USA Greco

Peak Perseveres & ‘Big Ben’ with Big Offense to Make ’22 USA World Team

benji peak, final x
Benji Peak -- Photo: Tony Rotundo

For all of his demonstrable hubris, Benji Peak (72 kg, Sunkist/NTS, 5PM #2) did not behave as if the outcome was always assured. Instead, he needed a few moments upon the bout’s ending. Part of him wanted to absorb what had just transpired, which was a come-from-behind victory that meant placement on a US World Team for the first time in his career. The other part was overwhelmed by emotion, thus taking an extra few seconds to regain his composure probably wasn’t a bad idea.

No, Peak’s behavior did not indicate arrogance. When one is consumed by such jubilance and excitement that they can’t even stand, the only accurate read is humility.

Final X: Stillwater began at 2:00pm CT on Friday from the Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, OK and aired live on FLOWrestling.

not all roads lead to gold, jim gruenwald

Peak, one of three wrestlers from Wisconsin to win their respective series Friday evening, required a third-and-decisive bout in order to defeat three-time World Team member Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm, 5PM #1).

Smith took the first match in conventional fashion. He stuck to his guns from the whistle and soon bullied Peak off the line for a step-out point. But then something happened: Peak navigated through an exchange to clear Smith’s ties for a takedown. A follow-up score in the form of a gutwrench that gathered one step-out point provided “Mr. Fantastic” with a 3-1 lead and the feeling was that momentum across their mini-rivalry had shifted. But just as soon as those thoughts could settle into place, Smith bruised his way to Peak’s body and corkscrewed a four-pointer — and Smith held firm through the remainder to collect the 5-3 decision.

But Peak appeared undaunted heading into Match 2. They chipped and prodded in the ties, with Smith gobbling up ground while his adversary eagerly offered playback. Passivity rang on Smith, which resulted in Peak seizing a side lift. It was good for two points off the edge, as well as a 3-0 advantage. Smith received his own passivity/par terre try in the second period and nearly netted a sizable haul — but in the end, it was only a one-point maneuver and Peak had his first win of the series, along with his first-ever victory against Smith.

The conclusive third match failed to deviate when it came to the energy shared between the two. Their intentions were unmistakable. Smith, 31, would rely on his go-to, pressurizing mechanics, just as Peak, 22, would mind the hand-fighting and its off-shoot positions in hopes of cracking open attempts.

They had become embroiled in dueling two-on-one’s when Smith broke towards Peak and lunged. A familiar action, and perhaps the Storm rep’s most familiar weapon. The sense of urgency for both was evident, not that such a perception could appropriately influence passivity. Peak was knocked and Smith went to lift; with the attempt, Peak stood while Smith’s right arm was still looped around the head, and the brief odd position eventually did not yield a score for either party.

The second period — or that second period — is when everything became squirrely. The officials agreed that Smith should go down in par terre, giving Peak his last and best chance to do meaningful damage. An adjustment with the legs was necessary. Peak wrangled his lock, wedged his left knee into Smith’s back, and stepped. The finish looked as though it would land clean until Smith, at the last instant, shook loose for the apparent land-on-top. Except for one issue: Peak was gesturing that his singlet had been grabbed, a contention proved correct upon replay. Inadvertent or otherwise, the result was a caution on Smith, two points for Peak, and a reset from par terre. This time, nothing was doing and they were back up for the sprint.

Peak was clinging to a 3-2 lead with just over a minute left, as well as having to deal with what everyone in the arena knew would be charges from Smith. Sure enough, the heat was turned past the dial’s max. Smith plowed forward into Peak, looking to latch the body. On the breakaway came another caution on Smith, whose deficit had expanded to three points. :30 on the clock, and there Peak was, fending off Smith near the boundary and hustling a step-out. Last-gasp efforts were on the table. Smith did all he could to force potential scoring positions, which in one instance included a clamp around the head. The timer wasn’t on his side. All zeroes read the scoreboard. Peak instinctively slumped to his knees, an emotional response congruent to the circumstances. But he also found no trouble rising to his feet in short order. Victory was his, along with an opportunity to compete for a World medal in September.

More than anything, he was appreciative.

“I’m just at a loss for words,” Peak told the media scrum following Match 3. “People don’t know the work and time that I put into this.” Peak then shared that his surgically-repaired shoulder had begun giving him problems once again throughout the spring. “I came back for Vegas, dislocated it again,” he said. “I was worried about it, didn’t tell too many people. I don’t know. I’m so grateful.”

Though that doesn’t mean he will begin shying away from attention now that he is set to duke it out on the World stage.

“I’m trying to change the sport. I’m trying to make it great again, like it can be. I’m the new generation and we’re going to bring medals back.”

Provisor Opens Up

Ben Provisor (82 kg, NYAC, 5PM #1) has a switch that he does not flip very often.

The two-time Olympian rarely manifests the offensive capabilities which reside in his vast skillset. Those younger or new to Greco expect Provisor matches to feature hard pummeling, maybe a gutwrench or two, and not much else. To Provisor, that’s okay. Last year, he said “that has never been my style” when discussing the idea of attaining higher-yielding offensive opportunities.

He would also be quick to note one other item: it’s not that Provisor can’t pile on scores. It is more that he hasn’t needed to, or has not felt compelled to open up on possible scoring chances in a weight category where most contemporaries have the same opinion.

But, a switch there is and has been inside of Provisor’s brain space. On Friday, he chose to access it and the result was a searing Match 1 win against recent rival Spencer Woods (Army/WCAP, 5PM #2) that set the tone for what became a drama-less series sweep.

In each of their four prior contests, Woods happily played the role of brawler. The approach at times seemed to work in terms of forcing Provisor to reset his feet and paw into different entries. Unfortunately for Woods, he hardly had any time to find a physical groove during their first bout in Stillwater.

An attack to the body from Provisor provided a takedown early in the opening period. Back standing, with Woods prodding off the hands and looking to gain some momentum in the ties. The response with which he was met gave way to a customary Provisor position, the dreaded right underhook and left wrist tie-up. For “Big Ben”, this tie is usually nothing more than a means for maintaining control.

But rather than do the waltz with his underhook, Provisor used the tie-up as a catalyst. In one motion, he jutted upwards and back down, snapping Woods. He next wrapped the chest and pulled Woods over to net four points. In the interest of not wanting to waste the opportunity for a stoppage, Provisor transitioned to a front headlock before cranking Woods around for four more, thus ending the match. The intense cap to a short but violent two minutes of action prompted Provisor to yell and pound his chest as he waited to get his hand raised.

ben provisor, 2022 final x

Provisor (red) unloads on the front headlock that provided the match-ending points against Woods in Round 1 of their best-of-three series at Final X: Stillwater. Provisor would later win Match 2, thus earning a spot on the 2022 US World Team bound for Serbia in September. (Photo: Tony Rotundo)

Woods was in a better place come Match 2. More patient, more measured, but still interested in making Provisor uncomfortable whenever possible. So, they jousted and jostled, not willing to give an inch to one another. Provisor snared the initiative by roping the arm for what looked like a “Hermann” attempt; as he did, Woods countered with a yank-back that ushered in the bout’s first two points.

Later in the period, passivity on Provisor. Woods — who had not been able to score a turn in any of their four previous contests — opted to circle out from behind for a front headlock. Provisor did not wait to discover what they might feel like, so he hastily stood up — and clambered into a body attack that deposited Woods onto the un-matted portion of the stage.

Woods, up 3-2 moving into the second, kept the same measured countenance that was evident throughout the first. Provisor went back to the underhook/left wrist and Woods decided to counter by pressing his left hand into Provisor’s shoulder, a tactic commonly employed to create off-balances. But with the motion, Provisor level-changed and churned his legs to coerce Woods off the line. The Army corner challenged, apparently arguing that the action was a push; the call was upheld, which logged another point in Provisor’s column.

There was an absent of options for Woods, whose 3-2 lead had turned into a 4-3 deficit. He had to negotiate a score, while simultaneously keeping Provisor off the board. Neither happened. Midway through the second period, passivity rang on Woods. The proceeding par terre saw Provisor get a lock but come up empty. At the restart, Woods upped the pressure. He was going after the head, the shoulders, the arms, and scanning for weavable angles that might avail windows of opportunity. Provisor, to his credit, stayed engaged in the pocket for the duration. He had the lead but did not hop on his skates or try to bypass the incoming fire. A Woods dash to the body fell off the mark, and within seconds the match was history. So was the series. Provisor had locked up his fourth World-level Team at the expense of a very talented young athlete.

“I still haven’t accomplished my goal, I haven’t accomplished the goal of being a World medalist and Olympic Champion, and that’s why I keep doing this,” Provisor said afterwards. “I had an opportunity to start fighting. I signed with Paradigm Sports, but my itch to be a World and Olympic Champion is still there.”

Nowry, Thielke, & Schultz

Max Nowry (55 kg, world #11, 5PM #1) and Jesse Thielke (63 kg, 5PM #2) both became three-time World Team members at Final X: Stillwater, which by extension means another year in which Army/WCAP will send multiple athletes to a World tournament.

Nowry faced frequent domestic counterpart Brady Koontz (TMWC/Ohio RTC, 5PM #2) and survived by the skin of his teeth. And, both bouts unfolded in near-identical manner. Match 1 saw Koontz dinged for the first-period passivity/PT with Nowry unable to net a turn. Passivity flipped in the second, and Koontz — whose gutwrench can be an equalizer — could not expose Nowry. Match 2 went the same way, and both bouts had Nowry put down again late in the second period. He admirably defended Koontz’s lock in each instance to emerge with 1-1 criteria victories.

A Familiar Sight

After two seasons away from competition due to serious injury, Thielke saved the best of his comeback for the last domestic event of the year. And he had an extremely difficult task in front of him, reigning World Teamer “Wildman Sam” Sammy Jones (NYAC, 5PM #1).

Jones broke the ice in Match 1 by snapping and spinning to a takedown. Not one to let the chance for fireworks go by the wayside, Jones lifted and launched Thielke at the edge with the mat referee signaling for five, though four was originally confirmed. However — Army challenged on the premise that there was no exposure from the action. They were correct, and the score was fixed to 4-0 in favor of Jones.

Thielke struck back in the second. He had a line on an arm drag and darted to the body. The follow-up was academic. Thielke had assumed conventional top par terre and that notorious elbow-to-elbow gut became responsible for two more points and a 4-4 criteria lead he would not relinquish.

Match 2 was not how they drew it up. Passivity on Thielke gave Jones a look from top. The clasp was achieved, and it appeared that Jones’ repeated attempts to elevate the hips might compel a launch angle. Only, Thielke remained pasted. Later in the period, Jones wrested a front headlock, but with his back to the edge. In an impressive display of mat awareness, Thielke merely urged forward and earned a step-out point.

On an exchange early in the second, Jones grabbed that point back but would soon fall behind. After the reset, he had latched over Thielke’s head and was banged for a caution-and-two.

Thielke, now ahead 3-2, deftly controlled space and moved into and out of positions in which only he felt comfortable. Jones dug in for the sprint and had a couple of potential looks, though the esteemed opposition was not about to let this one slip through his fingers. “The Honey Badger”, following more than two painful years on the sidelines, is once again standing atop the domestic field, his eyes firmly affixed on the chance to exit Serbia while hoisting World hardware.

Schultz over Farmer

Tanner Farmer (130 kg, NYAC/IRTC, 5PM #3) has progressed at such a rapid pace that within only two years of legitimate Greco training, he is already a formidable opponent for Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist, 5PM #1).

But Schultz is Schultz, and what comes with that package is an immense amount of success both domestically and abroad, in conjunction with an ever-expanding skill-set that is complemented by iron-willed competitiveness.

An excellent gutwrench doesn’t hurt, either.

Not right away, however, for Schultz earned his first score of the series via takedown. The second period is when the gut provided a boost. Farmer was put down, for whatever reason; Schultz secured his clasp and rotated once, but Farmer did manage to reverse for his own point. The score was 5-1, a gap that Schultz protected the rest of the way.

For Match 2, Farmer betrayed no discernible signs of wear or consternation, and it was he who got on the board first. In a sequence not too dissimilar from Thielke’s step-out point tallied against Jones, Schultz had a front headlock on Farmer with his own back towards the boundary. And all Farmer had to do was chug straight ahead to take a 1-0 lead.

It did not last very long. Passivity on Farmer was called with one minute to go in the first period. Schultz locked low and rolled his foe twice to race out in front 5-1. The passives 180’d in the conclusive frame, which availed the Illinois RTC athlete a fine opportunity to show off his ever-improving gutwrench. The lock appeared true, but he could not generate the force necessary to drive and roll. Despite a sincere effort on Farmer’s part to make something out of the last-gasp tie-ups, Schultz would not be threatened before time had expired. Another year, another World Team for the Arizona Stater. As well as the assurance of a beastly training partner prior to Serbia, and a domestic opponent who presumes to offer his stiffest challenges going forward.

Notes:

    • Final X: Stillwater represented Smith’s seventh Senior Trials best-of-three appearance (’14, ’15 WTT; ’16 OTT; ’17, ’19, ’21, and ’22 WTT).
    • Only Smith/Peak required a third match.
    • Provisor’s Match 1 VSU over Woods was the only tech out of the Greco matches.
    • With Peak’s series victory, Northern Michigan University’s National Training Site is guaranteed a Senior World Team member for the first time since ’18 (Dalton Roberts, 60 kg). Alston Nutter (67 kg) will try to join Peak on Wednesday when he takes on NMU alumnus Alex Sancho at Final X: New York.
    • Thus far, three ’21 Oslo World Team members are returning for Serbia ’22: Nowry, Provisor, and Schultz.
    • Three athletes from Wisconsin are on the Team: Thielke, Peak, and Provisor. Nutter, if successful against Sancho, would be the fourth.

Final X: Stillwater

June 3 — Stillwater, OK

55 kg

Max Nowry (Army/WCAP) def. Brady Koontz (TMWC/Ohio RTC) 2 matches to 0
Match 1: Nowry def. Koontz 1-1 (criteria)
Match 2: Nowry def. Koontz 1-1 (criteria)

63 kg

Jesse Thielke (Army/WCAP) def. Sammy Jones (NYAC) 2 matches to 0
Match 1: Thielke def. Jones 4-4 (criteria)
Match 2: Thielke def. Jones 3-2

72 kg

Benji Peak (Sunkist/NTS) def. Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) 2 matches to 1
Match 1: Smith def. Peak 5-3
Match 2: Peak def. Smith 3-2
Match 3: Peak def. Smith 6-2

82 kg

Ben Provisor (NYAC) def. Spencer Woods (Army/WCAP) 2 matches to 0
Match 1: Provisor def. Woods 8-0, TF
Match 2: Provisor def. Wodds 5-3

130 kg

Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist) def. Tanner Farmer (NYAC/IRTC) 2 matches to 0
Match 1: Schultz def. Farmer 5-1
Match 2: Schultz def. Farmer 5-2

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Listen to “5PM52: Two-Time Olympian Jim Gruenwald” on Spreaker.

Listen to “5PM51: Lining up with Tanner Farmer” on Spreaker.

Listen to “5PM50: Mr. Fantastic Benji Peak” on Spreaker.

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