Photos by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling
For those Americans who have been getting up in the middle of the night to watch the 2017 Junior World Championships live, fatigue can be an issue. However, on day five, Team USA’s Greco contingent provided a jolt that was better than any cup of coffee. The Americans won their first eight matches, put three wrestlers in the semifinals, two in the finals, their first Junior World Greco finalists since 2000, and crowned their first champion since 1999. More than the outstanding results, though, the United States put on a show, wrestling an entertaining brand of a style too often dismissed as boring. Day five in Tampere, Finland was anything but that.
Summing up Team USA’s spectacular day, the Americans lead the Greco team standings halfway through, piling up 29 points on day one, outpacing second place Iran (27), third-place Russia (21) and fourth-place Ukraine (20). The two-time defending champions at this tournament, Georgia, had a disastrous day going 1-3 in their opening matches and scoring zero points on the day. While they aren’t mathematically eliminated, they’ve lost any real chance to claim the top spot once again. The United States will have their hands full in trying to win what would be a stunning and historic team title, but after the way they wrestled today they’ve put themselves in prime position.
Cevion Severado, 50 kg
After falling in the finals of the Junior Greco trials to Elijah Varona, Severado looked like he’d need to wait at least another year before making his world-level debut. However, when Varona was too hurt to compete, Severado got the call. He made the most of his opportunity. Opening his tournament, the man from Missouri broke open a tie match at the break against Maksym Vysotskyi (ISR) with a pair of takedowns, one of which was challenged and upheld, to move on 6-1. His quarter-final opponent would be Dominick Dudzinski (POL). Early in the match, it seemed Cevion may have picked up an injury as he suddenly limped away from the center, calling for injury time to look at the same leg on which he wears a significant brace. Whatever happened must have been a short-term problem because once he returned, he found a body lock, trapping Dudzinski’s arm in the process, and levering him onto his back for four. Though he couldn’t use that trapped arm for further exposures, it wouldn’t matter as Severado found another lock he liked, sending the Polish wrestler to his back once again for another four to end the match, 8-0.
That he had worked his way into the semifinals was a surprise to many, but Severado refused to settle. After falling behind 1-0 to Kensuke Shimizu (JPN) after the first period, Cevion used double overhooks to gain a 2-1 lead, then countered a pair of arm throw attempts from Shimizu for takedowns to lead 6-1. When Severado caught his Japanese opponent going for a desperation head-pinch, it was 8-1 and the match was largely over. Two late takedowns for Shimizu as Severado played it safe made the final score 8-5 as the man who wasn’t even supposed to be the American representative marched into the Junior World finals.
Wearing red, Severado took the mat first, turning to watch his opponent, Junior Asian champion Poya Dad Marz (IRI), arrive. The magic that seemed to surround the American throughout the day left him on the big stage, however. That was largely due to the Iranian doing a masterful job of controlling the ties and moving Severado around the mat. A step-out, takedown, and passivity point put Cevion in a 4-0 hole at the break and one more takedown in the final frame made the final tally 6-0. Severado’s silver medal performance was as impressive as it was stunning. That it ended on a sour note may only serve to further motivate the young man going forward.
Taylor LaMont, 60 kg
As a returning Junior World bronze medalist, LaMont was one of the core group of American Greco wrestlers expected to make this a historic performance for the team. Displaying the calm, controlled technique of a veteran, LaMont had to grind his way through full matches throughout his day. A headlock that earned a takedown, but no exposure, staked the Utah Valley redshirt freshman to be to a 2-0 lead at the break against 2015 Cadet World bronze medalist Maksim Nehoda (BLR). That lead would evaporate, though LaMont still held criteria, after a pair of passivity points, but the Belarussian illegally grabbed LaMont’s fingers in a scramble leading to a crucial caution and two. One last takedown would secure the 6-2 win as LaMont moved into the quarter-finals. Once there, Taylor would control the action against Ardit Fazlijija (SWE) when the competitors were on their feet. The Swedes only points came on a reversal and a gut wrench off of LaMont’s four-point headlock. That exchange opened the scoring and made the tally 4-3 at the break. Though there was little to separate the two, LaMont won a pair of decisive exchanges in the second, earning takedowns out of both to move into the semis, 8-3. As is so often the case at the upper levels of international competition, one sequence decided LaMont’s meeting with 2015 Cadet World champion Oleksandr Hrushyn (UKR). It was the Ukrainian who got the better end of it, working a high dive and transitioning nicely into a gut wrench to turn a 1-1 match into a 5-1 edge. The final would be 6-1 forcing LaMont to wrestle for bronze for the second consecutive year at the Junior-level and third consecutive year at an age group World Championship.
Early on in the bronze medal bout, Magomed Magomedov (RUS) made his presence known, thwarting any attempt by LaMont to attack and controlling mat position. The shorter Russian proved difficult to move and secured a pair of step-outs to lead 2-0 at the break. That would be the end of the attacks from the Russian as LaMont searched for a come from behind victory. He still couldn’t find much but got on the board with a passivity point. With the deficit a single point, controversy ensued. As Taylor launched attack after attack late, trying to find the winning score, the Russian’s fingers appeared to become entangled in LaMont’s singlet. Whether it was an intentional grab or an accident was impossible to say, it happened so fast, but when the challenge brick was thrown by the American corner, it seemed the officials would get a few more looks at it. Instead, the challenge was refused, no video review occurred and LaMont fell 2-1.
Kamal Bey, 74 kg
Early in the tournament, Bey, as usual, put on a show. In his opening victories over Pilkeun Bong (KOR) and Karan Mosebach (GER), he wracked up four separate four-point throws, reminding everyone why he is a must watch each time he takes the mat. After technical superiorities of 9-0 and 10-1, the level of competition took a big step up with Bey squaring off with 2016 Cadet World finalist Nasir Hasanov (AZE) in the quarters. Even against a strong opponent, the fours kept on coming as Bey stepped in with the wrestlers in an over-under clinch position to launch Hasanov and claim a 4-0 advantage. An additional takedown for the American before the break proved important when Hasanov unbalanced Bey, driving him to the mat for four of his own. Though the action continued, the scoring did not. A late challenge from Azerbaijan after one last flurry failed and Bey became the third semifinalist for the United States, 7-4.
Those watching who were unfamiliar with Bey were likely already impressed. If anyone was still on the fence somehow, Bey removed all doubt in an electrifying display against Per Olofsson (SWE). To his credit, Olofsson was game which extended the bout, giving Bey more chances to amaze. After the two exchanged scores early, Bey used that same over-under clinch lock to step in and take the Swede for a ride to lead 6-2. Kamal held Olofsson on his back looking for the fall, forcing him to bridge his way off the mat, which was deemed fleeing and penalized by a caution and two. With the score 8-2, a tech looked to be imminent. Instead, in an indescribably wild sequence that began when Bey, on the par terre restart, went for a reverse lift only to see Olofsson lock around the body. After the ensuing scramble, Bey’s lead was down to 10-7 and we’d still only seen half of the first period. Though he clearly disagreed with the scoring, Bey went right back to work, pushing his lead to 14-7, one point short of ending the match, heading into the break. Instead of ending it with a step-out or a simple takedown, Kamal went boom just nine seconds into the final frame, sending the Swede soaring for the first five-point move of the day for Team USA and a 19-7 win to move into the gold medal match.
Match of the Day: Kamal Bey (USA) vs. Akzhol Makhmudov (KGZ), 74 kg
Every time you may have thought Bey had peaked on Saturday, somehow he went even higher. In a rollicking final against Akzhol Makhmudov (KGZ), the 2016 Cadet World and 2017 Junior European gold medalist who had never lost at a World or continental championship event, the two combined for 27 points with the outcome hanging in the balance until the final seconds. Early, it appeared Bey would use the same formula that had worked for him prior, finding the over-under clinch, stepping in, and once again scoring four with the throw. However, the situation turned from Bey pursuing the fall to being in trouble as Makhmudov fought his way off his back, scrambled for a reversal, then lifted Kamal off his feet looking for a big throw of his own. Bey attacked the elbows of his opponent trying desperately to loosen the lock and make himself heavy. It must have worked as when the Kyrgyzstani went for it, Bey stuffed the throw, never rotating and landing on top of Makhmudov for two more. At 7-2, fans could have been excused for thinking Bey was about to roll his way to gold. Makhmudov made sure that didn’t happen with an arm drag to a takedown, then a gut wrench to cut the lead to 7-6. Bey refused to stay underneath, scrambling away after the gut, finding himself in double overhooks, and adding to his four-point throw collection, pushing his advantage back to five points at the break.
During the 30 second break, it was clear that Makhmudov was hurting. He needed additional time to recover as the medical team checked him out. With a staggered foe and an 11-6 lead, many wrestlers would have simply stayed in position, letting the clock tick down, not risking anything. In case it wasn’t clear by now, Bey is not that type of wrestler. He continued to attack, though he was doing so intelligently, looking for the kill. Instead, Makhmudov eventually found himself in good position with double underhooks. When Bey was forced into a throw attempt on the edge, it sparked another scramble that lit up the scoreboard. Initially when it ended, after Bey had stepped over another gut attempt from the Kyrgyzstani, the scoreboard read 13-8, but Makhmudov had been awarded four on the initial action so it should have been 13-10. In a questionable decision, the US challenged. When that challenge failed and the score was corrected, Bey was clinging to a 13-11 lead. As the clock drained, everyone knew Makhmudov would take one last shot and he did just that going for a throw near the edge of the mat. As it had all match, Bey’s defense proved good enough as he avoided any potential correct throw call, stepping over his opponent yet again for two. The inevitable challenge was denied and Kamal Bey won the United States’ first Junior World title in Greco since Garrett Lowney in 1999, 16-11!
G’Angelo Hancock, 96 kg
Our pre-tournament favorite at 96 kg and another 2016 Junior World bronze medalist wrestling for the US on day five, Hancock looked the part early on, physically dominating his opponents, keeping good position, and consistently moving forward. His first round opponent, Damian Euw (SUI) was called for fleeing twice before Hancock locked him up for a four-point throw, ending a 9-1 tech. Kiril Milov (BUL) managed to stay on the mat in their round of 16 clash, but that only made him more vulnerable to big moves from G’Angelo. First, Hancock caught a side headlock when the Bulgarian went for an arm-spin, throwing it through for four. Leading 7-0 at the break, Hancock tried to go big again, but couldn’t get Milov to expose. Still, the takedown was enough and, after a failed challenge, he moved to the quarters, 10-0.
It is extremely difficult to be perfect as a team in these events, but it was shocking that Hancock would be the first to fall. After giving up the first takedown to Junior European silver medalist Suleyman Erbay (TUR), G’Angelo responded with a takedown of his own to take the lead on criteria heading into the break. A step-out gave the American a 3-2 lead, but with 40 seconds remaining, the two grapplers flurried, their legs became entangled, and Hancock crashed to the mat with Erbay covering him for two. Initially ruled a leg foul by the on mat official, the referees would confer for some time before deeming there was no foul and awarding the points to Turkey. Hancock spent the rest of the bout chasing, but couldn’t score, falling 4-3. When 2015 Cadet World champion Artur Sarsian (RUS) throttled Erbay in the semi-finals, Hancock was left out of the repechage.