USA Greco

HIT LIST: Hancock’s 5 Best Wins (So Far)

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G'Angelo Hancock -- Photo: Tony Rotundo

Six weeks, more or less. Days tend to blend into one another when you’re not careful, when you’re not “living in the moment” or are mired in the general busyness of everyday life. So call it “six weeks”, which is the amount of time that has now elapsed since G’Angelo Hancock (97 kg, Sunkist, world #5, 5PM #1) earned himself, and Team USA Greco for that matter, World bronze in Oslo.

Hancock’s tournament in Norway last month provided a thrilling ride for non-casual American wrestling viewers. That he grabbed a medal aided the cause, but those who watched his performance in its entirety — and claim an above-average understanding of the international landscape — appreciated what he had managed to accomplish. For most, what comes to mind first was his destruction of Germany’s Peter Oehler in the actual medal round. But before that bout, Hancock easily controlled Ibrahim Tigci (TUR), garnered his second career win against ’18 silver Kiril Milov (BUL) — and in the semifinal, had his heart broken by Alex Szoeke (HUN). The match versus Szoeke, despite its outcome, might have outshined all the rest from a watchability perspective. But since the result (and the officiating, if we’re being honest) favored Hungary, we’ll bypass it for now.

Hancock’s status update as a verifiable World medalist instantly alters how he is perceived. Folks who held a bare-bones degree of familiarity with his exploits will henceforth pay closer attention to his appearances. They will confirm his participation ahead of time and make a note to watch. ‘Is Hancock wrestling in this thing?’ they’ll ask. ‘I want to watch him bomb some people.’

And he has, and does, “bomb some people”, but Hancock’s canvas of work thus far rests upon a much firmer foundation than highlight-worthy multi-point scores. Booming bodylocks play well as social media consumables, but render an incomplete picture.

Hancock arching an opponent to the ceiling in a flourish during a domestic round-of-16 is good for some fleeting publicity. The problem? It doesn’t matter. Hancock — and every other United States athlete whose aspirations eclipse home-soil accolades — should only be measured against top foreigners in top foreign tournaments. The competitive bar needs to be raised, lest the Americans risk further disjointing developmental hangups.

When Hancock decimated Oehler in October, he elevated the standard not only for himself, but for all of his red-white-and-blue contemporaries, as well.

Alas, this concept is not singularly tethered to recency concerns. Over the past five years, Hancock has traveled extensively and delivered more than a few outstanding performances. Along the way, he has also defeated a who’s-who of World/Olympic medalists in addition to many others one might deem elite-caliber opposition. Hancock attacks antagonists without prejudice, and sees in-season events as mere preparation for the World Championships. But somewhere in the recesses of his own mind is always a “hit list”. Crossing names off of said list allows him a small but discernible sense of satisfaction, at least until the next opportunity arises.

G’Angelo Hancock’s 5 Best Wins — 2021 Edition

5. Adam Varga (HUN) — ’19 Zagreb GP (bronze round)

Two key components for what became a 4-1 decision that yielded a “Ranking Series” bronze: 1) Hancock owned Varga the tie-ups, not an easy feat considering the Hungarian’s usual work-rate; 2) an air of unpredictability. Hancock used his second-period passive/par terre chance to try for a front headlock, which is not now nor was it then his go-to. But on the whistle, he circled towards Varga’s head, locked, and pulled over a two-point score that for basically put the match out of reach.

4. Semyon Novikov (UKR) — ’20 Matteo Pellicone (bronze round)

Detractors could point out how Novikov — who was two months removed from winning his second U23 World gold, and a month away from winning a Senior Euro title — was up at 97 kilos instead of his usual 87. In other words, the knock would be that Hancock enjoyed a clear size/strength advantage. But — Novikov, in this tournament, had downed a better-than-decent Suleyman Demirci (TUR) and gave eventual silver Felix Baldauf (NOR) a tough test. And, Hancock brought forth carnage to the tune of nine offensive points, the last four of which from a side lift.

3. Fatih Baskoy (TUR) — ’19 Hungarian GP (final)

A lot has been written about this one. Not too much, but certainly enough. The ’19 Hungarian Grand Prix represented Hancock’s second “major” Senior tournament victory (after the previous season’s Pytlasinksi). What made it even more special, aside from various “Ranking Series” implications, was how it ended. Baskoy had just taken a 3-1 lead late in the second period; he had leveraged a body attack to create an exchange that netted an off-the-boundary takedown. Upon receiving his two, Baskoy let out a primal roar and the Turkish coaches likewise got all sorts of pumped up. And then, shortly after the very next restart, Hancock — calm, if not completely devoid of emotion altogether — forcefully wrapped around Baskoy and compelled his own takedown. That would be it. Baskoy, sporting a cotton ball in his left nostril, ceased to pose a serious threat through the remainder.

2. Artur Aleksanyan (ARM) — ’18 Pytlasinski Memorial (semifinal)

Three World titles. An Olympic gold. Eight total World-level medals. Still one of the biggest names in the sport, this despite “The Ginger Assassin’s” stranglehold on their weight class. Aleksanyan’s legacy — regardless of what happens going forward — is among his generation’s most celebrated.

That did not stop Hancock from punching in the ignition code when they met in August of ’18.

Hancock was careful not to give the Armenian too much respect. Their first contest, at the ’17 Paris Worlds, saw Hancock start slow only to amp up the activity later in the match. Aleksanyan took what was given to him en-route to a VSU. It was all alive and well in the memory bank. Even just 12 months later, Hancock was a different wrestler. So, he treated Aleksanyan differently.

Not too many moving parts here. Aleksanyan negotiated a righty underhook — and Hancock immediately locked over/under and hurled a bodylock. Academic, the rest of it. Hancock merely assumed position on top as Aleksanyan demonstrated utter confusion as to what to do from his back. The fall was called quickly, a dead-to-rights thing. At the time, Hancock’s pin of Aleksanyan was rightfully labeled a “signature victory”. That hasn’t changed. The triumph still resonates.

1. Peter Oehler (GER) — ’21 World Championships (bronze round)

Few either know, cared to notice, or remember, but Oehler had dealt Hancock a sufficiently-frustrating decision loss at Budapest ’18. It was a sloppy affair, as far as Hancock matches often go, but digestible back then if only because Oehler is, in fact, quite very good and a more than capable contender.

While Oehler is still considered a top-shelf athlete, Hancock has zipped past him in terms of overall viability. This is important for American fans to absorb. Hancock’s bronze-medal downing of Oehler was in no way an upset or a surprise. It is prudent for observers to exercise caution when comparing athletes, for at the World level the margins are almost impossibly thin, and outcomes one way or the other can always be expected. But when it comes to credentials as well as the tried-and-true “eye test”, a Hancock victory over Oehler should not have raised too many eyebrows. Just as it won’t should they greet each other again somewhere else down the line.

What is perhaps most notable about Hancock’s World-bronze-clincher at Oehler’s expense is how it’s recorded in the history books — VIN, or via injury default. Misleading.

Hancock had attacked Oehler early in the second for what should have accumulated six points, which would have translated to a 9-0 tech. Moreover, Oehler was pinned after being turned. But because Oehler’s injury (his ankle had been effectively smashed) occurred on the front-end of the sequence, those six points were never added to the scoreboard. Speculative admittedly, but even if Oehler’s ankle had not assumed the brunt of both men’s weight and he had landed cleanly, it is hard to picture Hancock struggling to pick up the requisite points for an official stoppage.

The method of victory does not overshadow the victory itself. Hancock’s effort meant a World bronze, and has rightfully lumped him in the same group as the country’s mainstream stars. But the source material acquired before Oslo was ever circled on the calendar did what it was intended to do: suggest that such an achievement was already in the making.

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