NEW YORK CITY, NY — It wasn’t exactly a pick ’em, but it wasn’t far off, either. The field at 71 kilograms for the 2016 US Greco Roman Non-Olympic World Team Trials boasted a powerful group of contenders all capable of winning. There was two-time Pan Am Championships gold medalist Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm); 2012 Olympian Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP); 2016 University National champ Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS); and Chris Gonzalez (Army/WCAP). If you notice, there isn’t a major title next to Gonzalez’s introduction. No big deal — from now on, there will be.
Gonzalez, who came in seen as an athlete who was coming close to the big time, made that all come to fruition by the end of the day. A testy battle versus Northern Michigan stud Anthonie Linares was first on the list, a bout he prevailed in 5-0. Looming large in the semifinals was Smith, a hard-charging, talented competitor who was also looking to make his first World Team. If Gonzalez was ever going to announce himself to the world, had to start here.
Smith unleashed his attacks as if in a staccato rhythm. In typical Pat Smith fashion, he clashed into Gonzalez repeatedly attempting to pummel in. Eventually, it would lead to a passive penalty on Gonzalez and 1-0 Smith lead. That lead was fleeting. Gonzalez soon found both the opportunity and leverage he was waiting for. Just as Smith reached in, perhaps a little too far, Gonzalez locked double underhooks and arched the maneuver, putting Smith on his back. Right away, it was a clear four points. But Gonzalez did not relent from the hold. Instead, he held onto both arms and coerced Smith’s shoulders to the mat for a shocking fall that sent him to the finals.
Three intense battles
In the best-of-three final of the 2016 US Greco Roman Non-Olympic World Team Trials resided Northern Michigan standout Sancho. Sancho, too, enjoyed a dramatic semifinal win, defeating Coleman via technical fall in a bout he controlled from the first whistle. Plus, both he and Gonzalez did not have to engage in prolonged skirmishes to make the three-match series. Meaning, there was plenty in the tank for what was in store. Good thing reserves were available.
Sancho scored on a takedown in the first period and was poised to uncover more points before Gonzalez got reset. Gonzalez’s height never became a factor for Sancho; call it familiarity, call it a natural sequence of adjustments, but anytime Gonzalez appeared to threaten in an exchange, Sancho either pummeled into a different tie or switched an angle. Undeterred, Gonzalez kept trying to dictate the tempo. He’d earn a passive penalty point eventually but that wouldn’t be enough. Sancho took the first via a 2-1 score.
The second bout was the bruiser. Gonzalez, knowing he needed to even the series, exhibited a steady flow of conviction. If a tie-up didn’t work, he’d move on. If his hip level got too high, he would bring it back down. The one area of advantage Gonzalez boasted physically was in his stride. He could step further and in turn, could make up for any lost distance in a hurry. While it didn’t result in a throw, it at least kept Sancho from being able to commit to a hold too long. The fighting inside betrayed the mutual intent. Each athlete made it very clear that the stakes were recognized. Gonzalez reached in for underhooks and got close to securing a two-on-one he could do something with. Sancho doggedly fought out. The big moves didn’t arrive, but a passive point for Gonzalez resulted in a 1-0 lead at the break.
Sancho got back in it when he was awarded a passivity point of his own. 1-1, Sancho via criteria. But that is when Gonzalez upped his game even more. With under a minute and half remaining, Gonzalez weaved in and through to find another underhook on Sancho’s left side. Sancho slowed the action down and soon after was hit again for passivity to give Gonzalez a 2-1 edge. Sancho reached for front-headlocks and on a couple of occasions, lowered his level for bodylocks. Anything to avoid a third bout. But it wouldn’t happen and the two evenly-matched combatants went to a decisive contest with everything on the line.
Gonzalez was the first recipient of a passive point and jumped ahead 1-0. By now, both athletes were locked in a dead-heat. There was just nothing one could do the other they either didn’t see coming or couldn’t defend. Gonzalez expertly created motion off of his ties to assert some semblance of control in the center but before he could get too comfortable, Sancho was right there to upset his balance and threaten with a lock. Passivity, an eventuality practically throughout the entire event, greeted Gonzalez right back to tie the score at 1.
The conclusive three minutes told all onlookers what they needed to know. Darting attempts by Sancho. Close-calls from Gonzalez. Both wrestlers seemed either on the precipice of scoring or incredibly far away from it. There was no relenting, no backing down, and no time to take a breath. Gonzalez was given another passivity point to take the lead as the final period started to fade away. Somewhat questionable, maybe, but in this tournament on this day, it should have been expected.
Predictably, Sancho went through a whirlwind of attempts. High dives and a front-headlock he tried to walk to the edge were stymied. Just before the buzzer, Sancho got a lock on Gonzalez and with a last-ditch effort tried to hurl it over at the edge, only to have Gonzalez drop his weight and fall on him for two takedown points. He got up, clapped his hands, and embraced the scene. Christopher Gonzalez is now the 71 kg representative for the US at the 2016 Non-Olympic Weight World Championships.
With the win, Gonzalez secures his first domestic Senior gold medal, his first World Team spot, and for his performance, received the Outstanding Wrestler award.
Plus, he also gets a new title in front of his name.