Kevin Beazley (97 kg, Cliff Keen) needed only one thing to happen on Saturday at the 2018 Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Sassari City, Italy: a chance to fight for a medal. That was it. Morgan Flaharty (67 kg, NYAC) required the same opportunity. Both athletes woke up this morning not having previously qualified for the US World Team Trials next month in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the only way to punch a ticket to the big dance was to earn some international hardware.
For G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist), entering the 2018 Matteo Pellicone Memorial delivered an opportunity to put in some work, to give his competitive skills and physical abilities a tune-up. He had ended 2017 with an exclamation point, rattling off consecutive tournament victories at the Jouri Lavrikov Memorial in Russia and the Haavisto Cup in Finland, respectively. The new year was bound to yield some changes, and it has. Hancock, no longer wishing to bang heads at heavyweight, intimated a desire to hop back down to the more-comfortable 97 kilograms, same-day weigh-ins be damned. But up until today, the 2016 Junior World medalist remained on the shelf these last five months as several events, including a US Open, came and went without his participation.
Regardless of their motivations, each of the three US Greco athletes had pressing objectives to accomplish. Both athletes who needed to medal did so, and the youthful superstar itching to shake some rust off (almost) got what he wanted out of the event, as well. All in all, Saturday was about as successful for the US Seniors as it could be, even if there were some odd circumstances surrounding the proceedings on occasion.
Before Beazley went on his Greco sabbatical, he was widely seen as one of the most explosive and gifted upper-weights in the country, and a kid with an extremely bright international future. But given that he has spent the overwhelming majority of his time in recent years on the collegiate level, it was natural to wonder just what kind of adjustments Beazley would require to jump back into the Senior fold. The answer? Apparently not too many. That he needed to earn a medal at this event in order to qualify for the World Team Trials only seemed to add to his urgency.
True to form, Beazley didn’t waste any time in his first Greco bout in almost three years, as he assaulted Kwon Jeong-Sol (KOR) right out of the gate. Holding double overhooks, Beazley ever-so-calmly released his left-side hook and punched his arm around Kwon’s neck for a beautiful four-point headlock. For his part, Kwon regained his senses pretty quickly and managed to amble over to his belly. Beazley flashed to the front and grabbed a front headlock in response, although the Korean defended well. Looking to pile on as fast as he could, Beazley next clamped a lock and stepped up to lift. Rather than arch and launch, he violently yanked Kwon straight back. The referee on the mat curiously signaled five, but the added point would soon be rendered immaterial. Beazley held onto his lock and turned Kwon over once more from there for an 11-0 match-ending lead. Korea challenged the sequence — and lost– giving Beazley another point and a crushing tech fall victory just :38 into the first period. Quite the reintroduction.
Round 2 of 97-kilogram pool competition saw Beazley go up against Jesus Gasca (ESP), one of two opponents he would share with Hancock this morning. Beazley worked into clinch position with Gasca trying to hurl him over with a throw. In the fracas, Beazley had flung loose and landed on his stomach but the duo still jostled out of bounds. Following a challenge from Spain, somehow the score was adjusted to 4-0 in favor of Gasca. Back on the feet Beazley became all business. He divvied inside and pounded out a headlock for two. Gasca, showing a bit more zeal, reversed for his own point and held a (temporary) 5-2 lead. Another reset and this time, Beazley whipped a cascading four-point headlock to climb ahead 6-5. Not wanting to let a chance to score slip away, Beazley got his lock, stepped up, and then crashed back down for a gut, thus entering the break up by three.
Gasca did offer resistance for most of the second, even if his attempts did not appear to carry a lot of sting. A whiff on a headlock had Beazley immediately lunging on top for more offense until it was ruled a slip. Gasca tried burning it up late in the game, but his sudden fiery measures were all easily deflected by Beazley, who walked away the 8-5 winner.
A showdown between Beazley and Hancock to decide the top end of the pooled bracket was supposed to be the next item on the docket, but it never materialized. As described below, Hancock had defeated Kwon from Korea. Because the tournament was moving quickly, they called Beazley and Hancock to the mat much sooner than originally expected, and also before Hancock’s 20 minutes of recovery time had elapsed. Beazley walked to the mat while Hancock was still in the midst of his recovery period as outlined in the UWW rulebook. However, the officials and/or the tournament organizers apparently didn’t feel like observing those guidelines and awarded the bout to Beazley before Hancock had even made it out of the tunnel.
There was one more snag for Beazley to deal with. In the 97-kilogram semis, he was defeated by El Mhadi Roccaro (ITA) 11-2 in a match that found the American battling both his opponent as well as some questionable officiating, though Roccaro did nab himself a few bonus points. Collecting his composure and rebounding for the consolation round soon became the order of the day. It was one more match and just as important.
Fortunately for Beazley, his dance partner in the bronze-medal bout was someone he had dominated a few hours prior — Kwon. The only difference in their second match on Saturday was that Kwon actually got a few jabs in before he met his demise.
At first, it looked like this one was going to be over as quickly as their initial meeting. Kwon went to arch for a throw he was nowhere close to having secure, Beazley landed on top, and then proceeded to roll him out. But — Korea challenged, claiming a slip — and won, wiping all eight Beazley points off the board.
When they reset, Beazley wanted to reacquaint Kwon with his headlock but he bounded a little too high to corkscrew the maneuver properly, allowing Kwon to lock around the body and dump him over for four. That would be the sum of the Korean’s offensive scoring. Later in the first, Kwon attempted a rather nice arm throw but Beazley held on and jetted behind for a takedown. It broke the ice. Following another challenge from Korea that was denied in fairly short order, Beazley entered the break down by only a point.
Not that it would matter much.
He piled on a lot more points when it counted the most.
A high front headlock from Beazley welcomed Kwon to the second period. Beazley might have been a bit too straight-up, because Kwon had a clear lane to the body. But Beazley collapsed on top for a pair to take the lead. A proceeding try at a gutwrench didn’t yield anything further. Back standing with :90 left, Beazley ducked under for a takedown. This was the beginning of the end. He ratcheted his arms tightly around Kwon’s waist and three rotations later, the match was over, and Kevin Beazley, once gone but hath now returned, collected a bronze medal along with the chance to fight for a spot on the US World Team a little under four full weeks from today.
Flaharty, who also doubles as a strength and conditioning coach at the Olympic Training Center, competed very well in spaces at the US Open last month, but did not place in the top-7, leaving him on the outside looking in when it came to Tulsa. Very likely, the 2018 Matteo Pellicone Memorial was going to be his last shot and it was one he couldn’t miss. Flaharty didn’t have the easiest road to hoe on Saturday and the goal appeared in doubt early on. But thanks to an iron-tough will and several key scoring opportunities, the OTC athlete was able to make it happen.
2017 Grand Prix of Spain bronze medalist Oscar Parra (ESP) appeared as the first obstacle on a day when there would be several, and he edged Flaharty 5-4. It was certainly not the way Flaharty hoped to begin the tournament. The opening to bounce back came in the second match. Standing across from Ignazio Sanfilippo (ITA), Flaharty seized advantage of an early opportunity and then hammered a timely nail into San Fillipo’s coffin towards the end.
Flaharty waited for the screech of the whistle and got to work, moving Sanfilippo off his spot and pressuring inside. He didn’t want to commit to anything not substantial, and he also didn’t want to make a mistake that would cost him the bout, and effectively, bracket space at the Trials. The first passive/par terre went to Flaharty and he locked over the top of Sanfilippo for two. Not satisfied, he circled back around for a front headlock that he rolled for two more — though in the process, Sanfilippo scrambled away to pick up his own pair. 6-2, Flaharty. The American kept with the game plan, pressuring forward and cutting angles, at one instance coming close on a drag. Sanfilippo wasn’t wilting, but did display difficulty in firing off. That changed late in the period, as the Italian wrestler found Flaharty’s body and deposited him off the edge for an apparent four — only time had run out. The US challenged and won, allowing Flaharty to move into the second up by four.
Beginning the second, Flaharty level changed, popped back up, and resumed busying Sanfiillipo up in the ties. But just when it looked like he would take complete command, Sanfilippo locked the body and dragged Flaharty to the tarp for a takedown, where no further scoring took place. With under a minute left, Flaharty rammed ahead. He needed the win. Sanfiilippo wrangled an arm, pulling, dipping, pressing. Flaharty flipped the script and wrangled Sanfillipo’s arm, almost finding position to throw. But he thought better of it, did Flaharty, and shredly turned back inside to coax Sanfiilippo off the edge for a point, thus sealing the 7-4 victory.
2017 Haparanda Cup gold medalist and Russian National runner-up Azamat Akhmedov got on a run against Flaharty in Round 3, racking up a 9-0 tech — making the win over Sanfilippo loom even larger — particularly because Sanfilippo enjoyed two wins and his only loss was to Flaharty. It was enough to put Flaharty into Round 5 action and ever closer to sealing a spot in the Trials. The only issue? There would be no opponent — Michele Zicche (CAN) defaulted out, giving Flaharty the medal and longed for and qualified status for Tulsa, the primary reason he made the trip to begin with.
For his first bout of the day — and first bout in over five months, Hancock locked up with Gasca and intently urged inside from the whistle. They jousted in the center with both athletes looking to control the ties, though there was not a lot going on. The officials did not demonstrate a strict adherence to the new negative wrestling parameters introduced by United World Wrestling, as evidenced by Gasca intermittently looking to lock fingers and pose downwards. But — Hancock was awarded the first passivity point/par terre chance from top. As he assumed position, Hancock went for a reverse lift. Instead of stepping and launching, he chose to pull it over from the floor for two. He maintained his lock and repeated the same motion to surge ahead 5-0. Gasca, clearly outmatched, was already in survival mode by the end of the opening period.
With a clean first frame behind him, Hancock took a more assured approach in the second, coming close to getting around the back before clutching a front headlock. And, once, again, Gasca was akin to a mere pedestrian. There just were not a lot of incidences of playback on the part of the Spaniard, leaving Hancock in charge of carrying every exchange. A breakaway opportunity arose with only :30 to go. Hancock zipped in and locked around Gasca’s waist, taking him off his feet, out of bounds, and onto his back. A desperate Gasca finally sprung to life and trucked forward on the reset. Hancock responded by pouncing for a folkstyle cement mixer and coerced the hold straight to the mat for the fall with just seven ticks left on the clock.
Next up was Korea’s Kwon. It didn’t take long for Hancock to lather up the first par terre chance of the proceedings. From top, the Sunkist rep locked for a correct throw to go up 3-0; but after the score, Kwon reversed and exposed Hancock to snare two of his own. And then Hancock reversed Kwon, with the scoreboard reading 4-2 after everything calmed down.
Hancock ran Kwon off the edge early in the second — but instead of Hancock receiving a point for a step-out — Kwon, for some reason, was given two, as well as the lead on criteria. Confusing. By then, Hancock just about had enough and decided to take the reigns of the contest altogether. He began by rushing Kwon off the line twice in a row for a pair of points. Soon after, he scored a takedown. When they returned standing, Hancock accosted a now-broken Kwon by getting behind, hustling him to the canvas, and rolling him out.
The 20-year-old Hancock was then supposed to face Beazley. When the dust settled around that inexcusable mix-up, Hancock was effectively eliminated from the tournament.
- The overseas medals for Flaharty and Beazley are their first at the Senior level.
- Flaharty went 2-2 and earned silver due to unusual circumstances having to do with two of the athletes in his bracket defaulting out of the event — as well as his win over Sanfillipo. After he defeated Flaharty, Parra exited the tournament, with Zicche receiving a victory via default over Parra. In Round 5, Flaharty won by default over Zicche. That made the Sanfillipo the “x-factor” and since Flaharty had defeated the Italian wrestler in Round 2, that was the criteria used to decide who took second and who took third.
2018 Matteo Pellicone Memorial/Trophee Milone
TEAM USA GRECO-ROMAN RESULTS
Morgan Flaharty (NYAC) — silver
LOSS Oscar Parra (ESP) 5-4
WON Ignazio SanFilippo (ITA) 7-4
LOSS Azamat Akhmedov (RUS) 9-0, TF
WON Michele Zicche (CAN) via default
Kevin Beazley (Cliff Keen WC) — bronze
WON Kwon Jeong-sol (KOR) 12-0, TF
WON Jesus Gasca (ESP) 8-3
LOSS El Mhadi Roccaro (ITA) 11-2, TF
WON Kwon Jeong-Sol (KOR) 13-4, TF
G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist) — 7th
WON Jesus Gasca (ESP) via fall
WON Kwon Jeong-sol (KOR) 13-4, TF
Update: an earlier version of this story indicated that Hancock chose to ‘bow out of the tournament” and has since been corrected to show that he was instead eliminated.