Time, distance, memories. A heavy door rests on loose hinges. Eyelids pulled down on account of the darkness engulfing the room. They shall unfasten in another space, where light can be reintroduced. But then nothing is new. Except perhaps for perspective. The picture is clearer. Few bristled upon hearing the door creak as he walked through it, and instead the lot were glad to notice that they could spy the whites of his eyes once again.
The final round of the 2023 US Open began at 4:00pm local time from the South Point Hotel Arena in Las Vegas (7:00pm ET) and aired live in the US on FLOWrestling.
Out of all of the athletes who had gone on sabbatical and returned to action Wednesday at the National tournament (and there were plenty of them), it was Joe Rau (97 kg, TMWC/IRTC) who owned the spotlight, whether he liked it or not. Some of that could be attributed to the recent past, and some of it simply came down to regular sports talk in general. Because — Rau was not just back, he had entered into a weight category that he once occupied and in which he found success, and it was one that sorely needed a jolt this week in the absence of several key players.
And Rau, up ten kilograms from two years ago, wore the increase well on Day 1 and demonstrated as such when disposing of Trace Thompson (UT), Cade Lautt (Tar Heel WC), and ’18 U23 World Team member George Sikes (NYAC/NTS). Each of these victories were recorded via VSU, and stubborn Sikes was the only one to have reached the second period.
But an appropriate challenge for Rau was on the way in two-time National champ Nick Boykin (Sunkist), who was relegated to the #2 seed prior to the tournament. Boykin, who in addition to his pair of Open crowns was a Trials finalist in ’21, was pushed in the round-of-16 by another returning star, Daniel Miller (Marines), before getting past a tough Brandon Marshall (Big Game WC) and enduring a difficult test courtesy of Christian DuLaney (Minnesota Storm).
No one knew what a match between Rau and Boykin might entail, as there was not a prior history of which to speak. Rau’s punishing style on-the-feet has always been complemented by equally-brutal par terre work; meanwhile, Boykin tends to express a fluid, responsive move-set and is apt to counter as much as try for conventional attacks.
After a feeling-out process that involved a slip on Rau’s part and a couple of intentful positional swaps, both combatants became entangled at the forearms and hands. Rau had initiated the contact by hunting for a two-on-one, to which Boykin responded by attempting to untie the knots. In any event, passivity rang on Rau, and Boykin looked to bar an arm and take it across for his turn methodology. It did not work and a reset was ordered. Later in the period, Rau’s explosiveness made an appearance when he plowed Boykin off the edge for a point. Another restart, and soon enough it had happened again. Rau wrangled inside on Boykin and powered him out of bounds for a 2-1 advantage.
When the rain comes, it tends to pound the shingles. Almost immediately after the whistle to kick off the second period, Rau got behind Boykin for a takedown and cranked two gutwrenches to surge ahead 8-1. A restart, and a front headlock position for Rau brought about the endgame. From the hold, he scampered for the two points required for a premature finish, the final score reading 10-1.
Rau, who turned 32 in March, previously earned National crowns in ’15 and ’19, making the “stop sign” he secured on Thursday his third from a Senior-level event. No one would or could cogently argue that his performance was one of the most well-received in Vegas.
However, he was not the only upper-weight to walk away with title #3.
Vera & Schultz
Reigning two-time World Team member Alan Vera (87 kg, NYAC) went about his business on Day 1 with a flourish of dominance, aside from getting headlocked by “Muscle” Mike Altomer (NMU/NTS) in the round-of-eight. Vera ultimately racked up three VSU wins en-route to the final, with the third coming against uber-prospect Zac Braunagel (IRTC), who wound up placing third.
But the people got what they wanted on the other side of the bracket. John Stefanowicz (Navy WC), whose last competitive appearance prior to this week occurred at the Tokyo Olympics, showed little to no rust as he navigated the likes of Mac Kukowski (Minnesota Storm, and who himself had a strong tournament), Austin Craig (Navy), and Vera’s runner-up from the ’22 Final X Series, Timothy Young (Army/WCAP).
Their shared history, even if a one-off, was hard to ignore when the finals pairings were set.
In the Challenge Tournament semifinal of the ’20ne Olympic Team Trials, Vera held a 3-2 lead late into the second period when Stefanowicz hit a body attack that eventually became responsible for his 6-3 decision victory. One of the more poignant moments in the careers of both men that was easy for hardcores to remember come Thursday afternoon.
That first edition of Stefanowicz/Vera was crammed with intensity and intrigue. The second time around was one-sided in Vera’s favor.
Underhooks were the story for Vera through the preamble as he worked to divvy between using a single left hook and plunging both appendages. Stefanowicz clamped down over Vera’s arms, the lone counter-measure available. A head-and-arm hold from Vera was next, and a reset was ordered due to inactivity. More of the same followed. Vera got to his underhook quickly, though Stefanowicz seemed to start regaining his own feel for how he wished to fight to a different tie. No matter, as passivity was soon called. Vera, the beneficiary, executed a big side lift to net four, and then Stefanowicz was penalized for interfering with Vera’s leg. Two more points were added to the latter’s margin as well as another chance to work from top PT. Vera clasped for a gut and rotated once to put a cap on the bottle with 9-0 representing the cumulative and conclusive boxscore.
Schultz Goes Over Coon
’18 World silver Adam Coon (130 kg, NYAC/Cliff Keen WC) was 4-0 in two Trials best-of-three series opposite Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist) prior to Thursday. If Coon had remained active in Greco-Roman following his ’21 campaign and the outcome from the ’23 Open final stayed the same, Schultz’s victory in Vegas might have been categorized as an upset. But circumstances being what they were, with Schultz taking over the heavyweight landscape as the World Team rep the past two years — combined with his litany of competitive endeavors both in and out of Greco — the result did not generate shockwaves.
But that does not mean how said result was reached failed to create a buzz.
High double-underhooks from Schultz led to the bout’s first scoring sequence. Schultz locked around Coon and plodded towards the boundary ahead of torquing the hold to pick up four. Another double-underhook position after the restart invited more offense. Schultz repeated the whole setup, and Coon this time thought better of a counter-attacking headlock and conceded the takedown.
Passivity on Coon later in the period made the score 7-0 the other way. Schultz looked for a front headlock, nothing was doing, and they were back standing. One more reset, and Coon had a line on a bodylock — but on the attempted execution, Schultz scrambled to his feet and instinctively locked and pulled Coon over to cut the string at 10-0. Of his four matches in Vegas, the Arizona State student won three via technical fall with one pin.
Schultz, at only 22 years of age, is now a four-time US National Champion (’19, ’20, and ’22). Prior to his Senior career, the native of Colorado also earned a Cadet World title (’17), Junior World bronze (’18), and Junior World silver (’19).
2023 US Open
April 26-27 — Las Vegas, NV
87 kg: Alan Vera (NYAC) def. John Stefanowicz (Navy WC) 9-0, TF
97 kg: Joe Rau (TMWC/IRTC) def. Nick Boykin (Sunkist) 10-1, TF
130 kg: Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist) def. Adam Coon (NYAC/Cliff Keen WC) 11-0, TF
GOLD: Alan Vera (NYAC)
SILVER: John Stefanowicz (Navy WC)
BRONZE: Zac Braunagel (IRTC)
4th — Timothy Young (Army/WCAP)
5th — Mac Kukowski (Minnesota Storm)
6th — Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm)
7th — Jordan Lara (Texas RTC)
GOLD: Joe Rau (TMWC/IRTC)
SILVER: Nick Boykin (Sunkist)
BRONZE: Daniel Miller (Marines)
4th — Brandon Marshall (Big Game WC)
5th — George Sikes (NYAC/NTS)
6th — Christian DuLaney (Minnesota Storm)
7th — Cade Lautt (THWC)
GOLD: Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist)
SILVER: Adam Coon (NYAC/Cliff Keen WC)
BRONZE: Tanner Farmer (NYAC/IRTC)
4th — Luke Luffman (IRTC)
5th — Brandon Metz (ND)
6th — Donny Longendyke (Minnesota Storm)
7th — Darryl Aiello (CYC)
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