12 minutes is more than enough time to get to know one another, isn’t it? In wrestling, it sure seems to be.
Two matches is all it has taken for 98 kilograms in the US to have carved itself what could be an exciting new rivalry. It worked out nearly the same way last year. Joe Rau (Minnesota Storm) and Caylor Williams (Army/WCAP) went toe-to-toe at 98 in the finals of the 2015 Bill Farrell Memorial before meeting up again to decide the National championship. Rau prevailed both times and then twice more in the best-of-three 2016 Olympic Trials finals four months later.
Two young, talented athletes have picked up where Rau and Williams left off in what have been so far, eerily similar circumstances.
2016 National Team members G’Angelo Hancock (NYAC) and Hayden Zillmer (Minnesota Storm) represent the next generation of American Greco Roman wrestling. 2016 Junior World bronze medalist Hancock has received a lot of attention for his big throws and bigger wins, including one two weeks ago over Olympic bronze Cenk Ildem (TUR, world no. 4).
Zillmer, a tall, strong wrestler who applies dogged pressure, defeated Patrick Martinez (NYAC) to lock up his National Team spot a weight class lower at 85 kilos. A standout collegiate athlete at North Dakota State, Zillmer has flown just a touch under the Greco radar compared to the spotlight Hancock has enjoyed thus far. But that is changing. Quickly. Zillmer took the summer off from Greco Roman competition following a bronze medal performance at June’s University World Team Trials and has been impressive upon his return. In addition, he has now made the finals of two Senior tournaments back-to-back and lost closely both times. To who? Hancock, of course.
Zillmer dropped a passivity-laden 2-1 decision to Hancock in the finals of the Farrell last month and another one 2-0 last weekend in Vegas. The first contest in New York saw Zillmer unafraid to bore in on Hancock, though there weren’t a bevy of offensive attempts. Still, he stayed in the pocket with Hancock, a position in which most other domestic opponents meet their demise. In their second showdown on Sunday, Hancock was increasingly frustrated by Zillmer’s tie-ups and did not get the chance to assume more favorable positions. When the match was over, Hancock, apparently still somewhat irked, pushed Zillmer away before smiling at his adversary when it came time to shake hands.
In the early going, it looks like these two either bring out the best in each other or the worst, depending on how you see it. Either way, until Rau comes back, all eyes will be fixed on both of them the next time they meet, which could be as soon as the Dave Schultz Memorial just over a month and change from now.
We decided it would be a good idea to get a sense of what Hancock and Zillmer think about their matches against one another by going straight to the sources. Their answers are provided below (both athletes were questioned separately).
G’Angelo Hancock and Hayden Zillmer On Their Two Recent Matches
5PM: What was the difference wrestling each other this time (in the National finals) as opposed to in New York?
Hancock: I feel like there was no difference. He didn’t want to wrestle me last time and the same thing happened this time. Greco looks really boring when there is only one person trying to get after it.
Zillmer: Not too much, it’s just kind of a different environment I guess. I haven’t trained a lot of Greco yet, so not too big of a difference.
5PM: What is it about his style? What is making these matches so close?
Hancock: As I said, Greco is very boring when only one person is out there trying to make it interesting and trying to have an actual match. When you have a guy who is constantly backing up, not making any attempts with one guy just consistently attacking and referees who aren’t understanding the difference, well, you get matches that end up looking like that one did. I can only guarantee our next match will not be that close.
Zillmer: His style is tough. I guess you just have to capitalize on things I haven’t yet. That’s something that keeps it close, not capitalizing on positions.
5PM: Is there something going on here? Both matches were heated. Is there something about the way he wrestles that brings that out of you?
Hancock: It’s nothing personal at all, it is strictly the art of wrestling to me. I wasn’t mad or anything like that, I simply had to try different techniques and being more aggressive was the one that I was displaying there. He brought nothing out of me that Turkey or Kazakhstan didn’t see the week before in Budapest. I think it’s funny people see a close match and one guy gets more aggressive and they think, Wow he must be bothered or he must be getting frustrated. No, it was simply a close match in which I wanted to keep the lead, and so I turned it up onto him which I knew he would not follow.
Zillmer: Not at all, he just a got a little shot at the end, you know. It just gets heated, it’s just wrestling. It is what it is.
5PM: Is it safe to say that until Rau comes back, he is your biggest threat in the US?
Hancock: I suppose that would be safe to say from an outsider’s point of view. But from my point of view, that isn’t what I’m saying to myself.
Zillmer: Yeah, for sure. I never take anyone lightly. It’s just you at this level and you’ve got to win. Everyone has to be something. You have to wrestle every match and prove something. The World Team Trials are what matters, that’s what you’ve got to be at your best for. That’s what I’m aiming for.