Barely a year old, the National Pro Grid League (NPGL) is wrapping up its first offseason since the D.C. Brawlers were crowned Grid Champions last October. And what an offseason it has been…

To begin with, two new expansion teams—the Baltimore Anthem and the Carolina Crush—have been added to the league roster, bringing the total number of competitive franchises to nine. There would have been ten, but in November the NPGL announced that the team operators of the Philadelphia Founders had decided not to move forward for a second season. However, all current team members of the Founders are eligible to be signed by other teams of the NPGL.

The remaining teams have been busy scouting and signing new players for the league’s second season, and the Baltimore Anthem wasted no time in making one of the biggest splashes that could be a game-changer for the team and the NPGL as a whole. On January 23rd, the Baltimore Anthem announced that the first athlete signed to their roster is Russian Olympic Weightlifter Dmitry Klokov. Klokov is already familiar to many in the wider fitness community (that includes CrossFit). The 31-year-old won a weightlifting World Championship in 2005 in the 105kg (231lb) weight class, snatching 192kg (422.2lb) and clean & jerking 227kg (499.4lb). Fans of the NPGL are already familiar with the big Russian after he made a guest appearance during the inaugural NPGL Championship match in L.A. this past October. During a break in the competition, Klokov proceeded to put on a show by working his way through a thruster ladder, finishing by moving 385lbs overhead. He later made a video from his experience at the match, dropping a big hint that he would be competing in the NPGL the next year:

“Here, for instance, you are a member of a team of 15 and each person does his specialty,” Klokov said in the video. “For example if I were to be on a team, I would do heavy weightlifting and maybe something that I feel strong in, if not, then comes Igor Zaripov and does his gymnastics, and next comes someone else that does something else. That’s cool, I like that.”

Igor Zaripov, a bodyweight and gymnastics expert, is another new addition to the Anthem. In addition to being a world-renowned aerial star with Cirque Du Soleil, Zaripov also holds some interesting world records—for pulling stuff with his teeth. This is aguy who can pull a car 100ft in under 16 seconds with his mouth. Finally, on February 5th Baltimore made another huge signing by acquiring free agent and last year’s 2nd place Games finisher Mat Fraser. Fraser spent last season playing for the New York Rhinos, but now joins two elite athletes on the Anthem, who look to be making a statement before the start of the 2015 season.

But Klokov and Zaripov aren’t the only big names that will be coming to the NPGL in 2015. Two-time NFL Pro Bowler Willis McGahee has announced his intention to join a Grid team. Two teams have already said that they would sign the free agent running back on the spot, and with good reason. In addition to boasting a 345lb two-rep max clean & jerk, McGahee brings elite speed and jumping ability—not to mention a star presence.

In fact, both McGahee and Klokov will attract a new audience to the NPGL. Both athletes come from worlds outside of the traditional CrossFit/functional fitness sphere that makes up the bulk of the league, which means that both men will be drawing new eyeballs to the sport of Grid racing. A former Olympian and weightlifting World Champion, an eleven-year, two-time NFL Pro Bowler—those are accolades that will bring in fresh media and a fresh audience from the wider world of sport. In addition, if Klokov and McGahee prove to be a success on their respective teams (and why wouldn’t they be?), they may lure other athletes from sports such as weightlifting and football to join Grid.

The NPGL is a sport that places high value on specialists, but up to now each team has had specialists that have also had experience in CrossFit—either at the Games or Regional level. The introduction of Klokov and McGahee signals a shift to “pure specialists”—athletes that are world-class in one or two areas and can make the difference in an NPGL match. As such, don’t be surprised to see teams scouting further afield than the realm of CrossFitters. Sprinters, gymnasts, weightlifters—all are now highly coveted by Grid teams. There will always be room for the elite generalists in the sport, but right now teams are shifting their focus to the purists.

“What you’re starting to see are teams that are looking to increase the competitive pressure. Teams and ownership are starting to get a really good idea of how the sport works, what kind of athletes they need—and things are going to broaden a bit in 2015,” says Jim Kean, CEO of the NPGL. “You’re going to see athletes who are a lot stronger this year and more specialized, like a Klokov. A lot of our workouts feature some fairly intense weights, so having a really outstanding set of ‘closers’ who can move a barbell as well as those bodyweight specialists who can rip off a ton of gymnastic movements can turn the tide in a match. If you just have generalists on a team you’re going to be pretty good but you won’t be extraordinary. You need to have specialists.”

Rounding off the recent developments from the NPGL is the introduction of the Southern Amateur Grid League—the SAGL. The SAGL will have ten teams made up of ten athletes each (five men, five women), and eight Grid players have already agreed to compete either as coaches or athletes. The SAGL will hold a regular season (following the same rules and format as the NPGL) that starts in March and finishes around June—depending on the schedule for the NPGL. As Jonathan Lee reports for the NPGL website, the ultimate goal of the SAGL—according to founders Joe Tebaldi and Carl Hardwick—“is to allow athletes to compete in the sport of Grid and even possibly send some athletes into the professional ranks.” The Carolina Crush and D.C. Brawlers have already approached the pair about possibly becoming a feeder system for their teams, with the Charleston Marauders now acting as “the official minor league team of the D.C. Brawlers.”

Photo courtesy of the NPGL.

William Imbo
William Imbo is an Associate Editor at BoxLife magazine, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer and holds an MPS in Sports Industry Management from Georgetown University. He is an avid CrossFitter and loves film, music and travel, thanks to having grown up across Europe. A fan of the New Orleans Saints and Newcastle United, Will's favorite CrossFit girl is Helen-least favorite being Isabel.

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