UPDATE: the original version of this story did not include the names of the Belarusian competitors.
Earlier today in Grodno, Belarus, three USA Greco-Roman Seniors scored victories to put a cap on a neat event that until yesterday, wasn’t publicized. The dual meet pitting seven Team USA athletes against a Belarusian squad was originally set to air live on the 5PM Instagram until the logistics proved too much to overcome. But that did little to take away from what was a rare opportunity for US wrestlers to get in an impromptu dual that wound up taking place before an electric crowd hungry for an afternoon of action.
Patrick Martinez (87 kg, NYAC) enjoys competing internationally as much as anyone, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he revved the engine up for this event, and he earned himself a nice 7-3 win over Ilya Lavrinovich to open up his season. For Martinez, the dual represented his first match since April’s World Team Trials, where he placed fifth. The two-time World Team member had been itching to get back on the competitive track and break out with a more scoring-friendly approach. Saturday’s result appeared to offer a glimpse of that directive and he was satisfied with the result. “I like wrestling,” Martinez said afterwards. “I have a lot more offensive stuff up my sleeve and I didn’t even get to open up 100%.”
Right along with Martinez on the winning side of things was U23 World Teamer Barrett Stanghill (87 kg, Minnesota Storm). Like the rest of the US squad, Stanghill is in Belarus for a multi-national training camp. The difference is that he, along with Kamal Bey (80 kg, Sunkist, world no. 18 at 75 kg), Blake Smith (98 kg, NMU/OTS), and G’Angelo Hancock (130 kg, Sunkist, world no. 16 at 98 kg), is also preparing for the World Championships, scheduled for just over two weeks from now in Bydgoszcz, Poland. On Saturday, Stanghill locked up with Andrey Mikhailovsky, grinding it out all the way through to come away with his hand raised by virtue of a razor thin 2-1 score.
Stanghill, who won two high school state championships in his home state of Montana before becoming a full-time Greco-Roman wrestler, was actually somewhat unfamiliar with the dual meet format prior to Saturday. He was happy with his win in Belarus, without a doubt. But the event’s setting and accompanying theatrics also seemed to have left an impression on him.
“It was sweet,” Stanghill said. “In high school, we didn’t do duals because it was a super small school, so we would have quads. So this was really the first time I got the chance to be involved in a dual and it was great. It was in a nightclub and they hyped it up, they had videos, pictures of Coach Lindland and other photos, and everyone in the crowd had a Belarus flag and an American flag. Everyone was right there, it was awesome.”
The last of the victorious Americans was also the heaviest — Hancock. Despite being tested on occasion by Maksim Paskov, the 20-year-old phenom managed to emerge with a 4-2 victory. It has been quite the ride for Hancock the last two years, but even more so as of late. Beginning last November, he won every domestic event on the calendar with the exception of the University Nationals this past June. But even on that day, the Coloradan was impressive, defeating Smith in the special best-of-three wrestle-off before the tournament began and later in the day, finished second in an odd, controversially-clouded final. After that, it was both the Junior and Senior World Championships before Hancock went up in weight for the U23 Trials, where he cruised throughout.
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Reigning Junior World champ Bey, Nick Tarpley (75 kg, NYAC), Kevin Radford (87 kg, Sunkist) and Smith weren’t as fortunate as the other three. Facing off with 2005 Junior World bronze medalist and multi-time World Team member Valery Palenski, Bey was unable to ignite his offense the way he is accustomed to, falling 11-3. It was a similar story for Tarpley and Radford, as both were on the wrong side of tech fall losses. Smith reportedly started to find himself in a bit of a dogfight during his bout, but he, too, ultimately lost via tech to 2014 Golden Grand Prix runner-up Alexander Hrabovik.
🇺🇸 vs 🇧🇾 • • Team USA vs Belarus Dual in Grodno, Belarus. It was in a nightclub, and it was packed. In between each match they had sexy dancers do stuff. The crowd was great and loud. The whole thing was great! Lots of fun! #teamusa #usawrestling #usaw #teambelarus #belaruswrestling #grodnobelarus #grodno #grecoromanwrestling #gogreco #usavsbelarus #🇺🇸vs🇧🇾 #teamtarpley #ihaveacoolasslife #ihavequitethelife #somuchmeat #somuchcheese #sexydancergirls
In the end, it might not have been a team victory for the Americans, but it was a unique experience that provided the brand of tough competition that makes lacing them up overseas worth the trip. US National Team head coach Matt Lindland was looking for that kind of value going in and back at his hotel later on, he reflected both on the team’s performance as well as the out-of-the-ordinary setting in which the dual took place.
“The competitive lesson would be to be prepared,” offered Lindland. “I think this was more about presenting our sport in a good way and put on good, exciting fights, but I think you still want to be prepared, take every competition seriously, and take something away from each match, too. The guys who won can still improve, especially Barrett, he left a lot of scoring on the table. The kid has a lot more potential to score points. He’s kind of like a Pat Smith, he’s a grinder, in your face, and just a tough, tough guy capable of scoring, but doesn’t give himself enough opportunities, doesn’t make enough legitimate attempts to score.
“The guys who lost, maybe it was the hype of the event and they just weren’t focused. Maybe they were like, Wow, this is a cool event, and kind of forgot what they were there to do, which is not only put on a show, but also to compete.”
USA vs. BELARUS DUAL MEET RESULTS
Grodno City, Belarus
77 kg: Roman Malayvsky (BLR) def. Nick Tarpley (NYAC) 8-0, TF
80 kg: Valery Palenski (BLR) def. Kamal Bey (Sunkist) 11-3, TF
87 kg: Patrick Martinez (NYAC) def. Ilya Lavrinovich (BLR) 7-3
87 kg: Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm) def. Andrey Mikailovsky (BLR) 2-1
87 kg: Radik Kuliev (BLR) def. Kevin Radford (Sunkist) 8-0, TF
98 kg: Alexander Hrabovik (BLR) def. Blake Smith (NMU/OTS) 8-0, TF
130 kg: G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist) def. Maksim Paskov (BLR) 4-2
Special thanks to reader Raoul Vello Leitham for his assistance with the results.