A year ago and a half ago, the two heaviest weight classes did not offer up a lot of drama in the US. At 98 kilograms, Caylor Williams (Army/WCAP) was not only firmly in place aboard the top spot, he hadn’t lost to an American in practically years. Robby Smith (NYAC) climbed to the highest rung of the 130 kilo ladder for 2013 and though there have been a pair of athletes who’ve had their moments against other opposition, no one has really gotten close too close to Smith when it’s counted.
That hasn’t exactly changed for Smith. He looked nearly untouchable dismantling Adam Coon (Cliff Keen) in two straight matches in the Olympic Trials finals and was more than holding his own in Rio against Sabah Shariati (AZE, who had tech’ed Smith the year before) before falling victim to a few gutwrench turns and losing 8-2.
As for 98, Joe Rau took the crown right off of Williams’s head in Iowa City before coming up short in the final two qualifying tournaments. Currently, Williams is out of action, Rau is recovering from an injury, and 98 kilos is being presided over by one young phenom and his emerging adversary.
US Greco Roman Wrestlers to Watch in 2017 — 98 kg & 130 kg
Rau lost heartbreaking matches to once-vanquished opponents and though he had a long year leading up, he appeared to be sufficiently viable in both Mongolia and Turkey. Then he went ahead and got his knee repaired in the fall and is still somewhat on the mend. In that time, 19-year old US National Team member G’Angelo Hancock has picked up a Junior World bronze, won an overseas tourney in Sweden, and then the last two Senior events held on US soil — the Bill Farrell Memorial and the US Nationals. In both finals, Hancock was forced to battle with Hayden Zillmer (Minnesota Storm), who himself earned a National Team spot at the Trials, but at a weight class lower. Until Rau is back (which should be well in time for April’s World Team Trials), it is Hancock, Zillmer, and everybody else.
Enock Francois (NYAC) There is not a lengthy list of impressive titles and tournament placings in Francois’s favor just yet but that is bound to change. In a weight class where substance always beats style, Francois is the ultimate lunch-pail guy. He goes out there, gets to work, and whatever happens, happens. Physicality is not a problem for Francois, refinement is. That’ll come with more and more competitive opportunities. Just appreciate the output and the desire for struggle in the meantime until eventually, Francois puts it all together, which could be soon.
Also worth a look…
Daniel Miller (Marines) We’ve talked enough about Miller on here and the story hasn’t changed: Overall wrestling acumen? — more than solid; strength for the weight class? — you bet; instincts and sharpening? — work in progress. At this point, Miller should start trying to recklessly toss everybody.
Zach Merrill (Titan Mercury) There really aren’t a lot of holes in Merrill’s game and when he gets on a run, he’s got a crowd-pleasing element going for him. Slipped up in Vegas, but he definitely wasn’t alone in that regard. He’ll bounce back, he fits nicely here.
Micah Burak (Titan Mercury) Not so fast, you say? Fair enough. Former UPenn All-American Burak wrestles with a calculated fury. He also seems to have discovered how to use his folkstyle base and translate it over to scoring opportunities that fit the Senior style of Greco. Hopefully he sticks around.
Anthony Riopelle (NMU-OTS) Okay, in 2017 Anthony Riopelle is very likely not going to win a major Senior event. He might not even place very high at one. But that’s okay. Riopelle is on the learning curve and education is never a bad thing. Give him a little more time, you’ll like what you see.
It wasn’t just Rau who got cut open, Smith himself went under the knife a few months back. He’s getting back into form soon enough. Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP) has returned from a hiatus that included Officer Candidate School. He was a bit rusty at the Nationals last month but even with that, he had no problem knocking some of it off against WCAP teammate Jacob Mitchell in the finals. It was a tight bout, but one Erickson was in total control of. Coon had been heralded as the biggest threat to Smith here but since he is out for a prolonged stint with an injury, the rest of this weight is a quite close to being labeled a free-for-all.
Eric Fader (Marines) Fans of Fader (that should be a thing) have been forced to bite their tongues and hold their breath as their big guy gets more and more used to what life looks like on the national stage. Take comfort in this: Fader is undercover good. Most of his issues on the mat are correctable and as soon as he realizes he is as agile and explosive as he needs to be, the mechanical nuances might fall into place. Fader can do something here and the best part is, there aren’t hefty expectations weighing him down.
Also worth a look…
Malcom Allen (Minnesota Storm) The one knock against Allen is that he is literally looking up to everybody at 130. This is a division where height matters a bit, after all. But he won’t make the big mistake, he won’t get caught out of position, and has an engine that doesn’t quit. Interesting dude to check out.
Jacob Mitchell (Army/WCAP) Mitchell doesn’t really need too much prodding, everyone basically knows who he is. He fell short of utilizing some of his best gifts against Erickson in the finals. 2017 might not be his, but the talent is undeniable.
Zack Wilcox (MWC) With heavyweight being badly in need of depth, Wilcox has a chance to carve out a nice spot for himself. Has to get over the whole, “I’m a big guy who must do big guy things” and just wrestle.
Ron Dombkowski (NMU-OTS) Undersized by waaaay too much and greener than a lettuce patch, Dombkowski might be better suited for the weight class below and take a Merrill-like route. However, he will fight you and for now, that has to be good enough.