Rather than split up our preview of the 2018 US Senior Greco-Roman World Team Trials into two parts, we’re giving all of it to you in one fell swoop. Why? We included a comprehensive preview ahead of the US Open, and that was a mere two months ago. Other than an athlete or two switching weight classes, there isn’t a whole ton of material in need of updating. With that, you will still find scouting reports for all of the National Champions as well as who we are calling the “Premier Contenders” for each weight class (athletes who stand out above the fray for one reason or another).
You all know what’s at stake for the competitors Thursday and Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma — a shot at fighting for a World title four months from now in Budapest. The Americans are stronger in 2018 than in years past. The two additional non-Olympic weight classes in place for the lightweights are where many of the United States’ most skilled and accomplished athletes reside. Add into the mix a greater number of hardened challengers in the middle and upper weights along with several Olympians still performing at optimum levels, and there is more than enough going on here to feel optimistic about.
2018 US Senior Greco-Roman World Team Trials Preview
National Champions have automatic byes to the best-of-three finals (in bold)
*Returning World Team member
55 kg: Max Nowry — Army/WCAP
Beginning this season, most in the US figured 55 would belong to Nowry with NMU standout Randon Miranda acting as his primary antagonist. Then the venerable Sam Hazewinkel (Sunkist) decided to enter the re-enter the picture, which instantly made this weight class one of the country’s most top-heavy in terms of sheer talent.
At 28 years of age, 2012 University World Champion Nowry is finally shaking hands with his prime. Previously forced to try and keep head above water in the heavier 59 kilos, the reemergence of 55 magnifies all of the things he does well. Nowry is a technical machine who can adjust to a more vicious approach depending on the opposition. It doesn’t mean he is a shoo-in, especially not with how sharp Hazewinkel appeared in Vegas coming off of a multi-year hiatus. Nowry will absolutely have to stay on the gas pedal and set up consistent streams of attacks, for any letup could prove costly. But there is little question he is expected to stamp down his first World Team spot on Friday all the same. Should he achieve this objective, he will instantly be recognized as one of the country’s best hopes for a medal in October.
Sam Hazewinkel (Sunkist) — “Haze” will slug it out in the mini tournament following what was both an impressive and almost heartwarming return to Greco competition. If there are any deficiencies present in the 35-year-old’s body, they are indiscernible. Dangerous from every position imaginable.
Dalton Duffield (NMU/OTS) — A great story. Duffield wowed Fargo audiences with his array of throws and headstrong competitiveness, but his future in Greco-Roman was uncertain, particularly due to his choosing to walk down the NCAA path momentarily. Now that he is training full-time in Marquette, you don’t say he “crossed over”, but rather, came back home. Greco is where he belongs and he proved it by running through the U23 Trials.
Jabari Moody (NYAC) — Moody possesses great gifts but the instincts aren’t all the way there just yet. That’s okay, give him time. This is an athlete working underneath a very high ceiling should he stay on course. The one thing you want to see out of Moody in Tulsa? Controlled recklessness. It’s not supposed to be his time yet, so let it fly.
Kyndall Rutz (NMU/OTS) — Does everything the right way, or so it seems. Rutz does not yet boast a signature attribute but he is capable of executing what he needs to when he needs to. On top of all that, he is a punisher. If Rutz gets into a position he likes, and smells just a little blood, he will try to end it right then and there.
60 kg: Dalton Roberts — NYAC/OTS
Roberts’s ascension to Senior main event status this year could be described as either unlikely, or not at all stunning even in the slightest. It really depends on how much (or how often) you pay attention. Even though he does have to knock some kilos off to make 60, his body isn’t done growing. Roberts is still thin, he still looks like he could be in high school, and it isn’t like he bombs all of his opponents into oblivion. The reason why Roberts is where he is — aka, a National Champ two wins away from the World Championships — is because of who he is. There isn’t an athlete in the US who can or will outwork him. Similar to Patrick Smith (72 kg, Minnesota Storm), Roberts sustains a pressurized attack that forces opponents to either relent or make mistakes.
In the finals of the 2018 Bill Farrell Memorial, Roberts fell to teammate Miranda in a closely-contested battle that wound up delivering motivation for what happened three weeks later at the Nationals. Roberts flashed through Vegas, enjoying a surprisingly wide victory over Taylor LaMont (Sunkist) in the semis before Mike Fuenffinger (Army/WCAP) nearly wrecked the party. Three weeks ago in Akron, Miranda edged Roberts in the back two of their three-match series. Is any of that important? Not really, primarily because whoever survives to meet Roberts on Friday will be dealing with a rested version of an athlete who makes his money by expending energy when others won’t.
*Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP) — The only question surrounding Hafizov is if he’s at 100% capacity. Some believe his best days are way off in the rearview mirror, but if that line of thinking is the result of his two domestic losses this season, it might be a bit of a reach. He has always been — and shall always be — a textbook Greco athlete who will rely more on his skills than anything else. Hafizov — right now, in 2018 — is still the most technically sound and experienced athlete in the country.
Taylor LaMont (Sunkist) — LaMont, a Junior World bronze medalist in 2016, does not betray a lot of weaknesses. He’s almost a prototype in the sense that every box is checked, including a feverish degree of competitiveness that few relate to. A close, if not controversial loss to Hafizov in the 2017 Trials brought forth another sign that he holds an exceptionally bright future.
Mike Fuenffinger (Army/WCAP) — Once again, Hafizov comes into play. Fuenffinger scored one of his biggest domestic wins to date when he turned his WCAP teammate to advance to the Open final. Once there, Fuenffinger fell way behind Roberts and then stormed right back into the thick of things with a chance to steal the match as time expired. You cannot just dismiss what happened in Vegas. Fuenffinger, an all-around talent who is now tacking on meaningful experience more frequently, could be in line for a breakout.
Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS) — What a difference a year makes. Before this season, Miranda all but committed to 55 kilograms, citing the depth, size, and experience prevalent in the higher weight category. But winning a bunch of tournaments in other countries has a tendency to change a man’s perspective, not to mention a few victories over the top guy in this bracket. Miranda — like Nowry, like Hafizov — is a student of technical refinement. He doesn’t need to be the biggest or strongest to beat you. Just give him a window of opportunity and he’ll find a way to make it work.
63 kg: Ryan Mango — Army/WCAP
The most electrifying lightweight in the United States. There really is no other way to say it. Mango is on a different level compared to everyone else in the first five weight classes when it comes to what he can make his body do. Part of that is due to his compact size, crazy power, and years and years of…wrestling. But the other part of the equation is physical awareness and the wherewithal special athletes possess that allows them to make decisions on the mat mere mortals cannot. If Ryan Mango is hawking in on a high dive and gets stuffed, he can angle to a side, change direction just because he feels like it, and pop up for a bodylock that scores five. To intimate how rare that is would require three additional paragraphs.
But most importantly, and the reason why he is already in the best-of-three final, Mango now understands all of the clutter that was previously renting space between his ears. He is focusing on the data that matters in-match and honing the instincts deemed necessary to compete at the World level. In other words, it is all coming together, as evidenced by the destructive manner Mango employed to collect his National title and the even-more-profound performance he put on to win the Pan Ams.
Jesse Thielke (NYAC/LOG) — Showed that he is still as dangerous as ever in Denmark. After dealing with various injuries and a move to South Dakota post-Rio Olympics, Thielke wasn’t Thielke for a little while, which is to say, the most skilled and deadliest wrestler on the feet this era. Yes, Mango blitzed Thielke in the Open semis and it’s not easy to pretend as if that never happened. But he wasn’t alone, Mango tossed everyone around out there. Thielke’s had days like that, too. Thursday could be another one.
Sammy Jones (NYAC/OTS) — He’s getting closer. Jones’s National tournament was a long time coming and one mistake against Mango cost him dearly. This is a guy who should always be in the running. He does everything well, for the most part. Jones struggles with defending from bottom sometimes, but that hardly makes him unique. He is constantly, actively searching for tie-ups that go somewhere. Jones doesn’t know how to stay in second gear and play for passives.
Travis Rice (NMU/OTS) — Fresh off of making the U23 World Team, Rice currently stands as one of the hottest Greco athletes in the country. It began with a clean victory over 2017 Trials runner-up Hayden Tuma (Army/WCAP) in Vegas and continued in Akron, where he came back from two (!) six-point deficits in consecutive matches to down Xavier Johnson (Marines). Afterwards, Rice didn’t lend so much credence to the idea of momentum. That’s fine. But consider this: he lept over some pretty big steps in back-to-back tournaments, and at the lower weight class, he is actually quicker, more decisive, and effectively aggressive. So maybe it’s not momentum, but Rice is for sure emboldened. He’ll be a factor for the others in this bracket.
Xavier Johnson (Marines) — The aforementioned Johnson did not have the best two days of his competitive life out in Vegas and his loss(es) to Rice (in Akron) probably buffed some of the shine he had layered on recently. In a results-oriented business, folks lean on box scores and bad matches to explain the scope of what an athlete is about. It’s by-and-large nonsense. Xavier Johnson, at 22-years-old, no less, is still an enormous threat to anyone he faces, regardless of where he is seeded.
*67 kg: Ellis Coleman — Army/WCAP
Two-time Junior World bronze medalist/2012 Olympian Coleman will be looking to make his third Senior World Team on Friday. It has been an unbelievable career thus far, and despite some health issues, there is no telling how many other big moments still lie ahead. Coleman went, lack of a better term, virtually untouched in the US Open. He outscored five opponents 37-1, all tech’s. It had been a minute since the public got a chance to witness how methodical and dominating Coleman can be when he’s feeling good. Credit goes to his resilience, as well as the Army’s “Ninja Squad” — a splinter cell of sorts within WCAP comprised of all the lighter-weight athletes. They all kill each other in the room on a daily basis, and if recent events are any indication, it seems to be working.
The last time we saw Coleman was at the Pan Ams where he grabbed an early tech and then subsequently dropped a weird bout to Joilson De Brito Ramos (BRA) in the quarters. There is some distance now between what went down in Peru and what will go down in Oklahoma. Coleman, provided he is healthy, the weight is on point, and he’s rearing to go, may be interested in making a statement. More than almost anything else in existence, Coleman yearns for a Senior World medal. Considering all that he has endured the past 11 months, this year’s journey carries with it a little extra meaning.
Alex Sancho (NYAC) — Weight is the equalizer. Prior to this year and the new same-day weigh-in procedures, Sancho didn’t really experience too much difficulty cutting down to 66 (now 67). He was a “tweener” — Sancho could down to 66 or up to 71 and compete with the same veracity at either weight. This season, particularly this year, it has been a little different. Sancho has openly acknowledged his struggles. As such, he bumped up to 72 for the Farrell and the Open, winning the former and placing third at the latter. Lauded for his ability to perform internationally, Sancho has been a top Senior contender for four seasons but is still waiting for his shot on the big stage.
Jessy Williams (NYAC/FLWC) — Surged to the National final following changes made to his training regiment, which is another way of saying Williams spent the bulk of the spring over in Sweden. The loss to Coleman was one-sided but the route he took to get there helped him realize he belongs among the elite. Williams is excellent, but he is even better when he’s hungrily hunting down scores.
Jamel Johnson (Marines) — An out-of-nowhere loss to Conner Myers (Army/WCAP) in the first round of the Open sent 2012 University World bronze medalist Johnson to the consolation bracket. That must have tripped the breaker, because after that, the Marine put on quite the show, rolling up five tech wins en-route to bronze. From a technical standpoint, what sets Johnson apart from most is his intelligence. He is otherworldly smart on the mat and will not do something silly that costs him points. That isn’t to say he is risk-adverse; Johnson will put himself in danger, but only if the juice is worth the squeeze.
Hayden Tuma (Army/WCAP) — Tuma is a casualty of the new same-day weigh-in procedures. He originally entered National-level competition at 66 kilos before giving it a whirl at 59 last season. It paid off immediately, as Tuma earned a silver at the Farrell and his first Senior Open title, respectively. Later in the season, WCAP teammate Hafizov defeated Tuma in two straight at the ’17 Trials. A long layoff wound up resulting in Tuma not competing again until the 2018 Farrell. Competing in the 63-kilogram class, Tuma was lights out. Literally. He destroyed everyone. But at the US Nationals, the weigh-ins, the weight…whatever…it got to him. Now back up at 67, he’s hoping there is a lot more in the reserves. When operating at full health, Tuma is certainly one of the very best.
Austin Morrow (NYAC/OTS) — Health. We mention it a lot when discussing Morrow. At the World Clubs Cup in 2016, Morrow separated his shoulder, rehabbed and rehabbed and rehabbed, and then separated it again his first tournament back. And then both shoulders became problems. What happened next? More rehab, more frustration, until finally, Morrow returned with a flourish at the US Open, zipping his way to the semis before winding up fourth. You can teach moves. You can’t teach heart. Morrow has both.
72 kg: RaVaughn Perkins — NYAC
Let’s say we all make too much out of lopsided matches. Greco-Roman is tailor-made to provide the illusion that one guy is vastly superior to another, due primarily to how points are tabulated. Excellent athletes get tech’ed out by other excellent athletes frequently. A takedown and three gutwrenches. Two four-pointers. Four guts. A five and two guts. There are myriad ways in which in an athlete can find himself falling into quicksand, so getting overly-hyped because of a few dominating wins can present a slippery slope.
Unless we’re talking about Perkins in 2018.
There is nothing flukey about the way two-time Trials winner Perkins has been competing as of late. Thus far this calendar year, Perkins has given up a total of 10 points, counting passives. His overall record is 12-1, and in his wins, he has outscored opponents 100-8 with eight tech falls and two pins. These numbers, of course, are not illusory. Anyone can look them up. A pair of those tech victories glaringly stand out. At the US Open, Perkins breezed past Chris Gonzalez (NYAC) and 2017 World Teamer Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) in shockingly easy fashion on his way to the crown. The consensus has long dictated that these three top-tier athletes are neck-and-neck with each other. Maybe they are. But it certainly didn’t look that way last time out.
Following the Nationals, Perkins rammed his way through the Pan Ams — important to note due to his injury history. Two events within a week of each other often spell trouble for athletes who have been less than durable. Not only was Perkins 100% in Peru, he was even scarier. It’s unlikely his best-of-three will be a cakewalk. Whoever emerges from the mini tournament is going to be on a high, and since everyone here knows each other so well, tight matches should be anticipated. But out of every star athlete in the entire tournament, Perkins might be the most impressive right now.
*Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) — Smith struggled getting out of the gate this season, dropping virtually all of his matches prior to Las Vegas. But — most of those bouts came against high-level foreign opponents overseas. So while fans wanted to see Smith ride the same wave of momentum he jumped on a year ago, they had to wait it out and see what he’d look like at the Nationals. And outside of a weird caution-filled match opposite Sancho, Smith performed like a monster. If that’s the Smith who is in Tulsa, he could repeat.
Chris Gonzalez (NYAC) — It’s the strangest thing. Gonzalez has actually competed better this season despite having moved out to California to pursue an MMA career. When he has shown up this season, Gonzalez has appeared sharp, in excellent condition, and even more contentious with both opponents and officials. A bronze at the Schultz, a silver to Sancho (at the very last second, literally) in New York, and a fourth at the Open (to Sancho’s third) are his most recent results. For all of his athletic skills, Gonzalez is also one of the most intelligent competitors in the country. He’s had some adjustments to make. Let’s see if he has made them.
Jon Jay Chavez (NYAC/FLWC) — NCAA All-American Chavez has bounced back and forth between 77 and 82 kilos. Now he’s in unfamiliar territory at a lower weight. If he can carry the same quickness and oomph when he clears the ties and gets to the body, he will be an issue here, especially later in the day. An all-arounder — Chavez’s Greco game is adaptable to all sort of situations and he is one of the slickest young technicians we’ve got.
Logan Kass (Minnesota Storm/OTS) — An excellent example of a young athlete who has steadily paid his dues and is now beginning to blossom. Kass is unique in his approach. On one hand, his actions can appear slick and refined; on the other, he can brawl and bang to get to where he needs to dial it up. There are other athletes out there like Kass, but few occupy the middle weight classes.
Colin Schubert (NYAC/OTS) — In placing fourth at this tournament last year, Schubert delivered the most impressive overall performance out of anyone who did not make the actual World Team. He competed with a special fury and took out viable opposition by sticking to the basics. That’s what makes Schubert a problem. If/when he sticks to keeping it simple, he is as tough as anyone else in the weight. All of these athletes want to win. Not all of them are willing to go to dark places to do so. Schubert absolutely is and looks forward to the opportunity.
77 kg: Kamal Bey — Sunkist
2017 Junior World Champion Bey is constantly improving. He’s what, 20? It’s hard for some folks to get a handle on how young Bey still is because it seems like he has been kicking around the National scene for a whole longer than two years and change. Bey burst into the consciousness thanks to his explosive arsenal of throws, though his charisma hasn’t hurt, either. All of the weapons Bey relies on as an age-grouper serve him decently well on the Senior circuit. No, he cannot get away with coming in loose or falling asleep in the tie-ups. Bey is most vulnerable when he is lured into boring matches. Opponents who are willing to enter his wheelhouse and bog down the action inside aren’t necessarily successful, but they can cause the phenom to become frustrated.
A gutsy yet energizing gold in Cuba gave way to memorable victory at the NYAC Open. That tournament in particular stood out because Bey was given a nice test courtesy of Kendrick Sanders (NYAC/OTS) in the semis. Of course, that win gave way to one more showdown between Bey and U23 World Team member Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS). Then came the Open and Bey racing to his his second-consecutive National title. He wasn’t himself in Peru, as an injury early on forced him to bow out. Dismiss it. The reason why Bey became a star is his excitement. The reason why he is the choice for many to win this tournament and go on to experience success at the Senior Worlds is because of the lessons he has learned. Bey is figuring out adversity and the value of gritting out dicey moments. Just one more attribute in an overwhelmingly potent package.
Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS) — As of now, Porter is the second-best 77-kilogram competitor in the country. How long it stays that way is anyone’s guess. There are not a lot of differences between Bey and Porter outside of the former’s record against the latter. Both sport dynamite in their legs, both demonstrate an unnerving ability to turn a match around with a single throwing sequence, and both are excellently trained. You wouldn’t call Porter’s style completely awkward, but it is definitely his own. He is not going to hawk up in your face and belt you across the chops rummaging through the tie-ups. Instead, Porter will jab, jab, and then pop his hips, laser to an angle, and make you pay in an altogether different way. Always a crowd pleasre, but he’s not in Tulsa to entertain you.
Kendrick Sanders (NYAC/OTS) — Still searching. After all these years, Sanders is still the best wrestler in the US to never make a World Team. He does not enjoy being labeled this way. It is a source of great frustration for him. But ultimately, he is the one in control. When you talk about Bey and Porter, for as talented and accomplished as they already are, they have weaknesses one could pick out, technical deficiencies which require improvement. Sanders? He doesn’t. He’s good everywhere, in every situation. His issues lie between the ears. There are matches he has lost that make zero sense. It’s as if Sanders does not realize what he has or who he is. On the flipside, there are matches he has won that make perfect sense. You keep waiting for the Trials tournament when it all comes together for Sanders. Maybe we’re there. But if we are, the hill to climb is steeper than ever.
*Mason Manville (Army/WCAP) — It isn’t easy to discuss what Manville has in store for the field if only because he has participated in precisely one event this season, the 2018 Thor Masters Invitational. Even still, his talent is undeniable, along with his IQ. Manville is a tactician, a “wrestler’s wrestler”, and his day in Paris showed how intense of a competitor he is. That alone is why he can make a second-straight Team.
Peyton Walsh (Marines) — If you were surprised by Walsh’s run to the Open final, it’s because you’ve been ignoring him. With a raw-but-talented Greco athlete, you have to brush off results and go by what you see. Since he crossed over to the classical style following college, Walsh has shown a ferocious competitive streak and incredible instincts that lend themselves very well to scoring opportunities. He’s not out of the argument here, obviously, but it’s much more about the future with this Marine.
82 kg: Geordan Speiller — Florida Jets
Dynamic, well-rounded, creative, and cunning, Speiller is an exciting athlete who can chain together scores in an blink without so much breaking a sweat. Just ask yourself this question: what am I looking for in a US competitor? Is it offense from everywhere? Is it the ability to compete against stout foreigners? Youth? A penchant to make in-match adjustments other wrestlers can’t even relate to? Speiller, when he is right, when he is committed and locked in, is a truly special athlete more than capable of earning a World medal.
This season, Speiller has not been all that active. He was performing just fine at the Bill Farrell Memorial until 2009 World bronze medalist Alexander Kikinov (BLR) stole his lunch money. But, as you might suspect, Speiller shrugged that off in time for the Open where he defeated Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm) via tech to seal up his second Senior National title.
Having the chance to represent the United States at the World Championships should provide every athlete with sufficient motivation in Tulsa, though Speiller may have some additional incentive. In 2017, he was seen as the clear favorite prior to his meeting up with eventual runner-up John Stefanowicz (Marines). The Floridian was nursing a one-point lead in the second period when Stefanowicz uncorked an arm-throw-correct-throw to walk away with a huge upset victory. Other than his march to the Olympic Trials finals in 2016, Speiller has never been this close to the promised land. It will be extraordinarily interesting to see how he deals with the brightest lights our country has to offer now that he is the frontrunner.
John Stefanowicz (Marines) — The aforementioned Stefanowicz opened a lot of eyes last season on the strength of his fifth-place finish at the Hungarian Grand Prix as well as his performance in Vegas. There are no more surprises. Stefanowicz is now regarded as one of the top Greco athletes in the country, and while he is not as polished as someone like Speiller or Cheney Haight (NYAC), that’s okay. The Marine has become extremely adept at delving out punishing doses of busy inside work that he uses to crack open attacks to the body. Good luck dealing with all that.
*Cheney Haight (NYAC) — Looking to make his third Senior World Team is Haight, who briefly considered walking away from the sport following his appearance at the Paris World Championships. This season, the 33-year-old went up to 87 kilograms for the Schultz, the Farrell, and the Open. He’s back down to 82 for one very special reason: he believes he can win. No one is going to argue with him.
Jake Fisher (Curby 3-Style) — A contemporary and close friend of Haight’s, Fisher is another former World Team member who injects some added credibility to an otherwise sparsely-attended bracket. The US Nationals represented Fisher’s first time on a competitive mat in two years, but that was at 87 kilos. He is dropping for this event, and like Haight, it’s probably for a reason other than the sheer enjoyment of cutting weight.
Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm) — Stanghill, during his Marquette days, was an up-and-coming bruiser who offered signs of (much) better things to come once his technical maturation began to catch up with his preference for headbanging physicality. He’s just about there. If Stanghill were to survive the challenge tournament and subsequently oust Speiller on Friday, would it be considered an upset? Absolutely, Speiller has defeated him numerous times, including at the 2018 Open. But it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in history. Stanghill has taken his place as an elite domestic competitor and should be considered an impending threat to the entire field, including the guy at the top.
Carter Nielsen (NMU/OTS) — 2018 U23 World Team member Nielsen told NMU head coach Rob Hermann earlier in the season that he was going to make this Team. There is ample evidence to suggest it wasn’t just boisterous practice-room talk. Nielsen, a Greco kid at heart who originally set out to chase after an NCAA career, has displayed glimpses of potential future greatness. He is solid from all positions, and similar to Morrow at 67, Schubert at 72, Walsh at 77, or Stefanowicz here, Nielsen will gladly fight you until his arms fall off to secure a win.
*87 kg: Ben Provisor — NYAC/NLWC
Most of the discussion surrounding Provisor throughout the 2017-18 campaign has centered around his training environment. Following the Worlds last August, the two-time Olympian ventured out east to State College, Pennsylvania to join up at the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. The move made news instantly. Provisor, as hardcore of a “Greco guy” as it can possibly get, practicing in what is at least seen as an equally-hardcore folkstyle/freestyle environment, does come off rather strange. At first. And when the Wisconsinite underwhelmed to begin his season, some of us were questioning the decision, even to the point of blaming some of his losses on the change in scenery.
That all went out the window in late-April. Provisor not only secured his third Senior National championship, he came back from a six-point hole against two-time Trials winner Joe Rau (Minnesota Storm) to do it. It was a watershed victory for Provisor in the sense that he had never demonstrated that degree of urgency before. Ever since he began making waves on the Senior level eight years ago, Provisor had gotten by on his power, his experience, and his in-match smarts. Never had we witnessed such fire from him in a main event type of setting. That says something, even now as he transitions into the latter stages of his career.
‘Patrick Martinez (NYAC) — It has been a different sort of year for Martinez in 2018. Usually an exceedingly active athlete, the California native has lightened his workload quite a bit. Some of that has to do with recovery from a minor injury, to be fair about the whole thing. But he started off hot as a pistol this season, scoring a win at the US/Belarus dual and golds at the Lavrikov Memorial and the Haavisto Cup, respectively. Martinez can perform internationally, and as a two-time World Teamer, would embrace another chance to bring back some hardware.
Kevin Radford (Sunkist) — Still a work in progress, but that’s a compliment. Radford is beginning to gain consistency, which is what he needs the most. His National title in 2016 was a revelation and he has tacked on a high number of matches in the (many) months since. Possesses next-level body awareness, but will present a more imposing picture once his technical execution is on par with everything else. Don’t be surprised if a Radford run results in a finals appearance.
Khymba Johnson (NYAC/OTS) — The National runner-up to Radford in ’16, Johnson offers all of the qualities that should make him a can’t-miss contender everywhere he goes. Immense power, solid par terre skills both offensively and defensively, and a work ethic that can’t be beat. He’ll have his say Thursday morning and command respect from anyone he is matched up with.
Rich Carlson (Minnesota Storm) — Carlson is in a very interesting place competitively. He is absolutely good enough to press the upper-tier athletes and run through lesser-experienced foes — but whether or not he is ready to take a step up and advance to a challenge tournament final is debatable. All of the guys in this weight class know that if Carlson focuses on sharpening his Greco skill-set that it’s just a matter of time before things begin to click. Don’t shudder with astonishment if he has a big day.
Easton Hargrave (CWC) — It used to be that Hargrave had no right being competitive. Yeah, he made a Junior Trials challenge tournament final some years back, but that hardly means a part-timer should turn anyone’s head at a Senior event. But after several seasons with Hargrave carving out a spot as a consistent performer — plus a move to Colorado Springs — he is now in the mix.
97 kg: Daniel Miller — Marines
Miller’s victory at the US Open represented a monumental stepping stone in his career. For one thing, he is still pretty new to Greco. The 2017-18 season is his third year as a full-time athlete. But what is even more interesting is that when Miller started out, he immediately demonstrated a knack for international competition. He’d go overseas, get a camp in, and put himself in position to snag a medal. Yet whenever a domestic tournament popped up, Miller couldn’t replicate his overseas success. An outlier of the highest order.
Therefore, the mental game needed some fixing. Together with Marine Corps head coach Jason Loukides, Miller went to work on his decision-making and overall approach. He still competed well across the Atlantic, but his focus during training sessions became much more about how to translate nuance, when to force scoring chances, and when to back off in favor of opening up more suitable, ready-made windows. Along with shoring up technical miscues, Miller has also learned that he doesn’t have to concern himself with falling behind in a bout. There is no more teeth-grinding frustration or worry. In Vegas, Miller remained composed, confident, and effective every second of every bout. He’s still on an upwards trajectory and most are going to nod their heads at the man below as the true favorite here — and rightfully so. But Miller discovered an important piece of himself in Vegas, which could prove even more valuable two days from now.
*G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist) — The most complete Greco-Roman wrestler in this weight class, and one of the best overall athletes in the United States. It’s really that simple. At 20 years of age, Hancock has already made five World Teams between Junior, Senior, and U23. He has also pounded out a handful of signature wins over top-flight international opponents, and he is improving by the minute. Put it this way — if Hancock makes the Team, he’ll be considered a medal candidate in Budapest. No other athlete in this weight class currently enjoys that same status.
Micah Burak (TMWC) — There comes a time when a folk/freestyle guy needs to stop being referred to as a “crossover”, and that’s where Burak now sits. Burak advanced to the Open final in large part because of his tenacity. He downright refused to yield position, and while that cost him a passive or two, it allowed him to not give up big scores that would have been too dramatic to come back from. Physically, he is almost like a European, the way he is loose and fidgets around in the tie-ups. You’d never guess he was good at leg diving, he looks like a natural.
Lucas Sheridan (Army/WCAP) — Sheridan’s debut at 97 kilograms arrived at the 2018 Bill Farrell Memorial. It was a success. Sheridan smashed through the bracket, received his gold, shook some hands, posed for a few photos, and instantly honed in on the Nationals. A hiccup at the hands of Burak interrupted his march to the finals, a disappointment he likely didn’t see coming. Sheridan is the ultimate gamer and is just as strong, if not stronger at 97 than he was at 87. He’ll be in the argument Thursday, no doubt about it.
Dan Olsen (Unattached) — The only thing stopping Olsen from being seen as a lockdown potentiality to make the mini tournament final is his environment. Unlike most in Tulsa, he has spent the majority of his time on the Senior circuit piecing together training sessions and workout partners. Olsen is way too good to ignore, but at the same time, he isn’t considered the looming problem he will be once his training situation is figured out.
Kevin Beazley (Cliff Keen WC) — Two-time Junior World Team member and 2015 Senior Trials runner-up Beazley returned to Greco last month with a rough-and-tumble day at the office in Italy. Before his hiatus, Beazley began delivering on all of his age-group promise, so it was a shame to see him go. It’s only one tournament since he’s back, but Beazley looked good. Really good. Good enough to think he can pick up where he left off.
*130 kg: Robby Smith — NYAC
Now 31, Smith is still the torch-carrier of a field that is just now beginning to witness a degree of meaningful turnover. His long stay atop the domestic mountain has not brought with it too many obstacles — an obvious statement if there ever was one. Smith has not lost to another American competitor in five years. So…yeah. There are a lot of words you can use to describe Smith’s tenure, and “dominant” is one of them.
Smith has been able to retain a stranglehold on the weight class because he keeps finding areas to improve upon. When he felt that his style could use more dynamism and pizazz, he began creating new lanes to open up his arm throw attempts. And when taller, more lumbering, plodding heavies started blocking him off by bearing downwards, Smith reconfigured his front headlock and turned it into one of his biggest weapons. His most recent upgrade has come in the power department. Working alongside OTC strength and conditioning coach/Greco athlete Morgan Flaharty (67 kg, NYAC), he is no longer as susceptible to being bullied by passive brutes. In fact, it has been the opposite. Smith is executing more throws, pushing around more opponents — and if he can stay healthy — presents more problems for domestic rivals than ever before. Just how it is.
Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP) — It has been a little quiet around these parts without Erickson, who underwent minor knee surgery earlier this spring. Before that, the hulking Montanan picked up his second consecutive individual gold at the Armed Forces Championships. Look, everyone knows the deal here when it comes to Smith/Erickson, and Erickson/ Adam Coon. The most productive move would be to forget all of it. Erickson has polished each area of his skill-set, including his endurance, and would love nothing more than to shed the bridesmaid label in Oklahoma.
Adam Coon (Cliff Keen WC) — Much of the media and fanbase(s) picked Junior World medalist/NCAA Division I runner-up Coon to get over the hump and hand Smith his first domestic loss in half a decade, but that didn’t happen in Vegas. What did, was Smith moving Coon off his spot and scoring step-out points. But the big man deserves credit: it had been two years since he competed in a Greco tournament and he fared exceptionally well. Coon is a tough out, but with the freestyle event unfolding hours after this one, who knows what his preparation has looked like.
Jacob Mitchell (Army/WCAP) — Talent for days, Mitchell is a versatile beast who can give anyone a rough go of it. There is still greenness to him, but nothing that could be interpreted as problematic. His presence in this weight class is welcomed, as Mitchell has played a vital role in adding some much-needed heavyweight depth.
Donny Longendyke (Minnesota Storm) — Up until Coon flattened him in the Open semis, Longendyke was having himself quite a day. Actually, he’s been having quite a season, and bolstered his resume with a silver at the Farrell back in March. Like Coon, Longendyke was a successful collegiate competitor who also brandished legitimate Greco ability. Be glad he’s here. His career is going to be a good one.
2018 US Senior Greco-Roman World Team Trials
Available to watch live in the US on FloWrestling (subscription required).
Thursday, June 21st (all times Central)
10:00am-3:00pm — Prelims, quarterfinals, and consolations
5:00pm-6:30pm — Semifinals
6:30pm-8:00pm — Challenge tournament finals
Friday, June 22nd
10:00am-12:00pm — Consolations
12:00pm-12:45pm — Best-of-three World Team Trials finals (Round 1)
12:45pm–2:00pm — Best-of-three World Team Trials finals (Round 2)
12:45pm-2:00pm — Third-place/National Team matches
2:00pm-2:30pm — Best-of-three World Team Trials finals (Round 3)