57 kilograms: Seth Gross (Cliff Keen WC) vs. Nahshon Garrett (NJRTC/SERTC)
After previously winning a national title at South Dakota State, Gross transferred to Wisconsin for his senior season. In his final year, he went 27-2 with his only losses coming against Austin DeSanto (Iowa) and Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern). During the season, he also picked up wins over the pair and also defeated the likes of Sammy Alvarez (Rutgers), Travis Ford-Melton (Purdue) and Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State). Gross returned to action for the first time following the collegiate season at Beat the Streets. He engaged in a shootout with Joe Colon and ended up dropping the match 21-15. Gross returned on the debut WRTC Underground show and defeated former collegiate rival Bryce Meredith via a 10-7 score.
Garrett won a spot on the 2018 world team after defeating Joe Colon at Final X. Unfortunately for him, an injury kept him out of the competition, and Colon went on to win a bronze medal. Since returning from injury, Garrett has placed fourth at the 2019 Bill Farrell and sixth at the 2019 Senior Nationals. During his collegiate career at Cornell, Garrett was a three-time All-American and culminated his career with an NCAA title at 133 pounds as a senior in 2016.
In 2018, Gross and Garrett faced off twice. Their first meeting came at the U.S. Open. That match was tied 10-10 after the first period, but Garrett had the edge in the second and took it 18-13. In the rematch at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, Gross held a 7-6 lead at the break. Once again, Garrett turned it on in the second and won 16-12. Gross can score with anyone, but in freestyle, he simply allows his opponents to score from too many positions. This will likely be another high scoring match, but Garrett should be able to pull out the late victory once again.
Prediction: Garrett VPO1 over Gross
65 kilograms: Yianni Diakomihalis (Spartan Combat RTC) vs. James Green (NJRTC/SERTC)
Diakomihalis sat out the last college season to prepare for the Olympics. The two-time NCAA champion is expected to return to Cornell with two years of eligibility remaining. As a sophomore, he went undefeated and captured his second NCAA title. At the NCAA tournament, he picked up wins over Peter Lipari (Rutgers), Chad Red (Nebraska), Dom Demas (Oklahoma), Jaydin Eierman (Missouri) and Joey McKenna (Ohio State).
On the freestyle scene, Diakomihalis won a pair of world championships on the cadet level. Following his 2019 collegiate season, he went on quite a run. Diakomihalis won the U.S. Open and followed that up with a win over Bajrang Punia at Beat the Streets. Despite the momentum, he came up short in his bid for the world team. He faced off against Zain Retherford in a best-of-three series at Final X. Retherford won both matches. After an appeal of the second match, Diakomihalis secured another chance. However, in the redo match, Retherford prevailed once again.
The Cornell wrestler started this year with a gold medal performance at the Pan American Championships. Diakomihalis returned for the 2020 edition of Beat the Streets and dropped 4-4 criteria decision against Olympic champion Vladimer Khinchegashvili.
Green has been full time on the freestyle circuit since completing his collegiate eligibility at Nebraska in 2015. He was a four-time All-American who finished third as both a junior and senior. Despite never winning an NCAA title, Green broke through on the senior level with a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships. The medal came within months of the end of his college career. Since then Green has been a mainstay on the international scene and represented the U.S. at five-straight World Championships. In 2017, he added a world silver medal to his collection.
Late last year, Green moved up to 74 kilograms. Last December he finished second at the Alans tournament. A few months later, Green entered the Matteo Pellicone, but he dropped his first match against Yones Aliakbar Emamichoghaei of Iran. In his first action since the pandemic, Green faced off against Alex Marinelli at the HWC Showdown Open and took a 5-4 victory.
Despite his success domestically and internationally, Green has always done his best work at 70 kilograms. Unfortunately for him, that is not one of the Olympic weights. In 2016, Green dropped down to 65 kilograms for the trials and lost in the first round against Retherford. It appeared as if he was moving up to 74 kilograms for this cycle, but perhaps he will make a run at 65 kilograms after a strong performance here.
Green certainly has the ability to get to legs against Diakomihalis. The real challenge for him in this match will be finishing clean without giving his opponent the opportunity to score. There will be times in this match when holding on for the stalemate will be a win for Green. His ability to control the pace and limit the action should likely go a long way. Of course, this all depends on Green's ability to perform at his peak when cutting to the lower weight, and Diakomihalis is certainly a tough way to start the trek.
Prediction: Green VPO1 over Diakomihalis
74 kilograms: Logan Massa (Cliff Keen WC) vs. Kyle Dake (Spartan Combat RTC)
It is entirely possible that Massa is the hottest domestic wrestler on the freestyle ladder at the moment. While spending the year away from Michigan to prepare for the Olympic, Massa started his streak at the 2019 Senior Nationals. He won the tournament at 74 kilograms with wins over Anthony Valencia, Nazar Kulchytskyy and Mekhi Lewis. Massa returned to action this past September with a victory over Bekzod Abdurakhmonov on the debut NLWC show. He then won yet another Senior Nationals title. On his way to the 2020 title, he defeated Jarrett Jacques, Danny Braunagel, David Carr and Valencia.
On the college mats, Massa finished third at the NCAA tournament as a true freshman in 2017. He returned to the NCAA tournament twice but never returned to All-American status. He will have one year remaining at Michigan.
Domestic fandom has been collectively waiting for the anticipated showdown between Dake and Jordan Burroughs. The two are the clear favorites for the Olympic spot at 74 kilograms, and the delays have only prolonged the suspense and tension.
Since moving up to 86 kilograms and coming up short at the 2016 Olympic Team Trials, Dake went back down to 74 kilograms and tried to dethrone Burroughs and take his spot on the world team. They met in the finals of the U.S. Open, and Burroughs escaped with a 2-2 criteria win. They faced off again two months later at the World Team Trials in a three-match series. Dake won the first match 6-6, but Burroughs bounced back with 8-4 and 6-2 victories to earn the spot on the team. Burroughs went on to win yet another world championship.
After the 2017 season, the weights expanded, and Dake found a home at 79 kilograms. He won both the 2018 and 2019 world championships as well as the 2018 Yasar Dogu and the 2020 Matteo Pellicone. Dake returned to action this past July against Frank Chamizo. It was a close match, but he ultimately pulled out the 4-3 victory.
If Dake is able to add an Olympic team or medal to his resume, it would be on top of one of the most storied collegiate careers in history. During his time at Cornell, he won four NCAA titles at four different weight classes and finished his run with a 137-4 record.
Dake is the clear favorite in this match, and he would be the favorite against anyone domestically not named Burroughs. With that being said, Massa has been running through the field recently. If Massa is able to hold position, he may be able to keep it close, but Dake will likely run away with it.
Prediction: Dake VSU over Massa
86 kilograms: Myles Martin (Ohio RTC) vs. Myles Amine (Cliff Keen WC)
Martin won an NCAA title as a true freshman in 2016, and he finished his Ohio State career in 2019 as a four-time All-American. During his senior year, he went 25-1 with his only loss coming against Max Dean at the NCAA tournament.
Despite being in the middle of the college season, Martin entered the 2019 Senior Nationals. He made the finals with impressive victories over Nick Helfin and Alex Dierginer, but he ultimately came up short against Zahid Valencia to finish second.
Martin return to action this year on the undercard of Flo's Dake vs. Chamizo show. He filled in as a late replacement against David Taylor and dropped an 11-0 match. The former NCAA champion got back on track in Flo's 8-Man Challenge. He took the tournament title with wins over Drew Foster, Nate Jackson and Taylor Lujan.
Amine wrestles for Michigan, but he represents San Marino on the international level. He took an Olympic redshirt this past year, and he certainly made the most of the time. Amine made a surprising run through the 2019 World Championships with wins over Ali Shabanau (Belarus), Sohsuke Takatani (Japan) and Yurieski Torreblanca Queralta (Cuba) on the way to a fifth-place finish. In the process he qualified for the weight for San Marino and is expected to represent the country at the upcoming Olympic Games. Amine proved it was not a fluke as he took a silver medal at the 2020 European Championships.
In his first three years at Michigan, Amine finished fourth, third and third. In his last season on the college mats, he established himself as one of the best wrestlers at 174 pounds with his only four losses coming against eventual finalists Mark Hall (Penn State) and Zahid Valencia (Arizona State). Amine is expected to move up to 184 pounds for the upcoming season.
Martin had a very strong showing in the recent 8-Man Challenge, but Amine has shown himself to be on another level on the international scene. This will likely be a close match but expect Amine to make a big difference with his ability to score from the top position.
Prediction: Amine VPO1 over Martin
97 kilograms: Kollin Moore (Ohio RTC) vs. Hayden Zillmer (Gopher WC)
After three straight top-four finishes at the NCAA tournament, Moore was the heavy favorite to bring home a national title in 2020. Unfortunately, the tournament never happened, and his Ohio State career came to an end with a Big Ten title. As a senior, he went 27-0 with wins over Nathan Traxler (Stanford), Kordell Norfleet (Arizona State), Eric Schultz (Nebraska), Lucas Davison (Northwestern) and Shakur Rasheed (Penn State).
Moore returned to action this past August on the debut Wrestling Underground show. He took a 7-0 decision over Deron Winn. He carried that momentum into the 2020 Senior Nationals, where he defeated Traxler, Zillmer, Ty Walz and Kyven Gadson.
Zillmer has been a mainstay on the freestyle ladder since completing his collegiate eligibility in 2016. He was a three-time NCAA qualifier and an All-American for North Dakota State. In 2019, he made the finals of the World Team Trials challenge tournament before coming up short against Michael Macchiavello. He bounced back with bronze medals at the Bill Farrell tournament and carried that momentum into the 2019 Senior Nationals. He ran through the field and took the title. So far this year Zillmer has taken bronze at the Cerro Pelado tournament and the 2020 Senior Nationals.
Moore and Zillmer have recently developed a strong rivalry. In 2019, they faced off three times, and Zillmer won all three meetings. Despite the losses, Moore steadily closed the gap. The margin in those three matches went from 12-7 to 12-10 and finally to 10-10. Zillmer and Moore met yet again at this year's Senior Nationals. This time Moore broke through and took a 6-5 victory. Was that result a sign of things to come? A rematch here will go a long way to decide that. Despite Zillmer being known for his defense, Moore has never really had trouble scoring against him. At Senior Nationals, he showed better control of that mat pace. If he can duplicate that performance, he should take this potential matchup.
Prediction: Moore VPO1 over Zillmer
Gable Steveson takes a shot on Gable Steveson at Final X (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
125 kilograms: Nick Gwiazdowski (Wolfpack WC) vs. Gable Steveson (Gopher WC)
The heavyweight division has the potential to provide the biggest match of the weekend. Gwiazdowski and Steveson have been on quite the collision course recently. Since coming up short at the 2016 Olympic Team Trials, Gwiazdowski has been the representative at three straight world championships. Along the way, he picked up bronze medals at both the 2017 and 2018 editions of the tournament.
While Gwiazdowski was dominating the senior level, Steveson was racking up gold medals on the age-group levels. He won a pair of cadet world championships and a junior world championship before ever stepping foot on a college campus. He signed with Minnesota and made his debut for the 2019 season. In his first year in college he finished third at the NCAA tournament and dropped only two matches against Anthony Cassar. This past year, he went undefeated and was the clear favorite heading into the NCAA tournament. During the year, he scored victories over Anthony Cassioppi (Iowa), Trent Hillger (Wisconsin) and Mason Parris (Michigan).
Gwiazdowski and Steveson faced off for the first time at Final X in 2019 in a three-match series with a spot on the world team on the line. Gwiazdowski won both matches, but both of the wins came on criteria.
In the first match, Steveson went on the board first with a shot clock point. Gwiazdowski then pulled ahead with a nifty single and finish through the quad pod. After the break, Steveson got back into the match with a double to single that turned into a step out. The match was tied at 2-2, but Gwiazdowski held the edge on criteria thanks to the two-point move. Steveson kept coming as he scored his own takedown on a reattack off a short shot from the former NC State NCAA champion. With about a minute left, Gwiazdowski got in on a single and fought off a chest wrap attempt to take the 4-4 criteria lead. He held on for the rest of the match and took the first bout.
Steveson got on the board first again in the rematch. He tried an ankle pick that forced Gwiazdowski out of bounds for the step out point. After the break, Steveson got in deep on a reattack single, but the hips were too much. Gwiazdowski pulled an ankle and spun behind for the 2-1 lead. Both wrestlers got in on singles, but Steveson was able to expose Gwiazdowski from short offense and reclaim the lead via a 3-2 score. Gwiazdowski never gave up on the position and finished the takedown for the reversal point. In the process, he took the lead 3-3 on criteria and never relinquished it.
At this point, Gwiazdowski might still be too active and dynamic for Steveson. Both wrestlers will have their opportunities, so finishing will be very important. In the end, getting an early shot here could be very valuable for Steveson's prospects at the Olympic Trials.