This weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada, the U.S. Open for Greco-Romand and women’s freestyle wrestling takes center stage. On the line are spots at April’s World Team Trials for the top seven finishers at each weight and, for the winners of the Olympic weights, the top seed in the spring.
This is the Greco portion of the preview. The women’s freestyle preview will follow shortly. 59 kg, 66 kg, 71 kg, and 75 kg, the lighter half of the weights, go on day one, Saturday, December 17th, starting at 9 am with medal matches scheduled for 7:30 pm. The schedule is the same for day two on Sunday with 80 kg, 85 kg, 98 kg, and 130 kg taking the mat. You can read up on the world team trials qualification procedures here as that may shed some light on why some good athletes are here and some are not.
There are many fascinating story lines, but none more so than the return of 1996 Olympic silver medalist and 1995 world champion Dennis Hall. The 45-year old Hall went to his last Olympic Games in 2004. He attempted a comeback at the 2012 Olympic Trials, but an injury kept him from being at his best. Talking to FivePointMove.com, Hall said of his motives for entering, “Last time I competed I was injured. Right now, my body feels stronger and in as good a shape, for sure. I want to wrestle because it’s fun and I enjoy it. The great part is I have two of my boys coming out to watch me compete and I want to show them that there aren’t any limits. Age isn’t a limit. I want to let them know you can’t be afraid to do the things you want to do.”
Hall will compete at the lightest weight class, 59 kg, against a field that includes wrestlers that weren’t born when he won his Olympic silver. We’ll start there as we go weight-by-weight. The entrants list used for this preview was pulled at 3:45 on Wednesday afternoon. Anyone who registered after that was not included.
This may end up being the largest bracket which could put Hall’s body to the test if he keeps advancing. There are three 2016 Junior world team members entered with Randon Miranda, Dalton Roberts, and Hayden Tuma all finding themselves at 59. For Miranda and Roberts, 59 was an obvious choice as they wrestled Juniors at a lower weight, but for Tuma, who wrestled at 66, 59 represents a new commitment. Hayden was at that weight when he finished second at the Bill Farrell and he appears to be settling in for the long haul. Ryan Mango was third at the Olympic Trials this year and is always dangerous. Sam Jones is also one to keep an eye on after he took bronze medals at both the Pan-Ams and Bill Farrell this year. NCAA fans may recognize the name of former Minnesota All-American Zach Sanders. He has been mostly a freestyle competitor in recent years, but he is just one of the Minnesota Storm representatives that is returning to Greco this weekend.
The third and fourth place finishers from April’s Olympic Trials, Alejandro Sancho and Ellis Coleman, should be the men to beat. Coleman, you might remember, was thrust into the public consciousness in 2011 when video of him hitting the Flying Squirrel at that year’s Junior world championships went viral. Coleman was our Olympic representative in 2012 and world rep in 2013, but hasn’t made it back since. He’ll be looking to earn that top seed with eyes on a trip to Paris in 2017. Another Greco veteran to keep an eye on is Dmitry Ryabchinskiy who was fourth at 59 at the Bill Farrell. This weight, too, has a Minnesota Storm and Golden Gopher wrestler returning to Greco after mostly freestyle competition as former NCAA champion Jayson Ness is entered. Jamal DeArmond, Team USA’s Junior world rep, will test himself against the 66 kg field as well.
This being a non-Olympic weight, Team USA’s world championship representative, Chris Gonzalez, will receive the top-seed in April without having to compete here on a short turn around. That may be in part why this field is small and lacking in big names. Former South Dakota State standout Cody Pack is the most recognizable name, but he is not the favorite. Anthonie Linares pinned Pack at the Bill Farrell, but dropped his next match to Coleman. This one is wide open.
This weight, on the other hand, isn’t lacking for big names and title contenders. Kamal Bey is one of the most recognizable American Greco wrestlers, aside from Andy Bisek and Robby Smith of course. Bey followed up a trip to Junior worlds this year with his first Senior level title at the Bill Farrell. His matches are a must watch. Kendrick Sanders should be the favorite here, however, after making the semi-finals at both the Olympic Team Trials and the non-Olympic world team trials this year. Mason Manville also made the semi-finals at the Olympic Team Trials and will be in the bracket. Another solid Greco competitor to look out for is Jesse Porter. If we get a Sanders/Bey clash at any point, just sit back and enjoy.
This being the other non-Olympic weight means 2016 world team member Patrick Martinez will hold the number one seed at trials. The opponent he bested to make that team, John Anderson, is here to begin the journey to try and knock off Martinez and take his spot. Cheney Haight, who lost in the Olympic Team Trials challenge tournament finals at 75 and fell, 1-1, to Anderson at the non-Olympic weight trials at 80 is the other man to beat in this field. Expect those two to square off in the finals. Jon Jay Chavez made back-to-back Junior world teams in 2014 and 2015. He probably won’t upset the top two, but keep an eye on him otherwise.
With many of the contenders here either already qualified for the trials, taking time off, or having moved weights, this is another bracket that will lack identifiable names for the less hardcore Greco followers. Lucas Sheridan may finally see his time to shine after a third place finish at the Bill Farrell. Aside from him, keep an eye on Kevin Radford and the Northern Michigan contingent.
G’Angelo Hancock has had a big year. He was a finalist at the Dave Schultz, third at the Olympic trials, third at the Junior world championships, and won the Bill Farrell for his first senior level international title. Just last week, Hancock scored his biggest win of the season when he downed 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Cenk Ilden (TUR), 2-1, at the Greco Clubs Cup. Many believe Hancock is the future at this weight and he is out to prove the future is now. This is a field he should be able to handle, but it is fair to wonder how much of a toll the trip to Budapest might have taken on the 19-year old. Keep an eye on him in the early rounds to see if he looks sluggish. If not, he should roll.
With Robby Smith not competing, having already qualified for the trials, this should be Toby Erickson’s domain. The 2011 Junior world bronze medalist was third at the Olympic trials, won at the Dave Schultz and earned a bronze medal at the Pan-Ams this year. An interesting opponent he could run into is yet another Minnesota wrestler who is often seen on the freestyle circuit, two-time NCAA heavyweight champion Tony Nelson. Nelson won the Bill Farrell in freestyle, but is no Greco rookie. That said, this is a big step up in competition for him and it would be a surprise if he wins. Eric Fader was runner-up at the Bill Farrell and will also compete here.