We wanted to wait until after the new year to unveil the third part of the 2018 Watchlist just to ensure that the tone was set. The new weight classes and the much-talked-about return of ordered par terre have been force-fed down everyone’s throat numerous times already, but that’s only because they are two crucial variables guaranteed to affect the majority of athletes. Some wrestlers might very well benefit greatly from the changes Senior Greco-Roman is set to introduce, while others could find themselves having to play a serious game of catch-up just to remain in the hunt come the Trials.
Parts I and II saw wrestlers categorized according to their respective club/team affiliations. The third and final part of the 2018 Watchlist goes in a different direction. Here is where you will find wrestlers who a) belong to clubs that do not currently possess enough depth to field a full team, and therefore, are listed individually or b) were eligible to be mentioned previously but were excluded in order to highlight others at the same weight class.
2018 US GRECO-ROMAN WATCHLIST PART III
Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS) At the present time, if Max Nowry (Army/WCAP) is being seen as #1 then Miranda would be #1A, and if there is any justice in this world, they will both be at the Bill Farrell so we can all check out what a match between the two looks like before the Open and the Trials come around. Miranda had himself an excellent 2016/17 campaign that culminated with a gutsy-but-ultimately disappointing 0-1 finish at the Junior Worlds. An entertaining back-and-forth with teammate Dalton Roberts in the U23 Trials finals gave way to two impressive tournament victories overseas before the 20-year-old closed out the year with another at Finland’s Haavisto Cup. All of Miranda’s Senior experience has obviously taken place at 59 kilos, where he was often susceptible to a bit of a size disadvantage. With that no longer an issue for him, there’s no telling what he will be able to do against guys more in his natural weight range.
Kyndall Rutz (NMU/OTS) 55 is going to need bodies, but more than that, it is going to need youthful, hungry competitors who are coached to push the top guys. Right now, that’s Rutz. There are not a whole lot of missing pieces here. Rutz has been across the Atlantic, trains in an elite environment, and on occasion, has brandished some potent offense. Sometimes, it’s a between-the-ears thing when you witness a wrestler who, by all accounts, holds a lot of potential that has not yet bubbled to the surface. Rutz, despite having already been immersed in full-time competition for over a minute, may not realize how much of a problem he can be. He’ll have plenty of chances coming up to make that happen.
Sean Sesnan (WBC) What Sesnan has working for him the most entering the year is relative anonymity. He got out there for the Midland Greco Exhibition Series in the fall where he didn’t exactly light it up, although to be fair, he was competing up in weight against bigger guys. So right off the bat, you can’t derive too much from that performance, and since that event unfolded off the radar, there isn’t even any video of what it all looked like. Either way, Sesnan cannot be dismissed. Williams Baptist head coach Jonathan Drendel wanted the multi-time Tennessee state Greco champ in the room for a reason, and Drendel is convinced that once Sesnan’s feet are sufficiently wet he’ll have a big future to look forward to. He is in the right weight class to leave his mark, that’s for sure.
Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP) Is Hafizov the best all-around Greco-Roman wrestler in the US? Many seem to think so. Hafizov placed fifth at the 2007 World Championships for his native Uzbekistan prior to his lone Olympic appearance a year later. But that’s just bookkeeping. Hafizov is the complete Greco package and wholly skilled in each phase of the sport. There just aren’t any obvious areas of weakness for domestic opponents to zero in on. The return of ordered par terre gives him another advantage, as well, and he is an absolutely ruthless finisher when he gets chances from top. The only question some may have is his age. Hafizov, who turns 30 at the end of this month, is likely sauntering onto the back-nine of his career. But he was plenty effective last year coming off of a knee injury and distance has been created from that ordeal. So there you have it. A fully healthy and motivated version of Hafizov has to be considered the top of this class until further notice.
Luis Hernandez (OTC) While still very much a developmental project, the one thing you have to respect about Hernandez is his commitment. He is of the new breed — i.e., a teen who left high school early in order to train full-time. For Hernandez, that’s at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. But in conjunction with his OTC residency have been trips overseas, mainly Sweden. Hernandez got matches in on two Scandinavian tours in consecutive years. Though he has yet to bring back a medal from one of these jaunts, the experience will wind up paying dividends for him if only because there will come a point when it all starts to click. Physically, Hernandez is not a finished product, but speedy and aggressive in the right spots. Give him some more time, if he can keep his head on straight there’s promise here.
Taylor LaMont (Sunkist) Was on his way to an impressive finish at the Senior Trials until Ryan Mango (Army/WCAP) blew his doors off. But before that occurred, LaMont was razor sharp and nearly came away with what would have been a tight controversial decision over Hafizov. A Junior World bronze in ’16, the conventional wisdom suggested LaMont would find a way to at least equal that performance in Finland, and he almost did. Unfortunately for him, Magomed Magomedov (RUS) got away with a singlet grab in the waning seconds of their bronze medal match, the unnoticed infraction clearly halting LaMont’s late momentum. Since then, LaMont has been competing very well collegiately at Utah Valley, and he’s such a terrific all-around wrestler that the dalliance in the other style won’t hurt him too much once the spring rolls around. He’s a big favorite to end up on his third Junior Team this year, it just might not be the only one he makes.
German Diaz (Puerto Rico/Marines) An on-again-off-again competitor, Diaz hasn’t popped up a lot on the Senior level as of late, but what you see is compelling stuff. That comes from a substantial amount of experience which includes several appearances at the Pan Ams and other international events for his native Puerto Rico. Diaz last competed at the Dave Schultz and displayed some really encouraging offense in spurts. He has very fast hips and understands how to work himself in the ties to find throwing chances. Constant engagement, that’s his key. It wasn’t all sunshine for him in Colorado Springs, however, as he was also prone to give up openings to others, and when that happened, he got scored on. But if he can shore that part up it will be difficult to ignore his long-term viability.
Patrick Grigsby (WBC) No one is expecting too much from Grigsby just yet, even though he forged a rep as a meaty, physical wrestler on the folkstyle side. That is all done with now, so it will be up to him to translate that physicality into the classical style. He can do it, too. Grigsby is not looking to ingratiate himself to the Greco masses as a pretentious, dawdle-around-in-the-tie-ups sort. When the whistle blows, he will be barreling ahead doing whatever he can to plunge in underhooks and launch. If his head gets in the way or opponents take a shoulder to the chin once or twice, so be it. Until Grigsby adds the requisite nuance to his arsenal, he will be trying to force guys to fight him. That’s excellent news for a weight class in need of a spark.
Anthonie Linares (NYAC/OTS) Linares enjoyed a very solid season that included a bronze at Schultz and a near-miss for third at the Trials. A shocking tech loss to Alex Mossing (Air Force) in the University Nationals final turned some heads, but it’s worthwhile to note that Linares scored some points in that bout, too. His next disappointment came courtesy of the man below (Brandon Mueller) in the fall edition of the Schultz, but you pretty much have to throw that away for now. Linares is a smooth operator and only gets into trouble when he overreaches, or, for whatever reason, doesn’t meet the intensity of his opposition. Other that that, he possesses the refinement, aptitude, and iron-tough top game to worry everyone in the weight class, and you better believe they all know that. A very, very tough customer.
Brandon Mueller (Air Force) In what will likely be one of the deepest Greco weights in the US once again, Mueller is not just some also-ran. He impressed at last year’s Armed Forces, went on to take a silver in Estonia, and then had some moments at the Senior Trials. Following all that was the CISM Worlds where he lost to two former World medalists — Adam Kurak (RUS) and Afshin Byabangard (IRI) — by a combined six points. For a guy who is essentially a part-timer, that is kind of eye-opening. Mueller next put together a really good showing at the Dave Schultz, earning tech wins over Linares and Japan’s Toshiki Mori before a resurgent Jamel Johnson (Marines) grinded past him. Should Mueller ramp up his preparation and compete a little more, there is certainly the possibility he finds himself in position for a National Team spot.
Cody Pack (Legends of Gold) All you really want to see out of former collegians in this day and age is an eagerness to score, and Pack brings that. He doesn’t mind so much if he gives up points because he believes he’ll make up for it. Maybe his approach will change as he starts to add more Senior mat time, but for now, it’s working for him. And it will continue to. Observers tend to be quick to judge a guy like Pack, who entered onto the circuit just when Greco took away forced par terre. Their thought is that since guys will be put down again, wrestlers who are neutral-oriented will be in big trouble. But it could work the other way around. Pack is such an active wrestler that if the officials are doing their jobs, it will be he who gets chances from top. With one completed season under his belt, he should be seen as an undercover contender in Oklahoma.
Ryan Whittle (WBC) Out of all of the Williams athletes, Whittle is the one who may have the best shot at making an immediate impression. He is still raw — very raw, but that rawness can work in his favor when matched up against technically superior opponents who’d prefer to avoid the rough stuff inside. But Whittle’s real best attribute is his power. He is the type who looks strong but is even stronger than he looks. That’s important to mention. Whittle’s offense is buoyed by his love for straight lifts, it’s the one maneuver that he demonstrated an innate feel for when he crossed over to Greco. With the rule change, he will have the ability to keep himself in the thick of things, if not turn matches around altogether.
Easton Hargrave (CWC) You wouldn’t call Hargrave’s style “old school” necessarily, but he does bring a blend of openness that is somewhat rare for this weight class domestically. The New Mexico Highlands alum has shown flashes here and there, underscored by a few strong performances in National tournaments and his is a name everyone is accustomed to seeing pop up here and there. That’s part of the issue; Hargrave needs to be an everywhere guy, the kind of competitor who shows up for every event. It’s the only way he’ll be able to take his obvious talent and convert it into solid placings. Otherwise, the blueprint is in place. He comes forward, isn’t a blocker, and wants to rifle things up in high-intensity exchanges. You root for Hargrave to step up because if he does, the deepest weight in the US becomes that much more interesting.
Ryan Hope (Cliff Keen WC) Entering 2018, Hope is one of the longest tenured Greco athletes still kicking, having started his career at Northern Michigan nearly a decade ago. During that time, he has earned a few international medals and put some good scares in older, more credentialed opponents stateside. But that can’t be his endgame. Despite his experience and loads of physical attributes, Hope has also lost plenty of matches in big events he probably shouldn’t have. You don’t get those back. What you also don’t get back is time missed due to injury, which is what he was dealing with leading into the fall. Hope tore up his knee last December, just when he began hitting his prime, and an 0-2 slate at the Schultz in November resulted in additional soul searching. There is nothing he cannot do on a mat and is likely the most technically proficient wrestler in a weight class where brawling is more prevalent. It’s not a make-or-break year for Hope to be sure, but is proving a point a priority for him? If not, it should be.
Kevin Radford (Sunkist) Here is Radford in a nutshell: crossed over from a folk/free background two years ago; didn’t do too badly; went overseas and got a comeuppance; then the very next week he went ahead and won the Senior Open. It was stunning turnaround that provided him with a boost. He next took a silver at the Schultz, washed out in a couple of tournaments overseas, and put in a sixth at the Trials, which really wasn’t a disappointment considering the field. What was a downer? The November Schultz, where Khymba Johnson (NYAC/OTS), who Radford defeated twice last year, ran over him in the quarterfinals. To give Radford credit, he rebounded with an exciting win over Storm stud Rich Carlson before Park Je-Woo (KOR) ended his tournament altogether. If you are detecting a pattern here, it’s inconsistency. Radford got a pass for that in years 1 and 2, but it is now revoked. There is way too much offensive promise residing in his skill-set for it to be obscured by the various in-between issues that have been cropping up. Confidence against foreigners would do wonders for his overall game.
Zach Merrill (NYAC/NYRTC) Merrill’s victory over G’Angelo Hancock (130 kg, Sunkist) in the University National finals generated a buzz for all the wrong reasons. A questionable caution on Hancock in par terre put the wheels in motion for a Merrill win, and that’s what most observers focused on. What people forget is that Merrill bookended the bout with offensive points, namely an arm throw. That’s just who he is. Merrill, a former heavyweight, has become much more scoring-friendly down at 98/97 and delivers a crowd-pleasing style when his opponents don’t block him out. A criteria loss to 2010 Junior World bronze Lee Se-Yeol (KOR) kept him out of the finals at the November Schultz and after that he didn’t seem to have the same chutzpah working for him. It’s probably a good idea to let that one go, although Austin Schaefer‘s ability needs to be recognized, as well. Merrill has logged enough mat time as a Senior to where his making a serious run shouldn’t be a shock, especially since he is someone who can turn guys from top, a premium skill.
Parker Betts (Minnesota Storm) When Betts went on hiatus over a year ago, it was bad news for the heavyweights. A University National champ in ’15 and a runner-up at the Senior Nationals that same year, the then-23-year-old basically hit a mental wall and required a reset. In the meantime, the 130 kilogram class was without one of its best young stars and a top-heavy division (no pun) felt even more incomplete than it should have. Betts’ role was of importance — to push the alpha dogs until he was ready to try and take them out. A healthy weight class needs that. Thankfully, Betts returned for the Trials in late-April, and for having taken as much time off as he did, performed pretty well, going 1-2. He just finished school at NMU and will be full-time with the Storm from here on out where Donny Longendyke and Malcolm Allen are among his workout partners. Now that he has some real monsters to go with in the room, it’s an eventuality he is seen as one of them. Finally.
Conor Karwath (WBC) A verifiable tank, Karwath certainly looks the part, but like teammate Whittle, has even more available power than his physique betrays. That is going to matter for him because he is on the small side of heavyweight. He’ll be able to keep his head above water thanks to what are above-average hand-fighting skills but the question then becomes, What will those exchanges lead to? For a guy who is Greco-fresh, it’s probably a limited number of options. Karwath will also not have the luxury of allowing himself to become lazy in the ties as his greenness (and lack of heft) are vulnerabilities. He’ll get bunched up quickly if that happens. But there is room for him — room for him to grow, room for him to expand his repertoire on the fly, and room in this weight class for another young, strong beast to join the party. His bar may start off pretty low, but all it will take is one decent showing for it to be raised in a hurry.
Matt Voss (Patriot Elite) Voss is the best heavyweight no one talks about, likely because he is still roughing it up collegiately for George Mason. If he goes full-time Greco upon graduation, he will deservedly be considered a future star. His win over Betts in the University Nationals was a telling moment, but it’s what he did at the Senior Trials in April that really opened some eyes. Voss collected wins in Vegas against Eric Fader (Marines) and Malcolm Allen (Minnesota Storm) via pin and decision, respectively. He ultimately finished fourth with his two losses on the day to Jacob Mitchell (Army/WCAP). Voss was expected to earn his second straight University National crown this past June, but Donny Longendyke, another wrestler with glittering college credentials, cut that short. And that’s the last we’ve seen of him. It’s a safe bet Voss will be throwing his hat into the proverbial ring at the Open, but with the procedural changes apparently coming into effect, there may not be the chance for him to make the same noise as he did in ’17.