Photo: Tyger Taam (center) celebrates winning a tournament with his Team Hawaii coaches, including his father Andy (right).
By Bill X Barron
A two-time RMN national champion in folkstyle and freestyle, 15-year-old Hawaiian Tyger Taam knows his stuff that “learning to lose at an early age” with grace and humility “teaches how to win, which is essential in preparing for life.” Win, lose or draw – you are only as good as yourself.”
Tyger’s character qualities mirror those of legendary Hawaiian Aquarius Tiger Espere, after whom he was named. Surfer Gerry Lopez says admiringly: “He had an innate presence that made him just a part of the wave – and the wave in turn seemed to be a part of him.”
“Espere was a very humble man with many life experiences as a fisherman, cowboy, canoeist, writer and musician. When he was fighting the swell in the sea, his style became very aggressive,” says Tyger’s father Andy.
The elder Taam can also describe his reserved son going into attack mode on the mat. After first being exposed to jiu jitsu and judo, as well as wrestling, at the age of four, Tyger found his best chance of success was in the 28-foot circle.
“When participating in children’s events, I won a lot of games. When I started losing more weight at the age of 12, I learned that I had to work harder than my opponents.”
“Doing something difficult in life makes it easier to deal with,” says the top-level fighter, who has also competed at the highest level in BJJ and national judo championships, although wrestling remains his passion.
Brother Boltyn was a Hawaiian State Champion and two-time finalist who now wrestles for Coach Jason Welch in San Francisco State.
Bedrock Sports Hawaii’s No. 5 pound-for-pound wrestler after just one high school campaign, Tyger’s discipline and dedication led to an undefeated freshman season followed by his dominance at the Oahu Interscholastic League Championship.
One of six 132-pound island champions to earn the right to compete in the Hawaiian state championships, Tyger, still unbeaten and undeterred, defeated four opponents to win his first high school state title.
Tyger challenged himself to fight nationally and was one of 2,500 wrestlers from 40 states who traveled to Denver in June for the 23rd Rocky Mountain National Championships.
To prepare for the competition on the mainland, he first spent a day of training “in the middle of cow fields” with coach Ben VomBaur at the renowned Bear Cave Club in northern Colorado. “Ben showed us a big aloha,” recalls Andy.
Tyger wrestled in three-minute situational bouts and eight-minute live freestyle bouts, holding his own against members of the club who were state champions. However, as Papa intended and Tyger preferred, he only found out about their accomplishments afterwards. Then he thinks he “can bring my best to the best.”
On day one of RMN’s Crown Jewels event, the throwing Hawaiian, in his most familiar style, hurled his 18U 132-pound freestyle opponents to claim his first of two unusual RMN trophies, big enough to fly home the ocean had to be dismantled.
Previously, Tyger had attended the RMN Freak Show and Rumble in Reno.
“I love the cool vibe of RMN: I feel welcome,” he said. “Smoke and lights are killing me, so I’m ready to go.”
Coach and father Andy says, “RMN has the best energy of any tournament we play. Your marketing is unparalleled; They offer such different types of events and the best venues.
“Kids feel like they want to be part of the whole,” Andy continues, “especially when the finale is held on a raised stage. With everyone that came out, it was incredible to see Tyger make it to the finals.”
In the final, Tyger faced tough Arizona’s Jason Ramirez. “When you’re traveling across the ocean to a different time zone, you have to work extra hard to get your way in enemy territory,” explains Tyger. “As in life, if you stop working, everything goes wrong.”
Still, Dad was confident after watching Tyger win many close matches, including an early-round takedown win in overtime. “Tyger likes to hit single legs and the high crotch to clinch his opponents.”
“In the finale, Ramirez caught me with a cut through,” says the islander. “Using technique to counter his attack, we went back and forth scoring takedowns and escapes.
“I’m working on getting a feel for their bodies and seeing how they respond to pressure. Eventually I countered his shot in a way that got me points again. I didn’t have such exciting matches back in Hawaii!” shouts Taam.
“Wrestling really boosts your mental health,” proclaims the two-time RMN National Champion. “Doing something difficult prepares you for life and makes it easier to deal with. It helped me get a 3.8 grade point average.”
“Wrestling is the best sport to transition into real life,” says Andy. “It teaches you respect Humility, purpose and the experience of traveling alone.”
“In Hawaiian culture, we show each other the spirit of aloha! We warmly welcome you to our open hearts,” explains Andy. “We show the utmost respect to islanders and visitors alike.
“Hawaiians are a unique melting pot of races, languages, cultures and cuisines. Even in difficult times, they are people who really love and care about each other.”
Honolulu’s Moanalua High wrestlers, a team leader as a ninth grader, look up to Tyger, including six male and female champions from the 2022 state high school.
“Looking back, I think of all the coaches, family and teammates who have been really good to me.
“Club trainer Kamuela Woode has been there throughout my career and has helped me improve every time I step on the mat. My high school coach Lucas Misaki helped me prepare for the postseason.”
Named after Africa’s legendary silverback gorilla, who is known to have the strength of 20 humans, Taam’s home club, the Goldenbacks, derives its name from this 400-pound beast and the gold of champions.
The island now has a new beast of beasts by the name of a legend, one that descends on its prey with lion-like cleverness.
Already an experienced competitor, Tyger Taam is constantly training, never giving up on the journey, not content with dominating the island, but trying to establish his destiny on the mainland.