Despite having amassed a laundry list of titles in his career, one gold medal missing from Cheney Haight’s (NYAC) collection was from the Pan Ams. Not that the absence of such a championship would have rendered 2011 World Team member Haight’s resume incomplete. After all, this is a man who has enjoyed a sparkling run as one of the country’s top middleweights for about a decade, and that’s including his sabbatical a few years ago. Haight is just a tough, skilled dude. And with his eye on a chance at earning a spot on this year’s Olympic Team this past April, the Pan Am Championships (held in Frisco, Texas in late February) represented a potential momentum-builder for him to take into the Olympic Trials.
Haight’s first round match at the Pan Ams saw him make very quick work of Enrique Cuero Ortiz (ECU). It was all really a blur. Haight opened up early with an arm-throw for four, got a takedown shortly thereafter, and gutted for the winning points. The entire bout lasted around a minute and a half. But what really set him up for the tournament title was his semifinal battle with Chile’s Claudio Gamboa Zuniga. Now, it’s one thing to be a level (or two) above your opposition; it’s quite another to understand that and execute accordingly. Cheney Haight understood.
Cheney Haight vs. Claudio Gamboa Zuniga – 80 kg Semifinal
Part of Haight’s style is to create angled pressure. Often, this comes from finding a tie he likes and going for various locks and throw attempts. Gamboa quickly realized that Haight was going to force the issue and clammed up just a little. It was enough to earn a passivity warning around a minute in. When the rules actually work, they lead to scoring chances.
Clamping under Gamboa’s left arm, Haight lifted up his tie, dipped down, and grabbed a bodylock. It was a swift level change in one motion that allowed for a true lock nearly instantly. Haight then immediately followed up with a gutwrench to take a four-point lead.
The end of the match wasn’t too far away. After the re-set, Haight once again found a two-on-one and straightened it out. This turned Gamboa’s feet away and then because of physics, nature, cause-and-effect, what have you, Gamboa turned back into Haight. This time, the Utah native had a slightly smaller window to penetrate underneath and used his two-on-one to duck under Gamboa’s left side. Haight swooped down and locked around for another two and a six-point cushion. A gutwrench to put a bow on the thing came soon enough.
Cheney Haight went on to win the 80 kg class at the Pan Am Championships, defeating Maximiliano Prudenzano (ARG) in the final 2-0 by virtue of a gut off a passivity call. That match was close. The first two were not and Haight’s semifinal tussle with Gamboa is a clear reminder of what he can do when he’s clicking right. Coaches talk all of the time about making sure athletes follow their opponents to the mat to score right away, so this would seem to be a case-study in that principle.