Dalton Roberts (60 kg, Army/WCAP) surged to a sizeable lead but then had to survive at the last second to get past friend/teammate/main rival Ildar Hafizov in order to lock up National title #3. Hayden Tuma (63 kg, Suples) did not have the same problem with familiarity while earning his third crown, and two other lightweights rose to the top of the domestic mountain for the very first time in their careers.
The final round of the 2023 US Open began at 4:00pm local time on Thursday (7:00pm ET) from the South Point Hotel Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada and aired live on FLOWrestling.
In what was their eleventh meeting dating back to the ’18 World Team Trials best-of-three final, Roberts was the one who seized control early thanks to a lightning-quick counter that saw Hafizov put to his back. Later in the first period, Roberts countered amid an exchange to swoop behind and turn Hafizov for four more points and a 6-0 margin.
Things did not start off any more promising for Hafizov in the second period, as he was dinged for passivity shortly after the break. Roberts, now the owner of a 7-0 lead, was unable to force a stoppage via par terre top and back to the feet they were. Hafizov would eventually receive two points from a hands-to-the-face caution with under a minute remaining in the contest, but the meager points yield did not produce much in the way of hope for him considering the circumstances. However, he still had a potential knockout punch up his sleeve. With time ticking away, Hafizov walloped a booming headlock and Roberts appeared in deep trouble. The action netted four points but a pin was needed. Hafizov squeezed for all he was worth — and Roberts bridged, hipped, and bit down to stave off the literal last-second catastrophe to walk away the 7-6 winner.
Roberts, 26, and 35-year-old Hafizov have a well-documented history of matches between them over the past five years. They battled one another in three World Team Trials best-of-three series (’18, ’21, and ’22) with Roberts prevailing in the first two. Prior to Thursday, the only one-off contest featuring the pair came in the ’22 Bill Farrell Memorial, which was a decision victory that went to Roberts, who now holds a record of 6-5 against Hafizov.
Back at 63 kilograms for the first time in four years this week was Tuma, for whom the ’23 Open provided an all-around showcase of his competitive profile. The Ivanov-trained athlete defeated Kyle Rowan (CARTC) and Dylan Gregerson (UVRTC) by piling on offensively, but a gritty and deliberate effort was required for him to grab a 1-1 nod over two-time National champ Mike Fuenffinger (Army/WCAP) in the semis. The bracket final on Thursday evening offered one more stringent test in the form of World Team member “Wildman Sam” Sammy Jones (Sunkist/CTT), who had downed Danny Khoundet (Stallions WC) and Logan Savvy (NYAC) before receiving an injury forfeit from Xavier Johnson (Army/WCAP) in his round-of-four bout.
Though it has been nothing like the ongoing saga involving Roberts and Hafizov, Jones and Tuma had collided a few times prior to Thursday. Their two most recent contests occurred at the Bill Farrell Memorial in ’16 and ’18, respectively, with Tuma winning both matches, the latter of which via VSU.
Jones is not the same wrestler he was in ’18. He is more composed and assured, more deliberate in his primary score-seeking machinations.
Which meant that he would not provide Tuma with cavernous openings that have often been the result of anxiously-sought throw attempts. Jones still measures in full when searching for multi-point scores; but against Tuma, the idea was to avoid forcing positions just for the sake of doing so. Neither athlete could get on a charge in the early going, though Tuma was keen to eat up ground with his posture and movement, setting the tempo tantamount to a conductor’s baton. Jones was not being pushed around by any means, but the official felt a passive was warranted in his direction. Tuma took his 1-0 cushion and proceeded to try for a turn from top PT and Jones defended adequately.
Period 2 did not deviate much from the first frame. The passives flipped, Jones achieved his lock, and Tuma could not be budged. Back standing, and the tactics on both parties were insistent and tense. The sheer amount of explosiveness and unpredictable energy bursts residing between the two made it necessary to bypass overzealous attempts, lest one of them risk surrendering a counter-score that would unfavorably alter the outcome. The referee had a say, of course, and confirmation arrived to unveil a rare third par terre. Tuma was the beneficiary of the call. And, he made it count. At the whistle, he locked around Jones, adjusted just enough, and powered a gutwrench to pick up two points. Jones responded on the feet in admirable fashion throughout the bout’s waning seconds, and almost kicked off a chain from one particular attempt only to have Tuma shrewdly deflect any and all further advances en-route to the 3-1 decision.
Tuma, 27, has now earned National titles in three different weight categories (59 kg, ’16; 67 kg, ’21, & 63 kg, ’23). A multi-time US National Team member as well as a World Team Trials runner-up, he will be sitting in prime position come early-June when the Final X Series touches down in Newark.
Koontz & Perez Join the Club
It was not a foregone conclusion that Brady Koontz (55 kg, TMWC/Dubuque RTC) would scorch the field and easily march to a tournament victory. But with the application of logic and fast math, it was both plausible and probable when taking into account all relevant variables. Max Nowry had been his premier stumbling block — and Nowry was not going to be an issue this week. Moreover, there was not another contender in this year’s Vegas 55-kg bracket who had previously defeated Koontz. Those two factors, coupled with his outstanding ability to score from par terre top, were enough to expect Koontz to emerge above the field.
Standing across was Dalton Duffield (Army/WCAP), who, like his opponent, had also come up short to Nowry several times in the past. He had also not yet managed to somehow solve the Koontz puzzle, so Thursday afternoon provided him with an opportunity to hasten the trajectory of his career and take command of the sport’s lightest weight class.
Except Koontz was having none of it.
Duffield did check into the ties with a purpose and he had Koontz briefly stepping back to re-engage. The problem with that was Koontz’s proficiency pertaining to underhooks. He can practically walk forward like Frankenstein and find them, nevermind when he is actively latching onto the opposition, which is what he did here. The energy was still even, despite Koontz beginning to dominate the tie. Passivity thus rang on Duffield, and the end was nigh.
Just not in a flourish, or at least not immediately. When Koontz clasped for a gutwrench, Duffield was doing an admirable job of defending until he was flagged for fleeing. The result was a caution on Duffield along with a restart from par terre (this following a blood time-out). This time there would be no interruptions. Koontz once again wrangled his lock and soon ran the string to pile on for the VSU triumph, his first in a Senior Open final.
Robert Perez III (67 kg, Sunkist) deserved to be mentioned as a potentially high placewinner at this Open. Few, of course, pegged him as a finalist, for his side of the bracket featured top-seed/’20 Olympian/’22 World Teamer Alex Sancho (Army/WCAP); and as most are aware, Sancho was upset by Cadet World gold Joel Adams (TBW) in the quarterfinal. Perez recorded a big win in that same round by going over Lenny Merkin (NYAC) and then had a strong last minute in the second period against Adams to punch his ticket to the final.
Meanwhile, ’16 Olympian/multi-time World Team member Jesse Thielke (Army/WCAP) appeared quite comfortable at 67 this week, posting impressive victories at the expense of ’21 U23 World Teamer David Stepanyan (NYAC/NTS) and last year’s Final X runner-up Alston Nutter (Sunkist). Thielke’s trek to the final was not a shocking development though it was still noteworthy due to his decision to climb up in weight in conjunction with the bracket’s depth.
But Perez — who this past winter alone hung in there with ’22 World Champion Sebastian Nad (SRB) and ’17 World silver Mateusz Bernatek (POL) — is rightfully expressing plenty of confidence at the Senior level these days, and he capitalized on one single sequence to inject even more drama into an already chaotic bracket.
Midway through the first period, Perez locked high head-and-arm around Thielke, a position that can lead to scores but is most often relegated to becoming a fleeting rest hold. Thielke responded by reaching for a headlock on his right side. Perez shrugged the arm and planted behind before taking Thielke to the mat. Thielke’s left arm was caught upon landing, which allowed Perez to trap the appendage and run a succession of guts to force the surprise premature ending. Thielke motioned for the challenge brick, indicating that he felt a slip should have been called. Alas, there was not a challenge from the Army corner and Perez had collected his first Senior “stop sign”.
2023 US Open
April 26-27 — Las Vegas, Nevada
55 kg: Brady Koontz (TMWC/Dubuque RTC) def. Dalton Duffield (Army/WCAP) 9-0, TF
60 kg: Dalton Roberts (Army/WCAP) def. Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP) 7-6
63 kg: Hayden Tuma (Suples) def. Sammy Jones (Sunkist/CTT) 3-1
67 kg: Robert Perez III (Sunkist) def. Jesse Thielke (Army/WCAP) 8-0, TF
GOLD: Brady Koontz (TMWC/Dubuque RTC)
SILVER: Dalton Dufffield (Army/WCAP)
BRONZE: Camden Russell (NYAC/MWC)
4th — Jacob Cochran (Army/WCAP)
5th — Drew West (IL)
6th — Billy Sullivan (Army/WCAP)
7th — Tirso Lara (Top Gun WC)
GOLD: Dalton Roberts (Army/WCAP)
SILVER: Ilar Hafizov (Army/WCAP)
BRONZE: Max Black (NMU/NTS)
4th — Dylan Koontz (TMWC/Dubuque RTC)
5th — Jonathan Gurule (NMU/NTS)
6th — Mason Hartshorn (NYAC/West Coast Greco RTC)
7th — Randon Miranda (Unattached)
GOLD: Hayden Tuma (Suples)
SILVER: Sammy Jones (Sunkist/CTT)
BRONZE: Dylan Gregerson (UVRTC)
4th — Mike Fuenffinger (Army/WCAP)
5th — Savion Haywood (Iguana WC)
6th — Xavier Johnson (Army/WCAP)
7th — Corbin Nirschl (NYAC/MWC)
GOLD: Robert Perez III (Sunkist)
SILVER: Jesse Thielke (Army/WCAP)
BRONZE: Chayse LaJoie (CARTC)
4th — David Stepanyan (NYAC/NTS)
5th — Joel Adams (TBW)
6th — Alston Nutter (Sunkist)
7th — Nick Leonetti (Suples)
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