photo courtesy of Richard Immel
You probably know the story already, but we’ll go through it again. Rising Cornell junior, Yianni Diakomihalis took the US Open by storm in April with wins over 2016 US Olympian Frank Molinaro, then-teammate and top seed Jordan Oliver, just to make the tournament finals. There he would face off with 2017 World Team member Zain Retherford. The two battled in a classic, back-and-forth match, but it was Diakomihalis who emerged as the victor. That made Retherford have to go through some of the same opponents at the World Team Trials in Raleigh, North Carolina less than a month afterward. Retherford defeated long-time rival Jordan Oliver to get another crack at Diakomihalis at Final X Rutgers in early June.
In the first match of their best-of-three series in New Jersey, Retherford logged a 10-4 win over Yianni. In their second match is where everything went off the tracks. With about 50 seconds left in the bout, Diakomihalis was awarded points for exposure during a scramble situation. That sequence never stopped before the final whistle, which was when Zain’s Nittany Lion Wrestling Club coaches through the challenge brick. Initially, most expected a challenge of a near-exposure with 10 seconds left in the match; however, the challenge when all the way back to that 50-second mark and reversed the exposure call and ruled in favor of Retherford which ended the bout. Diakomihalis never had the opportunity to wrestle the final 45 seconds or so with this new score.
Immediately that evening Cornell head coach protested the ruling of the match and later it was agreed upon that an independent arbitrator would rule on the procedures used during the match. Just over two weeks ago, the ruling of the arbitrator was that the two would need to continue the wrestle-off. Any results from the second match were thrown out and Retherford will start the series with a 1-0 lead.
If that isn’t complicated enough, in the interim the two wrestlers have competed against each other outside of US soil. In mid-July, both were entered in the Yasar Dogu ranking series in Turkey and as luck would have, they were pitted against each other in the opening round. Yianni would prevail 9-5 and went on the win the tournament; however, one of the more significant takeaways from the tournament was the status of Retherford. Zain injured a leg during a scramble between the two and was not able to continue in the repechage. He also pulled out of the Pan-American Games in early-August. That presents the biggest question, one which we won’t know until Monday afternoon, just how hurt/injured is Zain. With the World Championships now two weeks again, Retherford and his corner could have opted out of the Pan-American Games and the Dogu repechage for purely precautionary reasons, but there may be something more to it all.
As far as the breakdown of the actual action on Monday, unless Zain is severely limited it will be a lot to ask for Yianni to defeat Retherford in two straight matches. Of course, Diakomihalis has wins defeated Zain in two of their three official bouts this year.
We’ll go with Yianni taking both matches.
Pick: Yianni two matches to one