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International Wrestling

TOM’s 2017 Professional Wrestling League Disbursement Draft

Sadulaev, Cox, Snyder, Khinchegashvili

We’ve written before about the best way to start and maintain a professional wrestling league in America. With the off-season well underway and other sports holding their drafts, we thought it would be interesting to gather a group of wrestling people to hold a draft of our own as if the professional league was just getting underway. We started with six teams, a modest yet attainable target. The plan was for a freestyle league that would feature duals between the teams and an end of year tournament. Teams were to be made up of wrestlers that will no longer be in high school by this fall and are either eligible to wrestle for Team USA or wrestled in college in the United States. We granted one exemption to that rule per team to draft anyone in the world. This setup is common in sporting leagues around the world forcing teams to rely on homegrown talent while also allowing for international stars.

The roster of owners included TOM’s founder Eric John, contributors Bryce Villa, Rich Brunetti, Clay Sauertieg, and Nick Alspaugh as well as me, Alex Steen. Using the current eight international weights, we drafted using a snake system where the last team to choose in one round gets the first pick in the next to fill out our starting line-ups. Remember that this is an ongoing league so not only were the participants tasked with building a winning team, but also laying the groundwork for future success. Here is how it went down. After you check it out, head over to Twitter @theopenmat or The Open Mat’s Facebook page to let us know who built the best team and who made a terrible mistake.

Round 1

Nick – Kyle Snyder, 97 kg Ohio State

Eric – J’den Cox, 86 kg Missouri

Rich – Zain Retherford, 65 kg Penn State

Clay – James Green, 70 kg, Nebraska

Alex – Thomas Gilman, 57 kg Iowa

Bryce – Jordan Burroughs, 74 kg Nebraska

Starting off, everyone is afraid to take an international star while the best Americans are still on the board. Snyder is the obvious choice at number one and five other 2017 world team members go right behind him. Burroughs falling to sixth might surprise some, but the youth of the others picked ahead of him proved too enticing.

Round 2

Bryce – Logan Stieber, 61 kg Ohio State

Alex – Nick Gwiazdowski, 125 kg North Carolina State

Clay – David Taylor, 86 kg Penn State

Rich – Kyle Dake, 74 kg Cornell

Eric – Dom Bradley, 125 kg Missouri

Nick – Tony Ramos, 57 kg Iowa

The eight world team members go in the first eight picks and likely the two best American wrestlers not on the team go right behind them in Taylor and Dake. Eric eschews taking Zach Rey to snag Bradley, but now that he has two former Missouri Tigers he may be planning to base his team in the Show Me state. Still no international exemptions used, but as we push past the top tier domestically, it can’t be too long now.

Round 3

Nick – Jordan Oliver, 65 kg Oklahoma State

Eric – Nathan Tomasello, 57 kg Ohio State

Rich – Jason Nolf, 70 kg Penn State

Clay – Bekzod Abdurakhmanov, 74 kg Clarion

Alex – Alex Dieringer, 74 kg Oklahoma State

Bryce – Zahid Valencia, 86 kg Arizona State

This round got interesting as Nick gambles on Oliver’s positive drug test not resulting in a suspension. That could be a fantastic pick or a complete waste, depending on how that situation plays out. Rich was ecstatic that Nolf fell to him as he likes that young man’s future potential and who could blame him? Clay makes wise use of the NCAA wrestling loophole to snag a former world bronze medalist who beat Burroughs in Rio without using his exemption, then I take the man that beat Bekzod last November right behind. Wrestling can be strange.

Round 4

Bryce – Kyven Gadson, 97 kg Iowa State

Alex – Abdulrashid Sadulaev, 97 kg Russia

Clay – Taha Akgul, 125 kg Turkey

Rich – Zach Rey, 125 kg Lehigh

Eric – Mark Hall, 74 kg Penn State

Nick – Bo Nickal, 86 kg Penn State

Two men who have each won world or Olympic titles the last three years break the international exemption seal. Sadulaev’s recent close call at Russian Nationals and pending showdown with Snyder doesn’t scare me off. Besides, who doesn’t want to see Sadulaev and Snyder clash more often? Akgul becomes far and away the best heavyweight in this league and despite Rey’s upset loss at the Trials, he is in the conversation for second or third best making Rich’s pick a good one. Eric continues to largely build for the future, picking up the 2016 Junior world champion at 74 kg.

Round 5

Nick – Chris Perry, 74 kg Oklahoma State

Eric – Mitch McKee, 61 kg Minnesota

Rich – Vladimer Khinchegashvili, 61 kg Georgia

Clay – Kollin Moore, 97 kg Ohio State

Alex – Frank Molinaro, 65 kg Penn State

Bryce – Ryan Deakin, 70 kg Northwestern

This time in the draft calls for creativity as the obvious choices are largely gone, especially domestically. Nick goes for a veteran who tends to fight the top guys hard in Perry. Eric, Clay, and Bryce speculate with young talent. Rich locks down an international star that should have highly entertaining bouts with Stieber. With my international exemption used up, Molinaro was by far my best option, though his age and the emergence of Retherford gave me pause. He’ll still win a lot in this format and it is the fifth round after all.

Round 6

Bryce – Daton Fix, 57 kg Oklahoma State

Alex – Vitali Arujau, 61 kg Cornell

Clay – Nick Lee, 61 kg Penn State

Rich – Spencer Lee, 57 kg Iowa

Eric – Justin Mejia, 65 kg Clovis

Nick – Kendric Maple, 61 kg Oklahoma

Bryce takes Fix and the floodgates open on graduating high school seniors. No doubt this is a talented bunch and there are more like them out there. The Daton Fix/Spencer Lee rivalry could reach legendary proportions and with the relative lack of depth at 61 kg domestically, it makes sense to gamble on Vitali Arujau and Nick Lee. Just as I thought we might see petitions to draft junior high kids, Nick takes Maple who doesn’t wrestle much but is really good when he does. The former Sooner would be the league’s third best 61 kg, behind Stieber and Khinchegashvili, but it would be interesting to see how long he could stay there as the youth movement works to catch him.

Round 7

Nick – Micah Burak, 125 kg Penn

Eric – Hayden Zillmer, 97 kg North Dakota State

Rich – Jacob Warner, 97 kg Iowa

Clay – Boris Novachkov, 65 kg Cal Poly

Alex – Pat Downey, 86 kg

Bryce – Ilyas Bekbulatov, 65 kg Russia

As it gets late, team needs start to dictate picks a bit more. Zillmer making both national teams was an impressive accomplishment and one wonders if Eric can pay him enough to focus on freestyle. Considering last round we drafted a bunch of kids that we’d have to pay enough to skip college, let’s assume he can.  Clay probably did the best job of taking advantage of the rules as he finds Novachkov in a round where internationally experienced scrappers are few and far between. When I ended up taking Gilman in the first round, I always had Downey in the back of my mind if for no other reason than my press conferences would be must see television. If we can keep Downey on the straight and narrow, he just might pay off in a big way. Bekbulatov has had a big year already, winning the Yarygin and the European Championships. He should be Russia’s representative at worlds so Bryce takes him as his international exemption. Nick took Burak as a 125 kg as he already has Snyder at 97 kg. No doubt Micah will appreciate not having to cut weight anymore, but it remains to be seen if he can be effective at heavyweight.

Round 8

Bryce – Tony Nelson, 125 kg Minnesota

Alex – Alec Pantaleo, 70 kg Michigan

Clay – Nahshon Garrett, 57 kg Cornell

Rich – Nick Heflin, 86 kg Ohio State

Eric – Alex Marinelli, 70 kg Iowa

Nick – Jimmy Kennedy, 70 kg Illinois

It became clear in the final round, with three of us needing to fill the weight, that most of us weren’t sure how to handle 70 kg when we didn’t get James Green. Pantaleo might outgrow it. Marinelli might be several years away. Kennedy was great in Lincoln, but was the oldest wrestler in the finals. By the final round, there are no sure things, of course. Clay picks up Garrett who many continue to expect big things from. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen too much from Nahshon yet and questions are starting be asked a little bit. Can he beat Ramos or Gilman? Is he better than Tomasello right now? How long can he hold off Fix and Spencer Lee? This is a good pick for the final round as the upside is clear, but it remains to be seen how valuable it will be.

Full Teams

Nick Alspaugh

57 kg Tony Ramos

61 kg Kendric Maple

65 kg Jordan Oliver

70 kg Jimmy Kennedy

74 kg Chris Perry

86 kg Bo Nickal

97 kg Kyle Snyder

125 kg Micah Burak

With two 97 kg guys and Oliver facing a potential suspension, this squad could be a little short handed. That said, Ramos, Maple, and Kennedy were all trials runners-up so they can be counted on for wins most nights, Nickal might get there, and Snyder was a deserving number one pick. If Oliver gets his issues sorted out, this team could win plenty of duals and push anyone. Compared to the others, this isn’t a young crew. They need to win now.

Eric John

57 kg Nathan Tomasello

61 kg Mitch McKee

65 kg Justin Mejia

70 kg Alex Marinelli

74 kg Mark Hall

86 kg J’den Cox

97 kg Hayden Zillmer

125 kg Dom Bradley

A painfully young roster in spots, Eric’s squad might struggle in their first season as McKee, Mejia, Marinelli, and Hall get a taste of the senior level. Hall in particular might be ready to compete, but he is walking into a loaded weight with Burroughs, Dake, Dieringer, and Adburakhmanov. We’ll definitely find out more about him. With Cox as the line-up’s anchor and still young himself, this is a roster built for the future.

Rich Brunetti

57 kg Spencer Lee

61 kg Vladimer Khinchegashvili

65 kg Zain Retherford

70 kg Jason Nolf

74 kg Kyle Dake

86 kg Nick Heflin

97 kg Jacob Warner

125 kg Zach Rey

We go live to Rich on how his draft went, “I love my draft as I think I have a core of five young guys in Lee, Retherford, Nolf, Dake and Warner who should represent the US at Worlds or in the Olympics at some point in their careers. Retherford has already won that right barring a successful appeal from Jordan Oliver. Throw in one of the best wrestlers in the world, Kinchegashvili, at a weight with slim US pickings, a veteran in Rey with World Championship experience and Heflin, who may never overtake the top guys but is probably the third best 86 kg in the US right now and my squad will be tough to beat in any format.”

Clay Sauertieg

57 kg Nahshon Garrett

61 kg Nick Lee

65 kg Boris Novachkov

70 kg James Green

74 kg Bekzod Abdurakhmanov

86 kg David Taylor

97 kg Keegan Moore

125 kg Taha Akgul

Taylor proved he was right with Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox at the trials and has beaten many of the worlds best this year. Akgul is the world’s best heavyweight. This line-up is a bit vulnerable down low in this format and Keegan Moore isn’t yet ready to take on Snyder and Sadulaev, though he obviously knows Snyder well. Still, with international veterans like Novachkov and Abdurakhmanov as well as a world bronze medalist in James Green, this team is a title contender right away. If Garrett can find his way while Lee and Moore develop, Clay could lay claim to the first few titles as the league’s first dynasty.

Alex Steen

57 kg Thomas Gilman

61 kg Vito Arujau

65 kg Frank Molinaro

70 kg Alec Pantaleo

74 kg Alex Dieringer

86 kg Pat Downey

97 kg Abdulrashid Sadulaev

125 kg Nick Gwiazdowski

If this team can keep from turning on each other given the odd mix of personalities, they have a chance to be really good. Downey is, obviously, a powder keg, but I’m hoping training with Sadulaev will not only help him reach his potential, but inspire him to live the life as well. Arujau lost at the Junior World Team Trials, but he has been on the path to international success for a long time. With the possible exception of Molinaro, all of these guys could be around a while. Even with the youth, this crew should be competitive right away.

Bryce Villa

57 kg Daton Fix

61 kg Logan Stieber

65 kg Ilyas Bekbulatov

70 kg Ryan Deakin

74 kg Jordan Burroughs

86 kg Zahid Valencia

97 kg Kyven Gadson

125 kg Tony Nelson

Bryce has assembled an intriguing mix of potential and proven excellence. If Burroughs can hold his position as the best 74 in the country long enough for Fix, Valencia, and possibly Deakin to progress, this line-up has a chance to be really special in a year or two. We don’t really know how those three stack up right away, but the potential is there. Stieber and Bekbulatov have done a lot of winning lately and Gadson is a clear number three behind Snyder and Sadulaev. Nelson’s defense might be critical in these duals as bonus points could make the difference. He beat Rey, 1-1, at the trials before falling to Bradley, 8-1, which is a 3-1 team score split in freestyle.

So, how’d we do? Who has the best team? Who made a huge mistake? Chime in on twitter @theopenmat or The Open Mat’s Facebook page and let us know!

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