Kyle Snyder defeated Kyven Gadson in the finals of last year's World Team Trials (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
On Saturday, Team USA will send some of their best wrestlers to Lincoln (Neb.) for the first edition of Final X. The event will determine the 2018 world team representative for seven weights. All bouts will be conducted as a beat-of-three series. The following is a weight-by-weight preview of the event with predictions.
70 kilograms: James Green vs. Jason Chamberlain
At last year's World Championships, Green reached the finals before falling against Frank Chamizo. He returned this year at the World Cup where he went 3-1 with his only loss coming against multiple-time World Military Championships medalist Joshgun Azimov (Azerbaijan). Green then swept his way through the Pan American Championships and defeated Franklin Maren Castillo (Cuba) at the annual Beat the Streets event.
Chamberlain needed all three matches to defeat 2016 Olympian Frank Molinaro in the finals of the World Team Trials. He had previously defeated Molinaro in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. The former Boise State wrestler then went on to defeat NCAA finalist Hayden Hidlay in the finals. In his only international action this year, Chamberlain finished second at the Cerro Pelado Invitational falling in the finals against Maren Castillo.
So far this year, Chamberlain has been at his best when he is keeping the score close and winning tight matches. This can be a dangerous strategy against Green. Green is not the most active wrestler, but he is able to score in bunches. If Chamberlain tries to keep it close, he could end up giving up big points at the end of periods against Green.
Prediction: Green in 2
Alli Ragan (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
59 kilograms: Alli Ragan vs. Jenna Burkert
Ragan picked up her second straight world silver medal last year in Paris. She made the finals but ended up falling against Olympic gold medalist Risako Kawai (Japan). Ragan continued her winning ways early this year with another silver medal performance at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix. She defeated a pair of tough European opponents before dropping the final match against Ningning Rong (China), who went on to dominate the Asian Championships at this weight.
Burkert did not wrestle in the U.S. Open this year since she had already qualified for the World Team Trials. At the Trials, she made her way to the finals with a pair of technical superiority wins over Abby Nette and Lauren Louive. Burkert then defeated Open champion Kelsey Campbell in the best-of-three finals. The first match was a close 3-1 victory for Burkert. In the second match, she picked up her third tech of the tournament.
Ragan should be the favorite in this match. She has been on a roll for the past two seasons. Burkert will be a tough physical test, but Ragan can score from her offense and her defense. With that being said, if any of these series were to go to three matches, it could be this one.
Prediction: Ragan in 2
97 kilograms: Kyle Snyder vs. Kyven Gadson
There are two ways to look at Snyder's last match. Nobody really expected the multiple-time world/Olympic champion to fall behind Reineris Salas Perez (Cuba) at Beat the Streets. Could he be slipping? At the same time, the Cuban's lead never felt safe, and Snyder battled his way back for a 9-8 victory. Is he unstoppable? Regardless of how you think about that performance, Snyder has cemented himself as one of the best wrestlers in the country and the world.
Gadson has had an up-and-down year so far in 2018. He started the year with a trip to the Outstanding Ukrainian Memorial where he went 1-1 and failed to advance in the repechage. At the U.S. Open, Gadson came in as the No. 1 seed, but he fell against Austin Schafer in the semifinals and ended up finishing third. The former Iowa State wrestler then picked up a silver medal at the Pan American Championships, falling to Salas Perez in the finals. At the World Team Trials, he defeated Blaize Cabell and Ty Walz to earn a rematch with Schafer, who he defeated for the spot in Final X.
Snyder has not lost a domestic freestyle match in years, and he will be a big favorite in this match. However, Gadson does hold a victory over Snyder, and he will be able to feed on whatever mental edge that could possibly give him. In the 2015 NCAA final, Gadson threw Snyder to his back and pinned him. Of course, Snyder has won rematches before and should be able to take this one.
Prediction: Snyder in 2
Becka Leathers won a bronze medal at last year's World Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
55 kilograms: Becka Leathers vs. Jacarra Winchester
Leathers slid right into Final X based on her bronze medal at last year's World Championships. At the event, she fell to eventual champion Haruna Okuno (Japan) in the quarterfinals but then knocked off a pair of opponents, Carola Rainero (Italy) and two-time European champion Bilyana Dudova (Bulgaria), to pick up the bronze. This year, she represented the U.S. at the World Cup and the Pan American Championships. At the World Cup, Leathers split a pair of matches with her loss coming against world champion Mayu Mukaida (Japan). Last month at the Pan American Championships, she swept her way to finals and took gold.
Winchester made her way to Final X with victories at the U.S. Open and the World Team Trials. At the Open, she defeated three opponents by a combined 25-3 score. Then at the Trials, she bested Dominique Parrish in straight-matches. The highlight of her international season came at the Outstanding Ukrainian Memorial where she took home a gold medal.
Winchester will have a height and size advantage in this match. However, she might have a hard time getting her hands on Leathers. The returning world medalist utilizes a lot of movement on the outside and seemingly constantly changes levels. That type of aggression might end up wearing down Winchester and opening up scoring opportunities. Also, from the top position, Leathers employs a variety of folkstyle turns that allow her to rack up points.
Prediction: Leathers in 3
Thomas Gilman won a silver medal at last year's World Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
57 kilograms: Thomas Gilman vs. Daton Fix
Gilman returns after picking up a silver medal at last year's World Championships. Since that performance, Gilman has competed sparingly and dealt with some injuries. He returned for the first time at the World Cup. In his collegiate home gym, he went 1-2 and helped the U.S. win the tournament. Gilman then finished third at the Pan American Championships. He fell to returning U23 gold medalist Reineri Andreu Ortega (Cuba) but took care of his other opponents.
This past season Fix redshirted at Oklahoma State and went 5-0 in open tournaments. He earned his spot in Final X after winning the World Team Trials. Fix had to fight his way through the challenge bracket after falling against Tony Ramos at the U.S. Open. However, it turned out that he was up to the task. Fix earned a rematch with Ramos by defeating veterans Eddie Kilmara, Zane Richards and Zach Sanders by a combined score of 33-4. He then defeated Ramos in two straight matches.
While the competition has not been easy, Gilman has not really looked like himself in 2018. On the other hand, Fix appears to be improving from match to match. Against Ramos, he lost to 2-2 and then won a pair over the former world teamer 4-2 and 10-3. Fix might struggle to close the distance against Gilman's reach, but in the end, he should be able to win a takedown battle. Against Ramos, he uncharacteristically used an underhook to control the clinches. He might be able to employ different tactical strategies against Gilman.
Prediction: Fix in 3
68 kilograms: Tamyra Stock vs. Randyll Beltz
Stock represented the U.S. at the 2017 World Championships, but she failed to bring home a medal. She earned this spot in Final X by winning the U.S. Open. At the tournament, she defeated three opponents, including Beltz, by a combined 32-0 score. Earlier this year, Stock picked up her second Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix title with a dominant run. In the finals, she bested world bronze medalist Yue Han (China).
After falling to Stock in the finals of the U.S. Open, Beltz had to win the World Team Trials for a berth in Final X. At the Trials, she made her way to the finals where she bested Yvonne Galindo in two straight matches. This season was a bit of a breakout year for the Army WCAP team member. Prior to this year, her best finish at an Open or Trials had been third.
Stock was all over Beltz from the start in their last match. She took her down almost immediately and held her on back for 2:48 on the first period. Beltz somehow avoided the fall, but Stock went back to work in the second period. She scored four takedowns in the first 1:35 of the second period to finish the match. It is hard to see how Beltz will be able to reverse that result.
Prediction: Stock in 2
Isaiah Martinez (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
74 kilograms: Jordan Burroughs vs. Isaiah Martinez
At this point, it might not even be fair to call it a comeback tour. After his disappointing performance at the 2016 Olympics, Burroughs has bounced back with yet another world title in 2017. This year, he has been as dominant as ever. He swept his way through the World Cup field. In his most recent action, he scored a come-from-behind victory over fellow returning world champion Frank Chamizo in the main event of Beat the Streets.
In some ways, it is crazy to think of Martinez as only a two-time NCAA champion. During his collegiate career, he only lost three matches outside of his redshirt year. So far this season, he has continued his winning ways on the senior circuit. First, he ran through the U.S. Open. For the tournament, he outscored his five opponents by a combined 49-0 score. Martinez returned at the World Team Trials and defeated Nazar Kulchytskyy in a pair of matches.
Many top wrestlers have cleared out of this weight due to the dominance of Burroughs. However, Martinez seems intent on challenging the king. This should be an interesting stylistic match. Burroughs likes to work from space, while Martinez will likely look to get to an underhook. However, he will likely struggle to move the multiple-time world champion from that position. Martinez might have some moments in this match, but 74 kilograms in the U.S. is still Burroughs' world.
Prediction: Burroughs in 2