Both weight classes being contested for the non-Olympic World Team Trials at the Bill Farrell Memorial Open definitely offer some potentially sick match-ups. There is no doubt about that. 71 kilograms, especially, could produce two incredible semifinal bouts featuring four wrestlers who have it in them to win the whole thing. It’s what makes events like this so compelling. When there are athletes who are all capable of beating each other and what’s more, have proven it, the result is almost secondary to the action you get to witness.
RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC) would have been seen as a favorite in this weight class. Perkins, who owns a litany of domestic titles on his resume, won the 2016 Olympic Team Trials at 66 kilos and went on an impressive qualifying run, all while suffering through a a small fracture in his back. He was thought to have been rehabbed and healed, even taking up a serious weightlifting regiment as part of his training. But unfortunately, the fracture remained and Perkins is not able to compete.
We recruited Perkins back in August to help us preview the field at 66 for Rio and figured it would be a good idea to get his insights on who the most dangerous guys at 71 for the non-Olympic Trials were. Once again, he graciously lent his time to providing scouting reports and here we are. And as one might expect, the new ruleset (removal of forced par terre) plays a big role in how Perkins sees each athlete’s chances.
Our own preview of each wrestler is located on top. (Scroll to the bottom for previews of other weight classes.)
Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) Smith could be looked at as the biggest threat here. For one, he has accumulated a ton of experience at 71, winning two Pan Ams along with battling it out against Harry Lester in consecutive years at the Open and World Team Trials. He also took second to Perkins at the 2016 Olympic Trials and looked as tough, mean, and motivated as ever. Smith has been waiting for his shot to make a team, so it’s safe to say that whole motivation thing is going to ratcheted up to extreme levels on Saturday. It’s as if he has a one-way “on” switch. When the switch is flipped, there is no hope in turning it off.
Perkins: “I am expecting him to push the pace in every single match he’s in. He never fails to push the pace. I’ve never seen him have an “off” match. Pat is going to continue to push the pace and I’m sure he has been working hard. He’s going to do whatever he can to try to win. I think he’s placed second like what, the past three, four years? And I know he’s tired of it. I’d be tired of it, too. He is going to do what he can to win. This is his type of style. He likes being on the feet, so it is going to be very tough to beat him.
He isn’t a very technical wrestler but he has shown that he will get you moving a lot. He doesn’t hit big moves but he can get push-out’s, he can get passive calls and that’s all he really needs with these new rules. Pat likes the two-on-one, he likes to get you moving from there to tire you out. He likes working from underhooks, too. It almost worked on me at the Olympic Trials. I couldn’t get to my big moves on him because he kept me moving. He was pushing the pace and it was working. I found a way mostly because of par terre and now they don’t have that. These are his type of rules.”
Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP) You simply won’t find another wrestler with the same natural gifts as Coleman. It’s that simple. There is pretty much nothing he can’t make his body do. The 2012 Olympian is only 25 years old, so it isn’t as if he is slowing down. He’s had some injuries — but so has everybody else. Coleman is not as accomplished as he is by accident. He displays unreal balance and explosiveness to go along with the constantly-refined skills that are part of his arsenal. Coleman also has wins that matter here, including a semi-recent one over Smith at last year’s US Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier.
Perkins: “Ellis is pretty small for this weight class, but he’s probably still the strongest guy. I feel like with the previous rules, he stopped going hard on his feet, you know? But now, with these new rules, I believe in Ellis and I believe that he is going to push the pace because he can’t wait for par terre. So I think he’s going to try and score. Ellis has a great two-on-one, great underhooks…he’s just a great wrestler when he wants to be.
I mean, Ellis is like my brother, but it’s the truth. He’s very strong and has a great two-on-one which he is definitely going to be looking for. If he takes you down, man, good luck, because he has one of the best gutwrenches in the United States besides Andy (Bisek). I can’t really say whose is better. I’m not saying he will finish the match, but going into these new rules that is what he needs to do. Ellis needs to finish matches and he can if he really wants to.”
Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS) US National Team member Sancho can no longer be looked as an “up and comer.” No, this guy has fully arrived. Sancho seems to be close to making what they call in sports “the innocent climb”; coming closer and closer to the mountaintop before eventually coming away with the prize. You know what you’re getting here — a punishing inside game if he gets to the body and a no-nonsense approach once those bodies hit the mat. Sancho has lost close to the top guys and has beaten some, as well, including Coleman at the Trials to make the National Team. Obviously with what he’s got going on, Sancho’s presence here up a weight class looms large.
Perkins: “Bodylocks. That is really all he’s got on his feet. He’s not a very technical wrestler but he definitely has one of the best bodylocks in the US. That is what I’ve got to say about him. Sancho also likes to lift. He is going to be a dangerous wrestler at the Trials. If he scores on his feet with a takedown, he is going to try and finish the match. He’s a big lifter and has lifted me a few times in practice and at the Trials.
Sancho is dangerous, for sure, but it’s his bodylock. I’m sure a lot of people are going to be looking for it. He also has an arm spin but a lot of wrestlers in the US have kind of caught on to him. I believe that they probably have been watching film on him to see how he sets it up and everything, but he does it in different ways. Sancho is also a big thrower and he’s not looking for two points, he’s looking for four. Throughout the whole match, that’s what he’ll be looking for.”
Chris Gonazalez (NYAC-OTS) A tough wrestler who is on the cusp of a complete breakout. Gonzalez is also smart. He understands where he is strong and is difficult to move off his spot. Physically, Gonzalez is fine here. He’s competed at 71 a substantial amount and his 5’11 frame will bode well against the shorter 66 guys who might be showing up. Some could look at Gonzalez as if he might not be quite ready yet to go ahead and make a World Team, but that line of thinking is incorrect. He has saved up the capital, right? He has made the deposits. All he needs now is to confirm the balance matches his checkbook and this athlete could be on his way.
Perkins: “Chris is a very long wrestler. He’s big. He is kind of like me. I have practiced with him a few times and Chris can score. He’s a big scorer, you know? He is going to go for it and he is not afraid to lock up with you. He’s going to stay in there and he is going to look to score. They took par terre out and he was big on his lifts. But Chris can be dangerous from any position, really, especially if you lock up with him.
He has a decent bodylock — I wouldn’t say that it’s great, but he’s long and can wrap his arms around you. I know a lot of people get cautions when they get in the bodylock position with him and I an sure that is what he is going to look forward to doing here. He was big at 66 and he’s big at 71, so I believe he is going to use that to his advantage. He is also a lot stronger than most people his size.”
Perkins’s Closing Thoughts: “All of these guys are going to have to push the pace. With the new rules, the refs are going to make them wrestle. They have to have their conditioning up. The matches aren’t going to be stopped. There are going to be passives, passives, and then points and matches are going to continue. It’s going to be a conditioning thing I believe and whoever can go the longest. All of these guys can score on their feet but if their conditioning is not there, it’s not going to matter.”
Also look out for:
Jamal Johnson (Army/WCAP) Johnson might be a step or two away, but they are not huge steps. The Trials portion of this tournament is obviously US-only, but once Johnson gets a prolonged taste of international experience and combines that with his solid athletic ability, he’s going to wind up as one of those names everyone takes notice of.
Austin Morrow (NMU-OTS) Morrow got hot last weekend at the Malarcupen, finishing an impressive second. He has done well in some big spots domestically, specifically the University Nationals. Morrow is similar to Johnson in that as soon as he starts seeing a higher variety of looks, the level will jump. And if he gains confidence on Saturday like he did in Sweden last weekend, it could get interesting.
Marco Lara (Army/WCAP) Lara isn’t confirmed as of yet, but if he shows up he might pull out a surprise or two. A long-tenured Greco Roman athlete in the US, Lara might be getting up there in age, but he has the know-how and mental toughness to ruin anybody’s day. 71 is quite a jump for a guy who used to be at 60 when it was around, but so what? If Lara enters and goes 71, dismissing him would be a mistake.
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