Ildar Hafizov at the 2023 US Open (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
This weekend we’ll find out the remaining pieces of the Final X puzzle, as just over half the field has already been established through either 2022 World Championship performance or wins at the 2023 US Open. Those will be determined in Colorado Springs at the 2023 World Team Trials. Ten Greco-Roman weight classes, along with three in men’s freestyle and four in women’s will be contested.
Today, we’re focusing on the Men’s Greco-Roman weights. Below is a preview of the action and along with finals picks for all ten Greco weights.
Waiting in Final X: Brady Koontz
We’ve got an extremely small weight class here in our smallest weight with only five entries. The top seed is Dalton Duffield, a runner-up at each of the last two US Open’s. Duffield had little trouble with any of his opposition pre-finals this year, winning both of his matches via technical superiority. He has generally fared well against most of the contenders at this weight, aside from Koontz. Checking in as the second seed is Camden Russell who ended up third at the Open. Russell and Jacob Cochran ended up splitting a pair of matches in Vegas, with Russell winning the second contest for third place. Cochran will take the fourth seed, while Billy Sullivan gets the third.
Sullivan was a 2021 U20 World Team member and made the Open semi’s before falling to Duffield. The other wrestler entered and assuming the fifth seed will be Tirso Lara. Lara qualifies after taking seventh at the Open, but suffering a consolation loss to Sullivan.
Pick: Dalton Duffield over Camden Russell
Waiting in Final X: Dalton Roberts
Every World/Olympic team since 2018 has had either Dalton Roberts or Ildar Hafizov as the representative at 60 kg. That doesn’t seem like it will change in 2023, either. Roberts held on to edge Hafizov in the Open finals to claim a spot in Final X, while Hafizov has to go through the Trials. The pair appear to be on a level of their own compared to the rest of the weight class. Roberts made the Open finals, without surrendering a point and Hafizov gave up just one. Last year, in Final X NYC, the pair of Army WCAP teammates had a three-match struggle won by Hafizov. It’ll be one of the bigger surprises of the entire Greco-Roman tournament if Hafizov doesn’t book another trip to Final X.
The wrestler most capable of spoiling another chapter in the Roberts/Hafizov saga is another WCAP teammate Leslie Fuenffinger. Fuenffinger was in Final X in 2019 against Hafizov and fell in 7-5 in match one, before a 9-0 loss in the second contest. At the 2023 Open, Fuenffinger was up at 63 kg and lost to the eventual champion, Hayden Tuma, in the semis, 1-1. Fuenffinger does have wins over Hafizov; however, you have to go back to the 2018 and 2019 US Open to find them.
The third through fifth place finishers at the 2023 Open are all in this field with Max Black, Dylan Koontz, and Jonathan Gurule. They will also receive the third through fifth seeds.
Finals Pick: Ildar Hafizov over Leslie Fuenffinger
Waiting in Final X: Hayden Tuma
One of the more surprising results from the US Open finals was Hayden Tuma edging Sammy Jones in the 63 kg finals. As you would expect from someone who’s made the last two world teams, Jones is the top seed here and has a good chance at booking a rematch against Tuma in Newark. On his way to the Open finals, Jones had less than two full minutes of mat time with two techs and a semifinal win via forfeit.
One opponent that could give Jones some trouble is the second seed, Dylan Gregerson. Gregerson was able to put up seven points on Tuma in the quarterfinals and ended up teching Fuenffinger for third place. Last November, Jones and Gregerson met at the Bill Farrell and Jones prevailed via tech 10-2, late in the second period. With a performance like he put on at the Open, Gregerson could be ready to threaten for these Senior World team spots.
Although he defaulted out of the Open, Xavier Johnson will get the third seed over Savion Haywood and Corbin Nirschl. In 2019, Johnson made it to Final X at this weight class, though he fell a bit short against Ryan Mango. Haywood lost to Nirschl in the Round of 16 at the Open, however, Haywood finished higher at fifth, compared to seventh. Should everything remain the same, that won’t matter much as the two would meet right off the bat in the four versus five matchup.
Finals Pick: Sammy Jones over Dylan Gregerson
Waiting in Final X: Robert Perez III
We couldn’t label Tuma over Jones the biggest surprise of the Open as there was another one a match later as 21-year-old Robert Perez III took out 2016 Olympian Jesse Thielke. With a win at the WTT’s and in Final X, Thielke still has the opportunity to make his third career Senior World team.
Making team number three will be anything but easy for Thielke, as there’s a talented group of contenders at this weight. 2023 World Team member Alejandro Sancho will be looking to get back into Final X after suffering a stunning loss via fall at the hands of high school sensation Joel Adams at the Open. Sancho did not continue after the loss and comes in as the second seed.
The third through fifth place finishers from the Open, Chayse La Joie, David Stepanian, and Adams, will receive the third through fifth seeds. La Joie was pinned by Adams in the opening round of the Open and proceeded to win seven straight matches to claim third. In his final bout, La Joie beat Stepanian, a match after he downed Adams. That sets up a rematch in round one between Stepanian and Adams.
The sixth seed at this weight class is Nicholas Leonetti who was seventh at the Open. Leonetti had a relatively competitive match with Perez III in the opening round.
Finals Pick: Alejandro Sancho over Jesse Thielke
Waiting in Final X: Justus Scott
Continuing the theme of US Open upsets, we had another youngster take out a grizzled veteran as Justus Scott took out three-time World team member Pat Smith. The veteran will be the top seed in Colorado Springs. Smith certainly won’t panic and should put himself in a position to see Scott again in Newark.
The second seed will be Nolan Wachsmuth who is coming off a low-key excellent performance at the Open. Wachsmuth fell to Scott in the quarterfinals by a single point and rebounded to take third. After the Scott loss, Wachsmuth rolled with four consecutive tech’s. His last two wins came over Jack Ervien and Michael Hooker. Ervien gets the third seed based on his round one fall over Hooker at the Open. He also gave Smith a run for his money during a 9-7 loss in the semis. Hooker is a three-time Open third-place finisher that is usually in the mix at larger events.
Finals Pick: Pat Smith over Jack Ervien
Waiting in Final X: Kamal Bey
One of the fun subplots from the Open was 2009 World bronze medalist Aliaksandr Kikiniou’s run to the finals. Kikiniou had three quick wins and a 7-5 quarterfinal win over former World Team member RaVaughn Perkins. Unfortunately, in the finals, he ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Kamal Bey. Now that the 43-year-old Kikiniou has had the opportunity to get his hands on Bey, he may be able to formulate a different game plan if they meet in Final X. But, first, he has to get there.
US Open third-place finisher Payton Jacobson will be the second seed. He registered solid wins over Burke Paddock and Jesse Porter in the Open consolations and those wins have come into play with the seeding. Paddock had a quarterfinal win over the 2021 World Team member Jesse Porter, which gives him the third seed.
That could prove useful for Paddock as Porter is now on the top half of the bracket with Kikiniou and a first-round bout against Perkins. Perkins did not continue after the Open loss to Kikiniou. Though they have split matches in the past, Perkins won the most recent meeting with Porter at the 2022 Bill Farrell.
Finals Pick: Aliaksandr Kikiniou over Payton Jacobson
Waiting in Final X: Spencer Woods
Assuming all of the entrants show up, 82 kg is expected to be the largest Greco-Roman weight at the WTT’s. The group is led by two-time Olympian Ben Provisor. He’ll take the top seed after making the Open finals and falling to Spencer Woods. The two met in Final X Stillwater last year, let’s see if it happens again. Though the two have wrestled close matches in the past, it was the first time Woods was able to edge Provisor.
Provisor has a top half of the bracket that includes Ryan Epps as the eighth seed and Tommy Brackett and Kendrick Sanders meeting in the four/five slots. The pair met at the Open, in the quarterfinals, and Sanders won. They were slated to meet for fifth place, but Sanders had defaulted out. Sanders is looking to return to Final X, as he fell to John Stefanowicz in 2019. The first-round match at the top of the bracket holds some intrigue as Epps lost a 3-1 match to Provisor in the semifinals of the 2022 Trials.
The bottom half of the bracket features Andrew Berreyesa against Barrett Stanghill in the 2/7 matchup and Johanner Correa and Tyler Cunningham in the 3/6 match. Berreyesa lost a one-point bout to Provisor in the Open semis and turned around to beat Correa by a point for third. Correa’s best win from the Open was against Bill Farrell champion, Cunningham, in the Round of 16.
Stanghill moves down to 82 kg after taking sixth at 87 kg’s in the Open. It’ll be the first time since 2018 that Stanghill has competed that low.
Finals Pick: Ben Provisor over Andrew Berreyesa
Waiting in Final X: Alan Vera
After a full eight-man bracket, we’re back to the smaller ones with only five seeded wrestlers at 87 kg. Alan Vera took a big step towards making his third consecutive world team with a decisive 9-0 win over Olympian John Stefanowicz in the Open finals. Stefanowicz comes in as the top seed. He made the Open finals by downing Vera’s 2022 Final X opponent Timothy Young, 6-2. Young will have to settle for the third seed as he fell via tech to Illinois’ 197 lber Zac Braunagel in the third-place match at the Open. Those two will renew acquaintances again right off the bat.
The four/five match on the top half of the bracket will feature Jordan Lara and Richard Carlson. The pair was supposed to clash in the Open consi’s, but Carlson was injured, while Lara went on to take seventh.
Finals Pick: John Stefanowicz over Zac Brauangel
Waiting in Final X: Joe Rau
It’s an even smaller bracket at 97 kg with only four wrestlers registered. Nicholas Boykin will get the top seed. Boykin is seeking to make his first Senior World Team after making two at the U23 level and another as a Junior. He made the Open finals after some late-match heroics that involved a late four-point throw to overtake Christian DuLaney, 7-5. This could end up being one of the more competitive potential finals matches of the entire Greco portion of the tournament.
The other two competitors at this weight are Brandon Marshall and UNC’s Cade Lautt. Marshall was fourth at the Open and posted a win over former U23 World Team member George Sikes in the consolation semis. Lautt has the ability to put up points and dominate. Of his four wins, three came via first-period tech’s and the other was via fall.
Finals Pick: Nicholas Boykin over Christian DuLaney
Waiting in Final X: Cohlton Schultz
There aren’t a lot of competitors entered at 130 kgs, but there are some high-quality veterans ready to battle for that spot opposite Cohlton Schultz in Final X. His opposition from the Open finals, Adam Coon, is the most likely to emerge from this bracket. The 2018 World silver medalist has spent the better part of the last two-plus years trying to catch on in the NFL and is still trying to get back into wrestling form.
Because of this, Schultz had to be the favorite at the Open; however, I’m not sure anyone saw an 11-0 first-period tech in the cards. We’ll likely see a more improved Coon every time he takes the mat.
Not to be overlooked is Schultz’s Final X Stillwater opponent from a year ago, Tanner Farmer. Farmer also is a former football player, for Nebraska, and has found a home on the Greco circuit. He had a respectable 5-1 showing against Coon in the Open finals.
Also in the mix is veteran Donny Longendyke. He did not finish the Open after falling to Schultz in the semis. Within the last calendar year, Longendyke’s best showing came at the Bill Farrell when he took second place.
The fourth and fifth seeds belong to Brandon Metz and Darryl Aiello. The pair met in the Open consi’s and it was the former North Dakota State star, Metz, who prevailed via first-period fall. He went on to take fifth and Aiello was seventh.
Finals Pick: Adam Coon over Tanner Farmer