Jordan Oliver and Jason Nolf face off Sunday in Chicago (Photos/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Wrestling is back. After a long hiatus, the sport returns with a series of freestyle matches at an event dubbed The Rumble on the Rooftop. The event, which will stream live as a pay-per-view via Fite.tv, will take place in Chicago on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.
Jordan Oliver vs. Jason Nolf
The U.S. still needs to qualify 65 kilograms for the Olympics. If that eventually happens, Oliver should be one of the favorites to secure the spot. The lockdown could not have come at a worse time for Oliver, as he was putting together some of his best performances of his freestyle career. His run started at the 2019 Bill Farrell Memorial International last November. On the day, he defeated Nick Dardances, Bryce Meredith, Joey McKenna and Frank Molinaro by a combined 34 to 9 score. Oliver was perhaps even more dominant at the 2019 Senior Nationals. He won all five of his matches without surrendering a single point. In the finals, he rolled up McKenna in less than three minutes.
Oliver then traveled to Rome for the Matteo Pellicone tournament, which was dubbed a ranking series event by UWW. He outscored his first three opponents by a combined 21-0 score to set up a finals match with three-time world medalist Bajrang Punia. Against Bajrang, Oliver got out to an early lead with a quick takedown. However, his opponent was able to score with a head pinch late and escaped with a 4-3 victory.
Nolf made the finals of the Bill Farrell tournament at 74 kilograms before falling against former collegiate rival Isaiah Martinez. In the semifinals, he scored a 6-0 victory over former teammate Vincenzo Joseph. Nolf was clearly dealing with injuries, and he did not compete at the 2019 Senior Nationals. He did return to the mat at the Pan American Championships at 79 kilograms and easily won the three-person bracket. The former Hodge winner still has work to do in order to qualify for the Olympic Team Trials.
This should be an interesting style match. Nolf's ability to scramble and work from odd positions is basically uncanny. However, before the shutdowns Oliver was doing a great job of getting to his single and finishing. If Nolf has recovered from his injuries, he certainly has a chance in this match. However, Oliver has the experience and has looked to be on a mission recently.
Prediction: Oliver over Nolf
Luke Pletcher vs. Pat Lugo
Before the cancellations hit, Pletcher was set to be the No. 1 seed at 141 pounds at the NCAA tournament. In the Big Ten final, he avenged his only loss of the season against Nick Lee (Penn State), and in the process became the favorite for a national title at the weight. Unfortunately, the tournament never happened, and he finished his career as a three-time All-American.
Like Pletcher, Lugo also overcame the only loss of his senior season in the finals of the Big Ten tournament. Going into the tournament, he dropped only one match against Pletcher's teammate Sammy Sasso. Lugo reversed that decision and would have entered the NCAA tournament as the top seed at 149 pounds.
The first few minutes will probably say a lot about the outcome of this match. If Lugo is able to get his hands on Pletcher and control him with underhooks, he should be able to control the pace and space. However, if Pletcher is able to maintain distance and create motion, he will likely overwhelm Lugo with his volume leg attack style.
Prediction: Pletcher over Lugo
Pat Downey vs. Joe Rau
After an injury to David Taylor, Downey took the spot on the U.S. World Team at the 2019 World Championships. He won his first two matches in the tournament but ultimately fell against Ahmed Ruslanovic Dudarov of Germany. This year he entered both the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix as well as the Matteo Pellicone. He failed to place at the Yarygin, but at the Pellicone, he secured a bronze medal finish after falling against Alex Dieringer.
Downey has also recently engaged in a somewhat odd rivalry with world-class submission grapplers. He faced off against 2019 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship silver medalist Nick Rodriguez in a modified rules match at Who's Number One and won easily. He then had an unusual two-match series against multiple-time world champion submission grappler Gordon Ryan. Downey lost a no-time limit submission match, but he won the rematch under freestyle rules in less than a minute.
Rau is a multiple-time member of the U.S. Greco-Roman World team, but he will take this in freestyle. He has been known to compete in both freestyle and even semi-recently wrestled in the Midlands Championships. Rau entered the 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial International in both Greco and freestyle. He finished with a bronze in Greco and fell in the bronze-medal match on the freestyle side. Earlier this year, he won both the Pan American Championships and the Pan American Qualification Tournament to qualify the weight for the Olympics.
Downey has been able to defeat a bobsledder and multiple submission grapplers, will his cross-style dominance continue against a Greco guy? It probably will. You could make the case that Downey does a lot of his work from the clinch with throws and that plays into Rau's style. However. Downey should still be able to get to his attacks and score consistently.
Prediction: Downey over Rau
Dylan Palacio vs. Dylan Ness
Palacio was a four-time NCAA qualifier and a two-time All-American for Cornell. His best finish came during his junior year in 2016 when he finished fourth and picked up victories over Joe Smith and Cody Pack. Palacio competes internationally for Uruguay, and in his last international tournament, he entered the 2018 South American Games and failed to place.
Ness was a four-time All-American and two-time finalist for Minnesota. After college he transitioned to freestyle and had some solid results out of the gate. He won the 2017 U.S. Senior Last Chance World Team Trials qualifier and picked up a bronze medal at the Dave Schultz Memorial. He competed in the 2019 Bill Farrell and the 2019 Senior Nationals going a combined 3-3 with his best victory coming over Dan Vallimont.
Since college Ness has been the much more consistent competitor, and he should have the size advantage in this match. Palacio will be game, but Ness will be the one taking the elevator down from the roof with the victory.
Prediction: Ness over Palacio
Zane Richards vs. Zach Sanders
Richards finished his career at Illinois in 2017. He was a four-time NCAA qualifier and a two-time All-American. He had a very active 2019 on the freestyle circuit that saw him compete in a variety of tournaments including representing the U.S. at the World Cup. Last November, he made the semifinals at the Bill Farrell before dropping an 8-6 match against Nathan Tomasello. Richards then went 3-2 at the 2019 Senior Nationals with wins over Austin Miller, Jacob Moran and Eddie Kilmara.
Sanders finished third at the 2012 NCAA tournament to become an All-American for the fourth time. Since wrestling at Minnesota, he has been a member of the coaching staff for the Gophers and competing on the freestyle circuit. In 2018 he won a gold medal at the Cerro Pelado International and he also represented the U.S. at the 2019 World Cup. He recently wrestled his way to a fifth-place finish at the 2019 Senior Nationals with signature victories over Alan Waters and Frank Perrelli.
This might turn out to be one of the closer matches of the event. Richards has had the better results recently, but Sanders is a veteran. Look for Richards to try to push the pace early in the match, and if he is successful it should go a long way towards securing the victory.
Prediction: Richards over Sanders
Brett Pfarr vs. Zach Braunagel
During his senior year at Minnesota, Pfarr was probably the second best wrestler in the county at 197 pounds. Unfortunately, that was also the weight class that contained multiple-time world medalist J'den Cox. Pfarr ended up dropping an 8-2 decision in the NCAA finals, but he finished 31-3 on the year. Since then he has transitioned into freestyle and picked up a pair of bronze medals at the 2019 and 2020 Cerro Pelado tournaments. He recently finished fourth at the 2019 Senior Nationals with both of his losses coming against Alex Dieringer. Along the way, he picked up wins over Drew Foster, Max Dean and Aaron Brooks.
Braunagel just finished his redshirt freshman season at Illinois. He finished 21-10, qualified for the NCAA tournament that never happened and was named an honorable mention All-American by the NWCA. Last summer he was a member of the U.S. Greco-Roman Junior World team, but he failed to place in the tournament.
Pfarr has had surprisingly solid results since making the transition to full-time freestyle. We have seen wrestlers who are still competing collegiately perform well against freestylers, but Pfarr has already proven he can turn back those sort of challengers.
Prediction: Pfarr over Braunagel
Nazar Kulchytskyy vs. Danny Braunagel
Kulchytskyy had a strong showing at the Bill Farrell. He finished third with his only loss coming against Isaiah Martinez in the quarterfinals. At the Senior Nationals tournament, he made his way to the fifth-place match before falling against Anthony Valencia. However, in the tournament field, he also defeated Alec Pantaleo, Joey Lavallee and Chad Walsh.
Braunagel went 23-9 during his redshirt freshman season for Illinois. He qualified for the NCAA tournament and received honorable mention All-American honors following the season. Braunagel scored key wins over Peyton Mocco, Kennedy Monday and Zach Hartman. Last summer he came very close to securing a spot on the Junior World team. He finished second at both the Open and the World Team Trials. In those events, he defeated the likes of Philip Conigliaro, Julian Ramirez and Travis Wittlake.
Kulchytskyy does not really get the respect he deserves, because 74 kilograms is a very stacked weight domestically. He is getting up there a bit in age, but he should have than enough to control this match and take the victory.
Prediction: Kulchytskyy over Braunagel
Nick Dardanes vs. Mitch McKee
Dardanes has wrestled sparingly over the last few seasons. In 2018 he finished fourth at both the U.S. Open and the World Team Trials. Last April he relocated to the Illini RTC after spending time at the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. Dardanes wrestled collegiatelly at Minnesota where he was a four-time national qualifier and an All-American.
McKee recently finished his collegiate career at Minnesota. He was a two-time All-American and finished with a 92-43 career record. Despite the folkstyle success, McKee's best style might actually be freestyle. He has won multiple national tournaments and World Team Trials. In 2017, McKee won a silver medal at the Junior World Championships.
It will be interesting to see if McKee makes a jump now that he is focusing on freestyle. His skill and style always seemed to match up with the Olympic version of the sport. Dardanes will represent a tough senior level challenge, but McKee has the more dynamic scoring ability in this match. He should be able to look impressive here.
Prediction: McKee over Dardanes