Jason Nolf gets in on a shot against Jordan Oliver (Photo/Justin Hoch, jhoch.com)
CHICAGO -- Wrestling is back.
The sport made its triumphant return for the first time in over three months with the Rumble on the Rooftop being held Sunday night.
The card featured a number of compelling bouts between some of the nation's top wrestlers. It was awesome to see actual live matches again.
It marked the first time Senior-level American wrestlers had competed since March's Pan American Olympic Qualifier in Canada.
Wrestling has joined sports in the U.S. and around the world who are starting to return to competition after having been shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Olympic champion Kenny Monday coaching Jordan Oliver (Photo/Justin Hoch, jhoch.com)
The Rumble on the Rooftop was streamed live as a pay-per-view via Fite.tv. The event featured a cool setup with the Chicago skyline in the background during the bouts.
Top young women's prospect Mia Palumbo looked impressive in rolling to a win in her match Sunday night. She looked strong physically and technically. Palumbo is a wrestler to keep an eye on in the coming years on the Senior level.
Here is a look at how the Senior-level bouts unfolded on Sunday night in Chicago:
Nick Dardanes vs. Mitch McKee
Wrestling returned with a competitive battle in the first match of the event. McKee, a past Junior World silver medalist, started quickly with a takedown and turn to lead 4-0 after the first period. Dardanes came back with a takedown in the second period, but McKee used a late counter to score a takedown. McKee prevailed 6-2 in a hard-fought opening bout between Minnesota Golden Gopher alumni. McKee is an impressive freestyle wrestler and it will be interesting to see how he fares as he transitions to the Senior level.
Brett Pfarr vs. Zac Braunagel
Braunagel, who wrestles for the University of Illinois, came out strong by hitting a slick single-leg attack and finished with a dump to take an early lead. The more experienced Pfarr finished a leg attack for a takedown to draw within 3-2 midway through the second period. Pfarr added another single-leg shot for a takedown to take a 4-3 edge with under a minute to go. The hard-charging Braunagel responded by converting on a leg attack in the closing seconds for the winning takedown to win 5-4. It was an action-packed and entertaining match with both guys firing in on numerous shots.
Nazar Kulchytskyy vs. Danny Braunagel
Kulchytskyy, a past NCAA DIII champion who became a force on the Senior level, came out strong with a textbook fireman's carry before hitting a series of turns. He earned a quick 10-0 win by technical superiority and executed a beautiful flip after his victory. It also was the final match of his superb career. Kulchytskyy took his shoes off to signify his retirement after having his hand raised. He also kissed the center of the mat after his win. He's been a great representative of the sport as an athlete and plans to continue his involvement in the sport as a coach. Nazar is one of the truly outstanding people in wrestling.
Dylan Ness vs. Nestor Taffur
Taffur came out on the attack against the dangerous Ness, scoring on a single-leg shot and following with a quick turn to grab an early 4-1 lead. Ness came back early in the second period, hitting a spectacular lift to strike for five points in a highlight-reel sequence. Ness continued to roll and earned an impressive 10-4 victory. It's rarely boring when Dylan Ness wrestlers and he put on another show after a slow start. It was a treat to watch him compete.
Zane Richards vs. Zach Sanders
Richards scored an early turn and followed with a takedown to build a 4-0 lead in a battle of veteran lightweight wrestlers. Sanders came back to win a scramble for a takedown to draw within 4-2. Richards led 7-4 after an entertaining, action-packed first period. Sanders trailed 9-5 before hitting back-to-back takedowns to tied the bout 9-9 midway through the second period. Richards regrouped with a takedown to lead 11-9 with under a minute left. Sanders answered with a takedown to tie it again, 11-11, with 30 seconds left. Richards then scored the winning takedown in the final seconds to prevail 13-11. The wrestlers hugged after putting on a great show. That was an entertaining bout to watch with non-stop action between two former Big Ten standouts.
Pat Downey vs. Joe Rau
This match featured an interesting format with Greco-Roman being contested in the first period and freestyle in the second period. Rau, a Chicago native, took command from the top position in his style of Greco. The powerful Rau built a 9-0 lead after the first period. Downey came back in his style of freestyle, with a quick takedown in the second period. Downey followed with another takedown to draw within 9-4 with a minute left, but his comeback bid fell short. Rau prevailed 9-4 in the battle of World Teamers in their respective styles.
Pat Lugo shut out Luke Pletcher, 5-0 (Photo/Justin Hoch, jhoch.com)
Luke Pletcher vs. Pat Lugo
This was another bout many people were looking forward to. Both guys were seeded No. 1 for the NCAA tournament at their respective weight classes before the event was canceled. The co-main event between them Sunday featured a hard-fought battle between 2020 Big Ten champions. Lugo opened with two leg attacks and a pair of pushouts to take an early 2-0 edge. The bigger Lugo scored on another pushout and countered for a takedown to build a 5-0 lead early in the second period. Lugo looks like he could have a bright future on the Senior level. He looked strong offensively and defensively in an impressive 5-0 triumph over a tough competitor in Pletcher.
Jason Nolf talks to his Nittany Lion WC coaches Cael Sanderson and Cody Sanderson (Photo/Justin Hoch, jhoch.com)
Jordan Oliver vs. Jason Nolf
The main event wasn't much of a match as neither wrestler committed to much offensively in a lackluster bout. The match was tied 1-1 as the wrestlers each scored shot clock points. Nolf was awarded a late point on a passivity call to win 2-1. It was unfortunate that these guys chose not to open it up in what promised to be an entertaining match. Too bad Richards and Sanders couldn't have wrestled in the last match.
From a fan's perspective, it was great to finally have a chance to watch live wrestling competition again. It was an entertaining and compelling event with a good lineup of matches in an awesome setting on a rooftop in Chicago. Kudos to the guys who chose to compete even though they haven't been able to train and prepare like they normally do because of the pandemic. The main event was disappointing with virtually no action between Nolf and Oliver, but it obviously was still great to see live wrestling again. A big thank you goes to the folks in Chicago and to Fite.tv for putting on a solid event.
Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games, written 10 books and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.