The 2018 Granma y Cerro Pelado tournament in Havana, Cuba gets underway next month, and just as it is for Thor Masters in Denmark, the United States Greco delegation is stuffed with stars.
Known colloquially in Greco as the Granma Cup, this year the annual event in Cuba holds the distinction of being part of United World Wrestling’s Ranked Series. It goes like this: wrestlers who place anywhere in the top five will accumulate points towards their respective seeding at the Senior World Championships, slated for October in Budapest, Hungary. Gold at the Granma Cup nets eight points; silver, six; bronze, four; and fifth, two. The number of points congruent with a wrestler’s result is then combined with the number of participants in that bracket (e.g., a wrestler who wins a 16-man bracket will earn 24 points).
In other words, there are stakes involved here. And undoubtedly, that is one reason why some of the best the US has to offer are getting ready to throw down.
2008 Olympian and 2017 US World Team member Ildar Hafizov (60 kg, Army/WCAP) is one of five Americans who will be coming off of competing at the USA vs. Serbia dual the week prior, but his presence here is just as welcomed. Hafizov performed strongly last season with a win at Thor Masters and then at the World Team Trials a month later. The Paris World Championships didn’t go his way, as he was ousted in his only match of the day by Vazgen Khatchatryan (ARM). Coincidentally enough, Hafizov also matched up with Khatchatryan in the first round of the CISM Military Worlds in September and put forth a very different result. In that bout, the WCAP rep delivered a one-sided beating that ended with a tech before ultimately finishing fifth.
Two-time Junior World bronze medalist/2012 Olympian Ellis Coleman (67 kg, Army/WCAP) is checking in, as well. By now, most are familiar with how Coleman’s 2016-17 campaign unfolded. He surged back to life in a big way at the ’16 Senior Nationals and carried that momentum into the new year with a dominating performance at the Armed Forces Championships followed by a 4-0 showing in Denmark. Coleman didn’t place in Tbilisi, but he still looked plenty fresh ahead of the Senior Worlds. However, a bacterial infection robbed him of both his strength and stamina, leading to a 1-1 ledger in Paris. Like Hafizov, Coleman also saw action at the CISM Worlds, but that is when his body was at its worst and he was forced to bow out of his qualifying round battle with Dawid Karecinski (POL) in the second period. He insists he’s healthy now, and if that is the case, Cuba could spark the beginning of another mesmerizing run for the 26-year-old.
Everyone still wants to see the show: 2017 Junior World Champion Kamal Bey (Sunkist) is on board and will be entering the 2018 Granma Cup at 77 kilos, which is interesting in and of itself. Bey wrestled at the Junior 84 in Austria last year and stayed up a weight for the Grand Prix Zagreb Open the next week. After wrapping up his Junior World gold, he qualified for the U23 Worlds at 80 kilograms and it was originally thought he might hang around that neighborhood once the new weights rolled out earlier this month. With Bey at 77, that weight class domestically has a chance to rival 87 as one of the deepest at the US Open in April. The man below plays a role in why that may be.
Returning from another hiatus is Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets), the “Bad Guy” everyone looks forward to watching. As electrifying as they come, Speiller took time off from training after his win at the ’16 University Nationals only to come back with a flourish eight months later at the winter edition of the Dave Schultz. In that event, the Floridian disposed of two foreign opponents en-route to victory. He then entered into last year’s Granma Cup and nailed that one down, too, although he had just one other competitor in his weight class. The Hungarian Grand Prix in March offered a profound display of his talents as he racked up four wins on his way to the 80-kilogram final, where he was defeated by 2014 World Champion Peter Bacsi (HUN) 4-0 on the strength of a first-period arm-throw.
Naturally, Speiller was considered by most to be a considerable favorite to take the crown at the Trials but a shocking semifinal loss to John Stefanowicz (Marines) cut his bid short. The last time we saw him, Speiller engaged in a fun, spirited final opposite Jon Jay Chavez (NYAC) at the University Nationals in June. The same thing with Bey is in play here. Speiller spent all of last season at 80. But with 75 kilos morphing into 77, the weight cut (and weigh-in procedures) apparently doesn’t scare him enough to stay up, the the new 77 is boasting even more juice than previously anticipated.
Max, Roberts, Sancho, & the “Lone Wolf”
For Max Nowry (Army/WCAP), the 2018 Granma Cup offers the chance for him to compete internationally at his own weight for the first time in nearly five years. The 2012 University World Champion said last week that February is going to be the busiest month of his career since 55 kilograms was originally eliminated from the curriculum, and he’s right. Nowry is participating in the aforementioned dual with Serbia prior to this event, and then after that he’ll be preparing for the Armed Forces Championships.
He has competed in three World Championships across two age groups, so this trip to Cuba may not exactly wow him, but make no mistake: Dalton Roberts (60 kg, NYAC/OTS) is taking the trip for more than just the experience. His improvements on the mat have been too substantial to isolate, but serious events at the Senior level are a requirement for the 21-year-old to keep the meter running in the right direction. With what is sure to be a packed bracket, Roberts will have his work cut out for him and that is exactly why he raised his hand to go.
Widely recognized as one of the US’ most effective international competitors, Alex Sancho (67 kg, NYAC) recently left Northern Michigan for the Olympic Training Center and a change of scenery. Sancho has also been itching to go back to Cuba and now he is. Most fans are aware of how he feels about his performance in Poland, and that’s fine. But that was one tournament. Sancho has consistently proven he knows how to raise his game against foreigners and will likely be motivated to punch through with a big showing at this event.
Patrick Martinez (87 kg, NYAC) is yet one more example of a US Greco athlete who can turn it on overseas. The two-time World Team member has acquired several international medals throughout his still-young career and most recently added to his collection with back-to-back golds in Russia and Finland, respectively. The 2018 Granma Cup represents a tournament with significance for Martinez in regards to its timing. He spent most of the autumn in Europe, caught a breather for the holidays, and then jammed it back into gear for January’s Winter Strength Training Camp. Expect him to be stronger, fresher, and hungrier than usual to lace them up in a few weeks.
- One young name that pops out on the roster is NMU’s Ryan Cummings (77 kg). This is an athlete who does not possess a lot of foreign experience, though he did grind out an adrenalizing win in the US/Sweden dual at the Superior Camp last summer. Cummings definitely brings some intrigue to a group that is primarily comprised of much more seasoned and accomplished wrestlers. This could be big for him.
- Enock Francois (97 kg, NYAC) is right there with Cummings in the intrigue department, but for different reasons. Since crossing over to Greco, he has not competed all that often even and especially not internationally, as the Granma Cup will be his first major foreign event. But he is a superb all-around wrestler and the education he gets here could prove very useful when the spring rolls around.
- As mentioned, the US is heading to Cuba following the dual versus Serbia and its accompanying training camp in Boise, Idaho. The five US athletes competing against Serbia are: Nowry, Hafizov, Coleman, Sancho, and (tentatively) Bey.
2018 Granma Cup — Havana, Cuba
TEAM USA ROSTER
Dalton Roberts (NYAC/OTS)
Alex Sancho (NYAC)
Kamal Bey (Sunkist)
Ryan Cummings (NMU/OTS)
Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets)
Patrick Martinez (NYAC)
Kevin Radford (Sunkist)
Enock Francois (NYAC)
Nick Boykin (Sunkist)
Herb House (NYAC)
James Johnson (Sunkist)
JD Robbins (Florida Jets)