Things really picked up in a hurry, huh? Once the year finally got punches into full-gear, it takes a minute just to catch your breath.
First thing’s first and that’s this past weekend’s World Championships
Chris Gonzalez (71 kg) didn’t wind up hopping up on the podium following his performance at the 2016 Non-Olympic Weight World Championships. But what he did do was show he is absolutely capable of competing against the best on the planet.
Gonzalez was in control of Flip Dubsky (CZE) throughout their first-round bout on Saturday, moving his opponent around and countering when it mattered most. He earned a step-out to kick things off but it was the second period when everything happened. Gonzalez defended a throw attempt by Dubsky and turned it into four points. Then with under a minute left Gonzalez scored a takedown off of a nasty arm-drag before locking on a gutwrench for the tech.
The next round saw Gonzalez ahead via a passivity point and step-out against Ilie Cocojari (ROU). Unfortunately for the American, the script was flipped in the second period. Cocojari got a passive point and a step-out to win on criteria 2-2. Although Cocojari didn’t advance to the finals and pull Gonzalez back in, he did go on to earn a bronze. In his first World tournament (and first major international event of any kind), Gonzalez not only won a match but had given the eventual bronze medalist all he could handle. 71 kilos has some depth in the US, for sure. But for now, Gonzalez has made it abundantly clear he is going to be a problem for everyone there going forward.
Balint Korpasi (HUN, world no. 1) took a tight match over Daniel Cataraga (MDA) in the finals to take gold. For Korpasi, the win is his first Senior World title. The Hungarian has been a top contender for quite awhile now but always seemed to slip up for the big one. Not this time.
Out of the two US Greco Roman wrestlers competing, Patrick Martinez (80 kg, world no. 17) was without a doubt the one many believed had the best chance to medal. He has enjoyed an incredible 2016 overall and he doesn’t seem to have even come close to his peak yet. However, his year isn’t going to end the way he hoped. Martinez drew skilled Askat Dilmuhkamedov (KAZ) and never got his motor started. Dilmuhkamedov slid-by Martinez and took him to the mat for two ahead of gutting him over twice for six quick points. After a pause in the action to clean up a Martinez cut, Dilmuhkamedov used the proceeding par terre to his advantage, turning Martinez for the match-ending points. For his part, Dilmuhkamedov made it to the bronze medal round where he was ousted by Lazlo Szabo (HUN, world no. 13).
2016 Poddubny champ Ramazan Abacharaev (RUS, world no. 14) defeated Aslan Atem (TUR, world no. 12) for his first World gold medal.
Martinez is likely going to use this time to take some stock and recover. It has been a busy year for the 26-year old, to say the least. Plus, he has the chance to make another World Team this April (which if successful, will be his fourth counting the University Nationals). There is little doubt Martinez is one of the best in the world at his weight, but there is a ceiling here he is going to need to shatter if/when he gets the opportunity to do so again.
The Clubs Cup puts an emphasis on youth for the US
The future of the US Greco Roman Wrestling program has been a constant theme, especially given the fact that we have just cracked open a fresh new quad. It isn’t as if all of the names are new; it’s more that now, they are going to be given a chance to perform on some bigger stages, which is exactly what the World Wrestling Clubs Cup was.
Held at the SYMA Sports and Conference Center in Budapest Hungary last week, the Clubs Cup gave the US the chance to show off a roster (competing as Team NYAC) that for the most part, was indicative of its youth. The two Northern Michigan wrestlers, Sammy Jones (59 kg) and Austin Morrow (66 kg) are 23 years of age. Kamal Bey (75 kg) is only 18, G’Angelo Hancock (98 kg) recently turned 19. Eric Fader (130 kg) is going to turn 21. Even Patrick Smith, one of the two most experienced Seniors on the roster, is only 25 (though his birthday is next week).
Team NYAC went 2-3 at the Clubs Cup with defeats against Europrofil-Budapest (Hungary), Istanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi (Turkey), and Samson Club (Ukraine). Victories were picked up versus Ethnikoks (Greece) and Berkut (Krgzystan). The biggest match of the two-day event for a US athlete had to be G’Angelo Hancock hanging tough against Rio bronze medalist Cenk Ildem (TUR, world no. 4). Hancock stayed upright (for the most part) and controlled Ildem by constantly frustrating him with eager tie-up attempts. There weren’t any offensive points scored; Hancock was the beneficiary of a caution-and-two on Ildem after the Turkish wrestler fouled him below the belt. But either way, by the end of the bout notice was served.
Smith and Cheney Haight (80 kg) put in representative efforts, as well. Smith went 3-2 overall thanks to his punishing pace. Haight came away with a 2-3 record, with one of the losses being a 3-1 heartbreaker to 2015 World Champion and 2016 Olympian Selcuk Cebi (TUR, world no. 1).
But most of all it was about the youth. Hancock, aside from defeating Ildem, had one other 2-1 squeaker with Ivan Nemeth (HUN), tech’ed Uzur Dzhuzupbekov (KGZ), and was tech’ed before that by Mykola Krysov (UKR) for a 3-1 slate. Kamal Bey went 2-2 with two impressive wins and one high-scoring loss against grizzled vet Martin Szabo (HUN). Sammy Jones left Hungary 1-4, though one of those defeats was to rising Ukrainian talent Denys Chebanov.
Austin Morrow appeared to have dislocated his shoulder during his match with Maksym Yevtushenko (UKR). There is no definitive word yet on a formal diagnosis and what the timetable might be for his recovery. Morrow came into Hungary with some recent solid performances, including a silver at the vaunted Marlarcupen in Sweden and another one in New York a week later. Hopefully he is back on the mat sooner than later so he can capitalize on his progress, because it’s there for everyone to see.
The US Nationals take place this coming weekend in Las Vegas (we’ll be there) There is a big group of US Greco Roman athletes who are looking to assert themselves domestically and this is the place for that to happen. US National Team head coach Matt Lindland said that, “If you are a Senior athlete training Greco Roman full-time, there is no way you’re not going to qualify for the World Team Trials.” That might be true, but for the guys who aren’t exactly full-time and would like to be, the Nationals are the ultimate proving ground. And judging by the early entrants, some wrestlers out there are willing to come out of the woodwork to test themselves.
A good bunch of the more well-known US athletes have already qualified for the World Team Trials by virtue of placing overseas and whatever else, but there are a few who do need to show up and make it into the top seven. Greco in America needs depth, specifically at the higher weight classes but really, everywhere. It’s a time of transition. The Nationals should help that all get figured out and with the event being held in December, we’re catching some guys just as they are starting to hit full-swing again. Some exciting mid-morning matches will decide the scope of the entire day and potentially, the proceeding few months for several competitors.
Return of a madman
We probably could have led with this. The big buzz over the weekend stateside was the news that Dennis Hall is coming out of retirement to compete at the US Nationals. The 45-year old Hall won the Worlds in 1995 and took silver at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In case you missed it and are a Hall fan, we covered his career pretty in-depth during the latter part of the summer.
Hall originally came back in 2012 at 60 kilos for the Olympic Trials. While he believed he had a chance to make that team, it was also because he wanted the opportunity to wrestle in front of his children, who were by and large, too young to remember the height of his career. At 41, Hall looked fine and as “in shape” as you might imagine, but he didn’t have the tournament of his life in Iowa City, with a win over Marine Donovan DePatto sandwiched between losses to Chad Vandiver and longtime competitor Marco Lara.
A torn tendon in his foot hampered his ability to wrestle the way he wanted to four years ago, an injury he kept hidden from the public lest being labeled as an “excuse maker.” At the time, Hall took consolation in his prized pupil Ben Provisor making his first Olympic Team and life went on. So his last appearance on a mat didn’t go his way. It very rarely does for most athletes.
But a couple of years ago, Hall, along with Wisconsin-area kinetic sports therapist Joel Berens, put together a core-strengthening program based on targeting spinal cohesion and balance. Hall offered his input and before long, they had a workout system that seemed to provide both a relentlessly challenging plight on the body and a healing component viable for sports-related injuries. Not only did Hall begin to flourish but Provisor, who has had his own injury problems, did, as well.
Long story short, Provisor filled out into a beast at 85 kilos and the apparently not-so-old man began feeling better than he had in years. And since Hall is forever plugged into Greco and wrestling in general through his coaching, the idea of a comeback stopped sounding crazy and started sounding pretty reasonable.
And now here we are. Hall is registered and the reaction among the populous is largely positive. The real question is, what can be expected from him? How is he going to perform? What does he still have in the tank? Hall is going to be significantly older (understatement) than everyone at 59 kilograms. There will be guys in his weight who are just a couple of years older than his oldest child (Tyler, 20). It’s reality.
These questions will have answers come Saturday. The one thing that should probably be realized is the simple fact that a legend like Hall would not be competing just to take a flight to Vegas and pull up singlet straps. He said he wants to go out on his terms. Let’s see what those terms look like.
What’s coming up here
- Previews for each weight at the US Nationals.
- Live coverage from the aforementioned US Nationals.
- A new “Coach Lindland’s Report” recapping “Budapest Week” along with a look ahead at the happenings in Vegas.
- We’re coming close to announcing our year-end surprises. You are going to like this.