Three of the champions from Friday’s 2018 US Greco-Roman World Team Trials finals in Tulsa, Oklahoma — Dalton Roberts (60 kg, NYAC/OTS), Ellis Coleman (67 kg, Army/WCAP), and Patrick Martinez (87 kg, NYAC) — offer different reasons as to why their victories stood out.
For Roberts, who turns 22 next month, a lot of it has to do with how quickly he has turned himself into a consistently viable competitor as well as how much he has improved — and keeps improving. Following the 2016 Junior World Championships, Roberts became a full-fledged Senior athlete. He wasn’t exactly a shrimp swimming around in a shark tank but there were some hard lessons to be learned. Thing is, Roberts has always remained undaunted. Because of that fact, he has taken huge leaps in both his ability and confidence. He expects to win, regardless of who the opposition is and his two victories over returning World Team member Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP) on Saturday serve as poignant evidence to that effect.
With Coleman, it is an altogether different deal. He is and has been one of the most recognizable cornerstones in the sport for the past seven years. A two-time Junior World bronze medalist, an Olympian, and now a three-time Senior World Team member, Coleman has experienced enormous success throughout his career. But even he has hit his fair share of bumps in the road. Coleman has continued to persevere despite having endured numerous serious injuries along with other health issues which betrayed themselves at the most inopportune time imaginable last year. Back at full capacity in 2018, Coleman is once again showing why any time his name is on a World Team roster he is pegged as an automatic medal threat. After dropping Match 1 to Alex Sancho (NYAC) in their best-of-three series on Friday, the 27-year-old delivered a pair of tech falls to sew up his shot at a podium spot in Budapest.
For Martinez, his summiting the mountain on Friday was not a first, as 2018 will see the Olympic Training Center athlete make his third appearance at a World Championships. But — his previous two opportunities on Greco’s biggest stage came at 80 kilograms. He also didn’t have to take out a powerful, menacing two-time Olympian to make it happen. Ben Provisor (NYAC/NLWC) had never dropped a bout to Martinez prior to three days ago. There was a close call in the 2017 Trials semis, but close wasn’t good enough. There was really only one way for Martinez to prevail this time around, and that was by pushing, pulling, and surviving an incredibly brutal three-round battle that left both athletes on their last legs right by the end.
Dalton Roberts — 60 kg, NYAC/OTS
5PM: How advantageous for you was the bye to the finals, and if it was one, were you mindful that whoever was coming out of the challenge tournament might feel like they had some momentum potentially?
Dalton Roberts: It’s definitely advantageous because you’re relaxed. You don’t go through the whole tournament so your body doesn’t take a beatdown. But along with that, you can get complacent, so it’s kind of tough to stay out of that, especially when you’re watching the whole tournament and you’re sitting in the finals like, Oh, I’ve got the whole day to sit around, relax, and I don’t have to wrestle until tomorrow. But I didn’t do that. I had two workouts the day before during the tournament.
That challenge tournament had me so hyped up that I wanted to wrestle on Thursday. Just watching my teammates wrestle, the big wins, the tough losses — sitting out of all that was tough for me, to be like, Okay, tomorrow is my day. Tomorrow is when I’ll get to do that. You feel like a dog in a cage that has to watch all of the other dogs play. But it’s definitely an advantage for your body. For your mind? I don’t know. You can let it be an advantage or you can let it be a disadvantage.
5PM: Your opponent in the finals (Ildar Hafizov) I would imagine wasn’t a surprise. He is also the most legitimately experienced athlete we have in the country considering the scope of his career and what he has accomplished. Was there any kind of mystique surrounding Ildar for you leading up to Friday?
Roberts: Yeah, a little bit. It’s not like I knew how he wrestled. I watched a couple of matches weeks ago. Some of the guys who were coming through the challenge tournament I knew, but Ildar I had never wrestled before. There was definitely some mystique behind how he wrestles, how he feels. Because, until you really start to wrestle and pummel with a person, it takes a while to figure out his strengths and weaknesses. And it’s impossible to get that from film, really. To wrestle such a high-level match with so much on the line and never having wrestled that person before? It’s pretty big. But I kind of liked it because I didn’t know what to expect. It’s not like I wrestled him millions and millions of times over and over again. It was new to me. I was curious. It was like, I know what I want to do. Let’s see what he wants to do.
5PM: Interesting to hear you say that because you have a history with so many of the other guys you’ve competed against recently. In Vegas, in Akron. That’s how things are in this country. I know it’s all top-level competition and I know it’s not like you’re bored. But did this excite you more, having newness in an opponent?
Roberts: Yeah, yeah. I said in my post-match interview how I don’t really care who I wrestle, but it was exciting to wrestle someone I never wrestled before. I wrestled with Ildar once at a Junior camp two years ago and it was when he was preparing for the Senior Worlds. It was maybe a two-minute drill during practice. I didn’t know much about him or how he wrestled other than what I saw on some film. So it was exciting, that’s all I can really say. It was new.
5PM: Ildar is someone who has performed at the World level throughout his career. If this was just the quarterfinal of a tournament it would still be a big win. The fact that it was a World Team Trials final and you beat him twice makes it pop out even more. Does that add to your confidence, knowing you made your first Senior World Team by defeating an athlete of Ildar’s caliber and experience?
Roberts: Definitely. It solidified it and it was not an easy road, especially defeating someone of his caliber. I have a lot of respect for my opponents but it ensures to me that what I’m doing is right and it gives me confidence going into the World Championships.
5PM: You came after him like most expected you to. You brought pressure, went after him hard, and in the second two matches you were able to turn that into meaningful offensive chances. Before Tulsa, did you have a game plan for him in case he made the final?
Roberts: Yeah, a little bit. I knew he has a good two-on-one, he can throw, and that I couldn’t let him get to his positions. With wrestling, it’s really about winning the positions. Andy (Bisek) preaches it over and over and over again: If you’re in a position you don’t like then why are you going to wrestle from there? Win the position you want to be at and at the time you want to be there, and things will fall into place. That was pretty much my game plan, Be where I want to be and I’ll win.
5PM: We are still at a very, very early stage of your career. You had been an up-and-coming competitor for a few years now. I don’t know if it was a surprise you made the Senior Team. But if you were to have laid out a timeline, did you foresee yourself making this Team this quickly?
Roberts: It’s hard to say, but I’d like to think so. Some things happen quicker than you expect them to. But this is what we train for, this is what I wanted. Moreover, coming off of my most recent loss, some might look at that and be bummed and maybe carry that into other tournaments. But I use it as fire. I’m happy that things worked out the way they did. But did I foresee this? I’m not a fortune teller, I don’t know. I look forward to things, I have confidence going into things. If they play out, who the hell knows. There’s doubt, doubt is natural, but I had confidence.
5PM: You have practically a third of a year until the Worlds. Does this automatically elevate, is it automatically different compared to making the other Teams you had previously?
Roberts: I’d say so. The goal is the same. The goal is to medal, the goal is to represent myself and my country at my full potential. But the focus and attention from others around the Team is just different. It’s a different atmosphere because now you have the Cadets and the Juniors looking up to you. When I was on the Cadet or Junior Teams, I looked up to all of the Seniors and the head coaches who were focused on winning medals. Now that I am in those shoes, it’s just different. (Follow Dalton Roberts)
Ellis Coleman — 67 kg, Army/WCAP
5PM: There’s a mixture of Senior World-level experience on this roster. Some guys are new to the point where it’s nice they have four months to prepare. Whereas for you, if the Worlds were next week, you’d be able to perform, you know the environment. Does that make a difference for you at this stage of your career?
Ellis Coleman: I can’t put myself above anyone or put myself up on a pedestal because I think it’s the same thing for me, too. For me, it’s Which Ellis is showing up? 99% of the time it is me mentally battling with myself, trying not to think about this and that so I have nothing going on in my mind and I can just wrestle. 99% of the time I go out there it’s, Okay Ellis, you’re going to win this match — and then I lose. Or, Ellis, you should be able to crush this guy, and I lose. Half the time, it’s me wrestling, I do well, and people aren’t surprised, Oh, that is the Ellis I wanted to see, that’s the Ellis I know. 99% of the time it’s about which version of me shows up.
My biggest thing, for sure this year, is keeping my mental game strong and keeping it right because that’s the only thing that is going to hold me back. It’s my only limitation. If I go out there and wrestle how I want to wrestle, and how I picture myself wrestling, there should be nothing short of a medal. That’s the biggest thing for me and has been my whole career. I just look back and I think, and nobody is that talented overseas to where I should get blown out of the water or I should just be losing matches. I’ve got the cardio, I’ve got the conditioning, and I have the tools I need — because I’ve done it before. And everyone has seen me do it before. I have what I need to be able to win those types of matches. I am never an underdog in any of those matches, so it is evident that my biggest enemy is just me, and which version of me shows up to the mat.
5PM: You dropped the first match of the series, but even in that match you began to come on. Obviously, you wrapped it up the next two. Your movement was very sharp, very concise, and you opened up aggressively when you had to.
Coleman: It clicked when they blew the whistle and I started moving how I do during practice. Normally when I’m in a match it is hard. It’s a grind. I’m grinding, I’m pushing, I’m snapping, and I am just going hard. I am turning it into a fight. I can’t think. I can never think during my matches, everything is just push, push, push. But this time, I was able to think how I think during practice. I was like, Move! I’m pushing him, then I’m dodging him. I’m pushing and I’m dodging. I’m pushing and I’m moving all around, all angles.
Coach (Shon) Lewis is always saying that and I could hear him in the back of my mind, All four angles, all four angles. He says that to me all the time during practice and it’s when I wrestle my best. All four angles, Ellis. Move, move, move.
The match was just flowing. I got on top, Okay, I’m going to go for a reverse lift. I hardly ever go for a reverse lift, but whatever, I’m going to go for a reverse lift this time. The last match I was tired, I didn’t do anything. So I go for that reverse lift and he tried to stand up. Okay, he’s trying to stand up, I am going to walk over.
That’s why I was pushing my face so high and praising the Lord. So many things were happening to where I didn’t even feel like I was in control. There were things I normally do and things I have trained before, but everything I pictured in my mind is what happened. When you picture a match in your mind, you picture it in your zone, everything is going smoothly. You don’t picture a tech, especially against Sancho because he’s really, really, really good. Everytime I picture a match, that’s how I see it. That’s how everyone does. No one wants to picture a grind, a barnburner, a hard match. You don’t want to picture that because it is going to put doubts in your mind. Everything I pictured in my mind is what happened in the last two matches.
5PM: Your physical health is a part of this I would think, right? Even after all you’ve been through physically, medically, whatever, you are still capable of incredibly athletic movement while still being able to fight hard inside. That has to feel encouraging, right?
Coleman: A bunch of coaches came up to me and asked, How do you move like that? We want to teach our guys to move like you move. I told them, Yeah, I used to wrestle like this, I used to just pummel, pummel, pummel; push, push, push. And I got far with it. But once I started losing, I had to think of something. With any sport, once you get to the top, once you get good doing whatever it is that you do, everyone is going to see it. You have to bring something different, and this is what I can do differently. That’s what I can change. I can do this differently.
Everyone wants that, What can I do differently that is going to make me a better wrestler? Me, I can move. I can move both ways, I can be poised. I can jump side-to-side, in-and-out. I’m not Kamal (Bey) by any means. Kamal is just super fricking athletic. He’s like Deadpool on a wrestling mat, he can make his body do whatever the hell he wants it to. He can do everything. But for me, I’ve been a grinder. But if I can add that to the equation, it is going to change a lot of things for me. (Follow Ellis Coleman)
Patrick Martinez — 87 kg, NYAC
5PM: This is your third Senior Trials victory. Was there a little extra zeal involved given who your opponent (Ben Provisor) was in the final?
Patrick Martinez: Yeah, he’s been a little bit of a roadblock for me. I don’t know if it was a mental hurdle, a physical hurdle, or a combination of both, but I feel like I’ve gotten over that finally. I mean, I’ve lost to him five or six times before this since my Greco career started.
5PM: The last two matches, yeah, they were low-scoring, but they were extremely intense.
Martinez: We were out there fucking fighting the whole time. I know it wasn’t high-scoring, but we were pushing each other. We were battling hard. He was, I was. We were both dog tired but I knew I had just a little bit more in the tank than he did from the beginning. I visualized that. I had it in my mind for too long and I manifested that into reality.
5PM: Despite the back-end bouts not being high-scoring, you did enter this season with an emphasis on opening up more offensively. Ignoring that Match 3 was 1-1, still, how did a more open approach help you during what was such a hard-nosed, physical bout to watch and against a guy who is really difficult to score on?
Martinez: Yeah, he’s a brick shithouse. He is really hard to score on. He holds great position. He has wrestled Greco for a long time, so he knows how to stifle offenses. I knew there weren’t going to be a lot of points scored unless something crazy happened. Obviously, you want to go out there and score as many points as possible. But given the caliber of the both of us and just the match-up, it wasn’t going to happen.
My big thing was, if I went down in par terre defending in par terre. I went down in the match that I lost, it didn’t really matter, but I felt like that was an accomplishment. It was something I had been working on.
5PM: You’re somebody who were used to seeing have a very high level of activity each season. You tempered that down last summer, although you did spend most of the fall overseas. But once 2018 hit, your first action was this tournament. Did some of the extra time away from competition offer an advantage?
Martinez: The change in schedule, it wasn’t really planned, honestly. I had to move last summer, I had to get my housing situated, and so I didn’t really have the time or the funds to go overseas like I had in the past. Which, I try to make up for during the fall and the winter by competing as much as I can. I suffered a few minor injuries that put a halt on that for a while, and it also put a halt on competing at the US Open, which I kind of had my eyes set on. I just had to redirect my energy towards the Trials.
5PM: Your third Trials victory after having only started the sport in 2014. What about this one feels different compared to the first two?
Martinez: This one feels similar to the first one. The win in 2016 didn’t really very much like one at all just because it was like a weird wrestle-off situation where the winner would represent us at the World Championships. There wasn’t a whole lot of coverage, there wasn’t a whole lot of hype, so it just felt weird. This one in 2018 and 2015 Trials, it felt like you accomplished something more than ’16 when you made the World Team and it was just, Okay, here. It’s not the same feeling.
But I’m excited. I am excited to go to Budapest. I have to bring some hardware back this time. This will be my third World Championships and I need to do that. No more fucking around and then just go in there and have some fun. (Follow Patrick Martinez)