It took a while but, eventually, 2021 did unfold a competitive schedule that resembled something close to what ’19 offered. The last event to feature an American athlete before year’s end was in November, when Randon Miranda (60 kg, Rise RTC) won gold in Egypt. By then — and counting every officially-sanctioned competition including domestic Trials opportunities — US wrestlers spread across five age-groups had appeared in a combined 22 tournaments. For comparison’s sake, that number in ’20 was limited to only a baker’s dozen.
Hence, the data from which to derive a list declaring The Top-10 USA Greco-Roman Matches of 2021 is certainly more substantial than it was a year ago. But a wrinkle doth exist, and it pertains to the criteria involved with such an undertaking.
- Perceived significance related to the athlete, the event, or both.
- Match videos are not obstructed by a paywall, or any other means, and are therefore able to be viewed by the audience.
Matches are selected via numerous avenues, with the second listed criteria perhaps a critical factor. “Perceived significance” intends to suggest that a tournament is one of recognized esteem, such as at a selection process event or World-level competition. Though the phrasing is admittedly malleable (for a defining moment can occur during any round of any tournament in the eyes of participants and their coaches), it is widely understood among the greater wrestling community what does, and does not, meet this criteria.
The third item on the above list is the most important — because it automatically disqualifies the vast overwhelming majority of bouts that were contested at the Tokyo Olympics as well as the US Olympic Team Trials. Although several matches from both events can be found online (and plenty more for those who boast the technical acuity to uncover relative diamonds in the digital rough), to do so would at the very least seem a massive inconvenience for the casual end-user. And if a match is not readily consumable for the audience, it is not eligible. A simple policy.
Continuing out of order is #1, “excitement/adrenaline”. Matches featuring grand executions, thrilling maneuvers, and wild point exchanges fit this description; so too can bouts in which points are scarce. How a match was contested between the athletes is often as memorable as the outcome.
Top-10 USA Greco Matches of 2021
10. Joe Rau def. Fillip Smetko (CRO) via fall
Grand Prix Zagreb Open, 1/16/21 — Round-of-16
Zero suspense and short in duration — but notable if only due to the conviction on display. Rau’s initial score arrived from a body attack, and Smetko’s attempt at a counter-throw actually aided in the points haul. One reset later, Rau ended the brief affair with a textbook front headlock. Well worth a re-watch if not previously viewed.
9. Peyton Walsh (Marines) def. Alec Ortiz (Minnesota Storm) 14-9
World Team Trials, 9/11/21 — Consolation semifinal
Scoring in this one was actually capped midway through the second period — but there is more than enough scoring and answer-backs before the jockeying to entertain even the most hardcore fan. This match likely also represents Walsh’s last Senior victory, as the Marine officer was one of the unfortunate victims of that service branch’s decision to effectively slash the program.
8. Jim Mullen def. Lyova Sargsyan (ARM) via fall
Cadet World Championships, 7/25/21 — Repechage
It’s one thing for a young athlete to stage a comeback. It’s a different thing entirely when they are on the literal brink of defeat at a World event. Mullen was close to a tech loss to Armenia’s Sargsyan in the Cadet (or, U17) Worlds until he stepped over a gutwrench and came away victorious in dramatic fashion.
7. Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) def. Benji Peak (Sunkist/NTS) 3-3
World Team Trials, 9/11/21 — Match 1 of finals series
The match-up on its own drew attention, which Greco always needs. That right out of the gate Smith/Peak lived up to the hype was all the more encouraging. Peak emptied the tank against Smith — a requirement — and the second period is full of compelling moments that brought out the best in both competitors.
6. Cory Land def. Adam Silverin (SWE) 9-6
Cadet World Championships, 7/23/21 — Quarterfinal
Land guaranteed that the US would be in position to medal at the Cadet World Championships with this triumph, but that’s not why it made the cut. Land had erased an early deficit by remaining focused on scoring when the opportunity arose. What you get here is a wrestler who operates with extreme confidence and a willingness to go with what works.
5. Britton Holmes (Army/WCAP) def. Ryan Epps (Minnesota Storm) 4-2
Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier, 3/26/21 — Consolation semifinal
A cerebral slugfest. Evenly-matched in nearly every area save for one, which would be Holmes’ advantage in experience. The pair are eerily similar otherwise and this was their first meeting as bonafide Seniors. Tension permeates throughout the contest, and their six minutes together from March show why optimism surrounds the next generation for Team USA.
4. Nick Boykin (Sunkist) def. JD Souza (Army/WCAP) via fall
US Nationals, 4/30/21 — Final
Souza came out trying to throw bombs, and he indeed connected, punctuated by a beautiful four-point toss that delivered a 7-0 lead. But, matches are stopped only after there is an eight-point gap. Souza went back to the well yet again only to find that there was no more rope.
3. Braxton Amos (Sunkist/Wisconsin RTC) def. Arkyt Orozbekov (KGZ) 8-0, TF
Junior World Championships, 8/22/21 — Bronze round
The Junior World Championship tournament for Team USA had in recent years been quite fruitful. Multiple medalists since ’16 and so on. If not for Amos’ effort in Ufa, the medal streak altogether would have been nixed. The West Virginia native’s bronze, however, meant more than that. It demonstrated the value of unrelenting competitiveness. While it’s true that Amos was on a different athletic level than Orozbekov, that’s not the only reason for the outcome. Amos never stopped attacking. And couldn’t be stopped from doing so.
2. Dominic Damon (NMU/NTS) def. Payton Jacobson (NYAC/NTS) 5-2
Junior World Team Trials, 4/30/21 — Match 3 of finals series
Edge-of-the-seat stuff from beginning to end. All three bouts in the series grab you by the collar, though there is nothing like the third match of a series — especially when it features two of the nation’s most skilled and promising athletes.
1. G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist) def. Peter Oehler (GER)
World Championships, 10/9/21 — Bronze round
Checks all of the boxes. Hancock’s World bronze-clincher brings adrenaline, it was absolutely significant, and everyone can watch and re-watch as much as they please. A method of victory is not described next to the header because “VIN” fails to capture what actually happened. It is unfortunate that Oehler endured a terrible injury that was responsible for the official decision. But injury default or not, Hancock was well on his way to a walk-off victory — arguably the country’s most important medal in quite a while, as well.
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