You can go ahead and drum up scenarios and comparisons, dissecting each athlete’s most recent performances and jump down the rabbit hole that is the “what if?” game. It’s fun and makes for great conversation, which is what this is all about. But there is one thing you should know about the 80 kilo field at the Bill Farrell non-Olympic Trials this weekend — the man who survives to the end will have earned the biggest win of his career.
It seems bold on the surface perhaps, so look at in a deeper context. The group of athletes featured in this preview may have a couple who have made World Teams before, but not under these circumstances. Cheney Haight (NYAC) comes to mind. He has reached his 30’s and though he’s still presumed to be at the top of his game, should he win, it will be a big story. And rightfully so.
The wrestler most figure to be his biggest test was the 2015 World Team member at 80, Patrick Martinez (NYAC, world no. 17), who is likely going to have to have to endure a showdown with another monster, WCAP hero Jon Anderson. That match right there, should it happen before the finals (and it very well may) is bound to shake the foundations of the gymnasium once the whistle blows.
No one is going to forget about Kendrick Sanders (NYAC-OTS), either. Sanders almost left the sport earlier this year in favor of fighting with little gloves on, but he’s back and there is little doubt he has a point to prove. He certainly has it in him to do just that, too.
Get ready for fireworks because 80 kilos is not going to disappoint. (Scroll to the bottom for previews of other weight classes.)
Cheney Haight (NYAC) You know how when there is an athlete who sort of flies under the radar in another sport but is roundly respected, announcers will refer to that person as a “something’s something.” Like a “boxer’s boxer?” That’s Haight. He is the proverbial “wrestler’s wrestler.” Haight, the Utah native who seems to only feel at home if he is in the middle of a good scrap, has the pedigree. It’s a pretty long list, though the highlights would include the 2011 World Team, an Open title, and numerous other domestic golds acquired through the years.
Haight can crank it up whenever he wants and likes to seize on opportunities early. A blood in the water type. When Greco went back to a more feet-friendly and balanced rule-set, it really helped Haight find a groove with some of his more effective weapons, specifically his bodylock and front headlock. He loves trying to turn guys with front head’s, though that is going to be tougher to come by with the newest rule update. But it won’t matter much because he doesn’t get tired and he doesn’t stop pecking away to force openings. Is he a favorite? Considering he’ll be ranked first and this weight class is perfect for his size and everything else that comes with the Cheney Haight package, of course he is.
Patrick Martinez (NYAC) If he wasn’t so self-aware, it would be normal for Martinez to think that this sport is kind of easy. In just a few years, Martinez has gone from being a neophyte to a guy who has won an national title and made two World Teams (including this year’s University squad). He also impressed the Greco community with two bronze medals over the summer in Poland and Spain. But the thing is, he knows this isn’t easy. To the point where he is extremely concerned about making sure he gets as many matches as he can to be brought up to speed.
Legs, hips, and level changes — Martinez uses all of them to get to the body. When he first came onto the scene, as raw as he was, it wasn’t hard to sense that he had the right approach. He beat enough top guys early on to punctuate that assumption. Martinez also never stops trying to score, as he showed in Poland when he came back in the first round with seconds left to steal an important win. He and Haight share oxygen at the Olympic Training Center, so they know each other pretty well. That could be a dogfight. Martinez is coming in ranked second, but at this juncture it’s really 1 and 1a. Most expect this to be the final and it could be. But there are a couple of other guys who are going to be in the argument.
Jon Anderson (Army/WCAP) Anderson has been a runner-up at three different World Team Trials. It is likely safe to assume that he feels enough is enough. The incredibly strong and ultra-durable Anderson has been a National Team member at both 75 and 85 also, so this weight class fits really nice. He’s had some experience at 80 before of course, too, but it’s different this time. Plus, the guys he has lost to at the other weights stateside, stars like Jordan Holm and Andy Bisek, are obviously top-tier. It is quite normal to see Anderson pounding everyone else into oblivion. His physical strength is almost downright scary also, so you know, best of luck dealing with that.
He’s got a nice trophy case. Anderson has won previous versions of the Bill Farrell Open and also holds a couple of Pan Am titles to go along with a World Military silver. In other years, he probably would have broken through and made a team already, but the guys in front of him weren’t slouches, either. Look, there is no such thing as “deserve” in this game. You get what you earn every time out. Anderson has earned his shot and deserves the chance to see it through. That could come as soon as Saturday.
Kendrick Sanders (NYAC-OTS) An undeniable talent. An athlete who by any reasonable standard, has exactly the kind of tools necessary to go wherever he wants to in Greco. Sanders has opened eyes ever since he jumped into the style, taking to it as if doing anything else with his life would be a waste of resources. You watch Sanders and it’s easy to wonder how he has ever lost a match. Leave it up to the coaches to figure out the technical deficiencies, whatever they may be, because everything else tells you this guy is a stud eventually worthy of World-level competition.
Last time we saw Sanders, Haight had just finished blitzing him out of the Olympic Trials and that has to be a bitter taste just hanging out in his mouth. It’s time to get it out. Sanders sports numerous domestic titles, including an Open and two past Bill Farrell golds. He has also re-dedicated himself to the cause, which could mean those in attendance over the weekend see a very dangerous human standing across pulling up his singlet straps. Everyone might talk about the three guys mentioned above, but Sanders belongs in the discussion every bit as they do potentially.