Last weekend, Dalton Roberts (59 kg, NYAC/OTS) prevailed in two straight matches over teammate and fellow bright young prospect Randon Miranda to earn a spot on the first-ever United States U23 Greco-Roman World Team. Aside from the obvious dynamics at play, specifically the fact that Roberts and Miranda both train in Marquette and have competed against each other before, the victory remains notable for something else — it wasn’t new territory for the 21-year-old.
The U23 World Championships, slated to begin November 21st in Bydgoszcz, Poland, will be Roberts’s third crack at a World medal in three years. He was a Junior World Team member in 2015 and 2016, and if the US had sent a team to Turkey last fall, Roberts would have also wrestled at the University Worlds. The gist here is that this latest crowning achievement is indicative of a pattern. As one of the US Greco program’s premier examples of its vaunted youth movement, Roberts keeps adding to his resume in a way many have now come to expect. You can count the athlete himself among the group. Roberts was on a mission in Rochester, even if it represented the first step towards bigger things to hopefully come five weeks from now.
There is a different edge to the wrestler these days. Although he has always been a confident competitor, his approach has shifted to accommodate his burgeoning skill-set. Roberts has evolved into a more consistent attacker and as his successes have increased, he has gained an understanding of how to adapt and better utilize his considerable gifts. He knows it, too, and isn’t shy about sharing the process that has led up to this latest chapter in his still-young career.
Dalton Roberts — 59 kg, NYAC/OTS
5PM: This was your goal going back to the summer. It is also your third World Team. How did you feel comfort-wise going into this tournament compared to the two Junior Trials you emerged victorious in?
Dalton Roberts: I treated it like Universities because most of them had either wrestled in the room with me or had wrestled at Universities. I was pretty relaxed. I was focused, too. Not to say I was lackadaisical, but just focused. I knew what I had to do and I just took every match one at a time.
I’ve been getting a little more philosophical about mindset, I’ve read a couple of books about it and its approach to living, which has helped me calm down because at my second Junior Worlds in France, and if you ask Coach (Matt) Lindland he’d probably say the same thing, I was very nervous before my match against Italy. And I think with changing my mindset and how I approach things in life with those books, it has helped me just calm down and realize that win or lose, I take everything from a match. I learn a lot. I still expect to win, but I judge myself according to different aspects of the match and I realize that whether it’s a World champ or some other guy who is standing in front of me for the next match, anything can happen and that I am capable of anything.
That is how I’m approaching this trip to Poland — I’m capable of it. I know I am. I put in the work, I have the right training partners. I think anything can happen on the right day, you know? Everyone has their day, so why can’t it be my day? That is kind of how I approached U23’s, how I approached Universities, and it’s how I plan on approaching the Worlds. Everyone has their day, but why can’t it be mine? Why can’t I just seize the day and make it mine? And that has helped me a lot, lately.
5PM: Speaking of Coach Lindland, he seemed to be impressed with how you wrestled at the Trials in so far as your level of aggressiveness and that it looked like you really wanted to get guys out of there.
DR: Yeah, I was pretty content with the whole day. I mean, I’m happy I won, so it’s not to say I’m not happy. I’m very happy that I won. Usually I don’t wrestle conservatively, but I know how Randon wrestles, and in the finals, I was choosy in what I wanted to do because we know each other very well and we’ve had our matches, so you can’t just go out there and wrestle him like any other guy. So I had to pick and choose what I wanted to do and I was conservative about things, and that isn’t how I usually wrestle. I just want to go out there, and either we’re going to have a dogfight, or the match is going to go his way or my way. But most of the time, it turns into a dogfight. With Randon, I have to approach him differently than I do most people, and it’s awkward and uncomfortable at times. I feel as if that’s not my style but it wins matches sometimes.
5PM: Are you saying it like there is a kind of styles clash that lends itself to the kind of matches we saw on Sunday?
DR: Yes, and it’s not to say he doesn’t have offense. He does. But he’s a very counter-defensive wrestler and if I do something wrong, I know he can capitalize on that. So I have to pick and choose what I can do. For instance, I usually go left underhook, so if I dig my right underhook too far, I know he’s going to hit that inside pulldown that we saw at Juniors he does a lot. He capitalizes on my mistakes very quickly so I have to be conservative and pick my opportunities.
5PM: You say conservative but both of those bouts were high-scoring.
DR: Maybe conservative would be the wrong word. I don’t feel as though I held back. It’s a chess game with him most times. I make one move, he makes one move, and you don’t really know who is going to win at the beginning of the match or at the end of the first period. You don’t know who is going to win in the last ten seconds of the second period. That is just something that I always have in my head and I have to be careful with my choices wrestling him because it’s going to come down to the little things, which makes us both better wrestlers. He pushes me and I push him, and we both get better from it. It’s a learning experience because we’re always pushing each other.
5PM: Would it have mattered who was in the finals opposite you or is there extra pressure knowing it’s him?
Dalton Roberts: Yeah, a little bit, because we both know how each other wrestles and we have expectations, where say, hypothetically, if Dalton Young won that semifinal and he was in the finals against me, I don’t know Dalton so I would have had to adjust accordingly. Because I’m not going to concern myself with what he does and go back to watch his matches, I’m just going to focus on what I’m good at and if one thing doesn’t work, then I’m going to do another and another. I don’t know what he would have done, but when I wrestle Randon, I know what works and what doesn’t. I have to pick and choose a combination of that and make it work. It’s a chess game against Randon where against someone else, I don’t know what kind of game it would be.
5PM: You have about five weeks or so before the World Championships. If you keep up with the sport at an international level, you have an idea what the breadth of competition looks like at U23, whether that’s in Europe or elsewhere. A lot of people know who has done what for what country. Is scouting potential opponents part of this for you leading up? Do you do a cursory gloss-over of who the top 59’ers are overseas?
DR: I’m kind of always watching highlight videos. Two weekends ago, I was watching the bronze match at 59 from the last World Championships with Russia. I watched all of his matches, but he’s older than 23. I keep up on film a lot, but I also don’t put it in the forefront of my mind to where I wrestle defensively, like, Oh, this guy’s got an arm throw. I’m still going to go after what I want and stick to my gameplan, but in the back of my mind I know if I reach too far with one arm, yeah, he’s got a good arm throw, or there is the possibility of that. But most times, or all times, I wrestle to my game plan and push my agenda. I don’t want their game plan or their strengths to play a huge part in what I do, but I keep it in the back of my head. I’m aware.
5PM: There is a lot that is different now, you talked at the outset about the ’16 Junior Worlds and how you felt there, and although that was only a year ago, you’ve changed a lot since then, be it a greater number of Senior matches, more success, your body has gotten bigger. There are differences from 2016. What do you think are the biggest positive changes you’re bringing to the World Championships this time around?
DR: I think I’ve matured, not that I’ve reached the peak of maturity or anything like that, but the difference over the last 14 months is that I’ve matured and I have a different mindset. Skills in wrestling have a lot to go with it, but it’s just how you approach things and your mindset plays a huge role, too. I’m very focused, I am laser-focused on what I want to do. Not that I wasn’t before, but I’m approaching everything with a different mindset and I think it plays a huge, huge role in how I perform in the future. I say that because I am taking different approaches to everything. It worked last week and I hope it continues to work because it’s going in the right direction. I feel like it’s just the right way I’m approaching everything from training to dieting to competing. It’s just different. It’s not the same old Dalton there was before. It’s a change, and a change for the better.
5PM: If I understand this correctly, I believe you are not going to be able to miss college classes in order to go to Belarus for training camp. If you can’t go to that, how are you planning on, lack of a better word, compensating?
Dalton Roberts: Definitely, training overseas helps, getting that foreign competition. I’m not going to play naive and say, Oh, you don’t need foreign competition to be the best, because it’s obvious we need foreign competition to be the best in the US. To be the best in the world means more matches overseas and I wish I could wrestle and train in Belarus, but I can’t afford that. I’m also not wrestling at Schultz either, so I don’t have a tournament between now and the Worlds to focus on. The big picture right now, the laser-focus, is on the World Championships and everything leading up to that. I talked to Andy (Bisek) and Rob (Hermann) about going to Schultz as a warm-up and they both said that it’s too close in regards to injury risk and the weight cut, and for me to just focus on Worlds right now. That’s the main focus, everything is leading up to Worlds. I have no other focus. It’s a clear mindset, there is nothing else I am going after. Everything from conditioning to training to wrestling to dieting, it is all focused on the Worlds right now and that is the one and only goal.
You can contribute to Dalton Roberts’s quest towards a World Championship by donating here. All money will go to the costs incurred for training and traveling for the World Championships in Poland. Dalton can also be found on Twitter and Instagram if you’d like to keep up with his career and competitive schedule.