The medal parade at overseas events in calendar year 2017 couldn’t have came to a much stronger conclusion.
Behind title-clinching performances from Randon Miranda (59 kg, NYAC/OTS), Patrick “Lone Wolf” Martinez (85 kg, NYAC) and G’Angelo Hancock (130 kg, Sunkist), Team USA raked in an impressive six medals to win the 2017 Arvo Haavisto Cup earlier today in Ilmajoki, Finland. They came from everywhere in the lineup. At 71 kilograms, Marine upstart Ray Bunker persevered through a packed bracket to claim third. One weight class later, it was the resurgent Corey Hope (75 kg, NYAC) with a bronze, and Daniel Miller (98 kg, Marines) earned himself his third international bronze of the year to provide further evidence that he is built for foreign competition.
For Miranda, 20, the Haavisto Cup was as much about grit as it was tacking on relevant Senior international experience. He started off his day on seeming cruise control by skating past Albert Baghumyan (ESP) 7-2 before pulling out a rough-and-tumble 7-6 decision over Ukraine’s Igor Kurochkin. In the finals, Miranda battled it out with hometown hero Juuso Latvala (FIN), an experienced competitor who placed third here last year and has done well in several other Scandinavian events, including at last month’s Vantaa Cup where he took second. But this was Miranda’s show, as it has been practically all autumn long, and he prevailed 6-3. The tournament victory is Miranda’s third early on in the new season after having won two events in Sweden last month.
Martinez was coming into this weekend hot following his gold at the Lavrikov Memorial on Sunday coupled with his win at the Belarus dual in November. This time around, the sledding was a bit more treacherous, as 85 kilos featured several athletes sporting serious credentials. A thin 4-2 triumph over two-time Herman Kare International runner-up Riku Liikkanen (FIN) led to a higher-scoring affair with Spain’s Pedro Garcia, but one Martinez gutted through 7-5 to move into the semis. There, he steamrolled Dmytro Kiiashok (UKR) to make the final.
Waiting for him with gold on the line was supposed to be familiar face Julius Matuzevicius (LTU), who Martinez first defeated in the repechage round of the 2015 World Championships. But there would be no rematch. In a disappointing development, Matuzevicius was unable to compete, thereby giving Martinez his second-straight international gold.
“I was a little disappointed in that (Matuzevicius defaulting), I came here to get matches, to get competition in, and having him in my bracket, I was looking forward to wrestling him again,” Martinez said afterwards. “It would have been a good measuring stick to see how I have progressed since the 2015 World Championships.”
For Martinez, the two consecutive golds mean more than just some nice hardware to bring home before Christmas. A notoriously hungry competitor, he had originally wanted to participate in several events during the summer, but held himself back to train in Colorado Springs. The 27-year-old wasn’t in love with that idea at the time, though he now admits the plan is working.
“I spent the summer lifting, getting stronger, and focusing on technique and the two back-to-back golds prove it was a summer well-spent,” Martinez explained. “I was a little hesitant to not compete during the summer, but Coach Mohamed (Abdelfatah) assured me that I needed time away to focus on training, and he was right.”
While Miranda and Martinez both provided a boost, Hancock was just as big of a story as he continues to gain mat time at heavyweight. A tough first-round obstacle presented itself in the likes of multi-time Finnish World Teamer Tuomas Lahti, a rangy athlete who also notched a silver at the inaugural U23 Euros two years ago. Hancock found little trouble getting moving in this one, although it wouldn’t matter — Lahti wound up defaulting due to injury. Standing across in the semifinal was U23 World Team member Stepan David (CZE). This one wasn’t steeped in the traditional flavor of Hancock-style dominance, but a win it was just the same, 2-0 the score. It all led up to a mighty test in the finals — 2017 U23 European Championships bronze medalist Oscar Marvik (NOR), a young, skilled competitor who also owned a win over Robby Smith (NYAC) from the Thor Masters Invitational last March.
The sequence unfolded like this: in the first period, Marvik nailed a throw for four; after the ensuing standup, he went to toss Hancock with an arm throw. Hancock snuffed it out immediately, redirected the momentum, and essentially decked Marvik by running a folkstyle half nelson. A surprising fall, for sure, but a feather in the cap for Hancock as well as a nice way to put a bow on what has been a hectic but fruitful year of competition for him.
Hope, Bunker, & Miller
By now, many in the US are aware of Hope’s story. A devastating knee injury sidelined him for the entire 2016-17 campaign, but he bulleted back into the consciousness last week with a silver in Russia. He acquitted himself similarly well today in what was a decidedly more crowded bracket. A qualification round win at the expense of Frederik Ekström (DEN) broke the ice ahead of a grueling 1-1 criteria loss to eventual runner-up Petter Karlsen (NOR). That sent Hope into the repechage, where he had a bye to the bronze medal match. One more time, Hope was called upon to dig in and grind it out, but he did so successfully, coming away with a 2-0 decision over 2017 Herman Kare gold medalist Niko Erkkola (FIN).
Though still in the beginning stages of his Senior career, the hardwired Bunker has steadily improved and could now be considered a legitimate problem for everyone he faces, regardless of outcome. Today, that outcome led to the medal stand. Bunker kicked his morning off opposite Tomi Eronen (FIN) and bit down for a 2-1 victory. Next was a close decision loss at the hands of 2015 U23 European Championships silver Daniel Soini (SWE), and because Soini made the finals, Bunker was given another chance. However — he didn’t have a match. Would-be opponent Toni Ojaja (FIN) bowed out of the event, giving Bunker third via default.
Maybe he didn’t get to wrestle for bronze, but when you combine Bunker’s performance last week, with his ability to hang in there with more experienced foreign opponents today along with everything else he’s done as of late, it’s hard not to buy into his progress.
Miller doesn’t want to be known as a wrestler who only performs well across the Atlantic. After all, to make Teams, you have to beat the guys in your own country first. But there is little doubt that the more classical open-up version of Greco that is more prevalent overseas agrees with him, and the 2017 Arvo Haavisto Cup points a spotlight on that concept. How else do you explain a dominating 8-2 win over well-traveled Laokratis Kessidis (GRE) where Miller was constantly on the attack? A hiccup arrived in the semis, as 2017 Junior World bronze medalist Arvi Savolainen (FIN) emerged 2-1. But Miller regrouped just fine in the repechage, overcoming Greece’s Anestis Zarifes 7-1. Like Bunker, Miller’s opponent for bronze, Narek Sethagyan (ESP), defaulted out.
- You read it right — US Greco-Roman wrestlers were gifted four victories today via default. Odd.
- Team USA finished in first with 66 points. Finland was second with 55 followed by Greece at 48 points.
- Despite the medal bananza, there were no wins by tech for the Americans.
- The three champs — Miranda, Martinez, and Hancock — were all finalists last weekend in Russia with Martinez and Hancock winning gold. Miranda fell to NMU teammate Dalton Roberts in the finals.
- Peyton Walsh (75 kg, Marines) may not have medaled, but he did turn back a solid opponent in Sweden’s Artur Vardanyan in his first bout. Vardanyan placed third at this event in 2016.
- Counting today, US Seniors earned 43 medals at overseas events in 2017 — 16 golds, 9 silvers, and 18 bronze.
2017 Arvo Haavisto Cup, Ilmojaki, Finland
TEAM USA RESULTS
Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS) — gold
WIN Albert Baghumyan (ESP) 7-2
WIN Igor Kurochkin (UKR) 7-6
WIN Juuso Latvala (FIN) 6-3
Colton Rasche (Marines) — dnp
LOSS Niko Tervonen (FIN) 6-0
Ray Bunker (Marines) — bronze
WIN Tomi Eronen (FIN) 2-1
LOSS Daniel Soini (SWE) 2-1
WIN Toni Ojaja (FIN) via default
Corey Hope (NYAC) — bronze
WIN Frederik Ekström (DEN) 3-1
LOSS Petter Karlsen (NOR) 1-1 (criteria)
WIN Niko Erkkola (FIN) 2-0
Peyton Walsh (Marines) — 9th
WIN Artur Vardanyan (SWE) 6-2
LOSS Sakke Purolainen (FIN) 2-0
Terrance Zaleski (Marines) — 5th
LOSS Oleksandr Kukhta (UKR) 8-0, TF
LOSS Pavel Powada (CZE) 2-1
Patrick Martinez (NYAC) — gold
WIN Riku Liikkanen (FIN) 4-2
WIN Pedro Garcia (ESP) 7-5
WIN Dmytro Kiiashok (UKR) via fall
WIN Julius Matuzevicius (LTU) via default
Daniel Miller (Marines) — bronze
WIN Laokratis Kessidis (GRE) 8-2
LOSS Arvi Savolainen (FIN) 2-1
WIN Anestis Zarifes (GRE) 7-1
WIN Narek Sethagyan (ESP) via default
G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist) — gold
WIN Tuomas Lahti (FIN) via default (4-0)
WIN Stepan David (CZE) 2-1
WIN Oscar Marvik (NOR) via fall
Eric Fader (Marines) — 7th
LOSS Kaarel Maaten (EST) 3-0