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Monday Roundup: Brief Analysis of USA’s Roster for Rome; Notes on Staebler

cohlton schultz, 2022 matteo pellicone
Cohlton Schultz -- Photo: Tony Rotundo

Wednesday welcomes in the 2022 Matteo Pellicone Memorial as part of United World Wrestling’s “Ranking Series”. For seven members of the United States World Team, the event in Rome will act as their first “test drive” of the summer training block.

Important all the more is the tournament due to one glaring reason: the dearth of international competition for US athletes over the past year. Among the seven World Teamers scheduled for Pellicone, only Cohlton Schultz (130 kg, Sunkist, 5PM #1) has seen match time overseas this season. Alan Vera (87 kg, NYAC, 5PM #1) spent nearly three full months training in Ukraine prior to that nation’s conflict with Russia. While abroad, Vera had designs on competing at the Zagreb Grand Prix in January until a positive COVID test rendered him ineligible.

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Three other ’22 World Team members were also originally pegged for the Americans’ winter tour that began with Zagreb — Max Nowry (55 kg, world #11, 5PM #1), Ildar Hafizov (60 kg, 5PM #2), and Alex Sancho (67 kg, 5PM #1). All three are representatives of the Army’s World Class Athletes Program. As tensions escalated in Europe between Russia and Ukraine leading up to the former’s invasion of the latter, Army decided to disallow their wrestlers from leaving the United States. It should be noted that Army arrived to a similar conclusion with regard to their competitors following selection for the Pan-American Championships (which was held in Acapulco, Mexico in May).

USA Greco-Roman Roster for 2022 Matteo Pellicone

For Nowry, Hafizov, Sancho, and Vera, the 2022 Matteo Pellicone Memorial will offer their first international action since either the ’21 Worlds or the ’20ne Olympics. It is a different story pertaining to two of their fellow World Teammates.

At 63 kilograms is Jesse Thielke (Army/WCAP, 5PM #2), who last traveled to Europe during the winter of ’19. Thielke was on the American delegation for Denmark’s Thor Masters that season — and was the reigning World Teamer in his weight category, as well. Unfortunately for the “Honey Badger”, this period in time marked the total onset of a severe, career-threatening neck injury. Thielke was unable to enter that running of Thor Masters. More importantly, he eventually endured an arduous repair/recovery process that spanned 24+ months. It was not until last September when he at last re-emerged. Seven months after his return at the ’21 Trials, Thielke secured a National title; just over one month hence, he defeated ’21 World rep Sammy Jones (NYAC, 5PM #1) at Final X: Stillwater. 

Pre-pandemia, Kamal Bey (77 kg, 5PM #3) was a fixture on overseas rosters. G’Angelo Hancock has logged the most international miles, but Bey, for a while, wasn’t too far behind. And right before COVID shut down the sport, there he was, mixing it up at Pellicone in January of ’20. Hard as it might be for some to believe, the proceeding gap between then and now represents how long Bey has had to wait in order to do what he does best, which is make foreigners feel very, very uncomfortable for the better part of 360 seconds.

Below is the US roster, as presently constituted, for Pellicone along with each athlete’s two most recent and relevant international appearances (excluding continental championships).

*’22 US World Team member

*55 kg: Max Nowry (Army/WCAP)

  • World Championships (NOR, October ’21)
  • Wladyslaw Pytlasinski Memorial (POL, June ’21, gold)

*60 kg: Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP)

  • ’20 Olympics (JPN, August ’21)
  • Matteo Pellicone (ITA, March ’21, 5th)

*63 kg: Jesse Thielke (Army/WCAP)

  • World Championships (HUN, October ’18)
  • German Grand Prix (GER, August ’18)

*67 kg: Alex Sancho (Army/WCAP)

  • ’20 Olympics (JPN, August ’21)
  • Wladyslaw Pytlasinki Memorial (POL, June ’21)

72 kg: Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm)

  • World Championships (NOR, October ’21)
  • Matteo Pellicone (ITA, March ’21, 5th)

*77 kg: Kamal Bey (Army/WCAP)

  • Matteo Pellicone (ITA, January ’20)
  • Hungarian Grand Prix (HUN, February ’19)

82 kg: Spencer Woods (Army/WCAP)

  • Thor Masters (DEN, January ’20)
  • Haparanda Cup (SWE, November ’19)

*87 kg: Alan Vera (NYAC)

  • World Championships (NOR, October ’21)
  • Wladyslaw Pytlasinski Memorial (POL, June ’21)

*130 kg: Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist)

  • Grand Prix Zagreb Open (CRO, January ’22)
  • World Championships (NOR, October ’21)

2022 Matteo Pellicone Memorial Schedule

All times +6 hours ET and Matteo Pellicone will observe the one-day format. FLOWrestling will carry the live broadcast in the United States. 

Wednesday, June 22
10:30am-2:30pm — Qualification rounds-semifinals — 55, 60, 63, 67, 87, 97, & 130 kg
6:00pm-8:30pm — Finals/medal matches

Thursday, June 23
10:30am-2:30pm — Qualification rounds-semifinals — 72, 77, & 82 kg
6:00pm-8:30pm — Finals/medal matches

Notes on Staebler’s ‘Last Fight’

“I leave the mat with two smiling eyes. I am full of gratitude because I have experienced so many things. One should stop when it is most beautiful.”

So said three-time World Champion Frank Staebler last week to German outlet SW Sport as he prepared to take on the consensus pound-for-pound best athlete in the sport, Mohammad Reza Geraei (67 kg, IRI, world #1).

It was a long time coming. Staebler, 32, retired from international competition shortly after earning bronze at the Tokyo Olympics (where he had fallen to Geraei via criteria in the quarterfinals), though he did not walk away completely. The German star remained committed to Red Devils Heilbronn of the Bundesliga, whose season wrapped in February.

An extensive build towards his showdown this past Saturday then took center-stage. Proclaimed The Last Fight, plans were underway for Staebler vs. Geraei as far back as December. Plenty of promotion went into the event, which included match-ups featuring several of Germany’s most notable competitors opposed by similarly high-profile international counterparts. In addition, there was entertainment in the form of breakdancers and musicians; and the venue (MHP Arena in Ludwigsburg) was filled with a reported 4,300 spectators. Staebler in tow with his management company constructed a multi-faceted, digitally-heavy marketing campaign in an effort to repeatedly drive interest, picking up extra momentum during the spring. “It was important to me to demonstrate how uniquely beautiful our sport is with a cool event,” he explained to SW Sport Saturday night. It would seem that his goal was accomplished.

The only missing piece to the event’s promotion? Lack of access. The Last Fight was not broadcast online, thus limiting its exposure. Only through dozens (and dozens) of snippets posted on various social media sites can one piece together what had actually transpired. As of press time, official results from Saturday’s show are still unavailable. This may not have been an oversight, as supplemental revenue could potentially be gleaned by packaging a polished production of the event for purchase in the future, geared specifically towards the German audience and hardcores in general. Staebler has commented that more footage from Saturday would become available rather soon.

frank staebler, last fight

Staebler walking to the mat in the main event of The Last Fight this past Saturday in Ludwigsburg, GER. Staebler defeated reigning World/Olympic champ Mohammadreza Geraei (IRI). (Photo: Marion Stein)

What we know: Staebler defeated Geraei, apparently thanks to a four-point side lift in the second period. He was also hurled in the air by his German teammates in celebration. Multi-time Olympic/World Champion Mijian Lopez (130 kg, CUB, world #4) downed Eduard Popp (GER) — and in a surprise, Pascal Eisele (82 kg, GER) decisioned Olympic silver Azkhol Makhmudov (KGZ). Other results from the card, such as Etienne Kinsinger (GER) vs. World gold Victor Ciobanu (MDA), have not been listed as of yet.

If this was indeed “the last fight” for Staebler, it was an appropriate send-off. Despite that he had wins over Geraei in the past, it was the Iranian who stood in the way of a possible Olympic gold in Tokyo, thereby providing Staebler with his final international loss. That Geraei not only prevailed in Tokyo but also went on to collect a World title two months later in Oslo by itself automatically elevated the storyline. One might posit that Staebler keeping sharp in Budesliga didn’t hurt, either.

But with Staebler’s presumed exit from the sport once and for all, Greco-Roman wrestling loses one of its most beloved athlete ambassadors — and a ferocious yet refined competitor. Lauded for his arm drags and straddle lifts, Staebler retained offensive aggression through each phase of his career. Out of his three World titles, many observers agree that his march to the crown at Paris ’17 was his most impressive. That season, ordered par terre was removed from the rule-set; for athletes to receive par terre opportunities, they had to score takedowns or end up on top through organic means. The result was a lackluster World tournament in every discernible offensive category. For his part, Staebler amassed 36 points, by far the most of every champion.

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