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Final X Rutgers: Men’s Greco-Roman Preview and Predictions

Bey_Smith

photo courtesy of Jim Thrall; MatFocus.com

We’re only two days away! Saturday, 30 of the top men and women in the country will descend upon Rutgers University in New Jersey for the first of two weekends worth of action at Final X. This will be the second year in a row, where the Senior men’s and women’s freestyle team will be determined by a wrestle-off at a predetermined site, rather than under one roof at the World Team Trials. This year we have the Greco-Roman team aboard, as well, so all our Senior teams in all three styles will be determined over the next two weeks. Since there are two different dates, rather than the three in 2018, both sites were scheduled to have 15 matches apiece. That meant that each day’s worth of Final X would be broken up into two sessions. Session one will start at 12pm and a second session will begin at 6pm. Each best-of-three wrestle-off will be held during their scheduled session.

Final X Rutgers Women’s Preview

Final X Men’s Freestyle Preview

Now Final X Rutgers will only have 13 matches since David Taylor pulled out of the entire world team process for 2019, and earlier this week, Kyle Dake asked for his wrestle-off to be moved back due to an injury (Since Dake is a returning world medalist, he can make such a request).

Here are the matches that will be taking place in men’s Greco-Roman, a preview of the action, and predictions for all five matches.

Session One

Bout One: (87 kg) Joe Rau -TMWC/Chicago RTC vs. Ben Provisor – NYAC/Nittany Lion WC

What a way to start off the entire day’s worth of action at Final X with what should be an all-out brawl between Joe Rau and Ben Provisor. 87 kg is one of the most top-heavy weights on the American side and any number of the top four or five wrestlers on the ladder could have found themselves in Final X, fighting for a spot on the world team. These two met in the US Open semifinals and it was Rau who got the best of Provisor 1-1 on criteria. The only points of the match scored by either competitor came as the result of passivity calls. The Open win allowed Rau to skip the World Team Trials and put him on the brink of making his second world team. The first came back in 2014 and Joe has been competing on the Senior level since 2012. Within the last year, he has moved from Minnesota to the Chicago RTC where he has been able to receive more one-on-one coaching from Greco legend Robby Smith, as well as Illinois’ Bryan Medlin. Provisor has been on the scene even longer than Rau, as he worked his way up to earning a spot on the 2012 Olympic team. Ben would go on to replicate that feat at the 2016 Olympics, as well, and made the world team the following year in 2017. These two are both veterans who have competed at the world level, countless times overseas, and head-to-head. With that being said, I don’t expect either wrestler to be head and shoulders above the other. Expect this one to go three matches, without a whole lot of points being scored, but the highest level of intensity possible.

TOM Prediction: Provisor over Rau (Three Matches)

Bout Three: (82 kg)  Kendrick Sanders – NYAC vs. John Stefanowicz – US Marine Corps

One of the most pleasant surprises of the US Open from a Greco standpoint was the reemergence of Kendrick Sanders. Kendrick jumped into an 82 kg weight class that featured two former Senior world team members, the 2018 Trials winner, and the 2018 Junior World silver medalist and emerged relatively unscathed and with a bye to Final X. Sanders has always been mega-talented, he just had never been able to get over the hump to make the world team. A year ago, he was injured and contemplated whether to continue to compete or not. As we can see, he made the correct decision and even moved up in weight, which was probably a welcome change for a battered body that had been making 66 and 71 kilos dating back to 2013-14. If Sanders had a dream tournament at the Open, it was probably closer to a nightmare for John Stefanowicz. John entered Vegas as the second seed and was obviously one of the favorites. The upset bug bit in the semis and top-seeded Cheney Haight lost to an unseeded opponent and Stefanowicz fell to sixth-seeded Sanders, 7-3. John would go on to finish fourth. After rewatching their match from the Open, I’m sure that Stefanowicz feels like if a call or two went his way early, it could have been a different match. An early caution and two for a leg foul, with a slip that was counted as a takedown, helped put him in a 5-0 hole. Sanders got another two points for a reverse lift as the time expired in the first period. John battled back with three points in the second, so the four-point margin for Sanders could be a bit deceiving. I could see Sanders taking the first match, then Stefanowicz fights back in the next two to earn the world team berth.

TOM Prediction: Stefanowicz over Sanders (Three Matches)

Bout Five: (55 kg)  Max Nowry – Army WCAP vs. Brady Koontz – Ohio RTC

At first glance, this looks like it has to be a mismatch between longtime contender Max Nowry and Ohio State sophomore Brady Koontz. Nowry is almost ten years Koontz’s senior and is seeking his first spot on a Senior world team. He made two as a junior and even wrestled for a bronze back in 2010. Max has started off 2019 on the right foot winning his second career Pan-American championship, along with the US Open. At the Open, Nowry prevailed 5-3 over 2018 U23 World Team member Dalton Duffield, in a highly contested, hard-fought win. It was assumed that Duffield would probably be his primary competition for the world team spot at 55 kg this year. That changed after Koontz upset Duffield two-match-to-none in the World Team Trials finals. Koontz had an excellent run through the WTT’s, taking out the number two (Jabari Moody) and number three (Ibrahim Bunduka) seeds before knocking off Duffield. Brady is no stranger to international competition, as he made the Junior World Team last year and a Cadet team in 2013. If you are looking at the score differential, Koontz had a two-point win over Duffield at the WTT’s along with a five-point shutout win. Of course, common opponents are not always a good indicator of how a match will play out, but if nothing else, we can learn that Koontz will be very close to Nowry. Now all things equal, if we are comparing wins, Nowry did not give up a point to either Bunduka or Moody where they faced at the Open. In the first two matches, we’ve taken underdogs, so let’s go with Nowry getting down in a pair of tight bouts to earn his first spot on the world team.

TOM Prediction: Nowry over Koontz (Two Matches)

Bout Six: (67 kg)  Ellis Coleman – Army WCAP vs. Jamel Johnson – US Marine Corps

One of the most decorated Greco athletes in the US today is Ellis Coleman. Saturday he’ll is aiming to make his third consecutive world team and he also went back-to-back in 2012-13 with the Olympics and World Championships. One honor that has eluded him at the Senior level is a world medal. He has two bronze’s from his days as a Junior, in 2010 and 2011. This year Ellis has taken the silver at the Pan-American Championships, only behind 2016 Olympic gold medalist Ismael Borrero Molina (Cuba), the second time he has accomplished that feat and he has also captured his fourth US Open title. At the Open, Coleman was awarded the top seed and wrestled up to his billing by finishing all of his bouts before the four-minute mark. Attempting to knock Coleman off of his perch is Jamel Johnson, who is having one of the best years for an American. So far he has finished second at the Haparanda Cup and fifth at the Arvo Haavisto Cup, along with a third-place showing at the Open. In Vegas, Johnson was teched by Hayden Tuma in less than a minute and a half. Jamel was able to turn the tables on Tuma at the Trials, by taking their best-of-three series in the finals by the scores of 4-1 and 5-1. If Johnson can make the proper adjustments and reverse a decision against Tuma in only a few weeks, could he do the same against Coleman? While I see Johnson being able to push Ellis, I have to go with the long track record of success that Coleman possesses.

TOM Prediction: Coleman over Johnson (Two Matches)

Session Two

Bout Two (77 kg)  Kamal Bey – Sunkist Kids vs. Pat Smith – Minnesota Storm

This is the Greco bout that everyone has been anticipating since the US Open. Kamal Bey ended up walking away the winner over Pat Smith, after coming out on top in a controversial 7-5 bout. This matchup will feature a distinct contrast in styles with the flashy, big moves of Bey and the grit of Smith. Bey is coming off of his first Senior world team and is viewed by many as one of the faces of the Greco program, going forward. There’s plenty of reason for that sentiment as he was a three-time world team member at the Junior level, and even a Junior world champion in 2017. Kamal has taken a few lumps this year internationally, finishing ninth at the Grand Prix of Hungary and second at the Pan-American Championships. Could he be vulnerable for Smith to seize the moment and pull a slight upset? Pat also competed at the GP of Hungary this year and was 19th, and also took fifth at Thor Masters and is looking to make his second world team, as well. The pair did not get to face each other last year as the finals, as Smith was down at 72 kg where he had lost in the finals of the challenge tournament. Just to get to Final X, Smith has to win a pair of brutal matches with former world team member Mason Manville. I expect that with the eyes of the wrestling community trained squarely on these two competitors, Bey will be trying to put on a show and made the casual Greco fans figure out why he is so highly thought of.

TOM Prediction:  Bey over Smith (Two Matches)

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