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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    2021 World Team Trials Preview - Men's Freestyle

    Nick Suriano at Beat the Streets NYC in 2019 (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    Just over a month after the Olympics wrapped up, we have another critical event scheduled for this weekend on the Senior level, the 2021 World Team Trials. USA Wrestling has stated that any Olympic medalist could claim a spot (at that same weight) on the world team, if they chose. 8 of the 9 medalists elected to compete at the 2021 World Championships October 2-10th. Only Gable Steveson declined the invitation. So the non-Olympic weights, along with weights where the United States did not medal, and 125 kg in men's freestyle, will be up-for-grabs.

    These limited numbers of available weights have created an Olympic Trials-like effect for competitors who have moved up or down in search of a berth on the world team. Of course, that can only benefit wrestling fans who should be treated to some incredible matchups.

    We'll start our 2021 World Team Trials previews by looking at the men's freestyle team. Remember, Thomas Gilman (57kg), Kyle Dake (74kg), David Taylor (86kg), and Kyle Snyder (97kg) have already secured a spot on the team based on the 2020 Olympic medals.

    61 kg

    The bulk of this weight is composed of participants from the 57 kg weight class at the 2020 Olympic Trials. With 57 kg being such a drastic cut for most of these competitors, we could see an entirely different set of results at a more manageable weight class.

    Of course, the big elephant in the room is Nick Suriano, who was deemed one of the favorites heading into the Olympic Trials. At the time, Suriano was a few months removed from a gold medal at the Henri DeGlane and a silver at the Matteo Pellicone. At the DeGlane, he won a weight class that featured eventual Olympic bronze medalist and Trials champion, Thomas Gilman, though the two did not meet. Suriano wasn't able to compete at the Trials due to a failed Covid test. If in top form, he'll be difficult to defeat.

    Suriano's 2019 NCAA finals opponent, Daton Fix, is on the shortlist of opponents capable of downing the former Rutgers national champion. Fix already has a world team appearance under his belt in 2019.

    The only member of this bracket with world hardware is Joe Colon, who captured a world bronze medal in 2018 at this weight. Of course, Colon had the opportunity to compete due to Nahshon Garrett pulling out of worlds due to an injury. The two engaged in an excellent Final X series that led to Garrett getting the spot. Nahshon is actually coming down from 65 kg, where he lacked the necessary horsepower to compete with the division's elite. We can't discuss Colon without mentioning Seth Gross. When the two clash, it's guaranteed fireworks. Gross has been on the cusp of breaking through and grabbing a World/Olympic Team spot. He defaulted out of the Trials after a 9-8 loss to Colon.

    Another past world team member in this group is Tyler Graff, who shocked the American wrestling public by knocking off Colon in Final X 2019. Like many on this list, Graff is most effective at 61 kg.

    We've gone this far without mentioning Nathan Tomasello, who finished third at the Trials to clinch a spot on the National Team. Tomasello earned wins over Zane Richards and Sean Russell during his run through the backside of the bracket. He'll be in his first major competition since moving to the Oklahoma RTC.

    Richards, along with Ethan Lizak, Shelton Mack, Daniel DeShazer, and Zach Sanders, are all veterans that are capable of stringing together credible wins in a bracket of this magnitude.

    Champion Prediction: Nick Suriano

    65 kg

    The 2020 Olympic Trials were a showcase for Joey McKenna, who stepped forward and announced himself as a contender for Olympic/World teams at the weight for the foreseeable future. McKenna dominated James Green and turned in a stunning 8-5 win over two-time world team member Zain Retherford on his way to the finals. The former Junior World silver medalist has thrived training at the suddenly-loaded, Penn RTC. McKenna's collegiate rival, Yianni Diakomihalis, is also an age-group world medalist and may have something to say about McKenna's ascent. Diakomihalis defeated McKenna in a tight NCAA final in 2019 and went on to narrowly miss out on a world team berth, losing to Retherford.

    Regardless of who prevails at 65 kg, it will be fun to see a new face on the world scene. One of the fastest risers at this weight is Pat Lugo, who finished up his collegiate career in 2019-20. During the Covid-disrupted fall/winter, Lugo was very active and was able to notch some key wins, though he ultimately did not qualify for the Trials. Another representative from the Hawkeye Wrestling Club at this weight is Jaydin Eierman. The four-time All-American was a member of the 2019 U23 World Team and is somehow more dangerous after relocating to Iowa.

    You may not remember, but one of the contenders here with a boatload of international experience is Oklahoma All-American Dom Demas. Dom made a pair of Cadet World Teams in Greco-Roman and a Junior team in both Greco and freestyle. With his array of trips and throws, Demas is always a threat to rack up points in a hurry.

    Lugo isn't the only 2020 NCAA title favorite at this weight who had his final national tournament disrupted by Covid. Luke Pletcher is also in the mix. He currently trains and coaches at Pittsburgh and will likely make noise here.

    Finally, a pair of veterans in, Dean Heil and Evan Henderson, could make things difficult for the favorites at the weights.

    Champion Prediction: Joey McKenna

    70 kg

    While 70 kg doesn't have the longest list of entrants, it does feature some of the more intriguing possible matchups of any bracket in the men's freestyle tournament. The most decorated member of this group is two-time world medalist James Green. James has owned this weight class domestically since 2015. He is the only wrestler to appear at the world championships at 70 kg. Back at his best weight, Green will be difficult to unseat.

    Even with the ever-present Green at 70 kg, he'll have to contend with a talented field of competitors, led by Jordan Oliver. Oliver won the 2020 Olympic Trials at 65 kg, but wasn't able to qualify the weight for Tokyo. Like Green, this weight class suits Oliver much better 65 kg, so we should see the best of JO.

    One of the few domestic opponents to claim victory over Green, while at 70 kg, is Ryan Deakin, who did so at the 2019 US Open. Green did avenge the loss with little pushback at Final X later in the year. That win, along with a Junior World silver medal, is proof that Deakin could come away with the title at this weight and, if so, it shouldn't be considered a huge upset. He's the lone top contender in this field still in college.

    We've gotten this far without discussing the wrestler at this weight with the best international ranking, Alec Pantaleo. The three-time All-American from Michigan is currently seeded #1 in the world at 70 kg. He just needs to make the team now. Pantaleo earned that seed via gold medal-winning performances at the Matteo Pellicone and the Pan-American Championships. While it doesn't count for seeding purposes, Pantaleo was third at FloWrestling's 150 lb 8-man challenge, after a close loss to Green in the semifinals. His big win at the event was over Oliver in the first round.

    Green isn't the only multi-time world team member in this field; we also have Zain Retherford. This will be Zain's first major competition up at 70 kgs. Retherford defeated Rutgers national champion Anthony Ashnault to make the semifinals of the Olympic Trials, but fell to McKenna and fellow Nittany Lion, Nick Lee, and did not earn a place on the national team. If this is a more suitable weight for Retherford, the rest of the field should watch out!

    Finally, we have former NCAA runner-up from Nebraska, Tyler Berger. Tyler recently relocated to the California RTC to continue his freestyle career training out of Stanford. After working so closely with Green for so many years, could he have the secret to knocking off the reigning king at 70 kg?

    Champion Prediction: Jordan Oliver

    79 kg

    What an absurdly, ridiculous field at 79 kg! Any adjective you use to describe this would be appropriate. First of all, we have one of the all-time greats, Jordan Burroughs, up a weight class from his customary 74 kgs. He has intimated that this could be more appropriate for him going forward anyways. The five-time World/Olympic champion will be in action for his first full domestic tournament since 2017. It will also be his first tournament since arriving back east to train at the Penn RTC. While it's never a good idea to bet against Burroughs, there are plenty of high-level opponents capable of downing the king.

    The one opponent at this weight that owns a win over Burroughs is Isaiah Martinez. IMar was narrowly defeated by Burroughs two-matches-to-one in Final X 2019. Since that time, Martinez has dealt with significant injuries that have sidelined him. He wasn't even able to compete at the 2020 Olympic Trials. If close to 2019 form, Martinez is not only capable of defeating Burroughs, but challenging for a world medal.

    The same can be said for 2016 Hodge Trophy winner Alex Dieringer. At one point, many American observers considered Dieringer and Kyle Dake number one and number two in the world at the weight. The injury bug has struck Dieringer too and prevented him from competing at the Olympic Trials. Unlike Martinez, Dieringer will be coming down from 86 kgs; however, 79 looks like the best fit for him. A semifinal matchup between any combination of Burroughs/Martinez/Dieringer is worth the price of admission.

    You would think that the “big three” would be a lock for the semis, but with a weight class this deep, it's far from a sure thing. Olympic Trials third-place finisher Evan Wick will be one to watch. While highly decorated on the folkstyle circuit, Wick tends to shine even more in freestyle. Two of his noteworthy wins at the Trials came against Tommy Gantt. The former NC State All-American as a US Open finalist in 2019 opposite Martinez. Gantt's fellow Wolfpack teammate Hayden Hidlay should also be a factor. Hidlay is in the process of moving up from 157 lbs to 174 lbs, collegiately, so this will be a good preview of what he looks like at his new weight. Hidlay was a 2018 U23 World Team member down at 70 kg.

    A pair of Penn State national champions are in the fold here with Jason Nolf and Carter Starocci. Nolf was at 74 kg for the Olympic Trials, while Starocci was at 86. Neither was able to garner a win at the Trials, but that underscores their true talent. Nolf is older and more experienced on the Senior freestyle scene than Starocci and presents more of a threat this weekend.

    Another pair of training partners could meet at this loaded 79 kg bracket with Quentin Perez and Chance Marsteller. Both currently train at the Navy-Marine Corps RTC. Perez wrestled for Navy head coach Cary Kolat while at Campbell and Marsteller grew up training with Kolat in high school. Marsteller is now reunited with Kolat on a full-time basis. Chance won his opening bout at the Olympic Trials over Vincenzo Joseph, but fell to Wick in the next round.

    One of Burroughs' new teammates, David McFadden, is also poised for a strong showing. McFadden was recently added to Drexel's staff and has flourished at the Penn RTC. He was a silver medalist earlier this year at the Matteo Pellicone.

    Also, remember Taylor Lujan. The former Northern Iowa Panthers had a breakout freestyle performance at FloWrestling's 195 lb 8-man bracket, pinning Gabe Dean and getting back Pitt head coach, Keith Gavin, to make the finals.

    Finally, we have the mercurial Pat Downey. The 2019 World Team member is slated to compete at a weight significantly lower than he was wrestled at in over a decade. In an ideal training environment, Downey could be a threat at this weight, though it's unclear if he'll be able to make it.

    Champion Prediction: Jordan Burroughs

    92 kg

    We'll get the opportunity to see the domestic return of two-time 92 kg world champion J'den Cox. J'den was expected to push Kyle Snyder for the 97 kg spot on the Olympic team; however, he was not allowed to wrestle at the Trials due to a weigh-in timing snafu. Cox has competed since this at the Ziolkowski Open in Poland and suffered an uncharacteristic loss to Illia Archaia of Ukraine in the semifinals. If Cox is anywhere near his peak, the tournament could be a race for second place.

    With J'den out of the equation at the Trials, Kollin Moore cruised to the finals opposite his ex-Ohio State teammate Snyder. Moore has world medals at the Junior and U23 levels and is looking to make his first Senior team and add to the collection.

    One of the mainstays at 97 kg, Kyven Gadson, has dropped down to challenge for the spot here. Gadson has been blocked from world team's in the past by Snyder, who defeated him in 2018 and 2019. He suffered a slight upset at the hands of Ty Walz in the first round of the Olympic Trials, but battled back to defeat Walz for third place and then secured a spot on the national team.

    Over the last year-plus, Nate Jackson has developed into a legit contender for national team berths at this weight and 86 kg. Jackson earned wins over Brett Pfarr and Myles Martin before getting eliminated from the Olympic Trials. Speaking of Martin, he'll be in action, as well. Myles handed Jackson his only loss of the FloWrestling 195 lb 8-man bracket and pocketed $20,000.

    A pair of wrestlers with NC State lineage could be a force at this weight with Mike Macchiavello and Trent Hidlay. Macchiavello was a silver medalist at the Bill Farrell in 2019 and made the semifinals of the Olympic Trials. Hidlay was a Junior World silver medalist in 2019. He also earned a win over eventual Olympic bronze medalist Myles Amine at the RTC Cup.

    Finally, Drew Foster, an NCAA champion for Northern Iowa in 2019, could be a wild card. He doesn't have a long history in freestyle, but he could grow rapidly.

    Champion Prediction: J'den Cox

    125 kg

    For the bulk of the last quad, 125 kg had been the domain of Nick Gwiazdowski. He made three consecutive world teams and was able to claim a pair of world bronze medals in the process. However, he was soundly beaten by Gable Steveson at the Olympic Trials. Now, after seeing what Gable did to the rest of the world, does that change your opinion on where Gwiazdowski stands in the grand scheme of things? He's still a contender for a world medal that happened to run into a once-in-a-generation buzzsaw. Because Steveson declined his invitation to the 2021 World Championships, this weight will be conducted.

    Now, the same disclaimer we used for Gwiazdowski could be applied to Mason Parris, as well. Parris was the victim of Steveson in a one-sided NCAA finals bout. This is the same Parris who pinned his way to a Junior World title in 2019 and crushed 2020 Olympic bronze medalist Amir Zare (Iran) in the process. Maybe Parris is the young phenom that would make the UFC and WWE brass salivate if not for Steveson's presence. With Gable out of the equation, someone will get the chance to step up. Parris and Gwiazdowski have a recent history with each other. Gwiz teched Parris in the round-robin portion of the RTC Cup, while Parris managed a 10-8 victory in the team tournament.

    Aside from those two, there are plenty of other savvy vets at this weight. Longtime contender Dom Bradley is still seeking his first world team berth on the Senior level. Bradley was a 2019 Senior National Champion and took gold at Junior Worlds back in 2009. But, both of his losses at the 2020 Olympic Trials came at the hands of the wrestlers mentioned first. Ty Walz is someone that has bounced between the 97 and 125 kg weight classes over the years. He moved back up for the 2021 WTT's. Walz split matches with Gadson at the Olympic Trials and ended up fourth in the Challenge Tournament. Though he may be a little unsized for the weight, he'll use that quickness to his advantage offensively.

    Another wrestler moving up in weight here is Hayden Zillmer. In 2018, Zillmer fell to J'den Cox in Final X Bethlehem, while at 92 kg. In the 2016 Olympic Trials, Ziller was at 85 kg. It's unclear exactly what to expect from him this weekend.

    Two more notables to mention are Austin Schafer and Jordan Wood. Schafer has been a nice development as someone who is competitive domestically on the Senior level. Wood, a two-time All-American for Lehigh, qualified for the 2020 Trials and is a past Cadet World silver medalist.

    Champion Prediction: Mason Parris

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