is pushing 50%, some young men see it as a way out of poverty.

Gris Bordeaux is a star in Senegal, a wrestling champion who also teaches at a wrestling school in the capital Dakar.

He says wrestling is a mental, as well as physical, discipline and that reaching the top of his profession takes dedication.

"It's all about making sacrifices," says Bordeaux. "It requires training and meditation; your mindset is important. You have to educate yourself well.

Senegal's wrestling boom

"Not all wrestlers get to realize their dreams, because on the bigger level it is few that get to where I am. You need to be focused on the sport -- like over 5,000 wrestlers you will get only 10 that make it."

See also: Senegal island exposes horrors of the slave trade

Bordeaux credits wrestling with changing his life, bringing him success and wealth.

"What I do know is that it has given me a lot of opportunities," he says. "It has opened doors for me because I am able to take care of myself and my family and especially to help the young people in the community."

It's perhaps a desire to emulate the likes of Bordeaux -- as well as a desire to keep fit -- that motivates young Senegalese men to work out on the beaches of Dakar.

Wrestlers fight to unite world's newest nation

Lacking the money to use a proper gym, some men have built a makeshift gym of their own. On the city's public beaches they have set up workout benches, using whatever materials they can -- be it car tires or wheel rims loaded with rocks to make them heavier.

Some of those training at Bordeaux's school and pumping iron on the beach may one day make it onto the professional wrestling circuit, earning the right to wear the wrestler's traditional pre-fight regalia.

Bordeaux describes the costumes as art. He says: "The way we dress is to show harmony -- we dress for the fight and we become different. When we wear the full attire for a fight, you won't recognize me!"

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