Over the weekend at the 2017 Tbilisi Grand Prix in Tbilisi, Georgia, the United States Senior Greco-Roman team racked up two silver medals (Alex Sancho, 66 kg and Ben Provisor, 85 kg) along with ten total wins. Depending on where you stand, that figure either seems like a lot or not much at all. But when you consider the level of competition present and the fact that this event was to serve as a warm up for the more intense training phase that is on the horizon leading up to the World Championships in August, the results, by and large, are extremely encouraging. Save for a couple of bouts here and there, American wrestlers were in virtually every match and the World Team members who competed looked like they were right on target for what’s coming next. These are not delusions of grandeur. Team USA has work to do if bringing home medals from Paris is the objective. But if you’re willing to look past the scoresheet and take an extended glimpse at how things unfolded, it should be easy to tell that the reason for encouragement is well-founded.
Sancho, who is not a World Team member in 2017, put on one heck of a show and lit up the scoreboard to start the ball rolling. Provisor, the bullish brick wall of an athlete that he is, too demonstrated that when he gets into a dogfight, it’s often best to not aggravate the beast further. Ellis Coleman (66 kg, Army/WCAP) did not come away with a medal on Sunday, surprising if only due to how he battled. Coleman was charged up and full of energy, and on another day, the result is likely different. He hopes that day comes a little over two months from now. And Patrick Smith (71 kg, Minnesota Storm), the pressure-fighter everyone loves, was able to make adjustments during the event’s first day and push one of the best wrestlers on the planet to the brink.
All in all, it was a sort-of-kind-of important two days in Georgia with plenty of great Greco-Roman action and exciting moments to satisfy even the most cynical of wrestling fans. We start with the medalists, Alex Sancho and Ben Provisor, and their paths to the finals on Sunday.
Alex opens up
You could go ahead and give Sancho credit for a lot having to do with his wrestling ability. After all, you don’t carve out a place as one of the best in the country by being good at only one thing. No, Sancho offers a variety of tools at his disposal that stand out and one of them is his penchant for not letting opportunities to end matters go to waste. That was the story for his first bout of the day versus on-again-off-again competitor Gor Sirekanyan (ARM). Sancho was loose and ready, staying in tight on the Armenian without plodding away in the ties. It was natural that Sirekanyan would have no choice but to present himself and when he did, it was game over. Sancho got in on an arm and slid Sirekanyan by for a takedown. From there, he straddle lifted twice for four points and a quick tech that required all of 1:05 to nail down.
Matthew Krasznai (HUN) was next and though this one lasted a little longer, the end result was fairly similar. Both were eager to kick things off and it was Sancho who’d be the recipient of the first passive warning of the contest. It didn’t matter too much. Because after a comfort level was reached, Sancho found his rhythm and it was all Krasznai could do to keep up. Laser-beam underhooks thrown like jabs along with a steady diet of off-balancing two-on-ones provided the foundation of Sancho’s offense. This led Krasznai to have to change his own tactical assignment a touch, so he went for an arm throw. Sancho snuffed it out right away and glided behind for two. He then locked for a straight lift and careened it over. Once he landed, he kept the lock and did it again, this time for four, and that was all she wrote. A second consecutive tech made possible by two consecutive straddle lifts put Sancho in the semifinals.
Sancho would find the going decidedly tougher against Goga Gogiberashvili (GEO). There weren’t any discernible technical disadvantages for Sancho in this particular bout. The one glaring difference separating Gogiberashvili from Sancho’s first two opponents was simply that the hometown Georgian demonstrated a bit more moxy when faced with the American wrestler’s casual-yet-frenetic attack plan. A passivity warning on Sancho soon gave way to an actual point going to Georgia. Such is life. Before too long, another passivity warning came in on Sancho, this despite his noticeable rise in activity. Backed into a corner, what with this being the semifinals and going up against a Georgian in Georgia, Sancho needed to score offensive points. So he pounced on the initiative and zeroed in on a high-dive, wrapping around Gogiberashvili’s waist and driving him to the surface. It was a big two points to close out the first.
Gogiberashvili clashed in to start the second but it was Sancho who was in control. He was justly awarded a passivity point to widen his lead to 3-1. But it went the other way soon enough, as Gogiberashvili netted another passive point to make the score 3-2 in favor of Sancho. That would be it for him and he played a vital role in his own demise. Gogiberashvili was warned previously by the official to keep his head up. He was bearing in on Sancho repeatedly with his head down and lifting it up right beneath the chin. Eventually, he was called on it, resulting in a caution and two as well as a 5-2 Sancho lead, which is how this one would end.
Provisor’s day filled with violence
Although he wound up dropping a close match in the finals to Robert Kobliashvili (GEO, world no. 12), the argument could be made that Provisor’s most challenging bout of the day was his first. Argishti Abgaryan (ARM) rushed in at the whistle and immediately locked double underhooks, forcing Provisor to go double overs and pry away. To start off, the Armenian was asserting himself well and keeping Provisor on his toes in the center of the mat. Before long, “Big Ben” had enough. He snapped Abgaryan’s head, ripped an underhook, and started working his shoulder in. Abgaryan found little comfort in this position, having no choice but to pull away. Provisor rammed home another underhook with his right and as is custom for him, took control of Abgaryan’s right wrist with his left hand. From there, he coerced Abgaryan out for what would be the only point scored of the match.
The second period saw more of the same, except on a couple of occasions Provisor whipped Abgaryan to the mat but was unable to capitalize further. The ties where this one was won and lost. Abgaryan faded out just enough to where Provisor didn’t have to worry too much about getting knocked for passivity, bringing the American a hard-fought 1-0 first round victory.
The quarterfinals saw Provisor enjoy one of the more exciting matches of the morning. Aziz Saman (IRI) wanted some hard contact and when it came his way, he really didn’t like it too much. He clashed in on Provisor and both tangled with the fingers, which brought a warning from the official. Upon the restart, Provisor clubbed Saman up top and was instantly penalized for a caution and two to his bewilderment. The tone was now set. This had to be a fight, there was no other way for it to be settled appropriately. Provisor was amped and it showed, coming in on Saman with gusto. The Iranian backed off but not before briefly knocking Provisor off-balance. Return fire was on its way. Provisor was able to snap Saman for a front headlock and they were restarted again. However — Saman touched legs, prompting Provisor to ask for the challenge brick. The challenge was denied, giving Saman a 3-0 advantage. With :30 to go in the first, Provisor closed the gap via a passivity point. There was more to come.
From the whistle, Provisor was on the attack and snapped Saman to his knees, pinching the head and bringing the Iranian to his back. 3-3, Provisor. Just when it seemed like Saman was beginning to crawl into the darkness, he got in on Provisor at the edge for a point. 4-3, Saman, but his undoing happened next. After another restart, Saman was rung up for grabbing the fingers, the caution and two giving Provisor a 5-4 lead. The intensity just wouldn’t die down. Provisor put Saman on his knees with 90 seconds left only to have the Iranian recover before any damage could be done. But with :47 remaining, history repeated itself. Provisor, yet again, collapsed Saman down at the edge and tried to spin behind. No score was initially called, but the officials conferred and called Saman for legs. Two points went to Provisor and he carried the 7-4 cushion onto the semifinals.
In the semifinals was Salva Khachidze (GEO) and similar to Provisor’s first two matches of the day, this one was another grinding battle. Provisor snared control of the proceedings with his patented clawhammer underhook, working Khachidze for a 1-0 passivity point lead. Khachidze wanted to work from a distance — the pressure inside from Provisor enacted a wall that made it tough to do his bidding, so he tried creating separation off of various angles, his one offensive expression being that of an underhook he jimmied around with. A passivity point flew in for Khachidze (somehow), but Provisor didn’t wallow. Instead, he walked Khachidze into double overhooks and arched. There was no exposure, but the attempt was good for two, putting Provisor out in front 3-1.
Khachidze, to his credit, was tired but unrelenting. There weren’t any holes for him to exploit and even in the rare instances where Provisor could have been vulnerable, the windows were slammed shut. Heavy on the head was Provisor, snapping Khachidze or punishing him with purposeful inside handiwork. You could sense that the tide wasn’t going to turn. Provisor could nestle tie-ups that favored his pace every time he reached out and touched Khachidze. No further scoring opportunities presented themselves, allowing Provisor to walk away victorious 3-1 and make the final.
Other US performances in Georgia
Ellis looking good but gets a tough break
2012 Olympian and now-two-time US World Team member Ellis Coleman (66 kg, Army/WCAP) was on the same side of the bracket as Sancho, making yet another meeting between the two possible. There was other synergy involved, as well, but we’ll get to that in a second. For his first match of the day, Coleman lept out of the round of 16 after taking out Ensar Karabacak (ARM). The two-on-one game was strong in this one. As in boxing, reach can mean something in Greco-Roman wrestling and Coleman constantly tried to dig his way into the ties from a distance. This left Karabacak no choice but to operate from his heels. At Thor Masters in March, Coleman started getting back to the style of movement that served him so well in the past and he was employing a similar approach to start this one off, bending at the knees, coming in off of angles, and staying busy up top. It led to a passivity point in his favor and he went back to work. With the first period beginning to wind down, Coleman rushed into Karabacak and made contact with his face. The Turkish wrestler crumbled to the ground, requiring medical attention. After a few minutes action resumed but it wouldn’t matter much since the period was just about over with Coleman holding a 1-0 lead.
He’d add to it soon enough. Just as the second period got underway, Coleman wrapped a bodylock at the edge. As he attempted to hoist it up, Karabacak wanted to counter with overhooks, so Coleman neatly dumped his lock off the boundary for two. 3-0, Coleman. Shortly thereafter, Coleman worked Karabacak out for another point and a 4-0 cushion. This was the version of Coleman that sprang to life in Denmark. Darting, feinting, energetic, creative…it was all clicking. Karabacak had no answer for the American’s non-stop motion the rest of the way and Coleman was onto the quarterfinals.
This is when the synergy kicks in. For his quarterfinal match Coleman had Daniar Kalenov (KAZ), the man who would later defeat Sancho in the finals (there goes the spoiler alert). However frustrating that match was, this one was equally so. Coleman came out aggressively and right off the bat nearly got to Kalenov’s body. Kalenov bounded away but he was on his heels in the early going. Coleman was finding short drags and underhooks with nary an issue and Kalenov did little other than deflect the action pouring in on him. If there was ever a time for a passivity warning, midway through the second is when it should have arrived for Kalenov, because he simply wasn’t offering very much and Coleman retained control of the center. Coleman switched from collar ties to underhooks to two-on-ones seamlessly, using sprite footwork to sustain a hectic pace. Kalenov finally picked up his first formal warning with a little under a minute left in the opening stanza though no points wound up being docked.
Somehow, some way, for some reason, Coleman was warned for passivity shortly into the second. The referee looked over to the table numerous times basically asking for instruction. This was in spite of what took place before his eyes — intensified action. Both wrestlers had stepped up the gears and to be fair, Kalenov very much had new life working in his favor. Coleman had not slowed down, either, and seemed to be close to finding the range necessary to deploy his offense. A warning is a warning, and naturally, it played a role. Coleman would soon be rung up for passivity, falling behind 1-0. There were not a lot of opportunities for the WCAP’er to chip on through, as Kalenov started holding his ground more and more as the period went on. A rough loss, to be sure, and it sent Coleman into the repechage waiting game where he would eventually be given another shot at the podium.
Ednar Shavadze (GEO) stood between Coleman and the medal rounds. Similar to how he performed in his previous two matches, Coleman was flowing with energy, picking his spots, using his legs, and creating a vast array of different looks as he prodded for tie-ups. Shavadze was more of a willing partner than perhaps Kalenov was before him. He had moments of his own and snagged a 2-0 lead that he protected deep into the second. Even still, Coleman was feeling the vibe. With under a minute left and needing to score, he attempted the “Flying Squirrel”, hurling himself over Shavadze in effort to bang out a lift. He just missed — Shavadze ambled behind for two and doubled his advantage to 4-0. Thing is, Coleman sprang back up and tried it again. A conference at the officials table resulted in Shavadze being credited with four, the argument apparently being that Coleman exposed. USA challenged — and won. The score was adjusted to 6-0 in favor of Shavadze. At the whistle, Coleman rushed in and forced Shavadze out. Way out. To the other mat. Two for fleeing on Shavadze made it 6-2. This is all with under :05 remaining. And then it happened AGAIN. Coleman repeated the same procedure, running Shavadze out and off the mat for another two. Alas, no more ticks on the clock were available. Coleman loses a 6-4 decision that for all intents and purposes, showed that he is rounding into the kind of form he’ll need to be in come August.
Robby right there with Chugoshvili
Georgian-born Iosif Chugoshvili (BLR, world no. 16) is just the type of quality opponent Smith was hoping for going into the Tbilisi Grand Prix and he got his wish for his first (and only) match of the tournament. Chugoshvili, an Olympian in 2012, also won last year’s Poddubny and is considered a stout competitor who is always in the hunt wherever he’s at. Smith came out with a methodical approach and clamped around for a look at a front headlock. It wasn’t there, but he did momentarily have control of the center before Chugoshvili bore in. The first passive warning went to Belarus and then another for finger-grabbing followed. Smith received the passivity point to go up 1-0 and resumed his inside work. Another passivity warning for Chugoshvili hit the airwaves but it wouldn’t mean all that much because just seconds later, he was penalized a caution-and-two for finger-grabbing. 3-0 for Smith at the end of an opening period he was in control of the entire time.
Chugoshvili charged out of the gate in the second and his effort was rewarded with a quick passivity warning on Smith. After a minute passed, the point arrived to make it 3-1, Smith. Risk is associated with Greco-Roman wrestling just as much as throws (and influence from the officials) are. There is a decided lack of “safe spaces.” You walk the wall. Nothing is guaranteed other than the failure to even make attempts will likely mean your ruination. If there is a prize, it’s your inherent responsibility to try and grab it. With a 3-1 lead, Smith came up high, maybe a touch too high, and locked around for a front headlock. The position gave Chugshovili a wide open shot at the body, which he took full advantage of as he bodylocked and arched Smith over for four. 5-3, Chugoshvili. Smith shrugged it off and got back out there, wrangling inside ties and dropping down for high-dive looks. Chugoshvili managed to ward off the late onslaught and held on for the win.
Manville’s test drive
Newly-minted US Senior World Team member Mason Manville (75 kg, Army/WCAP), back overseas for the first time in 2017, received a tough assignment in 2013 Junior World Champion Karapet Chalyan (ARM, world no. 12). Chalyan latched onto an arm throw and Manville cartwheeled over, in a flash touching Chalyan’s leg as he flew by. It was scored a two-point correct hold, putting Manville behind the eight-ball. The pair of brutes clashed in on one another with Manville losing his feet. Chalyan quickly pounced behind for two and gutted Manville over for another deuce. Upon the reset, Chalyan clamped a front headlock and spun behind for the match-ending points and an 8-0 tech.
Chalyan pulled Manville back in for the repechage. The opponent, Giorgi Datunashvili (GEO), represented another skilled international competitor for Manville to get some mat time with as he prepares for his first Senior World Championships later this summer. Manville operated with a high underhook to two-on-one combo, holding the position to his chest. Datunashvili got loose and broke apart. In a flash, he whipped a headlock, sending Manville up and over for four points. A high gutwrench was next, and Datunashvili (deftly wedging his leg into the hip) was able to roll Manville over to sew this one up.
Following the Tbilisi Grand Prix, the United States Greco-Roman World Team (along with several others) made its way to Budapest, Hungary for what will be a two-week intensive training camp.
- Nick Tarpley (75 kg, NYAC) fell to 2012 Olympic silver medalist and 2014 World bronze medalist Tamas Lorincz (HUN, world no. 6) via an 8-0 technical fall.
- The two silver medals for the US brings the 2017 total overseas medal count to 18 (six gold, four silver, and eight bronze).
- Team USA collected only three wins via technical fall — two were Sancho’s and Jon Jay Chavez (80 kg) rang one up on Saturday.
2017 Tbilisi Grand Prix, Tbilisi, Georgia — Team USA Full Results
Ildar Hafizov — 9th
WON Khvicha Tchitava (GEO) 6-3
LOSS Stig Andre Berge (NOR) 2-1
LOSS Lasha Mariamidze (GEO) 10-1, TF
Alex Sancho — silver
WON Gor Sirekanyan (ARM) 10-0, TF
WON Matthew Krasznai (HUN) 8-0, TF
WON Goga Gogiberashvili (GEO) 5-2
LOSS Daniar Kalenov (KAZ) 2-0
Ellis Coleman — 9th
WON Ensar Karabacak (ARM) 4-0
LOSS Daniar Kalenov (KAZ) 1-0
LOSS Ednar Shavadze (GEO) 6-4
Patrick Smith — 12th
WON Tigran Torosyan (ARM) 2-0
LOSS Balint Korpasi (HUN) 2-0
Mason Manville — 18th
LOSS Karapet Chalyan (ARM) 8-0, TF
LOSS Giorgi Datunashvili (GEO) 8-0, TF
Nick Tarpley — 17th
LOSS Tamas Lorincz (HUN) 8-0, TF
Cheney Haight — 19th
LOSS Varlam Kvaratshkehli (GEO) 2-1
Jon Jay Chavez — 9th
WON Ebrahimi Mahdi (IRI) 11-2, TF
LOSS Nikolizi Kelasov (GEO) 2-1
Ben Provisor — silver
WON Argishti Abgaryan (ARM) 1-0
WON Aziz Saman (IRI) 7-4
WON Salva Khachidze (GEO) 3-1
LOSS Robert Kobliashvili (GEO) 2-0
Robby Smith — 9th
LOSS Iosif Chugoshvili (BLR) 5-3