Friday afternoon at the Louis and Freda Stile Athletics Field House on the campus of Akron University, ten Greco-Roman athletes emerged to become part of the 2018 U23 World Team. Three of the names involved — Randon Miranda (60 kg, NYAC/OTS), Travis Rice (63 kg, NMU/OTS), and Carter Nielsen (82 kg, NMU/OTS) — offered specific reasons as to why their victories stood out related to either how they won or due to where they are at in their respective careers.
Miranda, one of the winningest Greco-Roman athletes the US has had over the past year in terms of international medals, defeated reigning champ Dalton Roberts (NYAC/OTS) by coming back down 3-1 with :06 left to crash his way into a four-pointer as time expired. There is more to all of this than just the ending. Miranda was a legitimate threat to face 2018 US Open champ Max Nowry (Army/WCAP) in the 55-kilogram Senior Trials — and still would be if he was staying in that weight class. But after numerous conversations with coaches and heavy contemplation, the California has decided to stay at 60 kilos. When you consider that all of Miranda’s tournament victories this season (five) have come at either 59 or 60, it’s easy to understand his line of thinking. Plus, it is how he is mapping out his future.
Rice was a Junior World Team member in 2015, though in the years since he experienced difficulty repeating that success. He still competed well in spots, but the results didn’t match his goals nor his overall ability. Then the weight classes changed, as well as the weigh-in procedures — and he moved down in weight, not up. Rice also started gradually coming into his own more and more, highlighted by a fifth-place finish at April’s Open. On Friday, he engineered his own scintillating comeback by erasing two six-point deficits to take out Xavier Johnson (Marines), winning the conclusive battle via tech fall. Whether it was a long time coming or not is up in the air. What isn’t, is that Rice now occupies a place as one of the hottest athletes in the country.
And then there is Nielsen, who spent less than two total minutes on the mat as he dominated his way to the 82-kilogram final opposite 2018 Junior National Champion Andrew Berreyesa. A grinding 1-1 criteria victory in the first bout of the series gave way to a lopsided 12-2 tech to close it out. Originally a Division I wrestler for North Dakota State, Nielsen switched over to full-time Greco last fall, earning a silver medal at Sweden’s Malar Cupen before recovering from a severely-torn ACL. Therefore, the U23 Trials represented Nielsen’s first tournament back this calendar year. It was as impressive as a return as it gets. Through his five matches on Friday, the 21-year-old outscored four opponents 36-3 with a pin and three tech falls.
Randon Miranda — 60 kg, NYAC/OTS (@randontheguy)
5PM: Right after the reset and right before the whistle at :06 left, you had this expression on your face that is unforgettable. You looked over your shoulder, kind of off to the side, and your face basically said, “Okay, screw it, let’s see what happens…”
Randon Miranda: Yeah, yeah, that’s pretty much how it was. It kind of goes back to the first match (against Roberts). It wasn’t like I was thinking I’m done, more like I was upset and just wondering, How do I move on? And then we had that break. It was weird how they did it all. I was talking to my parents. I talked to my mom. She said, “You’ve got to just take all of that negative energy out and go back out there and wrestle. You can’t go out there emotionally attached to it.”
When that third match happened, I just sat there like, Okay, there are six seconds left. She had said, “If it’s meant to be, it’s going to happen. Just got out there and do it.” So yeah, I went back out there like, I’ve got six seconds left, fuck it. If I’m going to lose, it’s going to be me losing it by trying 120%, which is how I planned on going out. If it’s meant to be, it’s going to happen.
So I just went back out there and took a moment, just like, Let’s do this. I got up, shook it off, I got ready, and then it just felt like everything was planned. When I won the second match, I just thought, There’s no way I can lose this. And it just worked out in the best way possible. He went for that high-dive attempt, and it kind of felt weird, too, because I felt like if he went for a high dive that I would back out, I would move my hips. But it was an opening opportunity to where I was just like, I’m going to drive through this, and it just worked out. It was instinct, to the point when I got him on his back I was confused, I can’t believe I just did that.
That’s why after I won I was just so pumped about it because it was just like, It just happened. It was an in-the-moment thing. I don’t know how to explain it. It just felt right.
5PM: Well it looked like you were bounding up as he came in at first glance, almost as if you were going to go for a “Flying Squirrel” or something.
Miranda: Yup. We don’t usually have our coaches in our corners because we’re both NYAC and whatever. Dalton had his dad in his corner, of course, and that doesn’t bother me at all, that is just support and if my dad was there I am sure he would be doing the same thing. In the middle of the second period during the second match, JD (Robbins), (Geordan) Speiller’s coach, he came up to me. I forget exactly what his words were, but it was something like, You need a corner man. You’re a top guy and I’m a top coach. Something like that. He was a good coach to have, even though he’s not my coach and I have just trained beside him. But he was mentally there for me, just really supportive and I have to thank him, as well.
But I just can’t explain it. I keep watching the video over and over and over again, and it’s like, I’m here. 60 kilograms, I’m there. And at Seniors, I am going to be there (60), too. It’s to the point where I know what I am capable of now. I’m not even set at 60 yet, I’m not the strongest or at my peak yet. But when I get to that point it’s going to be scary for a lot of people, because when I get to 65 or 66 and I’m cutting down to 60, everyone knows it’s going to be my weight. That is what I truly believe. I’m sure other people are thinking, Well, Randon is really small. They might not be thinking they’re going to take advantage of me, but now is the time for me to take advantage of that weight before I fully fill into my body. I mean for 2020, I’m set.
That’s just how I feel about it after this happened. Dalton, I respect him, love him. I don’t think he’s having the best time cutting to 60. Me? I had Taco Bell a week before the tournament. So, I am enjoying myself, I’m having fun, I’m eating. I am enjoying the sport and things are working out really well.
As for 55, I talked to Momir (Petković) and Ahad (Javansalehi). Ahad, even in Vegas, he said, “You don’t change things when things are going well.” When I had won at 60 in New York, he was like, Stay there. No more cutting, no more. Momir, he had just come up to NMU, and that was the heart-to-heart I really had. He told me that if I do all the right things for wrestling, all of the accolades are going to come. He told me, basically, everything I want is going to come if I keep doing what I am supposed to do. That was what helped me make the choice for 60. It wasn’t about the weight cut. I even brought it up to him, I want to wrestle Sam (Hazewinkel) again. Now it feels personal, now I need to go and beat him.
But I just let that all go. I don’t care if people think I can’t beat him or that I can’t make the weight. I am going to go 60, I think it fits really well. At Seniors, there are still tough people to beat but I am just going to go out there and have fun with it. I know that in the next couple of years 60 will be my weight and people will know that it’s my weight. And when I am cutting to 60, they are going to have to decide if they want to go to a non-Olympic weight or to Randon’s weight. That’s how I feel about that.
5PM: You don’t seem small for 60. Last year, yes. Not as much anymore. But last fall, when you and I talked about 55, you brought up Ildar (Hafizov) and guys like him, how they are bigger, physically mature, how they are “men” and I can see at the time why you said that. But a lot has changed since then. You are different physically and everywhere else, and you have won a ton of matches. I’d have to imagine that along with your recent results and the weight-cutting, you want to go 60 because it is also the Olympic weight.
Miranda: That’s exactly the main conversation. Why would I go 55, possibly win it, or it could be like Vegas and it just doesn’t go my way? Why would I go down and possibly risk that, and on top of that, possibly be further behind at the Olympic weight? That was the main thing. I need to start now, I need to start growing now, because I do think by this time next year if we’re talking again, I am going to look totally different. I am going to more physically mature by this time next year. I am going to be a lot better, a lot stronger, slicker, and just overall, a lot technically better. I am going to be better in all fields and that is what I need to focus on.
Like Momir told me, Let’s say you go down to 55 and win a World Championship. Okay, then you get to 2020 and you don’t make the Olympic Team. Then what does it mean? Yeah, you won a World Championship and that’s the goal, I want to do that. Yes, we need medals. But at the same time, I need to be a little selfish. I know what the country needs and I know it (winning at 55) could be a possible booster. But at the same time, if I am doing all the right things, that’s all going to come.
So that’s my focus. I mean, we have five months until the U23 Worlds. In that five months, I can even grow a little more because I’m not cutting. I only weight about 62 kilos just enjoying life, eating, and having fun. If I really want to diet, I can probably weight 60 or even 59 maybe. But I am enjoying it and that is what I am mainly focused on, the Olympic year. Because in two years, there are going to be people moving up to 67 and people who don’t know what to do. It’s a weird mix between 60 and 67 where if you weigh 64 those four kilos could either kill you with the two weigh-ins, or it could work out in your favor. There are going to be people cutting, there are going to be people moving up, and I am going to be in the same spot. I won’t be growing that much. My body is done growing and I am at the height I think I need to be. The only thing that needs to change is my strength and I will be putting muscle on. Just keeping what I have now and adding muscle to it. That is mostly what I am focused on.
If I keep training as much as I do and as hard as I do with the help of Andy (Bisek), Coach Rob (Hermann), and my partners, those in my weight are going to have to experience the fact they have helped me grow to beat them. That’s how I truly feel right now. The guys at 60 now who are the top and are older, they are going to experience something where they will be saying, We wrestled this kid and we helped him get better to beat us. I’ve thought about this many times before I’ve gone to sleep and that is what’s going to end up happening. I am waiting until that day comes, because right now as I’ve said, I am enjoying it. I just won U23’s. It’s not that I don’t go out there wanting to win — I go out there all the time wanting to win — but I’m just enjoying it, having fun with my lifestyle, and when my body matures, it is going to a long time where I will be that person.
5PM: It seems like your age is a big factor in all of this that way you can prepare for it, so to speak, right?
Miranda: Yes, and it’s just weird because I don’t know if it has something to do with my family, but my parents still look really, really young. We’ll go somewhere and people will think my mom is my sister, that’s how young she looks. My dad, he hasn’t aged since I started wrestling. He’s the same, the same person. They don’t age and I’ve always been like a baby. I still look like a kid. Even now, people who don’t know me sometimes think I am 17 or 18. I feel like that isn’t going to change, I am always going to look young.
And that’s my point. I don’t think my body is going to grow too much more than what it already looks like. I am going to remain looking young, I am going to be young for a long time, my body is going to be young, and I feel like I have a good couple of quads in me. In this sport, it is hard to be a 22 or 23-year-old Olympic Champion, especially in Greco, I feel like. Freestyle, it can be different, we have guys who can go over to the Olympics and win while they are young. Now, I don’t want to say freestyle isn’t difficult, but — I have been overseas and I have wrestled freestyle kids overseas. There are counties that do not wrestle freestyle all over the world and Greco is their only sport. I know this. I don’t care what anybody says, I know this because of my experience. And I believe and know that Greco is the toughest sport in the world. It may not seem that way in America, and I don’t want to say it is because we don’t have the same opportunities, but we have less opportunities. We only have around four or five main Greco training centers in the country and I might be overdoing it. But you can go to any Big 10 or Big 12 school and they have RTC’s (regional training centers), they’ve got freestyle, and they have college kids, because they’re around all that. We’re not around that when we are nine or ten-years-old.
With me being young, if I can peak at around 23 or 24, I still feel like that is early. I also think that is going to be the time period when things start to shift, where it’s like, That’s Randon, that’s his weight, he’s one of the guys. Once I get to that point, the Olympics, the Worlds, it’s all going to come together. So I don’t want to put a timeline on it necessarily because you have people like (Harry) Lester or (Andy) Bisek who were competing until they were 30. I’m 21 right now and I am not saying I am going to be 36 and still competing, but who knows? Look at Hazewinkel, he’s up there and he is still competing. And he still looks good. He still looks like Hazewinkel. His body has matured a little bit maybe, but that’s where I am going with this. I am going to feel young and I am going to be young for a long time, but I have to start now that way when the time comes, I’m already set. That is what’s going to work perfectly for me.
Travis Rice — 63 kg, NMU/OTS (@Trav_Nas_Rice)
5PM: You had wrestled Johnson before, in fact pretty recently, and it didn’t go so well. Two months later, what is the major difference here?
Travis Rice: The difference between that match and the two today is that I pushed the pace. The match in New York, I felt like I pushed the pace but he scored off of my attempt at a high dive. So I think today, I just wanted to get into my positions, feel him out a little bit, and work from there. But I really wasn’t looking for a match-ending move. Today, I took ground, moved him around, and worked for my stuff off of his reactions.
5PM: It seems like this result was building. Wrestling-wise, you performed solid in New York but you kicked it up a notch Vegas and competed impressively out there, making the semifinals. So this didn’t come as a total shock to the system, considering all that. But it does seem like you came into Akron with some momentum.
Rice: Maybe, a little bit, but going into every tournament it is kind of like a reset button. When you do well somewhere, you can definitely pick it apart and say, Okay, this worked good, this didn’t, but as far as overall performance placing-wise? No, I don’t think that carries over for me. Each time, you should completely start over. It shouldn’t matter who you wrestle, you should start over.
5PM: When you’re down by six points in a final, two points away from a tech, what’s running through you mind?
Rice: What’s going through my mind is that it doesn’t matter I’m down 6-0. If I don’t do anything, I am going to lose anyway, so why not try something? Those first six points he scored on me, he did a good job and everything, but it wasn’t from our feet, it was from par terre and I felt like I should have stopped that better. But it didn’t really occur to me (the score). I just thought, Okay, I’ve got to do something. If I don’t do anything, I’m already going to lose, so why not go for it?
When I was down 6-2 with :17 to go, that’s what went through my head. Okay, 17 seconds left. I know I’ve got to go feet to back, what can I do with 17 seconds? I’ve got to do something. And then it just happened that I opened him up in that position, you know?
5PM: Match 2, you really opened up at the end. It was like you knew you could score.
Rice: Oh yeah, I definitely knew I could score.
5PM: Okay, now before that happened, the score was 6-6 with you on top but yet you challenged and there wasn’t a lot of time left. I thought that was a pretty big risk on your part. What were you thinking?
Rice: Well at first, I wasn’t sure if I was winning or losing, and then I walked over there as they (officials) were conferring. Before the challenge, I knew I was winning, it was just a little miscommunication with Coach (Bryan) Medlin (laughs). I think he was looking for a fleeing call on that takedown or something. But after I challenged it and realized I was down, I was like, Ah, I don’t care, I am going to score anyway. So it didn’t really bother me.
After the match, he (Medlin) and I were talking. Before he could even say Good job, he goes, “Yeah, you were winning on that, that was a bad challenge.” But what it does show is the amount of trust I have in my coaches. I wasn’t even worried about criteria. I was wrestling like I was losing the whole time, anyway. I thought I was, so if I was, whatever, I had to score no matter what. I was winning and I still scored.
5PM: With how explosive Johnson is, it was probably a good idea to try and score even if you were winning.
Rice: Probably, yeah. You have to keep on moving, keep on wrestling like you’re losing.
5PM: There is still another World Team for you to make this year. Is there a breathing-out period after this or are you back to work immediately?
Rice: Today is Friday, correct? We’re hanging out for now, just relaxing. Saturday, we are driving back to Marquette, Sunday we’ll probably take it pretty easy, too, and then on Monday I’ll be back on the mat. Maybe not super-hard, but I’ll be back on the mat Monday for sure, just because it is so close to the World Team Trials.
5PM: We’ve talked about this previously, but you didn’t just come down in weight this season, you did so with same-day and two-day weigh-ins. What has been the secret? Does this weight class just fit your body style better? Or is it a combination of other factors such as focusing more, dieting, whatever?
Rice: Yeah, I think it is definitely a combination of both. I’d say that this weight class fits my body size well, but then again, with the same-day weigh-ins it definitely hurts. Everything has to be planned out accordingly and I think that is what I’ve been doing really well, managing my weight and my weight cuts. Keeping track of what I weigh a month out from the tournament, two weeks from the tournament, how much I am the night before or the day of weigh-ins. I think as far as the preparation, a big thing is I have been using my background in sports science and stuff like that to help myself as much as I can along with just knowing my body and what does and doesn’t work.
I also definitely feel like it does help me kind of focus. When you’re doing extra workouts, you get to that point where it’s Why the hell am I doing this?, when you can just lounge back and make weight a whole lot easier. But when that happens, it gives you time to think and puts everything into perspective why I’m doing it.
5PM: You made a World Team three years ago as a Junior, so you’ve had a bit of a break. While you still have the chance to make two World Teams this year, catching you in the moment now, where do you rank your win today against the 2015 Junior Trials?
Rice: 2015 still seems like it was really exciting to me. Before that (2015), I thought I was a good wrestler but I never completely broke through. I’d have a good match but I would never place at the big tournaments, so I think that one was definitely more exciting. But this one showed I’m still here, that I didn’t go away. Maybe I wasn’t getting the results, but everything has been building upon it and today it just kind of opened up.
Carter Nielsen — 82 kg, NMU/OTS (@ThatKidCartel)
5PM: Through your first three matches, you totaled less than two minutes of actual mat time.
Carter Nielsen: Yeah, that was the plan. I probably would have liked to control positions a little more. Spencer (Woods) came out and surprised me, he wrestled a little differently than how he does in practice. I was like, Who, okay, we’re going to scrap. But then I got my chance on top and took care of it.
5PM: You last wrestled Berreyesa in October, it was a pretty fun bout.
Nielsen: Yeah it was.
5PM: You’re both better now than you were in October.
Nielsen: Oh, for sure, way better, him especially. He surprised me. I was thinking it could be similar to the semis, that I could get on top and it would be over. But he showed me that he was the real deal and I have a lot of respect for that. I didn’t know how the match was going to go. I was just hoping to keep my composure, like we talked about the other day, the score doesn’t matter. And he came out and I was like, Okay, we’re going to scrap.
5PM: Match 2 was vastly different than the first, which was two total points and a criteria. In the second match you took command fairly early on and never looked back. Was there a difference in strategy from matches 1 to 2?
Nielsen: Yeah, there really was. I talked to my coaches, and other people too, and you can’t let the refs decide the match. I lucked out a little bit maybe in how the ref was calling the passives. Whoever goes down first or whoever goes down second is up to the ref, so really, I didn’t score any points.
The second match, I wanted to score, I wanted to open up. I didn’t want it to be 1-1. When I got on top, I knew I could turn him. I was really confident, I’ve been working a lot on my gutwrench, and it worked in the match. When he lifted me up with the side lift I was like, Okay, I’m just going to wrestle through. Somehow, I was able to land on my feet — I’m not sure how — but I was able to land on my feet and I threw him.
5PM: That was the turning point.
Nielsen: Yes. After that, in the corner Rob told me, “Finish the match. You better not end this match with just eight points.” I was like, Okay, I just have one takedown, that’s it. I’m going to go score. And I was able to score.
5PM: You have a Senior Trials coming up quickly. This was one of your two goals. So there probably is no time to really enjoy this too much.
Nielsen: No, I’m really beat up right now. I just wrestled five matches in my first tournament back and I’m pretty sore to be honest with you. My ribs are sore and I am going to try to take five days off or so and try to get back really healthy. Then I am just going to hit it hard again before the Senior Trials and go in there and scrap.