LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Last night, Hayden Tuma (59 kg, Army/WCAP), Kamal Bey (75 kg, Sunkist), and Patrick Smith (71 kg, Minnesota Storm) were first time winners at the 2016 US Greco Roman Nationals/World Team Trials. Tonight, three more wrestlers joined the club.
Kevin Radford (85 kg, Sunkist) G’Angelo Hancock (98 kg, NYAC), and Toby Erickson (130 kg, Army/WCAP) all captured the “stop signs” that US athletes covet and each did so in his way. The finals took place earlier today at the Westgate Resort Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
For Radford, it meant turning back Khymbakhy Johnson (NYAC-OTS), who earlier in the day escaped in a tenuous struggle against two-time Olympian Ben Provisor (NYAC). Johnson, emboldened following his upset over Provisor, operated with the same earnest aggression in the bout’s opening moments, clipping and clawing through tie-up attempts meant to disrupt Radford just enough to seize an attack. To Radford’s credit, he was equally motivated. A focus on footwork and positioning allow him to withstand any and all attacks until his moment arrived. And that it did in the final minute of the first period.
Radford took the initiative and tried to explode through on a high-dive attempt. Johnson countered by meeting Radford’s arms to secure a bodylock. As he drove forward, Radford went with it, locking double underhooks and arching over off the edge for a big four-points. Johnson regrouped enough to resume his choppy inside game but didn’t have the opportunity to respond before the close of the frame.
With under a minute left in the second period, a passivity point came Johnson’s way to narrow the deficit to 4-1. Maybe there was something in the air or maybe, Radford realized he was close to the biggest win of his career. At any extent, the Sunkist representative understood what needed to be done. Radford stayed on the gas as best he could to avoid being dinged for another passive call that could change the complexion of the contest. A high-dive attempt in between shrewd yet effective pummeling did not bring more points, but it did keep Johnson at bay long enough for Radford to hold onto his lead and take this one all the way home. Radford, who is just starting to embark on a full-time Greco Roman journey, earns his first US National title 4-1 and in the process, begins a new life as a serious contender at a weight class badly in need of more.
If there is anyone in the US who enjoys a good battle, it’s Cheney Haight. There is just something to be said for an athlete who knows how to greet contact and reciprocate appropriately.
Facing off against the younger, surging Jon Jay Chavez (NYAC), Haight delivered a vintage performance. The 31 year-old from Orem, Utah capitalized on an early Chavez mistake and unleashed a wickedly fast arm throw in the first minute of the match to take a 4-0 lead. From there, it was a bully’s paradise. Haight repeatedly demonstrated he was the stronger and more experienced of the two and let his opponent know it. It wasn’t as if Chavez was lazy or complacent down on points. If anything, the opposite was true. Chavez made an effort to mount some offense, but anytime he got remotely close to a favorable position, Haight adjusted, often with force, easily turning back any threats that came his way.
While another point would not be scored, the action on the mat remained contentious throughout the conclusive stanza. Chavez, clearly wrestling with a focus on finding something, anything he could work with up close, simply did not have the juice necessary to make a dent. Haight worked two-on-one’s and underhooks in pursuit of another scoring opportunity and though one wouldn’t reveal itself, the output mattered. Chavez, a talented grappler who earned his way in the finals by defeating perennial contender Jon Anderson (Army/WCAP), ran out of answers just as he eventually ran out of time. Haight takes the win and his second Senior National title with a 4-0 shutout.
For those who enjoy a hint of chippiness with their Greco, Hancock/Zillmer part II checked all of the boxes.
From whistle to whistle, it was clear two things were at play — both are skilled, capable young athletes who bring out the best (and worst) in each other; and also, they don’t seem to like each other very much.
Hancock burst forward to create windows to start off as he searched for a lock he could exploit. He would consistently be frustrated by Hayden Zillmer (Minnesota Storm), who appeared undaunted by the ferocity being brought his way. Frustration was evident in Hancock’s game, too. While up by a passivity point and working Zillmer towards the boundary, Hancock came up high with a club that found Zillmer’s face. Following a warning, the match resumed and although there were no further histrionics in the first period, more would be on the horizon.
Hancock went back to his gameplan in the second. He consistently pushed off but not away, lest he fall victim to the passivity bug himself. Zillmer tried negotiating tie-up attempts but was kept on the defensive too often, which resulted in another point for Hancock midway through the second. The clashing continued on and on for the duration of the contest and another passive call went Hancock’s way for a 2-0 lead. Zillmer kicked it up a bit towards the end, but it was too little too late.
After the whistle blew signifying a Hancock National title, his first, he pushed off of Zillmer once more. Zillmer took issue with the behavior and let Hancock know about it only to be met with a smile. These two are bound to meet again at some point on domestic soil and when they do, the mat will drip with the bad blood that now looms over their meetings.
In a fun heavyweight final, Erickson showed that even with a little time off he can still be a force worth recognizing. Snaps, two-on-one’s and some savvy hand-fighting skills were the recipe for Erickson against heavyweight prospect and WCAP teammate Jacob Mitchell.
Mitchell, known for his impressive athleticism and predilection for exciting throws, had nary an answer for the bruising approach his opponent favored. Erickson was able to move Mitchell off center by pummeling into positions that worked to his advantage and he would be dutifully awarded with the first passivity point in the bout. Mitchell got one back to take a criteria lead, but any hint of offense he demonstrated earlier in the day was not be found.
The second period was a repeat of the first. Erickson, prying in and using his stance to maintain effective posture; Mitchell, leaning in and warding off precarious positions. It was as evenly-matched as it could get when it came to the tie-up’s but Erickson checked in as the overall busier athlete. A second passivity point came the wrestler’s way for a 2-1 score he nursed to the end to nail down his first US Nationals championship.
- Kamal Bey (75 kg, Sunkist) was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler. Bey outscored four opponents on Saturday, including Jesse Porter (NYAC-OTS) in the finals, 39-2 to punctuate his first title.
- NYAC won the championship for the team standings.
- 17-year old Tommy Brackett (Tennessee), who just began training for the event a week ago, finished in 6th place.