While the six Senior World Team members were gearing up for the first day of the 2019 Pan American Games that ended with a Patrick Smith gold, National Team member Xavier Johnson (63 kg, Marines) was busy trying to establish himself at an exceedingly tough tournament held on the Eastern Bloc.
Johnson, along with five of his All-Marine teammates, is in Tbilisi, Georgia for the annual Tbilisi Grand Prix of V. Balavadze and G. Kartozia tournament. Johnson got started on Wednesday; fellow Final X runner-up Jamel Johnson (67 kg) and Vaughn Monreal-Berner (87 kg) hit the mats Thursday; and Terrence Zaleski (82 kg) and National Teamer Daniel Miller (97 kg) do business on Friday. It should be noted that the Tbilisi Grand Prix observes a two-day format, so if there are finalists or medal candidates, they will go the proceeding day.
Johnson came out and quickly latched onto a high right underhook against 2014 Junior World bronze Gizo Meladze (GEO) and was close to either opening the body up or forcing Meladze out. Instead, Meladze adjusted his position, and when Johnson went to face him, he inadvertently stepped off the line. Despite the pair mutually holding over/under’s (and Johnson trying to wring his arms for a better lock), he was knocked for passivity. From top, Meladze clasped an elbow-deep mid-range gut and was able to expose Johnson once, though the Marine did step over and reverse position. This led to a challenge — but upon further review, it was deemed Johnson committed a defensive leg foul. Meladze received two additional points and restarted from par terre.
This is when things got interesting.
As soon as Meladze went to lock for a reverse lift, Johnson exploded up and wrapped Meladze at the waist. He then locked and loaded. He didn’t get four, but two. Johnson wasn’t finished, however. Just as he has all season long, he went to that side lift and cascaded over for four right before the buzzer and took his break carrying a 6-6 criteria lead.
Enjoying some momentum, Johnson worked to underhooks early in the second. The threat of another throw was there, but Meladze held firm enough to avoid more air time. Johnson advanced position for a takedown at the line, now up 8-6.
Unfortunately for Johnson, Meladze still had life in him, which was demonstrated by a critical sequence midway through the period. The Georgian dragged behind for a takedown — and in the process, collected Johnson’s right arm for a trap-arm gut — and rolled it over for a ten-point sequence. The bout was not over yet, as Johnson managed to get a reversal to keep the clock running. Georgia wanted a challenge, they felt it should have been a done deal. Following the review, Johnson received one more point for the denied challenge, but still wound up falling 16-10.
Meladze was ousted by U23 World runner-up Murad Mammadov (AZE) in the quarterfinal, eliminating Johnson from contention for bronze.
Action picks up again on Thursday morning with Jamel Johnson and Monreal-Berner. This YouTube account has the live stream, which begins at 10:00am local time (2:00am ET). Xavier Johnson’s match can be viewed in its entirety below.
2019 Tbilisi Grand Prix
August 7-9 — Tbilisi, Georgia
TEAM USA DAY 1 RESULTS
Xavier Johnson (Marines)
LOSS Gizo Meladze (GEO) 16-10