It’s a long headline up top, but one that is appropriate.
Day 2 of the 2018 U23 Greco-Roman World Championships from Bucharest, Romania did offer its bright spots, for however few and far between they really were.
Nolan Baker (67 kg, NIRTC) helped lead the charge for Team USA, though his effort, while gallant, has thus far come without a win. Baker, like two of his American teammates on Tuesday is a first-time World Teamer, put a terrific athlete to the test in former Cadet World gold Karim Jafarov (AZE). Jafarov advanced to tomorrow’s finals, and by extension pulled Baker back in with a shot at a potential bronze.
It’s the same story for Carter Nielsen (82 kg, NMU/OTS), one of the alluded-to first-timers. Nielsen, a fiery competitor, was stopped by Nicu Ojog (ROU) in his only match of the day. Hometown boy Ojog sparkled throughout and earned the right to fight for gold on Wednesday, thereby granting Nielsen a reprieve in the form of tomorrow morning’s repechage.
As for the other three — Randon Miranda (60 kg, NYAC/OTS), Logan Kass (72 kg, Minnesota Storm/OTS), and G’Angelo Hancock (97 kg, Sunkist), no such second chances were made available. Altogether, Tuesday’s winds failed to carry a changeover from Monday’s unpleasant proceedings. Things were especially frustrating for Mr. Hancock, and we’ll address those issues momentarily through gritted teeth and taught fingers.
Action began at 10:30am local time (3:30am EST) and was broadcast live in the US on Trackwrestling.
Back to the aforementioned bright spots. Baker’s performance was certainly one of them despite the initial outcome on Tuesday. Jafarov got on the board first with a modified throw-by. Baker, to his credit, wore all of the concern of someone bitten by a fly as the bout resumed. Although known for his own headlock, Baker was soon victimized by Jafarov’s execution of the hold, giving up four. But Baker effortlessly rolled right through and exposed Jafarov to the tune of four points. He was in this.
They volleyed. No rest. Jafarov plundered and darted to get behind Baker and grabbed an 8-4 lead. And then Baker answered with a headlock that yielded two, only to have Jafarov immediately reverse. Jafarov didn’t let the position get away, as he locked high around Baker’s chest and twisted him over. Four more. By the time they returned standing, 28 seconds were still left on the clock in the first period.
Down by seven, Baker wanted to take more of the initiative but a tactical miscue led to his undoing. Breaking off of an exchange, Baker went backwards and found himself perilously close to the line. Jafarov wheeled in, hawking towards the body, and Baker stepped out. The result was a point for Azerbaijan and the match ending via tech fall.
While it’s true Baker doesn’t boast nearly the same breadth of experience as several of his US teammates, that didn’t matter so much on Tuesday. He was never outgunned by Jafarov, which could bode well for his chances in Wednesday’s repechage.
“Nolan was great,” said NMU assistant Andy Bisek, who is also on hand in Romania as a coach for Team USA. “He went out there, he was aggressive, he was looking to get after it and trying to put points on the board right away. He had great energy. I love being behind this guy, helping and supporting him.”
Baker will face Japan’s Ryo Nakahashi in his first repechage bout Wednesday morning. Jafarov prevailed over Nakahashi 8-0 in the round-of-16.
There was no doubt that Nielsen occupied a place as one of the more intriguing USA athletes entering the U23 Worlds. A former Division I wrestler who opted to pursue full-time Greco a year ago, the Minnesotan has already established himself as potential star and someone who goes to battle brandishing the kind of intensity that endears him to fans. He had his work cut out for him on Tuesday morning, though going into the match, few would have predicted it to reach such a sudden and unfortuitous conclusion.
The affair was defined by its relative brevity. Nielsen oozed intensity at the whistle and hurriedly clashed into Ojog, who tried to meet the oncoming force in kind. At the point of static, Ojog was able to weave in double underhooks and hip Nielsen straight to his back. He didn’t go down easily — Nielsen bridged, kipped, and tried to roll. The position was on lockdown. Ojog wasn’t going anywhere and the pin was called at just :55 into the first.
“Carter, he was pumped up and ready to go,” said Bisek. “We talked about him wrestling someone from the home country. He said, ‘Yeah? Well, when they’re cheering for him, I’m going to imagine they are cheering for me.‘ I was like, That’s great, Carter, love the attitude, love the energy. He’s doing great things. But he got in there and that guy (Ojog), I mean, he did it to everyone he wrestled today. He came in, did an excellent job pummeling, got underneath Carter, and Carter was trying to pull back to pummel in. He ends up getting extended.
“I know the match didn’t last that long but you could see from his energy and body language that he wanted to get after it. He got pulled back in for tomorrow, so I know he’s going to be hungry, excited, and ready to go.”
For his opening repechage match, Nielsen will square up with Gegham Torgomyan (ARM), who fell to Ojog 10-2 in the round-of-16.
2017 Military World bronze Justas Petravicius (LTU) is not exactly a newcomer. He has been around the block a little bit and owns a reputation for offering the type of hard scrap that Miranda enjoys finessing his way through. Of course, that’s not the manner in which this one shook out, and its ending could suffice as a cruel microcosm of what the U23 Worlds has presented to the US squad the past two years.
Petravicius was a tough customer for Miranda to contend with from the opening whistle. Stiff, but vital. Miranda checked in, looking to manufacture his angles. There wasn’t much doing on the feet, two athletes feeling each other out. Miranda, banged first for passivity, defended Petravicius’ attempts from par terre top, which is usually a good sign for the Americans. Back standing and Miranda reached for a headlock. Petravicius came loose and was awarded a takedown. He followed with a straddle lift to surge ahead 7-0, putting Miranda in the deepest of holes entering the second period.
Miranda began to betray more urgency. No other option. He wrangled Petravicius and looped a front headlock. But before he could go to work on the position, the action was stopped and Miranda was given a warning. On the very next exchange, Miranda re-applied the front headlock and crunched for extra leverage. The referee hastily stopped the match and awarded Petravicius two caution points, penalizing Miranda for apparent brutality. Understandably, he didn’t agree with the call. Miranda’s displeasure, while evident, wasn’t going to unring that bell, leaving Petravicius as the 9-0 winner of this qualification-round contest.
Bisek took a more pragmatic approach to how the bout unfolded.
“Randon seemed to want to go out there and keep distance,” Bisek observed. “We talked about opening guys up and I don’t think you’re going to achieve that with just your hands and your arms. You have to get your body, your legs and hips behind you, and your chest pushing into theirs. Then you release the pressure and see if they give back, really just feeling the whole situation. If you’re reaching with your arms, you’re missing that.”
As for the call at the end, Bisek believes his athlete should have thought twice about going back to the well.
“On that first around-the-throat call, I’m thinking, Randon is going to know better than to go for that again. It seemed like Petravicius was almost under Randon’s skin. He knew Randon would take that chance if he had it. It seemed like he almost offered his head and Randon took it again trying to do the same thing. It was a bit frustrating.”
Hardened up on the age-group level, Kass has demonstrated an increasing grasp of how to attack the Senior circuit. Considering the strides he has made over the past two years, his presence in this tournament elicited excitement, not just over his chances, but what he might do with them.
The first sign that Kass could potentially be a player on Tuesday arrived when he was was put down in the opening period against Nikita Masjuks (LAT). Masjuks diligently locked to turn Kass but was stymied, and seemingly fairly easily. There was no space to get too comfortable. For after the reset, Masjuks found the body and forced Kass off the line. 2-0, Latvia. Kass gave up two more soon enough, but even behind 4-0, he exhumed a quiet confidence.
It didn’t look like much at first. And even if it did, we expect athletes to be indestructible, impervious to the physical ramifications hard contact has a tendency to muster.
In the second, Kass was hovering over the top when Masjuks popped up and inadvertently rammed Kass in the head. An injury time-out followed and Kass was attended to by the medical staff. When the match resumed with 2:11 to go, Masjuks worked in underhooks and pummeled his way to a takedown. Kass, perhaps still a little woozy, took a breath before returning upright. After the next reset, Masjuks sealed the win when he hustled Kass to the tarp once more.
“Logan was making contact and looking to pummel in, but he wasn’t getting to any ties and didn’t initiate anything,” Bisek said. “That made it difficult. He got rocked pretty hard in the head. Knocked his crown off, broke a tooth. I could see the lump on the side of his face just thinking, Oh my gosh, you know? But he stayed in there and fought. It didn’t go well. I think both he and Randon could have done more to push the pace and initiate their kind of offense.”
Hancock resided in the particularly stacked bottom half of the 97-kilogram bracket. If he had emerged victorious over 2017 Junior World champ Vladlen Kozliuk (UKR), then a meetup with reigning U23 World Champion Aleksandr Golovin (RUS) would have followed. After that, Nikoloz Kakhelashvili (ITA), Junior World silver in 2016 and an opponent Hancock defeated back in August; and in the semis, 2016 Junior World Champion Giorgi Melia (GEO), one more guy the Coloradan is more than familiar with.
An early arm throw attempt by Kozliuk saw Hancock counter effectively. He instantly locked around Kozliuk’s head and arm and yanked the hold back and off the edge. Kozliuk left his feet and exposed, but the counter only netted two, with the only possible explanation being because Hancock did not alter the momentum but instead went with it.
Another two came Hancock’s way courtesy of a go-behind he used to take Kozliuk down with at the boundary. The Ukrainian assumed a criteria lead shortly thereafter when he locked and lateraled Hancock for four points. The US challenged, claiming legs were involved. Challenge denied and the scoreboard was adjusted to 5-4. Semantics.
The next sequence is when the contest went off the rails. Hancock lowered his level and urged towards Kozliuk’s body. As he came up, Kozliuk responded by going for a loose headlock. Hancock then bodylocked and landed on top of an exposed Kozliuk. What is normally scored four points was instead scored two. Challenging the call wasn’t an option, but the American still took over the lead 6-5. He added to it moments later thanks to a step-out and appeared to be in prime position to enter the second up by a point.
But just before the buzzer, Kozliuk snared an arm and reversed course, deciding to dip backwards rather than go over the shoulder. Hancock managed to get a handle at the last second and latched onto Kozliuk up top. The mat judge briefly held up the paddle for two points in Hancock’s favor but was overruled. The official call stood at four for Kozliuk and then two more points were tacked on from what they deemed to be follow-up exposure. What was a 7-5 Hancock lead with under :30 to go in the period had morphed into a four-point deficit.
With just over :90 remaining in the match itself, the pattern had reemerged once again. Only this time it directly resulted in Hancock’s untimely exit. Kozliuk uncorked another arm throw attempt, which Hancock countered the same way he had in the first period, by holding around the head and arm. In the process, he managed to collect Kozliuk and twist him across his own body to the tarp. Kozliuk scampered out quickly, but he had already been rewarded with four points. Exasperated by the call, Hancock slapped the mat in anger, chirped a little too much for the officials’ liking, and was penalized for an unsportsmanlike caution, thus ending the circus on the spot.
Afterwards, Hancock kept a measured tone and matter-of-factly explained how he reconciled the inconsistent scoring that was prevalent throughout his match.
“I was prepared for the bad call,” Hancock assured. “I was thinking about what Momir (Petković) used to always tell me when he would say we have five reps left and after, when we’re dead tired, he would go ‘Opa, it was a Russian ref, he messed up. Two more reps.’ But I was prepared for that many bad calls. I don’t think they were confused, I thought they didn’t care. Too early in the tournament to make a precise call.”
US National Team head coach Matt Lindland also believes Hancock lost out on points that could have changed the complexion of the bout. But he takes solace in Hancock’s talent and is convinced this result could serve as a viable lesson for Hancock as he continues to develop.
“Hancock was a high hope for a medal, he has the ability,” Lindland said. “Unfortunately, that match did not go his way. The two different arm throws (from Kozliuk), Hancock changed the direction and it was scored incorrectly. Unfortunately, we wasted the challenge. The takedown from my angle looked like four and was only scored two. He needed that match to go his way to get things rolling. Tracy knows what it takes at this level and is close to figuring out this puzzle. All he has to do is continue to improve and be patient. His time is coming if he continues moving on the right track.”
The repechage round for Baker and Nielsen begins tomorrow morning at 10:30am local time (3:30am EST) and can be viewed live on Trackwrestling (subscription required).
2018 U23 Greco-Roman World Championships
November 12th-14th — Bucharest, Romania
TEAM USA DAY 2 RESULTS
60 kg — Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS)
LOSS Justas Petravicius (LTU) 9-0, TF
67 kg — Nolan Baker (NIRTC)
LOSS Karim Jafarov (AZE) 14-6, TF
72 kg — Logan Kass (MN Storm/OTS)
LOSS Nikita Masjuks (LAT) 8-0, TF
82 kg — Carter Nielsen (NMU/OTS)
LOSS Nicu Ojog (ROU) via fall
97 kg — G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist)
LOSS Vladlen Kozliuk (UKR) ( — )