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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    Final X New York: Men's Freestyle Preview

    Chance Marsteller (left) and Jordan Burroughs (photos courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)


    We already know one half of our 2022 Senior world team as the first leg of Final X (Stillwater) took place on Friday. Now we await the other half of the team. On Wednesday, from Madison Square Garden in New York City, the rest of the squad will be determined. Final X Stillwater yielded some surprising results, classic matches, and memorable moments. You can guarantee there will be more of all three Wednesday. Before then, here's what to expect from the competitors taking the mat in Final X New York. We'll start with men's freestyle, then move to the other two styles.

    65kg - Yianni Diakomihalis vs. Evan Henderson

    In Final X Stillwater we saw a couple of matches between former training partners with Cox/Jackson and Snyder/Moore. While J'den Cox ultimately prevailed over Nate Jackson, we saw the familiarity between the two yield what may have been a surprising result; the Jackson win in match two. Could a similar situation happen here at 65 kg with Yianni Diakomihalis and Evan Henderson? However it plays out, expect this series to contain as much action as any in New York. Between Diakomihalis' creativity and scrambling, and Henderson's “never-say-die” attitude, there are bound to be some amazing flurries. Henderson booked his spot in Final X after running the gauntlet at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. He downed Pat Lugo in the opening round, before unseating US Open champion Kendric Maple in the quarters. In the semis, with a trip to Final X hanging in the balance, Henderson staged a remarkable comeback against Olympic Trials' third-place finisher, Nick Lee. Down 10-2 at one point, Henderson rallied for a 12-11 win. On the other half of the bracket, Yianni put together back-to-back 10-0 techs over Luke Pletcher and Ian Parker for his place in Final X. Diakomihalis is coming off his first trip to the Senior World Championships in 2021. A medal-less showing has seemed to make the Cornell superstar only hungrier in 2022, as he captured his third NCAA title before returning his attention to freestyle.

    74 kg - Kyle Dake vs. Jason Nolf

    You've gotta love the Cornell/Penn State matchup at 74 kg. The last time stars from the two schools clashed at Final X we had the Zain/Yianni controversy of 2019. Let's hope for a more decisive victor in this meeting, but suffice to say, emotions will be running high on both sides of the coaching stage. Kyle Dake earned his place in Final X by winning his third world title in 2021, along with an Olympic bronze medal. Dake's previous world championships came at 79 kg, but last year he was able to unseat Jordan Burroughs for the spot at 74 kg for the first time. After years of fighting for the spot, Dake certainly isn't ready to concede it to Jason Nolf, or anybody else, for that matter. Nolf heads into Final X after winning by tech or fall in all eight of his Open/WTT bouts. In those eight matches, Nolf only surrendered a combined four points. Despite Nolf's recent dominance, history is on Dake's side. The pair met twice in 2021 with Dake needing less than a minute to tech Nolf at the Olympic Trials. The two also were paired with each other at a Nittany Lion Wrestling Club event and Dake controlled the action. Nolf appears much better since, but enough to make a dent in those type of results? We'll see. College credentials go out the window in a situation like this, but it is incredible to see a four-time NCAA champion taking on a three-timer in Final X. That is certainly the match between the most decorated combatants in this year's Final X (both sites).

    79 kg - Jordan Burroughs vs. Chance Marsteller

    Could there be a matchup between two more popular wrestlers right now? The living legend, Jordan Burroughs, has already cemented his legacy as one of, if not the best ever, for US Wrestling. He grabbed his sixth World/Olympic title in 2021 and his first at 79 kg. Since breaking onto the international scene in 2011, Burroughs has won 216 of 230 matches, including all 20 at 79 kg. Two of those 20 wins have come at the expense of his Final X counterpart, Chance Marsteller. At the 2021 WTTs, Burroughs prevailed 4-1 in a hard-fought contest. Earlier this year, Burroughs shut out Marsteller 8-0 in the Yasar Dogu finals. Marsteller gets to Final X after winning a classic, three-match series against the dangerous Vincenzo Joseph at the WTTs. Marsteller also edged Carter Starocci and US Open champion David McFadden, before the finals. Since Marsteller has been very forthcoming about his long battle with addiction and his open nature about the difficult subject has certainly won some fans. It would be a storybook ending for a wrestler that was once deemed the top recruit in the high school Class of 2014 (for a time ahead of Kyle Snyder), yet hit a few bumps in the road. The match itself should be a physical affair. Marsteller is known for his grinding style, while Burroughs doesn't have a problem mixing it up himself, despite his offensive prowess. If Marsteller has a path to victory, it will include generating enough offense to compete with Burroughs.

    86 kg - David Taylor vs. Zahid Valencia

    In the pre-tournament press conference with Jordan Burroughs, I asked which match he was most looking forward to (aside from his) and he mentioned this one. If it's good enough for the king, it's good enough for me! Olympic gold medalist David Taylor is looking to get back to the world championships and another round with Hassan Yazdani, his opponent in the Olympic finals. Taylor needed a late burst to win that bout and Yazdani finally got his first career win over the former Nittany Lion star a few months later at the World Championships. But, before focusing on Yazdani, Taylor could have his hands full with Zahid Valencia. Zahid gets the spot opposite Taylor after renewing the rivalry with Mark Hall in the WTT finals. Valencia continued his freestyle dominance of Hall by cruising to wins in two straight bouts. Over his last four freestyle meetings with Hall, Valencia has pitched four straight shutouts. Can Valencia do this to someone of Taylor's caliber? Probably not, but that doesn't mean he couldn't get the victory. The version of Valencia we saw in Coralville looks like he could challenge Taylor. It'll be an intriguing battle between two wrestlers that have become known for their low-leg attacks. Both are making their first Final X appearance since State College in 2018. There, Taylor teched Nick Reenan twice, while Valencia lost two close matches to Dake.

    125 kg - Nick Gwiazdowski vs. Hayden Zillmer

    The last of three Cornell/Spartan Combat/New York natives on this portion of the card is Nick Gwiazdowski. In early May, Gwiazdowski suffered a loss to Amir Dhesi (Canada) in the Pan-American finals. He responded by going on a tear in his two matches at the WTT's. Both ended 10-0 and the second win came over 2021 U23 World Champion Tony Cassioppi. Maybe the Dhesi loss woke a sleeping Gwizzly bear? The two-time world bronze medalist got back onto the world team in 2021 after falling in the Olympic Trials finals to the eventual gold medal winner, Gable Steveson. Since Gwiazdowski has moved to Cornell to coach and train with Spartan. Facing Gwiz for the spot at heavyweight on the world team is Hayden Zillmer. It will be the second appearance for Zillmer in Final X, as he wrestled off with J'den Cox in 2018 for the 92 spot. That's correct, Zillmer has gone all the way up to 125, four years later. Over the past year, Zillmer has been able to deal with big-bodied heavyweights like Dom Bradley (multiple times) and Jordan Wood. He defeated both at the WTT's. We'll see how he fares with an opponent like Gwiazdowski, one that isn't small for the weight, but has great offensive skills.

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