Yianni Diakomihalis talks to his coach Mike Grey during the U.S. Open finals (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)
The U.S. Open concluded last weekend in Las Vegas with a number of surprising first-time champions earning Final X berths and/or a place in the finals of the World Team Trials.
Arguably the most surprising result was that of Yianni Diakomihalis, who beat Frank Molinaro, Jordan Oliver, and Zain Retherford in consecutive matches to earn his first senior-level U.S. Open championship and secure a spot in Final X.
Yianni's results didn't surprise me as much as they validated what we were seeing from him during the collegiate season. Flexible, creative, and aggressive, Yianni proved over the last six months that he is not only the best 65-kilogram wrestler in the United States, but arguably the world.
That sentiment isn't defensible until Yianni faces more top-level competition, including a slew of Russians who'd love to test the limits of the young American's leg defense. But those tests aren't likely to happen unless (or until) Yianni earns a spot on the team for the World Championships in Nur-Sultan. There is a lot of national wrestling still to be done before he can be shipped overseas for acclimation to the international style.
However, Yianni did catch a competitive break when Bajrang Punia, the top-ranked wrestler in the world, signed on to compete against him at the Beat the Streets event going down on Monday. The matchup is peculiar for several reasons. This is the first time that an Indian is the top-ranked wrestler in the world, he's coming off a VERY long string of tournaments (Asians to Ali Aliyev), and doesn't land until Saturday at midnight.
Making the matchup even more compelling is that both wrestlers are reliant on creative defense to win matches. Bajrang can't be bothered to ever defend his legs from being grabbed, but then fights like hell to score from these creative positions. Yianni isn't much different, creating scoring opportunities from what seem to be impossibly disadvantaged positions.
The X Factor will be how both these athletes are recovering from their recent tournaments and how much energy they will have late in the match. Bajrang is a hammer who tends to break opponents. Can he do that to Yianni and make him tired enough to not defend with as much acrobatic perfection in minute six as he did minute one?
It's unclear, but with Askren and Burroughs wrestling directly after, I think that the broader sports world is about to be treated to what could be one of the most entertaining matches in recent memory.
To your questions …
Q: As time progresses, Kyle Snyder's NCAA achievements become even more impressive. Compare his opponents in college to some other three-time NCAA champs and it's not even close, especially considering how good they all became. Think about this...
2015 NCAA semifinals: Beat J'den Cox, three-time NCAA champ and world champ
2015 NCAA finals: Lost to Kyven Gadson, NCAA champ and two-time U.S. Open champ
2016 NCAA finals: Beat Nick Gwiazdowski, two-time NCAA champ, world medalist
2017: Normal level of NCAA opponents
2018 NCAA finals: Beat Adam Coon, world medalist and U.S. Open champ in Greco and freestyle
Can you think of any other three-time or four-time champs who wrestled the caliber of opponents that Snyder did in college?
-- Andy S.
Foley: Cael Sanderson was dealing with Daniel Cormier, though to be fair his real excellence has shown in the octagon more than on the mat. He also had to deal with eventual world silver medalist Brandon Eggum, Olympian Andy Hrovat, world (Greco) silver medalist Brad Vering, world (Greco) bronze medalist Justin Ruiz, NCAA champion Mark Munoz, two-time NCAA champion Damion Hahn and others.
I can't quickly access the records of all those who wrestled the three and four-timers (noggin isn't what it once was!), but looking at Logan and Kyle it's obvious that Kyle went through more internationally accomplished opponents. Though remember that Kyle had to get through Taylor, who was himself a two-time champ, four-time finalist and is a world champion. Though not as complete a run as Snyder, I think it should remain a huge consideration.
Ryan Deakin defeated two-time world medalist James Green to win the U.S. Open (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Q: Was Ryan Deakin's run to a U.S. Open title an aberration? Or do you think he can get past the winner of James Green vs. Jason Nolf to earn a spot on the World Team?
-- Mike C.
Foley: I don't think you can call that performance a total aberration, but I also don't know that it signals Deakin as the shoe-in for the World Team at 70 kilograms.
Any wrestling fan worth his split sole knows that Jason Nolf was wrestling a little freestyle-rusty and at times exhibited abysmal match strategy. He also lit up opponents when it mattered. If he gets rolling I think he's tough to beat.
James Green is the same way. When Green feels confident in his reattacks and hand fights with a little more urgency, he can win matches. He seemed to take the pressure off against Deakin and I think it cost him. It'll be a good learning lesson.
Overall, Deakin is a little worse than even money against the field.
Bo Nickal picked up a technical fall over Hayden Zillmer in the finals of the U.S. Open (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)
Q: Based on what you saw of Bo Nickal at the U.S. Open, are you giving him a shot against J'den Cox?
-- Mike C.
Foley: How could you not?! Though I have to admit I'm among the worst in the community at consistently underestimating J'den Cox. Every accomplishment seems to get couched by some outside consideration. Truth is, he wins and he wins a lot.
I still think that if Nicklal wins the World Team Trials he's going to be a heck of a match for Cox at Final X. So many attacks. If anything would worry me as a fan of Nickal it's that he's a little outsized and Cox's mat strategy has improved dramatically the last three years. But again, with a few weeks to prepare and train that gap may close.
Q: Watching the U.S. Open this past weekend, I have a question. When it goes to criteria to determine a winner, I understand last one who scores wins unless there was a four or five-point move. Do you think it would be better instead of going to last one who scores, maybe adding the criteria of takedown and turn beats two takedowns or vice versa. What do you think?
Foley: The criteria first goes to the athlete with most high-scoring maneuvers. So for example, a takedown for two points would be better than two step outs. That would also mean that a pair of four-point moves beats a four-point move and two takedowns. I think that is a great place to start. The next criteria is cautions and the third is the last person to have scored.
Overall, I don't have any problems with the system as the athletes have been tending to compete hard within the six minutes and the referees are limited with how influential they can be in the matches.
Q: Is Iran back after that great performance at the Asian Championships? Or was the field thin?
Foley: The Asian Championships in freestyle was not as competitive as the Europeans, but I think overall there were a few substantive challenges for the Iranian wrestlers, especially at the lower weight categories.
Where I think we may be getting ahead of ourselves is in reviewing this team as though it will be the same team that arrives in Nur-Sultan. For the most part (Reza Yazdani being the most obvious exclusion) the Iranian team was its U-23 squad. They wrestled hard, seemed to have nice physiques and were aggressive on the edge. That noted, they were a little gratuitous with the step outs. Iranians can play the edge a little too much, in my opinion.
The Korean freestyle team actually seemed to be improving a bit. After a few decades of ignoring their development, there are new resources in place and they are wrestling back to the standard we saw in the late 1990's and early 2000's. I think the nation will remain Greco-focused, but it's nice to see them on the road and competing well.