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  • Photo: Photo/Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Photo/Tony Rotundo

    Five key questions heading into World Team Trials Challenge Tournament

    It is the second year of USA Wrestling's experiment with Final X, which means that the 2019 World Team will not actually be decided at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. Instead, the winners will earn spots at the Final X event where they will face off against a returning world medalist or U.S. Open champion for a spot on the World Team. Despite the format, the stakes remain very high and there are several key storylines for fans and pundits.

    The following are five key questions heading into the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament.

    Who will emerge to challenge the injured David Taylor?

    After falling against J'den Cox in the finals of the 2017 World Team Trials, David Taylor had won 37 matches in a row. During the streak, he won via fall 12 times and technical fall 17 times. However, that streak officially came to an end via medical forfeit against NCAA champion Drew Foster at Beat the Streets' recent "Grapple at the Garden" event. Taylor appeared to injure his knee early in the contest. He tried to give it a go for a few seconds before bowing out of the match. Since the injury he has posted workout videos on social media, but there have not been any announcements about his status for Final X. As a returning world gold medalist he is sitting in Final X waiting for an opponent.

    Pat Downey emerged as the top contender at the U.S. Open. In the semifinals he scored a come-from-behind victory over NCAA third-place finisher Myles Martin. Then, in the deciding match, he used an outstanding counter throw to defeat Nick Heflin. Those wrestlers, along with the Open top seed Sammy Brooks, will all be looking for another shot against Downey in the finals of the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament.

    Can Chandler Rogers go straight from folkstyle to Final X in Greco?

    The former Oklahoma State Cowboy did not have the end to his collegiate career that he was probably looking for. He lost a wrestle-off against teammate Joe Smith and missed out on a chance to score another All-American finish. However, following the season, he quickly transitioned into the international styles with a gold medal performance at the Pan American Championships in freestyle.

    Rogers then turned some heads when he entered the U.S. Open at 82 kilograms in Greco. Things did not get off to the best start as he dropped a 3-2 match against Jacob Fisher. However, he bounced back on the backside with five victories to place third. Veteran Kendrick Sanders will be waiting in Final X, and this will be a deep field at the trials. If Rogers is able to pull it off and then win at Final X, the U.S. Greco World Team will have a member right off the Division I mats for the second straight year after Adam Coon made the team last season.

    Jordan Oliver talks with his coaches during his semifinal match at the U.S. Open (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    Who becomes the next to scramble with Yianni Diakomihalis?

    It is tough to pinpoint exactly when this run for Diakomihalis started, but it might be an understatement to call it impressive. He returned from injury during the college season, and it took him a bit to get back to being himself. Once he did, the Cornell wrestler ran through the NCAA tournament on the way to his second title. From there, he came out of a crowded field to win the U.S. Open at 65 kilograms. Along the way, he knocked off Frank Molinaro, Jordan Oliver and Zain Retherford in consecutive bouts. To put a cherry on top of it all, Diakomihalis then knocked off India's Bajrang Punia at Beat the Streets recently after he ascended to the top of the UWW world rankings.

    65 kilograms remains one of the deepest fields domestically. Diakomihalis' last two NCAA finals opponents, Bryce Meredith and Joey McKenna, failed to even qualify for this weight at the World Team Trials. However, Molinaro, Oliver and Retherford will be back and looking for a rematch at Final X. Diakomihalis' challenger at Final X will be determined via the winner of the best-of-three finals at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament.

    Tiare Ikei won a U.S. Open title last month (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    Less than two weeks after her 18th birthday, can Tiare Ikei reach Final X?

    Last year Tiare Ikei burst onto the international scene with a bronze medal performance at the Cadet World Championships. She turned 18 on May 8, and she probably celebrated by getting in a workout since she is currently sitting in the finals of the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament.

    She earned that spot with a strong run at the U.S. Open. She defeated former national team members Katherine Shai and Cody Pfau. However, Ikei's toughest test will likely come from fellow Cadet World medalist Gracie Figueroa. At the U.S. Open, Figueroa lost in the semifinals against Shai. However, she got back on track with a victory at the recent Junior National World Team Trials. In the finals, she defeated Ikei in two out of the three matches. In the deciding match, Figueroa scored a late fall to take the spot on the Junior World Team.

    Is it possible to simultaneously wrestle and fight MMA at a high level?

    Less than a week after Ben Askren returned to his wrestling roots for a match against Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs, former World team member Chris Gonzalez made his Bellator debut on the undercard of Bellator 211. The Greco wrestler easily took the decision on the judges' cards to improve to 2-0 as a professional.

    Despite starting an MMA career, Gonzalez still intends to compete in Greco. He entered the U.S. Open and struggled to an 0-2 finish. As a member of the 2016 Non-Olympic World Team, he qualified for the World Team Trials and according to reports, he has entered. Many have tried to compete in wrestling in MMA at the same time and ultimately decided it is better to focus on only one. Former freestyle national team member Deron Winn recently made that decision. However, a strong finish here might keep both goals in mind for Gonzalez.

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