Most of the American wrestling audience, understandably, was focused on the freestyle World Team Trials this past weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska. You know, Burroughs/Dake, Cox/Taylor…all of them. To be sure, there were some compelling matches on the freestyle side of things and all of it made for a packed few days of wrestling in this country. Plus, Hayden Zillmer (97 kg, Minnesota Storm) earned the distinction of being the first wrestler since Sam Hazewinkel to make the National Team in both styles in the same year. Joe Rau (86 kg, Minnesota Storm) got in there, too, though he was unable to achieve what he would have liked. That’s okay– he has a pretty solid career away from all that leg-grabbing.
But while all that fun was going down in Lincoln, US Greco-Roman wrestlers in two different age groups were conducting important business abroad. We start with the Team USA Juniors, who were busy tearing it up in Lima, Peru on Friday.
Three champs, one silver, and three bronze medalists were enough to catapult the US to victory at the 2017 Junior Pan Am Championships in Lima. Brandon Kaylor (50 kg), Haydn Maley (96 kg), and Outstanding Wrestler Anthony Cassioppi (120 kg) all came through with golds. Kaylor and Cassioppi operated in round-robin brackets. Kaylor actually dropped a match to Erick Zaldumbide Torres (ECU) but finished with the best ledger to snag the title. Cassioppi, well, Cassioppi was scary dominant in scoring three pins and a tech. Maley wasn’t too far behind — he notched a pair of falls and a tech in the finals. You like to see these kinds of no-doubt-about-it performances from the Juniors at any tournament, but when they come at a Continental Championships the results have a bit more staying power.
Lenny Merkin (66 kg) pounded out a couple of tech’s, including a 12-1 thrashing of Jamir Nicholson Muril (PAN) to claim bronze. Tommy Brackett (84 kg), who is ticketed for a Greco-Roman future upon graduation from high school next year, came up with a well-earned silver medal after roughing it up in a couple of close wins. Firebomber Dalton Young (60 kg) dropped a tense 4-4 criteria decision to Agustin Al Destribats (ARG) but rebounded with a tech over Gerardo Oliva Montes (PER) to nail down third.
Although most of the squad that went to Peru are very likely going to be taken away from Greco, at least for the foreseeable future, the bottom line is that the American kids, all of whom had credible Greco-Roman experience going in either at Fargo, the Duals, or elsewhere, knew how to use all of their tools to prove successful against international opposition. And whenever that happens, it brings hope. Hope is important.
Seniors Go Through the Gauntlet in Tbilisi and it means something
The 2017 Tbilisi Grand Prix represented an interesting dichotomy when it came to the USA Greco-Roman Seniors. For the World Team members, which amounted to seven of the ten American athletes who competed Saturday and Sunday, the tournament provided an appropriate baseline from which to build on from now until Paris. The competition at Tbilisi has typically always been quite fierce, as it was this past weekend. Host country Georgia, Hungary, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Turkey all put forth some of their best and brightest since the event meant the same thing to them it did to the US — see where you’re at. Although the US didn’t exactly pile up the wins, there was a lot to take from the experience as we move into the summer crunch time.
World Teamers Ildar Hafizov (59 kg, Army/WCAP), Ellis Coleman (66 kg, Army/WCAP), and Patrick Smith (71 kg, Minnesota Storm, world no. 20) appeared to be on their respective games despite the fact none of the three were able to medal. Hafizov lost a contentious bout to 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Stig Andre Berge (NOR, world no. 8) before getting caught in some quicksand in the repechage. Smith outfought Tigran Torosyan (ARM) 2-0 to move on in the 71 kilogram bracket where he lost to 2016 World Champion Balint Korpasi (HUN, world no. 1) by the same score. But right there, that was a productive, important match. Korpasi withstood Smith’s pressure through most of the first period. Whatever Smith was told or discovered on his own during the break must have worked, because in the second period he was starting to find a rhythm. Smith was able to move Korpasi a little more and getting some decent ties. There wasn’t much to go with in the way of actual attempts, but just the mere fact that Smith made an adjustment or two and was right in Korpasi’s grill the whole time and moving him off his spot is noteworthy. How did Smith lose? Oddly enough, two passivity points. Go figure.
If you read our interview with Ellis Coleman last month, you’d know that he felt his 4-0 run at Thor Masters was a big deal to him. It was there he became aware, cognizant of the machinations which helped turn him into a Junior star and Senior monster. This is what he said about that day in March:
“I recognized the fact that I can go back to being me and I had a little bit more to add to it. It was there, it was always there. I knew how to wrestle like that, but it was fading, it was gone. I don’t know if it was the fear of losing or what, but it was hidden. I hadn’t used it in a long time. It was more just me pushing people around and wrestling hard. But where was me being alive and being able to open, and just going out there without thinking and just hitting moves? It came back to me. I can’t even explain the performance that I had at that tournament. I put my headphones on and just paced back and forth every single match. After I won, I put the headphones on right away, put the music on, and just start bouncing, getting ready and thinking about the next match. It was a good feeling.”
THAT is the Ellis Coleman the US needs in Paris. Confident, having fun, moving around, creative, explosive…the whole package. And no, Coleman didn’t win over the weekend in Tbilisi, he didn’t even make the podium. Throw it out. Dismiss it. Because the argument, a just, fitful argument, could be made that Coleman wrestled better in Georgia than he did in Denmark. There was even more aggression at Tbilisi. Even more movement. More looseness, more explosiveness. Coleman went 1-2 and one of those losses was a 1-0 pseudo-hose job to eventual champ Daniar Kalenov (KAZ), who somehow or another was able to win another questionably officiated bout against Alex Sancho (66 kg, NYAC-OTS) in the final. Coleman’s other loss was a 6-4 decision to Ednar Shavadze (GEO) where he was down 4-0 in the last minute and uncorked his patented “Flying Squirrel.” The attempt(s) didn’t come through for him, but what it did was shine a spotlight on the fact that he’s still got it. And wouldn’t you know it, but Coleman ended up going berserk and ran Shavadze out easily twice in a row with under :10 left to nab two pairs of caution points. So, okay, Coleman might not have gotten a medal draped around his neck yesterday. But he did show that the spark and talent he’s known for is now simmering. A boil-over in Paris is what the US is looking forward to.
Robby Smith (130 kg, NYAC) didn’t win, either. He only had one match and it was against a solid opponent in Iosif Chugoshvili (BLR). You were looking for the same thing out of Robby as you were the other World Team members — approach, condition, and movement. With those as the proposed parameters, Smith looked just fine. He controlled Chugoshvili throughout the sum of the first period, digging, digging, digging in underhooks, prying with intent, and dictating the tempo. He held a 3-1 lead on the virtue of a passive and caution-and-two before getting too high on a front headlock attempt that Chugoshvili turned into a four-point toss. Again, no big deal. Smith will be able to use this bout as fuel while he is training over in Hungary the next two weeks.
It’s pretty obvious that Mason Manville (75 kg, Army/WCAP) was expecting more out of the Tbilisi Grand Prix. Two fairly quick tech fall losses ended his day. It isn’t like Manville was supposed to go crazy here — 75 was an especially stacked weight and he hadn’t been in an international bout in quite a spell. Manville succumbed to bread-and-butter type maneuvers, an arm throw and a headlock. That’s fine. For now. Really, the only disappointment in Manville’s showing was that he never had the chance to get a decent lather. The result, like with all of the World Team members, is secondary given the circumstances. But you were hoping he could meddle around longer, fight for some of his tie-ups, and manufacture the same smooth angles he did back in April. Manville will benefit greatly from the proceeding camp in Hungary where he will be force-fed a steady diet of international partners.
At 80 kilograms, both Jon Jay Chavez (NYAC) and World Team member Cheney Haight (NYAC) participated in some good action. Chavez was in complete command tossing around Ebrahimi Mahdi (IRI) en-route to an 11-2 technical fall. In the quarterfinals, he was on the wrong end of some sketchy officiating. Down 2-1 in the second period, Chavez was visibly outworking Nikolizi Kelasov (GEO, world no. 16) and all of his effort was ignored. Bias? Maybe. Maybe a little. But at an event where passivities were tossed around on seeming whims, Kelasov deserved to be knocked. As for Haight, he was a beast conditioning-wise versus Varlam Kvaratshkeli (GEO), but offense for both wrestlers was scarce. The two traded passivity points (familiar pattern, no?) and Kvaratshkeli benefitted late from yet another dicey call to take the 2-1 win.
Provisor and Sancho
What more can you say about these two performances? Sancho brought the heat every blessed second he was on a mat Sunday. So did Ben Provisor (85 kg, NYAC). For Sancho, this wasn’t the warm-up tournament it was for most of the others. Count Chavez in that boat, as well. Sancho is one of the few US Greco-Roman wrestlers you can depend on to put together good matches overseas because outside of this country he has more freedom to open up, and he does. Every time out. Sancho is unafraid to play around in the pummel and widen out just enough if he feels there is an opportunity to score. Breezy, he wrestles breezy. And his top work from par terre in his first two bouts were something to behold. Four straddle lifts for 14 points is difficult to mess with.
Provisor actually enjoyed main event status on Sunday. Taking on Robert Kobliashvili (GEO, world no. 12) in the final, Provisor dug in for the bruising kind of back-and-forth he tends to find himself in. Kobliashvili received two passivity points — that was it. But at least Kobliashvili was making a legitimate effort to engage and re-engage through most of the contest, which is more than you can say for a few of the other opponents US guys faced over the weekend. Provisor wanted this one, too. Down late and precious seconds disappearing from the scoreboard, Provisor lowered in for high dives and super-ducks. He came up short, though the impression he surely made won’t soon be forgotten.
Home away from home
Now it’s Budapest, Hungary, one of the preferred places to be for the US Seniors and a two-week long training camp where live wrestling is a featured component. This camp is what a lot of this has been for. The “base training camp” a couple of weeks ago in Oregon, the prep for Georgia, Tbilisi itself…it’s all part of the plan to get the athletes in prime condition before the peak stage targeted for Paris in August. As mentioned above, while this camp is important for all of the World Team members, it’s especially prudent for those who haven’t gotten in a ton of mat time overseas yet this year. Manville is an obvious case. But even Robby Smith has been gunning for this camp because his workload outside of Denmark and the World Team Trials has been light and also, he’ll have many more partners to tangle with in Hungary.
Bey settles it with Porter in Lincoln
It’s up in the air as to how long Kamal Bey (74 kg, Sunkist) and Jesse Porter (NYAC-OTS) will be rivals to one another. Likely years. And years. They could be on some kind of perpetual collision course when the time to make teams comes around every flip of the calendar. Seems like that, anyway.
Bey prevailed on Friday in two straight matches over his talented counterpart at the special wrestle-off to decide the 74 kilogram spot on the 2017 Junior World Team. Because of Bey’s post-concussive symptoms that sprang up after the Senior Trials, the best-of-three series between the two had to be postponed until Bey was fully cleared of the cobwebs.
You know the history by now. Bey sealed his Junior spot last year taking two of three from Porter in Vegas. They met in Vegas again, this time in the finals of December’s Senior Open with Bey blitzing Porter via tech in the first period. Their most recent skirmish happened in the Schultz finals, where Bey was forced to come from behind to snag the win. Neither bout this time around was one-sided. Bey got around Porter’s body to wail a four-point toss in the first match and held on 4-1. The second round saw a little more tightness with Porter sticking to a game plan similar to the one he executed back in February. He was trying to play it smart and the approach worked for awhile. At 1-1 in the second, Bey unfurled an arm throw that changed the momentum. He then locked on a lift and took it over. The end result, a 5-1 triumph for Bey, who will now spend his summer getting ready to bring home a medal from Finland.
USA defeats Sweden at NMU
Last Wednesday night at the Superior Camp held on the campus of Northern Michigan University was a dual between the US and Sweden with both squads comprised mainly of Juniors and Cadets. You can sort of call this an annual thing now although it’s only the second year in a row the dual has been a featured event in Marquette. In 2016, Team USA beat up on Sweden to the tune of a 9-3 score, but this year it was a much tighter affair. Two current Junior World Team members, one a bronze medalist from last year, played important roles in helping the US secure the 7-6 win. Taylor LaMont (60 kg, Sunkist) got two matches in, both tech’s, and Randon Miranda (55 kg, NYAC-OTS) also picked up a tech fall. Incoming NMU frosh Britton Holmes (69 kg) wowed those in attendance with a big FIVE and gutted out opponent Alex Beck (Sweden) practically immediately. Ryan Cummings (76 kg) delivered a critical 1-1 criteria win to put the US over the top.
The 4th annual Superior Camp wrapped up over the weekend.
What’s coming up here
- Episode 5 of “The Five Point Move Podcast” with special guest Robby Smith is up and it’s terrific. Smith is just way too entertaining when sharing his insights be them about his career, the needling questions about retirement, his favorite moments, that dynamite performance at the 2015 World Championships, and really, tons more. So many honest perspectives from one of the country’s most talented, accomplished, and well-liked athletes. The audio is available via stream at the bottom of this page.
- We will be working to provide updates on the US Senior World Team members as they continue on at the training camp in Hungary.
- A new athlete interview.