FORT WORTH, TX — The closeout session of the country’s largest domestic competition produced five thrilling bouts that should, hopefully, give American Greco-Roman fans much more to look forward to coming up after the New Year.
The finals of the 2023 US Nationals began at 7:00pm local time from the Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas (8:00pm ET) and streamed live on FLOWrestling.
Two-time World Team member Alex Sancho (67 kg, Army/WCAP) batted lead-off with the 60 kg failing to materialize due to Hayden Tuma (NYAC) defaulting to Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP) and came away victorious over Peyton Omania (MI) following yet another adrenalizing contest between the two.
Omania — who had defeated Sancho in two straight at the ’21 Trials but fell to the Olympian last season — received the match’s first passivity/par terre chance and looked to lock high to negotiate a turn. Nothing was doing and they were back standing. Soon after, Omania went head-and-arm and walloped a headlock that scored four, eliciting a roar from the crowd. Omania’s 5-0 lead expanded by one when he knocked Sancho off the line early in the second period. In other words, two points away from a technical fall.
But it was far from over.
As they jousted in what were fleeting yet purposeful exchanges, Sancho managed to rope Omania around the body and collapsed his hold to net four; also, on the back-end of the sequence, Omania was penalized for a two-point caution. They restarted from par terre with Sancho having another opportunity to pile on offense, but Omania defended and they were back up once again. Needing to score, and having a reputation for lighting up scoreboards in an instant, Omania began flashing short ducks inside on Sancho in search of a handle. Each time, his counterpart was ready to thwart the advances, and it was the native Miamian Sancho who prevailed by a score of 7-6. Along with his third National crown, Sancho — just as it was with all of the champs from Saturday night — earned the right to represent the US at the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier this coming February in Mexico.
Bey & Woods
A marquee match-up was available at 77 kg as three-time World Team member Kamal Bey (Army/WCAP) — one of three who had a bye to this evening’s finals — and ’22 World rep Benji Peak (Sunkist/NTS), who returned to competition on Friday and put on an impressive display. There was no prior history of which to speak between the two, other than whatever live go’s they made have had in recent years. That actually added to the anticipation.
The match got underway and Bey aggressively pursued an attack, to which Peak responded by digging into the hands and re-adjusting his posture. Before long, Peak was attempting to work two-on-one’s and passivity was called on Bey. Peak diligently sought his lock and started to come close to attaining a semblance of elevation; but just as the movement was in the ebbing stages of achievement, Bey stepped over the hold and caught Peak on his back. It was two points for exposure immediately — but numbers stopped mattering once the signal for the fall arrived. Bey, 25, is now, incredibly, a six-time National titlist.
Physicality was the game-plan for Spencer Woods (Army/WCAP) in the 87 kg final opposite ’16 Olympian Mahmoud Sebie (FL) but the match did not favor his mechanics right away. Instead, Sebie benefited from the opening passivity and turned Woods to go up 3-0. It wasn’t long before the “Alaskan Assassin” started to increase his intensity level. A massive, hard-charge from Woods after the reset not only led to a step-out point, Sebie was also deposited on a matside table. A caution was then doled out on the former Egyptian National Teamer to give Woods a criteria lead.
In the second period, Woods capitalized on an off-balance to net a takedown and the outright 5-3 lead. Passivity on Sebie widened the gap but no points from par terre were forthcoming. More caution points were, however. Sebie was cited for another caution, and then another, and all of the sudden, the match was a memory with Woods being awarded an 11-3 VSU in conjunction with his third National crown.
Vera Over Rau
Both Joe Rau (97 kg, TMWC) and Alan Vera (NYAC) were hunting for their fourth National titles on Saturday, and it was up in the air as to how this match might render itself in a higher weight category than the one in which they had originally competed. Vera entered the bout with two wins against Rau, but that was at 87. The dynamics are different in the 97 division. Size matters, but familiarity with size matters, too. Vera, already a specimen, has expanded in size while, somehow, maintaining nearly the exact proportions he had previously; and despite his excellence on Friday, how he might deal with the powerful Rau up in weight brought about questions to which no one quite knew the answer.
Rau sure had an answer it seemed. Vera had come close on a tilt from par terre top but Rau defended; the opposing corner challenged, arguing for exposure. The call went unchanged and Rau had a 1-1 criteria lead. A reset, and soon after, Rau off-balanced Vera and pounced for a takedown-gut combo that delivered four points. He appeared to be in control of the proceedings.
But control, oft an illusion as it were, anyway, dissipated for Rau in the second period. The match was veering towards desperation mode for Vera but he remained composed until passivity once again went in his favor. Between a caution, lift, and two turns, Vera had stormed all the way back to jump ahead 12-5. Rau poured out his reserves in the bout’s race to the finish, but with no success. Vera remained upright till the end, and it was him who was able to secure a fourth domestic title in four tries.
The latest iteration of the ongoing saga featuring reigning three-time World Team member Cohlton Schultz (130 kg, Sunkist) and ’18 World silver Adam Coon (NYAC/Cliff Keen) necessitated all six minutes as the two monsters jockeyed for positonal advantages throughout their time together, although only one of them was able to score. And, it happened early. Schultz navigated the ties and generated motion amid an exchange to get behind Coon at the edge for a takedown. The first-period passivity came next, putting Coon in a 3-0 hole. From top, Schultz looked for a gutwrench but he could not budge Coon in order to gather follow-up points. The passives flipped in the second period, thus providing Coon with his own opportunity to make a dent. His try at a lock did not bring to bear follow-up offense. In the end, it was Schultz’s match via 4-1 decision and arrived bundled with his fourth National championship on the Senior level.
- Each winner from the final round will compete for the United States at the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier in February (MEX).
- Each of the finalists (12 athletes, counting Tuma who did not compete on Saturday and forfeited to Hafizov), is scheduled to depart for Croatia in January ahead of the Grand Prix Zagreb Open “Ranking Series” tournament.
- Hafizov and Sancho were also on the ’20 US roster for the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier and both were successful in achieving that objective.
2023 US Nationals
December 15-16 — Fort Worth, TX
60 kg: Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP) def. Hayden Tuma (NYAC) via forfeit
67 kg: Alex Sancho (Army/WCAP) def. Peyton Omania (MI) 7-6
77 kg: Kamal Bey (Army/WCAP) def. Benji Peak (Sunkist/NTS) via fall
87 kg: Spencer Woods (Army/WCAP) def. Mahmoud Sebie (FL) 11-3, TF
97 kg: Alan Vera (NYAC) def. Joe Rau (TMWC) 12-5
130 kg: Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist) def. Adam Coon (NYAC/Cliff Keen WC) 4-1
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