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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    The Biggest Threats for Each American at the Pan-American Championships

    from left, Ildar Hafizov, Joey McKenna, and Kayla Miracle (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    This weekend the US will send a very strong team to the 2021 Pan-American Championships. The squad will be a mix of young prospects and top wrestlers rounding into form for the Olympics. The US normally dominates this tournament. In 2020, the county claimed 15 of the 27 possible gold medals and finished with 24 total medalists. The field this year might be easier with Cuba apparently sitting out the competition. However, there will still be a scattering of top wrestlers. The following looks at the most formidable opposition that Team USA will face this weekend.

    FREESTYLE

    57 kg

    Vito Arujau will get the nod here with Thomas Gilman nursing an injury. Mexico is sending Roberto Alejandro Blanco at 57 kg. He enjoyed a great deal of success on the Cadet level, where he won silver at the 2015 Cadet Pan-American Championships and gold at the 2016 Cadet Pan- American Championships. In the finals of the 2016 edition of the tournament, he defeated Ohio State's Dylan D'Emilio. Blanco has not experienced the same level of success on the Senior level yet, but he may soon round into form.

    61 kg

    Juan Rubelin Ramirez of the Dominican Republic has been competing on the senior level since 2010 and picked up a victory over Obe Blanc on his way to a gold medal at the 2011 Pan-American Championships. In 2019, he finished second at the Pan-American Games, with his only defeat coming in the finals against Daton Fix. Ramirez's best results have seemed to come down at 57 kg, but he should be an interesting test for American Shelton Mack.

    65 kg

    Considering the struggles of men's freestyle at this weight (https://intermatwrestle.com/articles/24605), it seems fitting that 65 kg would be one of the tougher weights at the event. Argentina's Agustin Destribats is probably one of the best-known wrestlers from Argentina in the US after he blocked Zain Retherford from qualifying the weight at the Pan-American Olympic Qualification Tournament. The victory seemed to inspire a great deal of confidence in Destribats as he went on to take bronze at the 2020 Individual World Cup with a win over World bronze medalist Rahul Aware (India). He kept that momentum going this year with a gold-medal performance at the Dan Kolov - Nikola Petrov tournament.

    There will also be another familiar face at 65 kg as former Northwestern and Rutgers wrestler Sebastian Rivera will represent Puerto Rico. Rivera recently finished fourth at the NCAA tournament for Rutgers. Despite failing to qualify this weight for Puerto Rico, he seems intent to continue to compete internationally. The addition of Rivera adds another hurdle for Joey McKenna on his way to a Pan-American title.

    70 kg

    Sixto Auccapina (Peru) won the 2019 South American Championships and followed that up with a bronze medal performance at the 2020 Pan-American Championships at 65 kg. He has attempted to stay active during the pandemic as he has recently competed at the Dan Kolov - Nikola Petrov, International Cup, Takhti Cup and the 2020 Individual World Cup. It should be interesting to see how Alec Pantaleo competes against a fellow wrestler moving up from 65 kg.

    74 kg

    Franklin Gomez (Puerto Rico) will clearly be the toughest test for Kyle Dake in the tournament. The former Michigan State won a silver medal at the 2011 World Championships, and he is a four-time Pan-American Championships medalist and a three-time Pan-American Games medalist.

    79 kg

    Jorge Llano (Argentina) finished short of a medal at both the 2020 Pan-American Championships and the 2019 Pan-American Games. However, he finally broke through and brought home a bronze medal at the Pan-American Olympic Qualification Tournament. Llano failed to qualify for Tokyo, but he did pick up wins over Ranico Howard (Barbados) and Anthony Montero (Venezuela) on his way to a medal. Tommy Gantt, a 2019 US Open runner-up, will step in as a replacement, but still should flourish here.

    86 kg

    Canada's Clayton Pye won a bronze medal at the 2020 Pan-American Championships. Earlier this year, he traveled to Italy for the Matteo Pellicone and nearly scored another bronze. Pye made it to the third-place match before ultimately dropping a match against Myles Martin. He might be someone to watch over the next few years, but it is hard to see him challenging David Taylor.

    92 kg

    There are only three entries so far at 92 kg, and it looks like Nate Jackson should be a big favorite over both of his opponents. Jeremy Poirier represented Canada at the 2019 U23 World Championships but failed to place. Gino Avila (Honduras) finishes third at the Pan-American Olympic Qualification tournament. Since then, he has failed to place at both the Dan Kolov - Nikola Petrov and Last Chance Olympic qualifier.

    97 kg

    Richard Deschatelets' father represented Canada at the 1976 Olympics, and it looks like he might also qualify for the Games in the future. In 2018, he won the Canada Cup on the Senior level and added a bronze medal at the 2018 Junior Pan-American Championships. Deschatelets then wrestled in the 2018 Junior World Championships and failed to place. In his most recent action, he finished third at the 2020 Henri DeGlane. A young wrestler looking to make their name is a fitting opponent for Kyle Snyder, who still holds the distinction of being the youngest Olympic gold medalist in US history.

    125 kg

    There is potential for an interesting story at 125 kg. Gable Steveson is a three-time age-level World champion, but he failed to place at the 2018 Junior-level event. At the same tournament, Aly Barghout (Canada) made a surprising run to the finals and ended up finishing second. That same year, Barghout also finished second at the Junior Pan-American Championships. The results have not risen to the same level since 2018, but a win here might be a bit of redemption for Steveson.

    GRECO-ROMAN

    60 kg

    Dicther Toro (Colombia) finished second at the 2019 Pan-American Games after knocking off Ildar Hafizov in the opening match. It was an 8-3 victory for Toro, so Hafizov might have a tough time if these two hit again. Toro also won gold at the 2020 Pan-American Championships with a victory over American Leslie Fuenffinger in the finals.

    63 kg

    Andres Montano (Ecuador) has been on quite a run recently. He has won gold medals at the 2019 Pan-American Games, 2020 Matteo Pellicone and 2021 Dan Kolov - Nikola Petrov. Montano represents a very tough challenge for Randon Miranda, who moves up to 63 kg after regularly competing at 60 kg.

    67 kg

    Diego Martinez of Mexico returns to the Pan-American Championships looking for his second-straight medal. He finished second at the 2020 edition of the event. Martinez picked up a pair of match-termination victories before dropping a match against Cuba's Ismael Borrero in the finals.

    72 kg

    There were only two competitors at this weight last year, and there are currently only four entries. Jamel Johnson from the US should be the clear favorite, but he will likely need to get past Gerardo Oliva Montes (Peru). After finishing with a bronze medal at the 2018 Junior Pan-American Championships, he moved up to the Senior level in 2019 and won a silver at the South American Championships.

    77 kg

    Brazil's Joilson Junior should be an interesting test at this weight. He is a four-time Pan-American Championships medalist. However, all four of his medals have come between 66 kg and 72 kg. Last year, he benefited greatly from the bracket, as he finished second in a two-person weight at 72 kg. Junior should be solid competition for Peyton Walsh, who was a runner-up at the Olympic Trials.

    82 kg

    Alvis Almendra (Panama) won bronze at the 2019 Pan-American Games, and he has undoubtedly made an effort to stay busy since then. He has wrestled at the 2019 World Championships, 2020 Individual World Cup, 2021 Dan Kolov - Nikola Petrov and the Last Chance Qualifier. Almendra has not had the best results, but it has been hard to get that much experience during the pandemic. He should be a tough test for Grand View freshman and two-time Olympian Ben Provisor.


    87 kg

    Brazil's Ronisson Brandao won the 2019 South American Championships and followed that up with a bronze-medal performance at the 2020 Pan-American Championships. At the 2020 event, he dropped a 3-1 match against Colombia's Carlos Munoz, who eventually made the finals and lost to Joe Rau. Considering Rau took gold, it seems likely that John Stefanowicz should be able to duplicate that performance.

    97 kg

    Kevin Mejia (Honduras) scored bronze medals at both the 2019 Pan-American Games and the 2020 Pan-American Championships. Since then, he has remained active with another bronze medal at the 2020 Henri Deglane and a fifth-place performance at the 2021 Dan Kolov - Nikola Petrov. Considering the US is sending Braxton Amos instead of G'Angleo Hancock, it will be interesting to see how the youngster does against international competition. At the recent Olympic Trials, he was able to run through the field before facing off against Hancock.

    130 kg

    Cuba typically dominates heavyweight Greco at the Pan-American Championships. However, with no entries as of Thursday, the title will fall to another nation. The US is sending veteran Donny Longendyke. He will need to get past Leo Santana (Dominican Republic), who enters the field off back-to-back bronze medals at the 2019 Pan-American Games and 2020 Pan-American Championships.

    WOMEN'S FREESTYLE

    50 kg

    Sarah Hildebrandt should be the clear favorite in this tournament. Her toughest test will probably come from Kamila Barbosa (Brazil), who won bronze at the 2020 Pan-American Championships and gold at the 2019 World Beach games. However, her loss at the 2020 event was a 10-0 defeat against Victoria Anthony. Look for Hildebrant to roll on her way to the title.

    53 kg

    Luisa Valverde (Ecuador) has won medals at the last four Pan-American Championships. In 2020 she broke through and finally brought home a gold medal. Along the way, she defeated American Haley Augello. Valverde will also represent Ecuador in Tokyo and should pose an interesting puzzle for Ronna Heaton.

    55 kg

    The field at 55 kg is not particularly strong and Jacarra Winchester should be in the driver's seat on the way to a medal. An interesting opponent could be Virginia Gascon, who is moving up from the Junior level. In 2019, she won a bronze medal at the Junior Pan-American Championships and represented Canada at Junior Worlds. The Concordia University student is now making the move to the senior level.

    57 kg

    Alexandria Town (Canada) won the 2020 Pan-American Championships and bested Lauren Louive by a 14-4 score on the way to that gold medal. Town also took gold at the 2018 U23 World Championships. Down at 57 kg, she could end up being one of the toughest opponents in the tournament as a match with American Cameron Guerin looms.

    59 kg

    As of today, there are only three entries at 59 kg, but one of them stands out as a very tough test. Canada's Linda Morais won bronze at the 2016 World Championships and gold at the 2019 World Championships. She is probably one of the few international wrestlers in this tournament who should be favored over her American counterpart, Maya Nelson.

    62 kg

    Lais Nunes will represent Brazil at the upcoming Olympics after making the finals of the Pan-American Olympic Qualification Tournament. She was slated to meet Kayla Miracle; however, the pair did not wrestle. They did tangle at the 2019 World Championships, and Miracle won by tech, 15-4. Nunes dropped a match against Mallory Velte in the finals of the 2020 Pan-American Championships, so Kayla Miracle should be the strong favorite here. Since then, she has picked up a bronze medal at the 2021 Matteo Pellicone and gold at the 2021 Dan Kolov - Nikola Petrov.

    65 kg

    There were zero competitors at this weight in 2020, so any bit of depth would be an improvement. Jennifer Page should be the favorite, but she should receive a bit of a test from Diana Arroyo. The Peruvian picked up silver medals at the 2017 editions of both the South American Championships and the Brazil Cup.

    68 kg

    Yessica Oviedo of the Dominica Republic will bring a veteran presence to this weight. She has been competing on the Senior level since 2010. She is a two-time medalist at the Pan-American Championships and represented her country at the 2017 World Championships. Oviedo should serve as a solid warmup for Tamyra Mensah-Stock as she hunts for an Olympic medal.

    72 kg

    This will be another weight with only three competitors. Despite the low number of entrants, Alexandria Glaude will still have the opportunity against top competition. Peru's Yanet Sovero returns to the Pan-American Championships after picking up gold last year and defeating Victoria Francis.

    76 kg

    Adeline Gray will be looking to bring home her third career Pan-American Championship. In order to achieve that, she will need to get past Aline Ferreira of Brazil Ferreira, a veteran who won a silver medal at the 2014 World Championships.

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