Kyle Dake and Jason Nolf at Final X NYC in 2022 (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
This weekend the final three entrants for Final X in men's freestyle will be determined. The World Team Trials winners at 61kg, 92kg, and 125kg will face off against the wrestler who won the recent U.S. Open. In all the other weights, the Final X match is already set as the Open winners will wrestle returning medalists from the 2022 World Championships. Wrestling at the highest level domestically is a relatively small circle, and in many cases, the wrestlers are overly familiar with one another. The following looks at the previous matches for all the bouts already set for Final X 2023.
57kg: Thomas Gilman vs. Zane Richards
Gilman secured his spot in Final X after winning a silver medal at the 2022 World Championships. He will take on Richards who earned the spot after winning the Open where he also scored a somewhat unexpected victory over Nick Suriano in the finals. Suriano had previously beaten Richards in a pair of matches in 2019 by a combined 22-0 score, so his ability to reverse those results was surprising and impressive.
Richards will need to continue that trend to take the world team spot from Gilman considering their history is also not favorable for him. The two met most recently at the last Olympic Trials, and Gilman won 11-0. Gilman also defeated Richards via a 12-2 match termination victory at the 2019 edition of the Open.
Gilman remains a heavy favorite going into Final X, but Richards showed at the Open that he can reverse previous trends and pull off an upset.
65kg: Yianni Diakomihalis vs. Nick Lee
In his second trip to the senior-level World Championships, Diakomihalis picked up a silver medal. Thanks to that performance, he has been waiting for an opponent in Final X. That opponent will be Lee who won the Open with victories over the likes of Matt Kolodzik, Beau Bartlett, and Joseph McKenna.
Diakomihalis and Lee were scheduled to face off in the third-place match of the 2019 Senior Nationals, but the bout failed to materialize. They finally faced off in freestyle at the most recent Olympic Trials. It was once again the third-place match, and Lee took that bronze medal with a high scoring 16-8 victory. In the bout, Lee set the tone early with an 8-0 first period. Diakomihalis tried to storm back in the second, but Lee was able to match him score-for-score in the period.
The two also met under folkstyle rules during the 2017-2018 season. The bout occurred at the Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open. At the time, both competitors were in their true freshman season and neither had wrestled a collegiate dual meet match. Diakomihalis won the match via a 12-7 decision and went on to win his first of four NCAA titles. Lee would finish the season fifth and ultimately end his college career as a four-time All-American and two-time champion.
70kg: Zain Retherford vs. Tyler Berger
After the last Olympic cycle, Retherford moved up to 70kg. He came up short in his bid to make the 2021 World Team but broke through in 2022 with a three-match series victory over veteran Jordan Oliver. He then brought home a silver medal from the World Championships and earned this spot in Final X.
Berger knocked off Hayden Hidlay and Sammy Sasso to win the Open at this weight, and in the process, he earned a shot against Retherford in Final X. Berger finished fourth and third at the two previous World Team Trials, but the former Nebraska wrestler currently finds himself two victories away from his first world team.
Retherford and Berger faced off in the third-place match of the 2021 World Team Trials. On that day, the former Penn State wrestler was able to score a takedown less than 30 seconds into the match. He followed that up with a further deluge of points and took an 11-0 victory with 11 seconds left in the first period. Berger appears to have made strides in the interim, but this will certainly be a tough challenge for him.
74kg: Kyle Dake vs. Jason Nolf
Before Dake knocked off Jordan Burroughs to make his first Olympic team, most fans already realized he was in top form. This was largely due to his dominant performance against Nolf in the semifinals. The two had previously met on one of the NLWC cards during the shutdown portion of the pandemic. In that match, Dake controlled the pace and took a 5-0 victory.
However, in the semifinals of the Trials, the former Cornell wrestler exploded early in the match with a slam and finished with a very quick 11-0 VSU.
Dake would go on to win an Olympic bronze medal and a gold medal at the 2021 World Championships. When it came time to decide the 2022 world team, Dake and Nolf were two of the top contenders once again. Their next meeting came at Final X. Dake was able to sweep the series and make the team, but the matches were much closer. He won the first by a 2-1 score and edged Nolf with a 4-2 decision in the second.
Many expect Dake to make his third-straight World/Olympic team. However, Dake himself has shown that younger challengers can eventually overtake their veteran opposition. Nolf has already closed the gap, but will still enter as a significant underdog.
79kg: Jordan Burroughs vs. Chance Marsteller
Marsteller shocked the wrestling world last year when he upset Burroughs in the second match of their best-of-three series at Final X. Not only was it surprising considering Burroughs is an all-time great, but he had also previously handled Marsteller in the recent past. The two wrestled at the 2021 World Team Trials where Burroughs won by a 4-1 score. He then followed that up with an 8-0 shutout at the 2022 Yasar Dogu.
Burroughs bounced back from the 2-2 criteria loss at Final X to win the deciding match by a 5-0 margin. He would go on to capture yet another gold medal at the World Championships. Final X this year will be yet another rematch. Obviously, Burroughs will be the favorite, but he is certainly not undefeated against Marsteller.
97kg: Kyle Snyder vs. J'den Cox
Before ever stepping on the mats in college, Snyder and Cox had already developed quite a history at Fargo. The pair wrestled twice on the Cadet level in 2011 and followed that up with another set of matches on the Junior level the following year. In both years, they wrestled in both freestyle and Greco. In 2011, Snyder won the freestyle match, while Cox won the Greco contest. That flipped the following year with Cox winning in freestyle and Snyder winning in the style without leg grabbing.
Their next encounter would come under folkstyle rules. At the 2015 NCAA tournament, the two appeared destined to rematch as Cox earned the top seed at 197 pounds, while Snyder was given the fourth seed. The seeds held, and the two faced off in the semifinals. This time Snyder took a 3-2 victory and eventually finished second. Cox would drop to the consolation bracket and ultimately finish fifth.
Following the tournament, Snyder would move up to heavyweight for folkstyle and 97kg for freestyle. Cox remained at 197 pounds in college and did not move up in freestyle past 92kg. With the 2020 Olympic cycle on the calendar, it looked like the two were on a collision course once again. However, Cox famously missed weigh-ins for the Trials, and the anticipated bout did not materialize.
The two eventually did face off at the RudisPlus Super Match in 2022. The card, which took place the day before the 2022 NCAA tournament, was built around a best-of-three series between Cox and Snyder. The former Ohio State wrestler took the first match 5-5 on criteria. The second match was much less close as Snyder took a 7-1 VPO1 victory.
With another Olympic cycle on the horizon, Cox has once again moved up to 97kg, and these two are set to face off at Final X.