The four Americans competing on Day 1 of the inaugural U23 World Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland varied in terms of overall experience and credentials, but each shared one important detail: they were all first-timers on the World stage. Whether or not that played a factor in what was a winless morning for Team USA is immaterial right now, although it is hard to imagine some tough lessons won’t be gleaned from the results.
Airing live on Trackwrestling.com, the first day of action at the U23 Worlds started nearly thirty minutes late before Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm) took the mat in the 85 kilogram qualification round opposite two-time Nordic Championships gold medalist Emil Sandahl (SWE).
Both athletes clashed to start this one off with Sandahl holding a slight edge in the exchanges. Stanghill diligently pressed in trying to hand-fight his way to a right-side underhook but the window beneath the Swede’s left arm remained closed. It was Sandahl who pressed forward through most of the first minute and as such, was rewarded with the first passivity. The Storm wrestler tried to keep bulldogging inside and appeared to be coming closer to a favorable position only to receive another passive warning, quizzically enough. A deep arm throw attempt from Stanghill missed as the period neared its end with Sandahl nursing that same 1-0 lead.
Stanghill began to find more success getting to his underhook in the early stages of the second and a brief attempt around Sandahl’s waist followed. An odd pattern was unfolding: Stanghill owned the pace, but Sandahl periodically controlled the center. Eventually, Stanghill was dinged for another passivity point as the second period wound down. With under a minute remaining, he upped the intensity as much as he could, a meaningful high dive attempt the wrestler’s last gasp. Sandahl was able to stay clear, ultimately walking away with a 2-0 passivity-filled victory.
Tero Metsomaeki (FIN) blanked Sandahl in the 85 kilogram quarterfinals, meaning Stanghill is no longer in the hunt for a bronze medal later on in the repechage bracket.
One of the nation’s most electrifying competitors, Jesse Porter (75 kg, NYAC/OTS) did not win his first World Championships bout, but that doesn’t mean he failed to impress. If anything, Porter wrestled a more complete match than Fatih Cengiz (TUR), though that is likely of little consolation to the 20-year-old.
In Cengiz, Porter was facing a rising athlete with both legitimate knowledge regarding the nuances of international competition and signs of an impending breakout. The Turkish wrestler put in a big performance at the Ion Corneanu & Ladislau Simon Memorial over the summer, losing out to 2017 World Champion Viktor Nemes (HUN, world no. 1) in that final. A month later in Paris, Cengiz was turned back in the bronze medal round to Alexander Chekhirkin (RUS) and then five weeks after that, he finished first at the Bolat Turlykhanov Memorial in Kazakhstan. So, context is key.
The only knock against Porter’s style coming into this tournament centered around its contrasting machinations. One moment he is lulling opponents to sleep, the next he is lasering in on a throw. Entertaining, for sure, but with passivity such a big part of the governance, along with its subjective interpretation, it was worth wondering how Porter would be received by the officials.
The New Yorker kept to script once the whistle blew, deliberately engaging Cengiz before flashing a speedy short drag, as if to let Cengiz know what he was dealing with. They jousted through a feeling-out process before Porter fired off consecutive explosive arm throw attempts that missed the mark. Porter held a narrow edge in terms of determining the pace and it was enough to garner a passivity point for an early 1-0 advantage. He was exuding quiet confidence as he navigated the tie-ups. An arm throw sequence that saw Porter come up empty on very nearly resulted in a takedown around the back until Cengiz scampered away. However, as the break approached, Cengiz ramped it up accordingly to pick up his first passive point, giving him the edge via criteria.
A higher level of energy flowed for Cengiz to begin the second. It had to be this way — he learned that hanging back against Porter could cost him dearly. Porter increased his own output but Cengiz was able to slide in an underhook and pressure Porter towards the edge. The NMU wrestler fought his way back to the center, though by that time, Cengiz had accumulated another passivity point. Time was an issue. Porter knew it. He dug in the trenches to generate opportunities, including a zippy shot at a high dive. However, Cengiz fended it off and everything else to emerge victorious.
Cengiz advanced to the 75 kilogram finals, which meant that Porter had one more shot to make the medal stand. In the opposing corner for the first repechage round was 2017 Junior World bronze Nasir Hasanov, one of Azerbaijan’s projected stars of the future.
This was not a prolonged affair. A chippier Porter burst out of the gate bringing the heat with a quick arm throw that was ruled a slip setting the tone. Porter began digging in, digging out, stepping in, stepping out. Just as he was establishing his flow, a passive warning was introduced. It would turn out to be inconsequential. Just as the signal came in, Hasanov pried his way to a bodylock and blitzed it over for four. Upon the reset, Porter, undeterred, got back to work inside only to give up position off of an exchange. Hasanov seized the opportunity and nailed a headlock, putting this one away 8-0 midway through the first period.
Curiosity surrounded Alex Mossing (71 kg, Air Force RTC) entering the U23 World Championships. It had been quite the ride for him since the spring. Mossing displayed an eagerness for heavy offensive measures at the Senior Trials, impressing onlookers by staying in the fight while duking it out with higher-profile opponents. It was a seventh-place effort — not bad for a wrestler without a significant Greco background. Just five weeks later at the University Nationals, Mossing showed he could figure this all out as he went along by coming away with a startling tournament victory. The story was the same at the U23 Trials, where he defeated noted NMU talent Colin Schubert in two-straight to make this team.
Just like the other three Team USA Greco-Roman wrestlers on Day 1, Mossing was making his World Championships debut, but more than that, this tournament also represented his first time competing overseas, period. With 2011 Cadet World bronze medalist/2017 CISM Military Worlds runner-up Armen Hakobyan (ARM) as the first-round adversary, his work was cut out for him — but it was the kind of test that a wrestler like Mossing could potentially acquit himself well in due to his style. Unfortunately, he never got the chance.
Both wrestlers opted for lowered stances to begin. Mossing, still getting used to the Greco waters, backed out of an exchange and off the edge to give Hakobyan an early point. The Air Force wrestler’s go-to is an over/under throw. He has other weapons, but that throw in particular is what elevated his status as of late. In order for him to throw, he first needed to get into position, a difficult task to accomplish against a seasoned foe like Hakobyan.
Mossing wasn’t caught in between, though he did seem to struggle with finding a rhythm. The passivity fairy came calling to give Hakobyan another point. But it didn’t matter. Because in a flash, the Armenian off-balanced Mossing straight to his back for four and a 6-0 cushion. Upon landing, Hakobyan instantly re-clasped his lock and stepped up for a straddle lift that he arched over for four more, ending the bout at 1:51 via 10-0 tech.
Hakobyan fell to Murat Dag (TUR) in the quarterfinals, dashing any hopes for Mossing to continue on in the repechage round.
19-year-old Blake Smith (NMU/OTS) has dedicated himself to Greco-Roman ever since arriving in Marquette last year, but it was during the second half of 2017 when he really began to assert himself. First was a win at the Junior World Team Trials challenge tournament and most recently, his gut-check performance in Rochester. Raw, burly, and big on physicality, Smith still lacks the polish required by most to succeed at the highest reaches of the sport, but if today’s showing served any purpose, it was to highlight just how bright of a future Smith may have in store for him.
There’s no question Smith was supposed to be outgunned at this thing, not just by Kikuri Kirtskhalia (GEO), his first-round opponent, but by just about anyone he might do battle with. Someone probably should have tried tell him that, however.
Kirtskhalia greeted Smith with a whale of a headlock right after the whistle to go up by four. Smith tried bounding up immediately and reversed position on Kirtskhalia at the boundary to steal away two points following a brief conference between the officials. When action resumed, Smith clashed in and used an underhook to deftly slide Kirtskhalia by for a takedown — 4-4, with Kirtskhalia holding criteria. It was vital for Smith to bring pressure, not just to compensate for any perceived technical deficiencies, but also because Kirtskhalia appeared to struggle when on his heels. Even still, the Georgian managed to grab a takedown towards the end of the first to jump ahead 6-4.
Smith hungrily strolled out of the corner for the second period and latched onto double overhooks, a position he is comfortable with. In this instance, he may have gotten a little comfortable, for he held the position too high, allowing a wide open lane for Kirtskhalai to come in with a bodylock that he took off the line for two. But he was determined, Smith was. He slipped on an arm spin, slipped on another throw attempt, and then he briskly lowered in for a high dive. They all missed, but the Arizonan was staying busy. Smith burrowed back in and by now, the tempo seemed to be catching up with him. But slowing down was not an option. So he looped double overhooks once more and arched back. It looked like a slip, but two was confirmed for Kirtskhalia as he covered, increasing Smith’s deficit to 10-4, which is how this one would conclude.
Kirtskhalia was defeated by 98 kilogram finalist Aleksandr Golovin (RUS) in the quarterfinals, eliminating Smith from further contention for a medal.
The 2017 U23 World Championships resumes tomorrow morning for Team USA at 4:00 am. Going for the US are four of its most accomplished under-23 athletes — 2017 Junior World Champion Kamal Bey (80 kg, Sunkist), 2016 Junior World bronze medalist G’Angelo Hancock (130 kg, Sunkist), two-time Junior World Team member Dalton Roberts (59 kg, NYAC/OTS), and multiple-time US Senior National Team member Alex Sancho (66 kg, NYAC/OTS).
2017 U23 Greco-Roman World Championships
DAY 1 TEAM USA RESULTS
71 kg: Alex Mossing (Air Force RTC)
LOSS Armen Hakobyan (ARM) 10-0, TF
75 kg: Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS)
LOSS Faith Cengiz (TUR) 2-1
LOSS Nasir Hasanov (AZE) 8-0, TF
85 kg: Barrett Stanghill (Minnesota Storm)
LOSS Emil Sandahl (SWE) 2-0
98 kg: Blake Smith (NMU/OTS)
LOSS Kikuri Kirtskhalia (GEO) 10-4