Gabe Dean defeated Taylor Lujan in the quarterfinals of Senior Nationals (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
On Saturday FloWrestling will host the 8-Man Challenge. It will be an eight-competitor tournament at 195 pounds featuring multiple former collegiate stars who have made the transition to freestyle. The winner will receive $20K, with prize money given to the other placewinners.
The following is a preview of the first-round matches from the tournament and projects the matches in the following rounds.
Shakur Rasheed vs. Keith Gavin
Gavin will come out of retirement to enter this tournament. The current head coach at Pittsburgh was also quite the competitor for the Panthers. He won the 2008 NCAA title at 174 pounds and was a two-time All-American. His 120 wins are currently the eighth most in program history. After leaving college, Gavin continued to wrestle on the international circuit. He finished second at both the 2010 and 2014 U.S. World Team Trials and represented the U.S. at the 2013 World Championships.
Rasheed recently finished his eligibility at Penn State. He made the All-American podium with a seventh-place finish in 2018. Rasheed then qualified in both the 2019 and 2020 seasons. This past year, he went 8-6 in an injury shortened season and picked up victories over Jordan Pagano and Jacob Warner. Rasheed recently wrestled on the debut Wrestling Underground show. He faced off against fellow tournament competitor Sammy Brooks and dropped an 8-6 match.
It will be interesting to see what Gavin looks like after being out of action and focusing on coaching. It is entirely possible that he will be rusty or fade after a strong start. If that is the case, Rasheed should make for an interesting return. Rasheed may have some physical advantages in the match, but he has had his own issues with fading. In the end, look for the veteran's skill and gamesmanship to help him pull out a victory.
Prediction: Gavin VPO1 over Rasheed
Taylor Lujan vs. Gabe Dean
After three straight qualifying seasons, Lujan entered his senior year in 2020 looking to finally become an All-American. He went 28-2 and won the Big 12 title at 184 pounds. Along the way, Lujan picked up signature victories over the likes of Taylor Venz, Hunter Bolen and Johnny Sebastian. Even though there was not an NCAA tournament, the NWCA awarded Lujan with first team All-American honors for the 2020 season. Lujan recently entered the 2020 Senior Nationals where he went 5-2 with wins over Devin Skatzka and Max Dean.
Dean was a two-time champion and a four-time All-American for Cornell. He finished his eligibility in 2017 with a 153-7 career record. During his senior year, Dean had an undefeated season going until he was defeated in the NCAA final against Bo Nickal. Dean then finished seventh at the 2017 U.S. Open and took a hiatus from competition. He returned at the recent Senior Nationals and surprisingly won the event. Along the way, he actually scored wins over two of the competitors in this field.
One of the wins from Senior Nationals came over Lujan. Despite the extensive layoff, Dean had very little trouble. He scored four takedowns in a gut wrench and terminated the match late in the second period. Lujan might be able to keep in close since a lot of Dean's offense came off of failed leg attacks from the former Northern Iowa star. However, Dean will also be comfortable winning a close match.
Prediction: Dean VPO1 over Lujan
Nate Jackson vs. Sammy Brooks
Jackson was a two-time All-American at Indiana. He finished his career in 2017 with an eighth-place finish at 184 pounds. His overall collegiate record stands at 107-27. Since leaving school, Jackson has been a regular on the freestyle circuit where he has picked up several medals, including a silver at the 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial International and a gold at the 2019 Medved tournament. He recently had a very strong performance at the Senior Nationals. Jackson made the finals after defeating Tyler Wilson, Parker Keckeisen, Rocky Elam and Drew Foster.
Brooks was a two-time All-American for Iowa. In his senior year, he finished fourth at the NCAA tournament and picked up wins over the likes of Myles Martin, Emery Parker and Dakota Geer. Brooks' fulltime freestyle career got off to a strong start as he won the 2017 U23 World Team Trials. Since then he has gone on to win both the 2018 Poland Open and the 2019 Henri Deglane Challenge. Last year Brooks finished second in the 86-kilogram division at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament.
Jackson and Brooks have quite the history, but the vast majority of it favors one of them. They met three times in folkstyle during the 2017 season with Jackson winning the first bout 3-1. Brooks then won a pair of wide decisions as he bested the former Indiana wrestler 10-5 and 13-6. The series then moved to freestyle where Brooks continued his dominance. In all three of their freestyle matches, Brooks has forced match termination, although two of the bouts have been extremely high scoring. In a bout at the 2019 U.S. Open, Brooks won 21-10. They wrestled again at that year's Senior nationals. Brooks won again 20-10.
Even though Jackson was able to score early and often in these matches, Brooks always seems to come out of top with a mix of competitiveness and gamesmanship. Look for this match to be another high scoring match with Brooks pulling out yet another victory.
Prediction: Brooks VPO1 over Jackson
Myles Martin vs. Drew Foster
Martin won an NCAA title as a freshman, and he finished his career as a four-time All-American. He was a prohibitive favorite to win another title as a senior in 2019. He entered the NCAA tournament with an undefeated 20-0 record, but he suffered an upset against Max Dean and ended up finishing third. Martin had a strong 2019 on the freestyle mats as he picked up silver medals at both the Bill Farrell Memorial International and Senior Nationals. Martin returned to action earlier this year on the undercard of the Kyle Dake vs. Frank Chamizo event and dropped a match against David Taylor.
Foster was a somewhat surprising NCAA champion in 2019. Despite previously finishing as an All-American, he entered his final NCAA tournament at 184 pounds as one of the many contenders lining up behind Martin. However, after Martin's upset, Foster defeated Dean in the finals to become champion. After the college season, the former Northern Iowa wrestler moved to freestyle. He recently had his best finish to date as he made the third-place match at the 2020 Senior Nationals before coming up short against Trent Hidlay. At the event, Foster scored signature victories over David McFadden, Andrew Morgan, Taylor Venz and Hunter Bolen.
Martin and Foster faced off at the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, and it was not really much of a match. The former Ohio State representative dominated from start to finish and took home the 10-0 victory early in the second period. Foster will likely keep it closer this time after a strong performance at Senior Nationals, but Martin remains the favorite.
Prediction: Martin VPO over Foster
Keith Gavin vs. Gabe Dean
One could easily make the case that Gavin has both the more dynamic offense as well as the sharper freestyle acumen. However, after focusing on coaching for so long, it is hard to imagine Dean's defensive style not carrying him to a victory here. This one will likely be close, but winning close matches looks to be a strength for Dean.
Prediction: Dean VPO1 over Gavin
Sammy Brooks vs. Myles Martin
Martin probably has the better results over the course of his career, but the head-to-head matches against Brooks have not gone his way. They met three times during the 2017 NCAA season. Brooks won all three bouts by a combined 23-7 score. The rivalry continued in freestyle as they met in the best-of-three finals of the 2017 U23 World Team Trials. Brooks swept both matches, winning the first 13-8 and the second 9-5. It has been a long time since they wrestled, but it is hard to not look at the match history and pick someone other than Brooks.
Prediction: Brooks VPO1 over Martin
Gabe Dean vs. Sammy Brooks
Dean and Brooks also have a history that reaches back to their college days and beyond. They met twice during the 2015 season with Dean taking victories in both matches. The first came at the National Duals, and Dean scored a 6-2 decision. Their rematch was at the NCAA tournament. Brooks closed the gap a bit, but Dean still took the 3-2 victory. Neither match was particularly offensive, but that once again will favor Dean. If this prediction holds, he will have returned from hiatus with back-to-back tournament victories.
Prediction: Dean VPO1 over Brooks