Over the past 20 years the significance of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational has remained constant. When I was in college (1999-2004) we would have wrestle-offs to see who would and would not attend the tournament, though it's fair to say that most of those wishing to attend (myself included) had ulterior motivates for wanting to go out west. For me it was not only to see what the fuss was about, but also to fly on a plane, something I'd only done once as a child with only a vague recollection. For others it was poker, gambling and nightlife.
Despite the ancillary reasons one may want to wrestle at the CKLV tournament, the competition was always instructive as to where your summer training had placed you in the current season. Going out west meant (and still means) wrestling against Pac-12 opponents you may otherwise not see. Even East Coast schools who compete in select pockets will attend the CKLV, which allows other regional teams to see a broad swath of opponents and styles.
Now that the tournament is live streamed, the CKLV this year will also be the first tournament for many fans to see some of the big conferences compete, including the Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12, Big 12, and the EIWA. I know that I'll use the tournament as my first opportunity to jump headlong into the season's matchups, micro-dramas and maybe even participate in some light betting.
Hope everyone enjoys the wrestling. Remember that one-hundred percent of the kids you see on the mat can't wait to hit the casino.
To your questions …
Q: Any idea what kind of crowd AWL I will draw on Friday night? Have you heard much about ticket sales? Are you taking Zain Retherford or Jordan Oliver?
-- Mike C.
Foley: No idea on ticket sales or online signups for the livestream. Will be interested to see who shows up to watch these American guys wrestle. We all want this to work!
As for Zain and Jordan, I see Zain as the two-point favorite. He's been battling in the Penn State room and seems to be hyper-focused on competing. He's a recent World Team member and at only 23 years old could become a mainstay of the USA program for the next several years.
At 28, Jordan is a bit older, but even after a one-year suspension (that kind of lasted two years), he's still hungry for a seat at the table. I'm not underestimating his ability to make an impact, I just think that Zain can be a very physical wrestler for anyone to face, especially someone with even a touch of ring rust.
How this plays out on the mat is anyone's guess, but I'll go with Oliver scoring the first takedown, then Zain, then a few step outs for Zain who then shoots late, kills the clock and comes away with a two-point victory.
But when a guy of Jordan's talent is motivated you can't count him out of any match. No matter who shows up in Cedar Rapids or buys online, I can tell you that I'll be watching.
Q: So, suppose I have enough bankroll to set up a 95-kilogram (catch weight) match between J'den Cox and Abdulrashid Sadulaev at Beat the Streets next year. Who wins? Methinks Cox could win, say, 3 or 4 times out of 10?
-- Irv O.
Foley: If you got that type of dosh you should give Beat the Streets a ring. I'm sure they'd love to pick up that phone call!
I think you're a little high at 35 percent. While Cox can give Sadulaev trouble with his defense, you are underestimating the Russian's mat intelligence. There is a lot that can happen inside a 30-foot circle, but more often than not it's Sadulaev dictating pace, direction and offensive scoring opportunities. In a match against Cox he would know about the flexibility and likely get him on the back foot early and press him to the edge, take shots and get back to his feet. I'd be happy to take the step out points against a guy like that, and I think that's a game plan Sadulaev could execute.
What could Cox's plan be for dealing with that forward pressure? Right now he tends to plant his feet and use the overhook side to whip opponents out of bounds. Is he doing that to Sadulaev? I'd be skeptical he could pull it off with any efficacy. In the semifinals he gave up a takedown to Alireza Karimimachiani when he wasn't able to overhook.
But yes, I would watch! Pay up!
Q: What potential matchup are you most excited about in Vegas this weekend?
-- Mike C.
Foley: The 125-pound weight class and seeing how Louie Hayes does. With so much international wrestling in my life, I have admittedly less time to watch all the collegiate action. However, when I do it's to focus on how my Hoos are doing in major tournaments.
I think that Hayes has a real chance to break out this season and with four other wrestlers in the top 10 competing in Vegas I think he'll have the type of challenge necessary to prepare him for the rest of the season and NCAAs in March.
Q: I saw the video of Frank Chamizo and Aaron Pico training together. It was fun to watch. I know in an August mailbag you wrote that you don't think Pico will make a run at the 2020 Olympics. Has your opinion changed at all? Or do you think the Pico wrestling ship has sailed?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Awesome! I shot and edited that video, which means I also spoke to Aaron for a bit during and after the training session.
I learned that Pico DOES want to compete for the 2020 Olympic team, but that would be dependent on how he's feeling in 9-12 months. His desire to compete comes with several caveats. If he's the Bellator champion (and I think he will be), training for the Open and the Olympic Team Trials will be difficult due to paying promotional commitments. He'd also have to look at relocating, finding training partners and getting out on the international circuit.
What I will say is the "thing" that Pico has on the wrestling mat has NOT disappeared. He lost the Olympic spot in the third match via criteria to Frank Molinaro. That was a weird style matchup for Pico and he lacked the power to fight through some of the positions, but Frank won't be the threat in 2020 and Pico has (in his own words) gotten "twice as strong the last two years."
Zain, JO and Logan Stieber are all standing in his way, but from what I just watched with Pico training against Chamizo and Lavion Mayes there is absolutely no doubt that he could win the spot, and with less wrestling-only preparation than any other wrestler in the sport.
Iowa and Iowa State wrestlers shake hands after the Hawkeyes won 35-6 in Ames last season (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)
Q: Iowa won every contested match against Iowa State last season. ISU's only win was a forfeit. Do you think the Cyclones will be competitive against Iowa on Saturday? I'm especially looking forward to the Austin DeSanto vs. Austin Gomez match at 133 pounds.
-- Mike C.
Foley: The Battle for Austin should be an interesting match, but I don't see Gomez dealing well with the DeSanto heat. I know he's taken some well-deserved jabs for past behavior, but I'm guessing with those issues squared away and a modest improvement in conditioning and focused training DeSanto will be a wrecking ball all season.
Won't Willie Miklus be favored over Jacob Warner? That'll be a great match. Also, Pat Lugo and Jarrett Degen could be a solid W for Iowa State. With Kemerer out of the lineup, Iowa State could conceivably snag four matches, but it's more likely an 8-2 match score.
Link: 2018-2019 NCAA Wrestling All Ear Team
Frank Molinaro vs. Aaron Pico (third match)
Preview of the Iowa vs. Iowa State
Q: Something a bit different to hit you with today. Here is a study of wrestlers trying to make spots on the Canadian World teams (that study which there is a link to is from 1979). Thoughts? Hope you all are doing well. Thanks for the work you do in getting wrestling news out to the masses!
-- Aaron S.
Foley: The part of this study that immediately stuck out to me was the definition of open-skill and closed skill sport.
"… open-skill activities like wrestling, badminton and hockey are those in which skills are primarily executed in an ever-changing, interactive environment. Therefore, in open-skill activities, the athlete attempts to develop a repertoire of patterns that match particular environmental stimuli that are encountered during the execution of that skill (e.g., performing a back-hand swing in response to a serve). In contrast, closed skills, such as gymnastics, high-jumping, and diving, are defined as occurring when the environmental surroundings remain constant."
That is a brilliant description of what separates the sporting community. Certainly, there are a number of ways that we can differentiate between sports, but this grouping of open and closed skills is informative and useful.
As for the study itself, I'll leave it for interested readers to dissect and discuss, but I did appreciate that the researchers were able to note that more international tournaments were a predictor of the confidence of an athlete. And that confidence, combined with the elimination of other psychological approaches, was likely most effective in creating improved outcomes for elite wrestlers.
Q: I was looking at the Big Ten schedules and noticed that Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State all wrestle a dual against each other. Iowa does not wrestle any of them in a dual. How does something like this happen? These are marquee matchups and Iowa does not see any of them. They wrestle Oklahoma State and that is great. What about Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan?
-- Greg B.
Foley: Iowa doesn't make its Big Ten schedule and is aligned with certain schools through the Big Ten East and the Big Ten West. The East features Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. The West features Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.
The schools are allowed to schedule themselves independent of their divisional requirements, but that is the discretion of the coaches and athletic directors.
Q: Do you see Anthony Cassar as USA's top contender for the 97-kilogram spot and THE guy to dethrone Kyle Snyder?
-- Dan C.
Foley: Woah, that's quite a LEAP in expectations in that Cassar was 16-2 last season as a backup! Snyder loses one match and all of a sudden Penn State fans smell blood in the water.
I guess that if you want to get VERY optimistic you could point to his pretty steep trajectory in high school and what looks like an All-American senior season to say he could emerge as a top contender … at 125 kilograms … in 2024.
Q: Is Mason Smith still at ASU? Thanks!
-- Steven H.
Foley: He has left the program and is back in Michigan.
A very special thanks to Tom Brands and his family for this kind gift for my daughter Quinn! Please note that this is how my daughter lives her life: lounge position, sweatpants tucked into socks, drink at the ready.