Over the last seven years, the US has done pretty well at the annual Arvo Haavisto Cup in Finland and it is a pattern of success that was kept alive on Saturday. Three champions — Randon Miranda (59 kg, NYAC/OTS), Patrick Martinez (85 kg, NYAC), and G’Angelo Hancock (130 kg, Sunkist) — led the way for a Team USA victory that was supported by three bronze medalists in Ray Bunker (71 kg, Marines), Corey Hope (75 kg, NYAC), and Daniel Miller (98 kg, Marines). Before the calendar flips to 2018, we will be highlighting several a group of athletes who enjoyed solid, if not stellar Senior campaigns this year, but two who were in Finland deserve mentioning right now while we’re still in the moment.
Miranda, who will likely be hopping down to 55 kilos come the new year, was one of the winningest wrestlers in the entire nation in 2017. His lone “bad” performance came at the Dave Schultz Memorial 10 months ago, where he went 1-2 with losses to OTS stablemate Sammy Jones and 2016 Junior World bronze Taylor LaMont (Sunkist). But it’s an outing that needs to be dismissed. Miranda was and still is pretty undersized for 59, and has improved big-time since then. A little over a month later, the 20-year-old virtually stomped through the Austrian Open and seven weeks after that, he nailed down a spot on the Junior World Team for the second year in a row. May ushered in his second-consecutive gold at the Junior Greco World Duals ahead of training camp for the World Championships. So right there, that’s two tournament victories where foreign opponents were involved.
Miranda then went on to lose his only match at the Junior Worlds, falling to 2015 Cadet World Champion Turabek Tirkashev (UZB). But what a match that was — Miranda was down 6-1 before staging a gritty, inspired comeback that resulted in a 6-5 decision. For his part, Tirkashev would eventually grab bronze. He wasn’t on the shelf long, Miranda, but that has been the deal for him. Another impressive showing at the U23 Trials led to an entertaining finals series opposite Dalton Roberts (NYAC/OTS). Roberts prevailed two matches to none, but Miranda provided some sparks and fought his teammate every step of the way. It was good stuff.
Along with a huge delegation of fellow US athletes, Miranda traveled over to Sweden at the end of October and rang up two more event wins at the Klippan Cup and the Malar Cupen, respectively, with a dual meet victory over Anton Rosen (SWE) sandwiched in between. You’d think that he would have had his fill for a while, maybe take a breather, rest a little, and gather himself for the winter. Nope. Instead, Miranda flew to St. Petersburg, Russia for a training camp two weeks ago and jumped into the Jouri Lavrikov Memorial. He made the finals, it was Roberts again, who was still in Europe following the U23 Worlds. He’s another one, he could have come home, but chose to stay and bolster his game even more. Roberts downed Miranda 3-1 — but still — the Lavrikov represented Miranda’s third straight international final. Crazy.
On Saturday at the Arvo Haavisto Cup, Miranda did not have any cookies. All three opponents were experienced Seniors with some size on them. It didn’t matter. He may not have wiped anyone out, but what he did was out-hustle and outlast his trio of would-be vanquishers en-route to gold. The Haavisto Cup title is Miranda’s third of the fall, and fifth of the year.
Here are Miranda’s 2017 international highlights in a nutshell:
- Austrian Open gold (March)
- Junior Greco World Duals gold (May)
- Klippan Cup gold (October)
- Malar Cupen gold (November)
- Jouri Lavrikov Memorial silver (December)
- Arvo Haavisto Cup gold (December)
- Four overseas tournament wins; one silver
If we know anything about Miller, it is this: he yields better results whenever his passport gets stamped. He wants to correct this to a degree. Miller understands that competing well overseas is a good thing, but at the same juncture, he also knows there is a feeling of incompleteness if he doesn’t figure out how to translate these performances to domestic events. He admitted as much. Nevertheless, three international bronze medals in 2017 cannot be ignored.
It started way back in January at the Paris International. Miller defeated Adam Mertse (HUN) 5-0 to kick begin his day. Next was a tech loss to Felix Baldauf (NOR, world no. 8), who enjoyed a breakout campaign of his own in 2017 (despite being disappointed at the Worlds). However, Miller bounced back right away to take out Robert Ersek (HUN) to claim bronze. A defeat at the hands of Endhyr Meza (Army/WCAP) at the Armed Forces Championships was the last we saw of him until the end of March, when Miller hiked it over to Szombathely for the Hungarian Grand Prix, one of the most challenging European events on the schedule.
Miller opened with dominating back-to-back wins over Fodor Tamas (HUN) and Revaz Nadareshvili (GEO) to make the semis, where he endured a 5-1 loss to 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Javid Hamzatov (BLR). Context is rather important here.
Think about this for a second: close losses to accomplished opponents are dicey. You can’t make too much of them, because if you do, it’s as if you’re an underachiever. But to not examine them further is irresponsible. That is also part of Miller’s story, at least a little bit. In the summer of 2016, Miller lost 2-0 to two-time World and ’16 Olympic bronze Cenk Ildem (TUR). So paint the picture. As of July last year, Miller was still considered a Greco neophyte for the most part. Domestically, he looked every bit like a raw work-in-progress, but due to his folkstyle collegiate past, it was also easy to tell he held a lot of potential. But come on — a guy like Ildem, on paper, is supposed to roll Miller right out of dodge. He did not. And neither did Hamzatov. Why? It wasn’t just because Hamzatov was up a weight. No, it was because Miller does not have to worry about being blocked, grinded, and detoured away from using tie-ups to create action against foreign opponents, thus making him unafraid of being knocked for passive out of nowhere or hesitant to open up himself.
The loss to Hamzatov spit Miller into the bronze round opposite Felix Radinger (GER), who had defeated a then-returning-from-knee-surgery Joe Rau (Minnesota Storm) earlier. This one will absolutely go down as one of our “2017 Matches of the Year.” Miller, down by two with under a minute left, broke off from a tie-up, lowered in, and bulldozed Radinger to his back at the edge for an incredibly clutch four points. He’d force Radinger out again in the waning seconds for another point, but it didn’t really matter. It was a stunning, adrenalizing turn of events, and if you watched this unfold live at home, chances are you were screaming in joy at the screen like we all were.
On Saturday, Miller was at it again. First, he all but ran over the very tough Laokratis Kessidis (GRE) 8-2 before dropping a 2-1 decision to 2017 Junior World bronze medalist Arvi Savolainen (FIN). Miller was able to reignite his offense against Anestis Zarifes (GRE) in the repechage, and since Narek Setagyan (ESP) bowed out of the event due to injury, he didn’t have to wrestle for bronze. That might have been a good match to watch (had there been a stream).
Miller has yet to break through in the US at the World Team Trials or the Open, and he lost a few matches this year that he probably wishes he could have back. But he’s learning. Still. And if/when Miller does eventually figure out the adjustments he needs to make domestically, there may be no one more dangerous than he come the Trials. Until then, he is worthy of a nod all the same for the performances he put in across the Atlantic in 2017.
Miller’s 2017 international highlights in a nutshell:
- Paris International bronze (January)
- Hungarian Grand Prix bronze (March)
- 1-1 at the CISM Military Worlds (September)
- Haavisto Cup bronze (December)
As mentioned at the top, there are other US Senior athletes who will be acknowledged for their fine work over the past 12 months. One in particular, Mr. Hancock, punched the clock more than anyone. Stay tuned, we have plans for all of this coming down the pike.
Lindland On Iran
Many saw US National Team head coach Matt Lindland’s statement yesterday regarding his decision to pull out of this week’s World Wrestling Clubs Cup in Iran. It was not a situation he took lightly. Lindland was looking forward to the trip and the US roster was packed with stars. For instance, Olympians Jesse Thielke (63 kg, NYAC), Ben Provisor (87 kg, NYAC), and Robby Smith (130 kg, NYAC) were all expected to compete, as were 2017 Junior World Champion Kamal Bey (82 kg, Sunkist), RaVaughn Perkins (77 kg, NYAC), Patrick Smith (72 kg, Minnesota Storm), Alex Sancho (67 kg, NYAC/OTS), and LaMont. It was, to say, as much of a star-studded US lineup as you could possibly get right now.
In the next Coach Lindland’s Report, which is due out tomorrow, Lindland talks more in-depth about the reasons for the trip’s cancellation as well as his affinity for the Iranian fans. Plain and simple, the Clubs Cup could have been a fun and exciting event to close out the first quarter of the season. But when there are actual, legitimate questions being posed pertaining to athlete safety, along with all of the other confusion involving Visas and logistics, not going now seems like the only rational decision to have been made.
It’s a shame, but it’s reality.
NMU Senior Camp
Remember — Northern Michigan is hosting what it’s calling a “Winter Camp” beginning this coming Saturday (December 16th). Registration is still available for Junior and Senior athletes. The camp will feature a lot of live wrestling along with coaching from two-time World medalist and NMU assistant coach Andy Bisek. We will have additional details coming out to press this opportunity one more time complete with insights from NMU head coach Rob Hermann, so look out for that right away.