The United States Greco-Roman Seniors put forth another strong team effort at the Grand Prix Zagreb Open on Saturday with one champion (Alex Sancho, 66 kg, NYAC-OTS) and five medalists overall. As a complete unit, Team USA made the podium for the second week in a row, finishing in second place. Plain and simple, it’s good to be an American Greco-Roman wrestler right now, as all signs are repeatedly pointing in an ascending direction.
Sancho, of course, is the deserved man of the hour. In the (albeit short) history of US participation at the Zagreb Open, there had only been one previous champion — Joe Rau (Minnesota Storm) in 2015, back when he was still at 80 kilos. In order to win, Sancho had to get past two wrestlers who profile somewhat similarly — Mate Nemes (SRB) and Mihai Mihut (ROU). Both are on the younger side, both stick to an even-keeled pace, and both trend more towards the technical side of the equation. The difference? Sancho showed veteran-like patience and exploded when it mattered most, particularly against Nemes in the semifinals. That front-head in the finals? That was forceful, uncompromising pressure made possible by Sancho’s excellent hips and balance. He waterfalled that thing.
As it currently stands, Sancho and Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP) are the favorites to meet in the World Team Trials finals at 66 kilograms. Sancho had defeated Coleman twice in a row going back to last year’s Olympic Trials before Coleman got revenge in a controversial manner at the US Nationals in December. For his part, Coleman performed absolutely beautifully at Thor Masters before being injured and should he be ready to go by late-April, that potential finals series might be unforgettable.
RaVaughn Perkins (71 kg, NYAC) looked the part in Denmark but came up just short of advancing. He seemed to have it more locked in on Saturday. Aside from his loss to 2010 Junior World silver medalist Dominik Etlinger (CRO), Perkins portrayed an authoritative figure on the mat, determining where exchanges would take place and using his speed and timing to fight for points. There is no one faster in the country when it comes to turning takedowns into concurrent match-ending points and that’s what Perkins showed in his rebound bout against Aleksa Erski (SRB). In a sport where controlling the center and making up ground are hugely important for a variety of reasons, Perkins has a sense for knowing when to strike at the most opportune times. He didn’t get the chance to demonstrate that in the medal round versus Jeongguen Lee (KOR), but his work-rate ushered him through to a 3-1 win just the same.
Junior dynamo Jesse Porter (75 kg, NYAC-OTS) didn’t net a win on Saturday, but he did grab a medal. Porter only had one bout in what was a surprisingly sparse 75 kilo bracket. A close 2-1 loss to Soh Sakabe (JPN) was his only tussle of the day, though re-watching the match there was a lot to like about Porter’s performance. He didn’t overreach or overreact, which is something vital for him as he dips further and further into Senior competition. Risk-taking is part of Greco-Roman wrestling, sure. But if you’ve seen Porter enough, you know that he isn’t afraid to act with aggression. As he becomes increasingly confident in his ability to score and crack open windows for him to torch through, he will become the kind of frightful contender this weight class needs going forward.
Then there is Kamal Bey (80 kg, Sunkist, world no. 18). Bey impresses people because his talent and his passion are equally evident. He is never not trying to make something happen. Those who watched on Saturday saw that. Like Porter and G’Angelo Hancock (98 kg, NYAC, world no. 18), Bey was appearing in the Zagreb Open following the Austrian Open the week before, a Junior tournament both he and Hancock virtually steamrolled through. Foreign Senior competition might not be so foreign to Bey any longer, but still, a semifinal bout against a highly-skilled Olympian in Bozo Starcevic (CRO, world no. 11) is a tough task. Starcevic stayed a step ahead and used some of Bey’s eagerness against him en-route to a 10-2 tech. But Bey came back very strong for third against Michael Wagner (AUT). Bey tossed Wagner for four, stayed in position on top, and held on nice and tight for the fall. It was an important performance for Bey. The Zagreb is a legit tournament and he nailed down a medal that meant something to him. That he was up a weight is even more noteworthy.
Going in order here we’ve got Toby Erickson (130 kg, Army/WCAP). These overseas matches have come at an important time for Erickson. After getting on with WCAP, he went to Officer Candidate School, graduated, and proceeded to come back in full force to take his first Senior National title in December. He then stomped through the Armed Forces Championships before jumping onto this tour.
Erickson wrestled well at Thor Masters, going 2-2, his only losses to Oscar Marvik (NOR) and US teammate Robby Smith (NYAC). Here, his lone defeat was at the hands of two-time University World champ Balint Lam (HUN), a tall, talented athlete who used his leverage to lock on a few front-headlocks he could spin around on. But it was enough to rack up the points and send Erickson to the consolation bracket.
Erickson batted back Arata Sonoda (JPN) 2-0 to cinch his medal-winning performance. Against Sonoda, Erickson did his best to assert his dominance in the trenches and busy things up in the tie-ups. There wasn’t a ton of action for Erickson to grab a hold of, but he displayed excellent positioning and patience. With a 4-3 record on the trip and a 10-3 ledger overall since returning from hiatus, Erickson now positions himself as, once again, a primary threat to Smith at April’s Trials.
The 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix is the third and final event on the March European Tour and it takes place this coming Saturday and Sunday in Szombathely. 66, 75, 85, and 130 kilos go on Saturday with 59, 71, 80, and 98 kilos going on Sunday. But before the tournament, the athletes remaining overseas are participating in a training camp, as is custom.
2016 US Olympic Trials champ and 2014 World Team member Joe Rau (98 kg, Minnesota Storm) is making his return to competition since last spring and this is a tournament he has performed well at previously. Another guy who has come back to life in 2017 and is appearing in the Hungarian Grand Prix (and has medaled before here also) is Geordan Speiller (80 kg, Florida Jets, world no. 19). Though all in all, it is a lighter roster compared to the last two Senior events. The US had 17 competitors in Denmark, 13 in Croatia, and will only be fielding eight in Hungary. We will have a final updated roster before the week is out.
World Cup Week
Here it is, the 2017 World Cup is almost upon us. Russia’s high-powered squad has received a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Iran, the host nation, has won five World Cups out of the last seven years and though the Iranian team is certainly well-rounded, it doesn’t appear like it will be enough to challenge Russia enough to emerge from the group they are in (A). Germany, another Group A team, could be an interesting bunch on that side of the bracket, as well (we’ll have rosters for both Germany and Turkey by Wednesday). Azerbaijan leads Group B and on paper, might have the second-strongest roster in the entire competition, though the aforementioned Turkish team might have something to say about that before all is said and done.
The World Cup begins Thursday morning in Abadan, Iran. Five Point Move’s coverage of the event, which will include recaps and analysis following both days of competition, will be able to be found both here and on Trackwrestling.com.
Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Germany
Azerbaijan, Turkey, Belarus, Ukraine
What’s coming up here
- A new “Coach Lindland’s Report” breaking down the March European Tour and the road to the World Team Trials. If you have questions, get them in before Wednesday!
- The long-awaited Jon Anderson interview will premier this week.
- A final preview of the Greco-Roman World Cup.
- Updates and news about the US Seniors in Hungary.