Riordan's Roundup: September 19, 2013

Now that the men's freestyle portion of the 2013 FILA Wrestling World Championships has ended, I'd like to provide a bit of perspective on Team USA's performance.

We come home with only one medal, which is less than optimal, but we have plenty of positives to take away. As a team we managed fifth place, which is not quite where we want to be, but still far from a disaster. I think the best case scenario for this American team would have been third. Iran and Russia are too tough at the moment, so while things could be better, they could also be far worse.

Below I have provided thoughts on each freestyle wrestler. As always, I write from the perspective of a fan with the highest level of respect for each athlete, so I strive to stay positive.

55 kilos: Angel Escobedo

I'm sure he would like another crack at the Turk for the bronze, but all things considered, Escobedo acquitted himself well. I wonder if now that he has had some success on the highest level, if he will now have the necessary confidence boost to push himself to the top of the ladder domestically and stay there.

60 kilos: Reece Humphrey/Franklin Gomez

I've included both because I view Gomez as a bonus American wrestler. Interestingly, both found themselves eliminated from the tournament in similar situations. Both received questionable calls from the ref, and both surrendered late takedowns to lose to tough competition.

The Russian was far and away the best wrestler in this weight. I'm at peace with the fact that neither American would beat him, but with the way brackets were drawn up, either Humphrey or Franklin could have won a bronze.

Leaving questionable scoring out of the discussion, both seemed to lose due to bad tactical choices in the second period. Sometimes, wrestling with the lead can be just as hard as wrestling from behind. Both will probably find themselves at another World championship, and both know they have what it takes to medal. (Gomez already has a medal.) They just need to polish up their match closing abilities.

66 kilos: Brent Metcalf

Metcalf's style, which makes him successful in the new cumulative scoring format, ironically cost him a shot at a World medal. In his defeat to Iran's two-time World champion, Mehdi Taghavi, which was far more competitive than their last meeting, Metcalf tired out the Iranian so severely that he lost in the next round to an inferior opponent, thus eliminating Metcalf.

I will make the bold prediction that Metcalf will win a World level medal before all is said and done. He just cannot lose before a semifinal, or better yet, not lose at all.

74 kilos: Jordan Burroughs

With the news that Burroughs bad barely recovered from a broken leg and had spent most of last month's training on a stationary bike, it's hard to feel anything but awe at his performance.

Jordan Burroughs (74 kilos) won a World gold medal, but was the lone medalist for Team USA in men's freestyle (Photo/Tony Rotundo,
I'm sure that Mark Manning and other Burroughs supporters had to do a good bit of arguing to prevent Burroughs from getting replaced on the American roster, but it looks like the right decision was made. In the past, Burroughs wrestling dazzled with its spectacular display of speed and power. The performance at this year's World Championships saw a slightly more understated performance from Burroughs, but no less impressive, largely due to his tactical mastery and truly clever wrestling in tight spots.

Jordan has said he wants one more gold in a row than John Smith. He might be capable of it, but it this goal sits a long way off, and Burroughs finds himself beset on all sides by forces which can derail him. A single great opponent, injury, or questionable reffing decision can end his streak at any time. I just hope that, in the meantime, we really appreciate what he has accomplished already.

Finally, I'll take this time to discuss a problem I've noticed with passivity warnings at this year's World Championships. A lack of scoring does not necessarily indicate passivity on either side, yet refs feel obligated to issue passivity cautions whenever the scoreboard stands still. Also, circling out of an underhook does not equate to passivity. If a wrestler underhooks, is the other wrestler obligated to stand there and wait for his opponent to work something off the hook? Wrestlers have a right to progress to a more advantageous position where they can initiate offense.

84 kilos: Keith Gavin

Georgia's Dato Marashgavili seems to have the ability to beat, and to lose to anyone. Gavin ran into the best version of the Georgian, and this spelled the end to any medal hopes on Gavin's behalf.

I like Gavin, and I hope he gets another bite at the apple on the world's highest level, but I fear he might not represent Team USA's future at 84kg.

96 kilos: J.D. Bergman

J.D. Bergman wrestled well for most of a match, but he hung out in double unders for too long and found himself on his back. That is international-level wrestling in a nutshell -- one momentary lapse can rob you of your dreams.

It's hard to wrestle with the lead in the current incarnation of freestyle. If you sit back on your heels, you possibly put yourself in a situation to Reece Humprey in his last match. If you stay aggressive, you can end up on your back like Bergman. The current rules seem to force a wrestler to continue to outwrestle his competition until the final whistle.

There is a silver lining. While I do not yet think that Bergman is at a level with the two wrestlers we saw in the finals, I think on most days he has the skill to put himself in position to win a bronze medal in a World championship.

120 kilos: Tervel Dlagnev

In the last three years Dlagnev has beaten both World champions and the Olympic champion, but in that time he has no world medals himself. Some years ago, probably after his 2009 World bronze, I predicted that he would go on to become the second greatest American heavyweight ever. Had a few matches gone the other way over the last few years, this prediction would have come true. Fortunately, Dlagnev is still young enough to make me correct.

I'm a huge fan of every Team USA wrestler, but none more so than Dlagnev. It breaks my heart to see him keep falling short of his goals. I think that this year he suffered a serious adrenaline dump after finally beating Iran's Ghasemi in the quarters, and he never recovered. The happenstance of the World Championships format hurt him.

I hope beyond all hopes that Dlagnev can obtain a gold medal or two (preferably one at Rio) before he leaves his shoes on the mat, though it does not appear things will get any easier. Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia possess young elite talent, Russia has a revitalized Gatsalov, and Azerbaijan and Iran still have great heavies in Magomedov and Ghasemi. Dlagnev has shown that he can beat anyone at any time. Now he needs to show he can beat everyone at one time.


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sjv (1) about 4 and a half years ago
Thanks for the coverage. I do not share your pure enthusiasm for international wrestling, but am still interested. I watched Burroughs' matches and was proud of how he behaved and reacted throughout. It seems to me that the international wrestling world rejoices every time an American loses and tend to stack the deck (specifically the refs) against our guys. But Burroughs is too good to fall victim to this (at least so far). Those passivity calls in the final were straight bull. I also loved how he kept his cool in the semi after being essentially slugged in the face five or six times. Burroughs is a class, smart wrestler and a great defender of the flag.
giessmann (1) about 4 and a half years ago
I have to disagree about the passivity call. Watching the match again, I found myself wondering what Burroughs was doing in the first period. He was definitely stalling - although I have no idea why. Of course, he came back from that and scored a TD, but he was stalling. He deserved the call.

And let's stop blaming "everyone" else for American losses. The Americans were out-wrestled. They were not cheated.

Having said all that - Jeez I wished Metcalf had won. I really hope he medals one day.
DannyClarke (1) about 4 and a half years ago
^ What match were you watching?? The Iranian doesn't take his right hand off the mat the entire match... He's protecting his lead leg and taking 0 shots cause he knows Burroughs will stop it, take a re-shot and smash through him. If anyone was stalling it would be the Iranian.