Braxton Amos (Top) defeats Christian Carroll (Bottom) 10-0, 14-4 Sunday afternoon at Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa, on May 2, to clinch the 97 kg spot on the Junior World Team for the United States. (Photo Credit: Sam Janicki/SJanickiPhoto.com).
Today, amateur wrestlers, both male and female, are far more talented and accomplished at much younger ages than was the case in previous generations. This fact has been validated numerous times over the last month alone. Just look at what Bo Bassett, Jim Mullen, Braxton Amos, Kennedy Blades, and Kylie Welker have done on the mats.
Bo Bassett may only be a 14-year-old, but he is already a household name within the national wrestling community. The Bishop McCort seventh-grader is already a seven-time Pennsylvania youth champion in folkstyle. In April, in Wisconsin, he earned Cadet national titles in both freestyle and Greco-Roman, qualifying him to represent the United States at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in July. To be an age-level national champion is impressive enough, but to do such in such dominating fashion is unbelievable. Over Cadet World Team Trials weekend, Bassett was a combined 9-0, with seven technical falls and two falls competing at 45 kg’s in both styles. Bassett outscored his opponents by a combined 86-12.
Bassett’s future teammate, World Teamer Jim Mullen, earned a pair of Cadet national titles in both freestyle and Greco-Roman at the 110 kg division. In doing so, Mullen has qualified to represent the United States at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, alongside Bassett.
Mullen, along with fellow New Jersey prep star PJ Casale, elected not to attend the New Jersey state tournament that same weekend. Instead, the pair chose to try to make a World Team. While choosing to forego your high school state wrestling tournament is no small decision, it carried extra significance for Mullen. Having skipped the state meet, Mullen no longer has the opportunity to be the first four-time New Jersey heavyweight state champ in Garden State history. Tough as the decision may have been for the big man out of Kearny, New Jersey, it paid off.
Mullen’s accomplishments at World Team Trials are also noteworthy, considering he has limited experience outside of folkstyle wrestling. In fact, Mullen said the last time he was wrestling freestyle seriously was the eighth grade. At times, Mullen looked uncomfortable on the mats, but his incredible strength and athleticism were just too much for opponents to contend with in the end. Mullen, also a star football player, will now have access to better training via USA Wrestling in preparation for the World Championships later this summer. It’ll be exciting to see his adjustments and improvements.
Concerning Braxton Amos, the Wisconsin Badger followed suit of Bassett and Mullen as a double champion. Amos won Junior national titles in Greco and freestyle this past weekend at Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa. Amos was dominant and made his title runs look effortless. Over the three days of competition this past weekend, Amos not only made two World Teams, but he won 10 total matches, all by technical fall, outscoring his opponents 101-4. Similarly, his first nine matches were shutouts. It wasn’t until his and final match of the weekend that he gave up any points. Simply put, Amos was just on a different level than everyone else.
As for Kennedy Blades and Kylie Welker, this pair was the talk of Fort Worth, Texas, at the Olympic Team Trials in early April. Both Blades and Welker stormed through their respective brackets to earn berths in the best-of-three women’s freestyle finals – as high school juniors no less. In both instances, Blades and Welker lost back-to-back matches. While they didn’t make the Olympic Team, to make the finals of the biggest qualifying tournament in freestyle wrestling at their age is remarkable.
On the men’s freestyle side, heavyweight Gable Steveson is arguably one the best pound-for-pound best wrestlers in the world. Steveson, too, put together a rather Herculean effort of his own at the Olympic Team Trials in Texas. He ran his way to the top of the podium with ease, outscoring opponents 42-4 at The Trials. Steveson is expected to medal at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and many are rather bullish that the Minnesota Golden Gopher can win gold. As crazy as it seems, Steveson has achieved all that he has: A 2021 Olympian, NCAA champion, Hodge Trophy winner, a two-time Cadet World Champion, a Junior World Champion, and more, all before his 21st birthday.
Whether at the Cadet, Junior, or Senior, or NCAA level, which saw two 2021 freshmen national champions in Carter Starocci and AJ Ferrari, it has been reaffirmed over the last month that there is a youth movement in progress for Team USA.
Amateur wrestlers are far more talented than ever before, so much so that they can make the United States World Team in two vastly different styles and, in some cases, find success on the biggest international stages as high schoolers. Man, it’s a fun time to be a fan of USA Wrestling.