Tyger Taam never wanted to be good.
The Moanalua Middle School eighth-grader just wants to be great. The relentless wrestler is now ranked No. 6 nationally in his weight class by Rokfin.com.
Taam took a step in that ascent by making sacrifices and stepping up to face the nation’s best wrestlers. He went 4-2 at the World of Wrestling tourney in Tulsa last fall.
“Even though he went to Tulsa and took losses, and didn’t place, they still bumped him up in the rankings because of the quality of wrestlers,” Golden Backs Wrestling Club Coach Kamu Woode said.
Taam’s older brother, Moanalua state champion Boltyn, became an All-American at that same event.
Tyger Taam also went to the Super 32 in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he placed fifth in the 120-pound weight class.
“I was going against the No. 2 seed, lost to him in the first round. I met him again, it was 0-0 in the second round,” Taam recalled.
He was flagged for an illegal move and his opponent suffered an injury. The rule stipulates that if a wrestler can’t return to action within two minutes, the match is over.
“I didn’t know it was illegal. That’s how it stopped,” Taam said. “I stopped a lot of his shots and saved my twist for the last round.”
Taam finished fifth in the competition against the best in the nation.
“I wouldn’t say I’m good yet. In Hawaii, I hope to do really good here. I just hope I can get better and become the next four-time state champ. I’m not saying I will be, but I’m hoping I will be,” he said.
Next up is the Reno World Championships in April. The tournament has been moved to Tulsa due to COVID-19 restrictions in Nevada. Taam is at 130 to 135 pounds and plans to wrestle at 125.
“120 is done. I’ve got to bulk up right now,” said Taam, who is 5 feet, 4.5 inches tall. “In October, I was around 129, 130. Boltyn is 5-8, so hopefully I can get tall, too.”
His best moves are a small part of his dream arsenal.
“I like single legs and once in awhile, I might hit a low single. Right now, I’m just working on improving in every single scenario I get in. Parts that I’m not good at right no, I have to improve on,” he said.
Taam hones his craft under the watchful eyes of Coach Woode. He joined the Golden Backs four years ago, learning from Woode and training alongside Woode’s nationally-ranked son, Nalu.
“Tyger was winning in Hawaii, lose once in awhile. My son will never say that wrestling is fun. ‘No, dad, wrestling is never fun, but I love wrestling.’ When I took Tyger in, I told his dad (Andy), I have to take Tyger away from all this judo, jiu-jitsu stuff he’s learning. He’s not going to like it, but Andy believed in it.”
Woode insists on taking the Golden Backs to tournaments at the highest level.
“Success is not going to come overnight. A lot of cuts, black eyes, cuts, bleeding noses, busted knees and ankles. Tyger used to go to (less competitive) tournaments and do very good, but then he started getting beat up (in tougher events). The good thing is he saw my son doing good at nationals,” Woode noted.
Taam also played football and baseball when he was younger. Like older brother Boltyn, he loves basketball.
“I stopped everything else in sixth and seventh grade,” he said. “Coach Kamu is really honest. He won’t baby me and say I’m doing OK if I’m not doing OK.”
The all-in commitment, Woode added, has plenty to do with Taam’s personality.
“About a year-and-a-half ago, we went to Reno Worlds and he placed third, what we call an eagle. That’s the first time he got his eagle. The first I saw his dad break down and cry. Some nationals are not true All-American tournaments. Some people are scared of tournaments with the best wrestlers. You spend money, use vacation time and go to a tournament and win, but you’re not a national champ deep down inside. You didn’t face ranked people. But that’s what we do. We face ranked wrestlers,” Woode said.
The process is not slowing down.
“Tyger is very stilled. He has everything. All he needs is to be pushed a little bit,” Woode added. “He’s very self-driven.”
Beyond the Reno World Championships, the Golden Backs are aiming for the Dragon Nationals. Nalu Woode has wrestled there.
“It’s in the heart of New Jersey, the heart of wrestling,” Woode said. “If Tyger wins or even Logan wins, they might be considered getting into Dragons. That’s what they want.”
With more time at home because of the pandemic, he has another new skill.
“I got good at dishwashing. Now, I do that every day,” he said. “And mowing the lawn. We do that good, too.”
Top 3 movies/shows
1. “Naruto” (Netflix).
2. “Demon Flare” (Netflix).
3. “Seven Deadly Sins” (Netflix).
Top 3 food/snack/drink
1. Steak. “The last one I had, my mom (Heidi) made. It was really good. On the frying pan. I like it as rare as possible, the one with the most meat. I just like steak.”
2. Brown sugar milk tea, Cowcow’s Tea. “It’s by the Koa Pancake House in Kaimuki. Sometimes, we stay at our grandpa’s, so we go there. There’s (another) good one at Ranch 99 (now Moanalua 99), a place by the door.”
3. Garlic chicken, Fresh Catch.
Top 3 music artists
1. Playboy Carti – “Magnolia”.
2. Migos – “Clout”.
3. Shawn Mendez – “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back”.
Gaining proper weight
“We do drink protein shakes, but I don’t do it too often. I eat a lot of protein, drink a lot of water, eat a lot of salads. It’s not really my choice, but I do it anyway.”
“I have a lot. Uncle Kamu, thanks for everything. Coach Darren (Yap), my strength and conditioning coach. All of my other coaches and my old wrestling coaches I ever had. Scott Suzui, he’s a major one. He’s helped me so much, I got so much stronger because of him. My family that’s supported me since day one, and all my friends that helped me accomplish what I’ve done. And my sensei, Greg (Chow) from judo (Tenri Judo Club).”