For the first time, there are two Athletes of the Year.
When the selections came in from the 5PM Voting Committee, the numbers were even for Max Nowry (60 kg, Army/WCAP, world #5 at 55 kg) and G’Angelo Hancock (97 kg, Sunkist, world #2). Their fellow 2019 World Team member Patrick Smith (77 kg, Minnesota Storm) also received consideration, finishing third.
2019 was indeed a special year for the two wrestlers on opposite sides of the weight class spectrum.
After winning the ’18 US Open but falling in the World Team Trials to Sam Hazewinkel, Nowry hung in as best as he could throughout the proceeding summer as a training partner despite requiring surgery on his hips. He underwent two procedures later that fall and did not return to competition until the US Armed Forces Championships last February, where he went 3-0. April is when he began rounding into complete form. At the Pan Am Championships, Nowry ran the table in the 55 kilogram bracket, a performance highlighted by a memorable comeback against Sargis Khachatryan (BRA), who had defeated Nowry the year prior. The gold was Nowry’s second from a Pan Am Championships event.
The next week, Nowry earned his second consecutive US Open title, which meant an automatic berth in the Final X Series (Rutgers). His opponent in that best-of-three series was rising star and ’18 Junior World Teamer Brady Koontz (TMWC/Ohio RTC). Nowry was tested on occasion by Koontz, but hit a big five in their second bout to wind up sweeping the series in two straight for his first spot on a Senior World Team. Just before the Worlds, the 29-year-old grabbed a bronze at the highly competitive Wladyslaw Pytlasinski Memorial in Poland.
The World Championships in September delivered two of Nowry’s most impressive matches in recent memory. In the round-of-16, he was paired with ’19 European Championships bronze Fabian Schmitt of Germany. The two first met in the ’18 Grand Prix of Germany. Nowry won the first bout in their round-robin bracket, and Schmitt won the deciding match for third. It was never close in Nur-Sultan, as Nowry iced Schmitt in the second period to win via 10-1 tech.
Following a decision loss to World runner-up Khorlan Zhakansha (KAZ) in the quarterfinal, Nowry dominated fourth-seed Abdelkerim Fergat (ALG) to secure a berth in the bronze round but fell short against returning World Champion Eldaniz Azizli (AZE).
On the heels of his 5th place finish at the Worlds, Nowry did not take much time to rest. Less than a month later, he was in Wuhan, China for the CISM Military World Games, where he won a bronze (in freestyle). He then closed out the competitive portion of ’19 by appearing in the Bill Farrell Memorial in New York. Wrestling up at 60 kilograms due to the Olympic Year, Nowry once again defeated Koontz before clipping National Team member Sammy Jones (NYAC/NMU). The final round pitted Nowry against teammate Ryan Mango (world #6), but rather than engage in battle, the duo played “rock, paper, scissors” in order to determine the tournament champ (Mango won).
Nowry, who won or medaled in each event he entered in ’19 except the Senior World Championships, was also voted the 5PM Impact Performer in our recent fan ballot.
Nowry won or medaled in each event this past year aside from the Worlds. The same is true of Hancock, and he competed in even more tournaments.
Everywhere Hancock went, it seemed like he was taking out one big name or another. On the docket last winter were the Dave Schultz Memorial (he won gold) and two United World Wrestling “Ranking Series” tournaments in a row — first the Grand Prix Zagreb Open, and two weeks later, the Hungarian Grand Prix. At Zagreb, Hancock was mired in a tough bout with Adam Varga (HUN) for bronze deep into the second period. Needing a definitive score, the Coloradan executed a Korean front headlock to net clutch exposure points necessary to seal the victory (image below).
The bronze in Zagreb was impressive but what happened in Hungary wouldn’t be topped. Hancock beat the brakes off of Lee Se-Yeol (KOR) before grinding out a pair of close wins over Abudourexiti Alimujiang (CHN) and Hassan Ali Aryanezhad (IRI). That set up quite the intriguing final. Standing across was two-time University World gold Fatih Baskoy (TUR). Hancock had defeated Baskoy in the first round of the ’17 Worlds, and that was a tightly-contested bout. And it was the same thing in Hungary. Hancock had a 1-0 lead in the second that was quickly erased after Baskoy’s passivity point and a subsequent takedown put him ahead by two. The American wasn’t having it. For on the very next restart, Hancock quickly navigated the ties, slid an arm drag, and forced his own takedown. The clutch sequence allowed Hancock to retake command and he fended off Baskoy’s advances the rest of the way. Due to its degree of difficulty and venue, Hancock’s win over Baskoy was one of our “Matches of the Year”.
But the train didn’t slow down in Hungary. Hancock stayed overseas in advance of Thor Masters, where he finished third with ’18 U23 World silver Zsolt Toeroek (HUN) among his victims. A silver at the Pan Am Championships came next, due in large part to questionable officiating, and after that, Hancock returned to Europe for one more “Ranking Series” event, the Sassari City/Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Italy. En-route to the final, he shut down ’09 World Champion Balazs Kiss (HUN) before falling in a slow-paced, passivity-happy affair with former Junior World champ Nikoloz Kakhelashvili (ITA). The second week of June saw Hancock down Lucas Sheridan (Army/WCAP) in two straight at Final X: Lincoln, which cemented his place on a US World Team for the third consecutive year.
A runner-up performance at the Pan American Games gave way to the World Championships, where Hancock was seeded third and considered a legitimate threat to either win, earn a medal, or qualify 97 kilograms for the Tokyo Olympics. But a round-of-16 loss to ’14 World Champion Melonin Noumonvi (FRA) cut his run surprisingly short. He didn’t stay down too long, however. Hancock resumed training following a brief rest, and in November, captured gold at the Bill Farrell Memorial for a second time.
Both Nowry and Hancock will be featured in Q&A segments regarding their selection as Athletes of the Year shortly.