USA Greco

Smith & Vera Changing Weight Classes for 2023 Nationals

patrick smith, alan vera
Patrick Smith -- Photo: John Sachs; Alan Vera -- Photo: Tony Rotundo

Anyone who follows the Five Point Move social media accounts is likely already aware that four-time World Team member Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) and two-timer Alan Vera (NYAC) have both decided to compete in different weight categories at the upcoming 2023 US Nationals than the ones most had originally targeted for them.

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With regards to United States Greco-Roman wrestling, make no mistake: this is huge news, on both accounts. Vera — who will be gunning for his fourth National title next week despite only becoming eligible for domestic competition in ’20 — has never participated in a sanctioned event weighing more than 87 kilograms. The 33-year-old did have an exhibition match against G’Angelo Hancock as part of FLOWrestling’s Burroughs vs. Valencia card in November of ’20, a bout that was actually contested at 103 kg and did not carry any relevant implications towards either athlete’s respective career.

Interesting to note is that the US National Greco-Roman program purportedly broached to Vera the idea of moving up to 97 kg in ’22 but the former Cuba representative declined.

Vera’s presence at 97 obviously injects even more intrigue into a weight category that is top-heavy domestically. Reigning World Team member Josef Rau (TMWC, 5PM #1), ’23 Final X runner-up Christian DuLaney (Minnesota Storm), ’21 U20 World bronze Braxton Amos (Sunkist), and two-time National Champion Nick Boykin (Sunkist) occupy the #1 through #4 spots in the current 5PM USA Greco-Roman Rankings, a list that also includes ’22 Open champ Luke Sheridan (Army/WCAP) and National Team member Cade Lautt (Tar Heel WC). Also in the weight class is two-time Open runner-up Khymba Johnson (NYAC) — who is temporarily unranked on this platform due solely to having been inactive over the past year. Johnson is expected to rejoin the fray next week in Fort Worth. Vera — who in the past did record a pair of victories over Rau — is currently ranked #2 at 87 kg, but his weight class will be amended following the Nationals (provided Vera confirms that he will continue to pursue the Olympic Team at 97).

Smith pivoting to 67 kg is major news, as well, although his case is slightly different. In the aftermath of the previous Olympic cycle during which he competed at 77 kg, Smith eased back down into the non-Olympic class of 72 kg. In ’21, the popular Minnesotan made his third World Team; after falling to Benji Peak (77 kg, Sunkist/NTS, 5PM #7) at Final X: Stillwater in ’22, Smith rebounded on the heels of a loss to Justus Scott (67 kg, 5PM #2) in the ’23 Open final to gain revenge at Final X: Newark in June, thereby securing his fourth placement on a US World Team. Smith had not publicly declared his weight class for the ’23 Nationals or the season at-large after the World Championships this past September. The expectation was that the 32-year-old would simply move back up to 77 kg given his previous success in the weight class, along with the presumptive challenge of making 67 with a day-of weigh-in. The ’19 Pan-Am Games gold had other ideas, apparently, and the likely result is that 67 kg will be the most talked-about bracket in a week’s time.

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That is because 67 is the United States’ deepest and most dynamic weight category. ’20 Olympian, two-time World Teamer, and recent Military World bronze Alex Sancho (Army/WCAP, 5PM #1) is the featured player, and for good reason aside from his resume bullets. Sancho, 29, has been putting together the most consistent performances of his nearly decade-long career and is an extremely effective operator from par terre top. He is also comfortable with the scoreboard in tight margins and has demonstrated on numerous occasions an uncanny ability to win matches late. Sancho and Smith do not share a pronounced history with one another — or in terms of recency, a relevant one. Smith decisioned Sancho en-route to bronze at Thor Masters ’17; a year later, Sancho was caution’ed out against Smith in the US Open semifinals.

Scott, who qualified for the Olympic Trials by virtue of placing second at the Bill Farrell Memorial last month, has improved by leaps and bounds since becoming a full-time Senior; and Sancho’s runner-up from Final X: NewarkRobert Perez III (Sunkist, 5PM #4), is a persistent, punishing competitor (not unlike Smith) who weaponizes pressure and pace as a means to take control of matches. ’21 World Team member Peyton Omania (NYAC/CTT, 5PM #6), ’19 Junior World bronze Alston Nutter (Army/WCAP, 5PM #5), ’16 Olympian Jesse Thielke (Army/WCAP, 5PM #2), and ’23 World rep Xavier Johnson (Army/WCAP, 5PM #7) are all set for involvement, too, and there are several others ranked just below those mentioned who are certainly capable of threatening for the top spot both next week and beyond.

As for Smith, 67 is not entirely new territory. He began his storied career at 66 kilograms in ’11, and five years hence was an Olympic Trials finalist in the category. Weigh-ins prior to the ’17-’18 season were held the day prior to events and are now held the morning of. But the weight class has also changed by adding one more kilogram. That extra kilo is enough, it would seem, to convince Smith that he will have the reserves necessary to make another run at the Olympics, which has a lot of people in Minnesota awfully excited.

The ’23 US Nationals/Olympic Team Trials Qualifier begins next Friday and will stream live on FLOWrestling.

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

Listen to “5PM54: WCAP’s Ryan Epps and a Final X Greco-Roman Preview” on Spreaker.

Listen to “5PM53: Northern Michigan assistant Parker Betts and USMC Captain Jamel Johnson” on Spreaker.

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