USA Greco

USA Recap: Rau & Woods Fight for Medals in HUN

joe rau, 2024 polyak imre memorial
Joe Rau -- Photo: UWW

Olympian Joe Rau (97 kg, TMWC) and two-time World Team member Spencer Woods (82 kg, Army/WCAP) both had their moments on Sunday but will depart from Hungary having fallen just short of coming away with bronze medals.

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The second and final day of Greco-Roman at the 2024 Polyak Imre Memorial “Ranking Series” tournament began at 10:30am local time from Budapest, Hungary and streamed live in the US on FLOWrestling.

Rau had a bye to the quarterfinal where he locked up with ’21 World Champion/Olympic bronze Mohammadhadi Saravi (IRI). Offensive intent was on the part of Rau from the outset, and a fast reach-around saw him easily dart behind Saravi for a takedown opportunity; but before the American could settle his position and execute a scoring maneuver, his feet briefly became entangled with Saravi’s, which allowed the latter to end up on top and rotate a pair of gutwrenches. Rau then scored a reversal and quickly went to work on a front headlock. The attempt did not bear fruit and the action returned to the feet. Later in the period, it was Saravi who was able to swoop behind Rau. A takedown followed by one gutwrench put the match on ice in the Iranian’s favor by a score of 10-1. Saravi decisioned Giorgi Melia (GEO) in the semifinal, which pulled Rau back in for repechage.

However, Rau’s repechage opponent Tamas Levai (HUN) had defaulted out of the tournament, thus providing the Chicagoan with the chance to battle for bronze. His counterpart in the medal round was Melia. Most American fans might hold a degree of familiarity with the Georgian, as he had defeated G’Angelo Hancock in the semifinal of the ’16 Junior World Championships and has since gone on to become a well-decorated Senior competitor.

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True to form, Rau demonstrated a more insistent approach on the feet to begin against Melia and passivity did not take long to arrive. From top par terre, Rau ardently cranked on a front headlock and at one instance appeared close to gaining a score until the whistle eventually blew to signal a restart. Rau motioned to National coach Herb House that a challenge was in order. The contention was that Melia had blocked the front headlock attempt by leveraging with his left hand against Rau’s right leg. After the officials reviewed the sequence, Rau was proven correct and Melia was penalized for a caution. Two points went to the US along with another shot from top par terre for Rau, who was unable to tack more onto what had become a 4-0 lead.

In the second period, and as is custom, the trailing wrestler upped his output just enough enough to coax the officials into confirming a passivity — this despite Rau’s own improvement in snapping the head and imposing his physicality. From top par terre, Melia acquired his lock and proceeded to expose Rau with four gutwrench turns. But — another challenge from the US was availed after the scoring had been logged. This time, the argument was that Melia’s subsequent gut rotations after the first one were not fully completed. The officials looked at the replay and determined that the scoring would stand, giving Georgia a 10-4 advantage on the board. Rau resumed peppering and pressuring for attacks. He also lowered his level for a high-dive, and Melia deflected the attempt. With the match nearing its conclusion, Rau dashed forth, Melia side-stepped, Rau’s momentum carried him off the line, and Melia’s lead was set at 11-4, the score by which he would prevail to earn bronze, leaving Rau in 5th place.

Solid Outing for Woods

“The Alaskan Assassin” started his day in a most impressive manner — by delivering a beatdown to ’21 Military World bronze Ashkan Saadati Fard of Iran. Saadati Fard was gifted the bout’s first passivity and tried hard to run a gutwrench; he did manage a turn, but Woods scrambled and soon found himself in position to garner a reverse lock. Woods went with said lock and pulled Saadati Fard over for two points and an early 3-3 criteria lead. As time was about to expire in the first period, Woods came close to another score when he busied Saadati Fard out of bounds, but the buzzer had just sounded.

Passivity on Saadati Fard in the second period ushered in more points for Woods. He hopped from side-to-side with hunting for a reverse lift that the Iranian had seemed to adequately defend. Woods disagreed, and called for the challenge block. Upon review, it was deemed that Saadati Fard had fouled Woods, hence two points were directed into Woods’ column in conjunction with another go from par terre. This time, Woods achieved unmistakable elevation. He clamped a reverse lift and boomed Saadati Fard to the surface for four points as well as a 10-3 lead that he would not relinquish.

A loss in the next round to ’18 World Champion/’17 silver Gela Bolkvadze (GEO) stymied Woods’ run to the gold medal round but an opportunity for bronze was still available. Standing in the way of “Ranking Series” hardware was ’22 U23 World runner-up Karlo Kodric (CRO), with whom Woods has become acquainted due to training in Croatia. Aggression was the call for Woods, as he did not waste time in seeking a throw from the feet. An exchange not long into the opening period resulted in Woods locking double overhooks. He stepped and arched back, but Kodric adjusted to land on top. Woods was caught on his back and fighting to escape — but the Croatian held position and the fall was soon recorded. Woods officially finished in 5th place.

Sancho, Jacobson, & Porter

Like Woods, ’20 Olympian/two-time World rep Alex Sancho (Army/WCAP) is expected to be a major player once Team selection for the non-Olympic weight Worlds gets underway later this year. Back up at 72 kilograms, Sancho looked in fine physical form and had for himself an appointment with a very strong competitor, ’16 Olympic bronze Shmagi Bolkvadze (GEO).

After a takedown and reverse-lift attempt from Bolkvadze, Sancho immediately scampered to the side to escape and wound up in position for a body attack that was reminiscent of his infamous pull-over of Mate Nemes in the ’17 Zagreb GP. But when back on the feet, the officials twice “attention’ed” Sancho for his head being down, thus resulting in a one-point caution. The official on the mat then incorrectly offered to Bolkvadze top par terre (which the Georgian declined), for cautions which occur on the feet do not come attached with an option for par terre. Nevertheless, the score was 2-0 for Bolkvadze and so it remained until towards the end of the period. Just before the break, Sancho headlocked Bolkvadze, but initially no points were awarded. Following a challenge from the US, Bolkvadze was cited for a defensive leg foul, two points were given to Sancho, and he carried a 2-2 criteria lead into intermission.

Midway through the second period, Sancho — who was moving quite well by now — was dinged for passive. Bolkvadze again decided not to go to par terre. The action soon became more contentious, with the officials looking to caution Sancho for a second time. Bolkvadze was trying to make the case that Sancho was crashing in with his head; the US corner challenged the infraction and no points were distributed to Bolkvadze following what was a long review procedure. Sancho, for his part, energetically sought handles in the ties for as long as the match continued, although Bolkvadze had gone into retreat mode. When the match was over, Sancho appeared visibly frustrated with the nature of the governance deployed in the proceedings and it was not difficult to discern why.

Jacobson Pushes Cengiz

Only fitting it was to see newly-minted Olympian Payton Jacobson (87 kg, Sunkist/NTS) paired with Ali Cengiz (TUR) in his first match. Cengiz, long a reputable athlete, was a “co-World champ” last year at 87 kilograms along with David Losonczi (HUN). Just the type of opposition Jacobson desires.

And in a show of gratitude for the match-up, Jacobson made it his mission to waffle Cengiz in the ties whilst generating urgent, but patient, pressure. Before long, Cengiz was backing up as if automated, that is until he clubbed Jacobson in the chops to create some distance. The referee stopped the match to deliver a warning to Cengiz, but Jacobson seemed to appreciate the contact. The Northern Michigan athletes’s combination of bullying strength and intentional footwork made problems for Turkiye in the beginning stages of the bout, and certainly enough to warrant a passive call on Cengiz. Jacobson looked for a gut from top par terre but could not gather meaningful static with his lock, leading to a restart. Later in the frame, an odd scramble unfolded when Jacobson had dug in on Cengiz’s right side; Cengiz hawked over the top, and Jacobson submarined up for an attack — but Cengiz had a reverse lock that he would use to pull Jacobson over for two points. The Turk kept the same lock once the score had been logged and repeated the maneuver for a 4-1 cushion.

The second period was barren of scoring. Jacobson’s tactics were having an effect, but Cengiz — the more polished wrestler — navigated the fleeting pummel and mini exchanges which were the byproduct of their clashing. Not even a passivity was called in the match’s final three minutes and Cengiz took the 4-1 decision. Losonczi pinned Cengiz (again) in the semifinal to eliminate Jacobson from possible contention for bronze through the repechage.


Keeping with the theme of the tournament for Team USA at the Polyak Imre Memorial, ’21 World Team member Jesse Porter (77 kg, NYAC) was the recipient of a challenging draw — two-time World gold Burhan Akbudak (TUR). Porter operated with the unorthodox timing measures for which he is oft lauded, which caused a flicker of consternation for Akbudak as the match-up began to materialize. But a takedown from Turkiye put Porter in trouble, and even more so when Akbudak executed a four-point reverse lift. Porter challenged the hold, but the call on the mat was upheld and his deficit had grown to 7-0. Shortly after the reset, Akbudak scored another takedown to force a premature halt to the contest. Akbudak was defeated by the “Bulgarian Bulldozer” Aik Mnatsakanian in the next round to eliminate Porter from re-entry into the event through the repechage.


  • The US delegation is expected to arrive home sometime on Monday.
  • 2024 USA Olympic Team Camp is scheduled for July 7-17 at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
  • Just announced is a match-up between Woods and ’22 World Team member Benji Peak (Sunkist/NTS) on June 28 in Boston, MA to benefit Beat the Streets-New England.

2024 Polyak Imre Memorial

June 8-9 — Budapest, HUN


60 kg: Dalton Roberts (Army/WCAP) — 8th
LOSS Abdelkerim Fergat (ALG) 6-3

72 kg: Alex Sancho (Army/WCAP) — 11th
LOSS Shmagi Bolkvadze (GEO) 3-2

77 kg: Jesse Porter (NYAC) — 18th
LOSS Burhan Akbudak (TUR) 9-0, TF

82 kg: Spencer Woods (Army/WCAP) — 5th
WON Ashkan Saadati Fard (IRI) 10-3
LOSS Gela Bolkvadze (GEO) 9-0, TF
LOSS Karlo Kodric (CRO) via fall

87 kg: Payton Jacobson (Sunkist/NTS) — 14th
LOSS Ali Cengiz (TUR) 4-1

97 kg: Joe Rau (TMWC) — 5th
LOSS Mohammadhadi Saravi (IRI) 10-1, TF
WON Tamas Levai (HUN) via forfeit
LOSS Giorgi Melia (GEO) 11-4

130 kg: Adam Coon (NYAC/Cliff Keen) — 11th
LOSS Abdelatif Mohamed (EGY) 3-1

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Listen to “5PM57: Kamal Bey and David Stepanyan” on Spreaker.

Listen to “5PM56: Rich Carlson and Spencer Woods” on Spreaker.

Listen to “5PM55: Recapping Final X with Dennis Hall with words from Koontz, Braunagel and Hafizov” on Spreaker.

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