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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    Five Takeaways from the 2022 US Open

    70 kg US Open champion Alec Pantaleo (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)


    Last week and into the weekend, the US Open invaded Las Vegas. Because of Covid and its aftermath, it was the first time that the event, in its normal glory, alongside a handful of other age-group tournaments returned to Sin City. After a few days to digest all that went down in Vegas, we have five big takeaways from the Senior-level events.

    Note: Maybe the best story of all was Kendric Maple's return to the mat and subsequent title at 65 kg. We'll have an interview with him on the Earl-Y Verbal Show tomorrow morning!

    1) Is Alec Pantaleo in the driver's seat?

    In the days and weeks leading up to the Open, we speculated on who could be the successor to James Green at 70 kg. Green has made every world team since the formation of the weight class in 2015. With Green out of the picture, there are plenty of capable contenders to the domestic throne at 70 kg. Alec Pantaleo, Jordan Oliver, Zain Retherford, and Ryan Deakin comprise the top-tier of favorites. Pantaleo's win now gives him the top seed at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. Even so, to make the finals, Pantaleo would likely have to go through one of the other three, along with maybe Bryce Andonian, Anthony Ashnault, or Sammy Sasso in the quarterfinals.

    Pantaleo has been trending up over the last year-plus. He's a select wrestler with multiple wins over Oliver, a longtime mainstay at 65/70kg and the Olympic Trials winner. Between a loaded coaching staff and a bevy of talented training partners at the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club, Pantaleo has an excellent training situation that is conducive to continued growth at the Senior level.

    Looking at Pantaleo's 2021, he may very well have unseated Green if not for an injury suffered at the World Team Trials. Pantaleo jumped out to a 4-0 lead on Deakin in the semifinals, before injuring a rib. He initially tried to wrestle through the injury, but ended up having to default out of the tournament. Earlier in the year, Pantaleo won titles at both the Pan-American Championships and the Matteo Pellicone. Pantaleo on the world team would definitely represent a medal threat.

    2) Nico Megaludis?

    Not only did we have a Nico Megaludis sighting, but he won the whole thing! The same Nico Megaludis that has been out of commission for the better part of three years due to a pair of knee injuries. The same Nico Megaludis that has a high-powered day job as a financial analyst. This shouldn't have happened. It's not supposed to happen. But that's the beauty of our sport. As he said in our post-match interview, "He doesn't "have" to wrestle, he does it because he loves it."

    For full disclosure, there were some weights at this tournament deeper than others. I'll let you look at the results to determine which was which. The 61 kg bracket that Megaludis won was not one of them. The 2016 NCAA champion teched wiley Brandon Wright in the quarters, before picking apart Seth Gross in the semis, then held off Josh Rodriguez, 3-1 for the title. Others of note in this weight were, 2019 World Teamer Tyler Graff, Daniel DeShazer, and Shelton Mack.

    To put things in perspective, Megaludis' finals win came over Rodriguez, ranked #9 in the world in our April International Rankings. Nico was 19th in those same rankings, but will certainly move up in the forthcoming set.

    If Megaludis can replicate his feat at the World Team Trials, he could be in for a date with Daton Fix in Final X. Having a positive result, like an Open title, combined with more mat time to knock off the rust, and a body without three years of wear and tear (excluding his surgeries), could put Megaludis in line to extend his margin of victories over similar opponents a few weeks from now.

    The US Open and World Team Trials always seem to bring out fun stories like Megaludis. I'm sure he's ready to prove he's more than just a nice human interest piece with his performance at the WTT's and perhaps Final X.


    3) Chaos at 79 kg!

    The potential finals at 79 kg's looked to be maybe the most intriguing contest of the Senior Men's freestyle portion of the week, pre-tournament. A clash between Alex Dieringer and Isaiah Martinez looked to be a headline-worthy. The two combined to win five national titles and made the final wrestle-off of the World Team Trials or Final X on four occasions. Once again, that's why they don't wrestle the matches on paper. Had Vegas bookmakers set odds on that type of thing, you could have made a pretty penny betting that neither would even make the semis; which ended up being the case.

    Both luminaries at this weight were shocked in the quarterfinals, Dieringer with a late throw from Vincenzo Joseph and Martinez, who was pinned by David McFadden. Those two would stay hot and proceed to the finals. On the big stage, McFadden and Joseph turned in a match for the ages. It was a back-and-forth affair filled with big moves, fun exchanges, a late score, and some close calls.

    I think anyone that watched the McFadden/Joseph final, excluding other 79 kg competitors and coaches, would love to see another chapter in their rivalry at the World Team Trials.

    Meanwhile, Martinez will have to head to Atlantic City to earn a WTT bid through the Last Chance Qualifier. Provided he does qualify, he and Dieringer still figure to be central figures in this weight at the Trials. Now, it's just not a two-horse race, as some may have figured.


    4) Guilford atop a wide-open 76 kg

    Earlier today, six-time world champion Adeline Gray officially confirmed what the rest of the wrestling world already knew. Since she is pregnant with twins, Gray will not be able to accept her berth in Final X and will not be eligible to compete at the World Championships this year. That may not be groundbreaking news, but merely a formality.

    So without one of the most talented women ever to step on a wrestling mat holding down the 76 kg weight class, who will Team USA turn to? After Gray, the rest of the weight is pretty wide open. US Open champion Dymond Guilford defeated her close friend and former Open champ, Precious Bell, to gain the top seed in Coralville. She leads a relatively young field, compared to the legendary Gray.

    Even with an Open title and the top seed, there will be plenty of able challengers for Guilford. Junior World Champion Kylie Welker, the Olympic Trials runner-up, figures to be in the mix and one of the favorites. Though she finished fourth in Vegas, two-time world team member Victoria Francis is always a tough out. The opponent that defeated Francis for third, Yelena Makoyed, defeated Guilford for third place at the 2021 WTT's (This year Guilford reversed that result with a fall in the semis). There are plenty of other college-aged or recently graduated women at this weight that could make an impact.


    5) Forfeits galore in the Greco finals

    We saw earlier this year, at the Big Ten Championships, that forfeits in the finals of a major tournament make for an ugly product. I get it, the US Open, while prestigious in its own right, is not the end game for these Senior-level athletes. They all want to be at their best (and healthiest) for the Trials/Final X and possibly the World Championships.

    Having three in a ten-match final, as was the case on the Greco-Roman side, makes for an anticlimactic, weird final for the fans. I know, these wrestlers aren't necessarily competing for fan's enjoyment, but the more fans, the more eyeballs, the more exposure. Hopefully, this is just a "one-time" thing and we are treated to some great Greco action at the Trials.

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