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  • Photo: Photos/Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Photos/Tony Rotundo

    NLWC on Rokfin 5 Preview & Predictions

    Some of America's biggest stars will be competing at the NLWC event (Photos/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    The Nittany Lion Wrestling Club returns with another show on Rokfin. Tuesday's show features some of the club's top members as they prepare for the upcoming Olympic Team Trials. To that end, multiple wrestlers will take multiple matches on the card. The following is a match-by-match preview of the event's main card. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with junior matches, and the senior matches start at 7:30 p.m. ET.

    Vincenzo Joseph vs. Jevon Balfour

    This is Joseph's first year focusing only on freestyle after finishing his college career at Penn State in 2020 as a four-time All-American and two-time champion. During that season, he went 15-1 and entered the Big Ten tournament undefeated. He lost in the finals to rival Alex Marinelli of Iowa. Both were expected to make the finals of the NCAA tournament that never materialized. Joseph has competed sparingly in freestyle. He defeated fellow Penn State alumnus Dan Vallimont at NLWC 1 back in September. In his last action, Joseph dropped a match against former collegiate rival David McFadden at PRTC Summit 1.

    Balfour wrestles internationally for Canada. He won a bronze medal at the 2019 Pan American Games at 74 kilograms. He has also picked up medals at the Grand Prix of Spain, Canada Cup and Commonwealth Games. Back in December, Balfour joined the Spartan RTC for the RTC Cup and went 0-4 against Hayden Hidlay, Carson Kharchla and Mekhi Lewis (twice).

    Joseph will need to rebound here and get back on track. He had previously defeated McFadden on the collegiate mats, but in their match last month, McFadden dominated on the way to a match-termination victory. If Joseph is anywhere near peak form, he should be able to handle this match. However, it should be a good measure of his current status with the Olympic Team Trials quickly approaching.

    Prediction: Joseph VPO1 over Balfour

    David Taylor vs. Max Dean

    Taylor comes into this match with a lot of momentum. In his last outing, the 2018 world champion defeated multiple-time world champion Jordan Burroughs who moved up in weight for the fantasy match. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Taylor has won all of his matches as he also defeated Myles Martin and Max's brother Gabe.

    Dean is missing out on this collegiate wrestling season since the entire Ivy League is sitting out. However, he is doing his best to stay active on the freestyle circuit. He has already picked up wins over C.J. Brucki, Ryan Epps and Muhammed McBryde. For Cornell, Dean is already a two-time All-American, and he was an NCAA finalist in 2019.

    Taylor showed in his last match that he is one of the best wrestlers in the world. Dean has proven himself to be a tough out. However, he is up against it here. It may end up being a struggle to stay on the mat for the full six minutes.

    Prediction: Taylor VSU1 over Dean

    Vito Arujau vs. Zach Sanders

    Arujau is another Cornell wrestler who is keeping himself busy with freestyle. He has been extremely active as he entered both the RTC Cup and the America's Cup as well as wrestled in a variety of one-off shows. During the run, he has picked up victories over the likes of Sammy Alvarez, Darian Cruz, Nahshon Garret and Michael Colaiocco.

    Sanders has also had a busy schedule recently. He has taken his fair share of losses. However, he holds recent freestyle victories over Jack Mueller, Sean Russell and Frank Perrelli. Sanders wrestled collegiately for Minnesota where he was a four-time All-American. He finished third as a senior in 2012.

    Sanders is a veteran and a tough test for anyone. However, Arujau's ability to score with his leg attacks and make a difference from the top position makes him a clear favorite in this match. It might be close early, but Arujau will likely pull away if given the chance on top.

    Prediction: Arujau VSU1 over Sanders

    Vito Arujau vs. Sean Russell

    Arujau will also face Russell at the event. Russell started his collegiate career at Edinboro before transferring to Minnesota for his senior season. He exhausted his eligibility in 2019 and finished as a four-time NCAA qualifier and a one-time All-American.

    Russell and Arujau just wrestled earlier this month at the America's Cup. Russell was able to make it to the second period. However, Arujau won the match without surrendering a single point and took the 10-0 victory.

    Prediction: Arujau VSU1 over Russell

    Thomas Gilman vs. Zach Sanders

    Gilman dominated in his two previous NLWC appearances as he scored victories over Darian Cruz and Frank Perrelli. However, since he defeated Perrelli in November, Gilman dropped a match against Seth Gross and finished third at the Henri Deglane in France. Gilman wrestled collegiately at Iowa where he was a three-time All-American. Immediately following the end of his collegiate career, Gilman won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships.

    Gilman should be the clear favorite in this match. Sanders is not afraid to engage, so this could turn out to be an exciting match. However, even if Gilman encounters trouble early, his pace and pressure should be enough to pull out the victory.

    Prediction: Gilman VSU1 over Sanders

    Thomas Gilman vs. Sean Russell

    Gilman and Russell previously wrestled during the 2017 college season. At the time, Gilman was a senior at Iowa, and Russell was a sophomore at Edinboro. The Iowa representative dominated throughout the contest and took a 10-2 major decision. A similar result will likely play out here as well.

    Prediction: Gilman VSU over Russell

    Zain Retherford vs. Evan Henderson

    Retherford started 2020 with a tough run at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier. He fell in the semifinals against Argentina's Agustin Destribats and failed to qualify 65 kilograms for the U.S. However, Retherford bounced back with a strong string of performances on NLWC shows. He picked up domestic victories over Alec Pantaleo and Reece Humphrey. In his last outing, Retherford picked up one of his biggest victories to date as he scored a shutout 6-0 victory over multiple-time world medalist Bajrang Punia.

    Back in October, Henderson finished second at the 2020 Senior Nationals with key victories over Jaydin Eierman and Ian Parker. He went on to defeat Anthony Echemendia and Anthony Artalona on one-off shows. In his last action, Henderson entered the America's Cup and picked up wins over Josh Saunders and Mitch McKee. The North Carolina alum exhausted his eligibility in 2016 with his best finish coming in 2014 where he finished fourth at 141 pounds.

    Henderson certainly has the experience and physical ability to make this a close match. Retherford likes to work from distance, and Henderson could slow him down by controlling the ties. However, Retherford has shown in his recent outings that he is adaptable and should be able to roll with whatever challenges Henderson presents.

    Prediction: Retherford VPO1 over Henderson

    Kyle Snyder vs. Nate Jackson

    Snyder, the three-time NCAA champion and five-time world medalist, relocated to the NLWC. He finished with a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships and is hoping to get back to the top of the podium in the upcoming Olympics. Snyder suffered an injury at the 2020 Senior Nationals back in October and defaulted to a sixth-place finish. He got back on track with a victory over Ty Walz at NLWC 4 and a championship at the Henri Deglane tournament.

    Jackson has been one of the most active wrestlers on the domestic freestyle circuit. In January alone, the former Indiana wrestler defeated Wynn Michalak on the undercard of Adeline vs. Tamyra. He then dropped a 6-1 match against world champion J'den Cox on the undercard of Burroughs vs. Taylor. In his last match, Jackson picked up a very impressive comeback win over Mark Hall on the debut PRTC show.

    If Snyder is still dealing with an injury, he might struggle against Jackson. He showed in his last outing that he can compete with some of the best domestic freestyle competitors. Snyder should have a size advantage, but if he is slowed by an injury he might struggle to keep up with Jackson.

    Prediction: Snyder VPO1 over Jackson

    Kyle Snyder vs. Scottie Boykin

    Boykin could really use a win here. He had a tough showing at the America's Cup. He lost all four of his matches at the event and only wrestled the full six minutes against former Oklahoma State wrestler Austin Schafer. Boykin wrestled collegiately at Chattanooga where he was a three-time NCAA qualifier. As a senior in 2018, he won the SoCon championship with a victory over Sawyer Root.

    Snyder should be able to take this one in dominant fashion. Boykin has been around the block, but he has not shown anything that would indicate he would be overly competitive with Snyder.

    Prediction: Snyder VSU over Boykin

    Bo Nickal vs. Gabe Dean

    This will be a rematch of the 2017 NCAA final at 184 pounds. At the time, Dean was an undefeated senior looking for his third straight NCAA title. Nickal was a sophomore coming off a runner-up finish as a freshman. In the end, Nickal pulled off the upset via a 4-3 score. The Penn State wrestler went on to win two more NCAA titles and finished his eligibility in 2019. Later the same year, he won the U23 World Championships. Recently, he has not been overly active on the freestyle circuit. In his last action, back in September, he took a close victory over Alex Dieringer.

    Dean took some time off after 2017, but he returned in 2020 and made an impact. He won the 2020 Senior Nationals with impressive victories over Taylor Lujan, Trent Hidlay and Nate Jackson. Last month, he scored a victory over Michael Macchiavello on the debut Spartan Combat show.

    If Nickal is in top form he should be the favorite here. Dean is very tough defensive and could keep it close. However, a few explosive moves from Nickal could result in enough points to hold on for the victory.

    Prediction: Nickal VPO1 over Dean

    Vincenzo Joseph vs. Kyle Dake

    Dake has been on quite a run since wrestling returned last summer. The run began with a one-point victory over Frank Chamizo. The two-time world champion then defeated David McFadden this past January. Dake then went to the Henri Deglane tournament where he scored three straight match termination victories including a fall over Khadzhimurad Gadzhiyev in the finals.

    Dake matches are usually boom or bust affairs. He can either score quickly and earn dominant victories or pull out close wins. This one seems to be falling into the one-sided type of match.

    Prediction: Dake VSU1 over Joseph

    Jason Nolf vs. Kyle Dake

    Since last summer, Nolf has gone 3-0 on one-off shows. He defeated Jordan Oliver via a 4-1 score at the Rumble on the Rooftop event in June. Nolf then defeated David McFadden on the debut NLWC show. In his last action, he scored a 10-0 victory over former collegiate wrestler and current MMA fighter Bubba Jenkins. During his collegiate days at Penn State, Nolf was a four-time NCAA finalist and a three-time champion.

    This should be an interesting match. Dake does not normally have trouble against domestic competition outside of Jordan Burroughs. Nolf has not lost since falling against collegiate rival Isaiah Martinez in the finals of the 2019 Bill Farrell Memorial. Dake remains the favorite, but Nolf is very hard to score on and is adapting his scrambling to freestyle. Expect Dake to pull this one out, but do not be surprised if Nolf makes it closer than expected.

    Prediction: Dake VPO1 over Nolf

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