Nick Gwiazdowski (right) and Dom Bradley at the 2023 US Open (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.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 freestyle weights. Below is a preview of the action and along with finals picks for the three freestyle weight that will be contested.
Waiting in Final X: Vito Arujau
At the Open we saw Vito Arujau build off the momentum he created at the 2023 NCAA Championships and largely wasn't tested during his run through the deep bracket. Arujau's closest match was a seven-point victory over fellow Cornell national champion Nahshon Garrett. In the finals, Arujau needed only :54 to tech Austin DeSanto.
DeSanto will be the top seed in this tournament. He began competing in freestyle earlier this year, after graduating in 2022, and has become another threat at this weight and will be one for the foreseeable future. His path to the finals included a win over World bronze medalist Joe Colon and 2022 World Team rep Seth Gross. His seed places him on the opposite side of the bracket from Colon/Gross. He'll have to contend with the fourth-seeded Garrett and fifth seed, Nathan Tomasello. The pair met in the third-place bout at the Open and Garrett won via tech, 10-0.
The bottom half of the bracket is loaded with Gross getting the second seed and World silver medalist Daton Fix as the third seed. Gross did not finish at the Open after losing a one-point match to DeSanto in the semis. He gets the second seed based off of his head-to-head wins over Fix in last year's epic Final X Stillwater series that went to three matches. Fix was a last-minute entry at the Open, but quickly pulled out because of an injury. Should he be healthy enough, Fix is a good pick here. He'd have to get past Colon in the opening round, just to book a rematch with Gross in the semis. Also on the bottom half of the bracket is high school junior Aden Valencia, the seventh seed. Valencia took seventh at the Open after victories over veterans like Shelton Mack, Josh Rodriguez, and Daniel DeShazer.
Finals Pick: Daton Fix over Austin DeSanto
Waiting in Final X: Mike Macchiavello
With J'den Cox moving up to 97 kg in preparation for an Olympic run, this weight will be represented by someone other than J'den for the first time since its inception. That led to Kollin Moore, a 2022 Final X participant at 97 kg, moving down and looking like one of the favorites. Moore was in the Open finals opposite Mike Macchiavello and looked to have control of the bout after a 2-0 lead at the midway point. That changed quickly as Macchiavello got a takedown and a leglace with about a minute remaining in the contest. He rolled the former Buckeye four times (maybe more) for the win.
That leaves Moore needing to win the WTT's to get back to Final X and a rematch with Macchiavello. He'll be on the top half of the bracket with Sam Mitchell in the opening round and the winner of Eric Schultz and Jay Aiello likely looming in the semifinals. Moore needed less than two and a half minutes to tech Schultz at the Open and Schultz turned around to shut out Aiello in the consolation semifinals. He claimed fourth place and Aiello was fifth.
One of the fun angles that this world team qualifying system presents is that wrestlers can bump or cut down to different weights if their normal weight is not being contested. That's the case here with Zahid Valencia as the third seed. Valencia fell in the Open finals at 86 kg to Aaron Brooks. In a last-ditch effort to get back to Final X, he's moved up to 92kg. He'll get tested in the opening round by former Penn State national finalist Morgan McIntosh who has come back to the scene with a respectable sixth-place finish at the Open. Most of the wrestlers at this weight are tall and long, but McIntosh is rather compact, so it'll be a different matchup for Valencia.
The second seed on Valencia's half of the bracket is Nate Jackson. With Cox moving up to 97 kg, Jackson had been many people's pick to represent the US at 92 kg. Jackson took a match off Cox at Final X Stillwater and seems to get better every year. He lost a close match to Macchiavello in the Open semifinals, but bounced back for third with wins over McIntosh and Schultz.
Also on the bottom bracket is South Dakota State's national finalist Tanner Sloan. Sloan did not compete at the Open, but is a two-time age-group world team member. Last fall, Sloan came home from Pontevedra with a U23 silver medal at the 97 kg weight class. He'll have Jackson in the opening round, but could be a darkhorse.
Finals Pick: Kollin Moore over Zahid Valencia
Waiting in Final X: Gable Steveson
The US Open marked the return of Gable Steveson to the world of freestyle wrestling and what a return it was! In his four matches, Steveson outscored the competition by a cool 44-1 mark. Steveson awaits this weekend's winner in Final X.
Looking to have another Final X/Olympic Trials series against Steveson is two-time world medalist Nick Gwiazdowski. Gwiazdowski made the Open finals opposite Steveson but was blanked 10-0. He remains the most recent American with a win in any style over Steveson (Final X: Rutgers/2019). This loaded field stops it from being a formality that we see another chapter in the Steveson/Gwiz rivalry. He'll have fellow veterans Dom Bradley and Ty Walz on the top half of the bracket. Gwiazdowski got by Bradley in the Open finals, 8-0, in a wider margin than most probably would have expected. Bradley ended up fourth while Walz was seventh.
The bottom half of the bracket has the younger contingent at this weight. 2023 Hodge Trophy winner Mason Parris comes in as the third seed. He tended to crush anyone not named Steveson at the Open and tech Air Force All-American Wyatt Hendrickson for third place. Hendrickson had some impressive wins of his own as he teched Demetrius Thomas and Bradley. Parris is seeded second and Hendrickson third. Thomas checks in as the sixth seed along with Iowa All-American Tony Cassioppi as the seven. Thomas was sixth at the Open, while Cassioppi is a two-time U23 World medalist, winning gold in 2021.
Finals Pick: Nick Gwiazdowski over Mason Parris