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2017 U.S. Open Preview 65kg: Zain's Bringing The Pain To Vegas

It's freestyle season! The US Open is LIVE on Flo next weekend, with every weight starting at 9am sharp on Friday, April 28th. Pacific time of course since it is in Vegas.

We'll be rolling out one preview a day to get you guys up to speed on who the contenders are at each weight. Monday was 57kg, and yesterday we moved up to 61kg. Today we'll be going over one of the most intriguing weights in this country, 65kg.

New Iowa State assistant Brent Metcalf held down the spot for almost the entire quad, before being upended by Frank Molinaro at the Olympic Trials. This could be the most wide open the weight has been in years, with four legit horses coming to Vegas looking to get the bye.

Given the amount of former NCAA champs and general hammers in this field, this could be the weight where the automatic berth into the World Team Trials finals is most valuable. Complete entries so far may be found on FloArena. On to the full preview.

The Contenders

Frank Molinaro, Titan Mercury/Southeast RTC
Zain Retherford, Nittany Lion WC
Jordan Oliver, Sunkist Kids
Jimmy Kennedy, NYAC/Cliff Keen WC

Dark Horses

BJ Futrell, Titan Mercury/Penn RTC
Evan Henderson, Titan Mercury/Wolfpack WC
Kellen Russell, NYAC/Cliff Keen WC
Hunter Stieber, Titan Mercury

Frank Molinaro was about three inches away from putting Frank Chamizo's knee on the mat and winning an Olympic bronze medal. He has since made the move to Virginia Tech and spent some time up at 70kg.

Molinaro's career broke wide open over the past year and has turned him into a world beater. He figured out how to get takedowns when he needs to, and is especially adept at turning them into four pointers. Aside from the Asgarov loss in Rio, he rarely gets blown out anymore. Being able to keep yourself in every match is a valuable skill in any situation where criteria comes into play.

Waiting in the wings is his heir apparent in Happy Valley, Zain Retherford. ZPain has been absolutely dominant the past two seasons on the NCAA level, winning this year's Hodge. Last year, he knocked off James Green, Jason Chamberlain, Jayson Ness and Jimmy Kennedy at the Olympic Trials.

But Zain hasn't made a world team since his 2012 cadet world title. He lost two years in a row to Aaron Pico in the junior trials finals, and was "only" third at OTT. Many people think this is his year to break through on the senior level. His back bow will be one of this year's most devastating turns on top, which could be the difference since many of these guys are just as good if not better than Zain on their feet.

Just think about the growth as a wrestler in general and freestyle in particular that Zain has experienced since losing this January of 2015 match to Jordan Oliver.

Jordan Oliver has perpetually been the bridesmaid on the senior level. He was second at the 2013 Open, and made the WTT finals in 2014 and 2015. In November, he was runner-up to James Green at 70kg.

The book on JO has been the same for years: great leg attacks, undeniable talent and potential, but can he put it together and make a team. He rarely wrestles overseas and has trouble with hand fighters: Pico and Metcalf in particular. Still, you'd be foolish not to call him a contender at this weight, in part because he has beaten all three of the other contenders.

A few results to keep in mind here. Jimmy Kennedy beat Molinaro 4-2 at the 2015 trials, and Oliver beat Molinaro 4-4 at the Farrell that same year. Oliver beat Retherford 6-2 at the Dave Schultz that year, and Retherford beat Kennedy 2-2 in the third place match at last year's OTT. Are some of those results old? Yes, but we don't have a lot of head-to-heads to use when comparing these guys.

BJ Futrell enters the Open as the highest ranked 65kg in the world from America. He is 10th in UWW's April rankings after winning the Bill Farrell, getting second at Cerro Pelado and third in Paris. The former Illinois star was also part of Titan Mercury's title team at the World Clubs Cup.

Evan Henderson got a good win over Kellen Russell at the Schultz, where Russell ended up third. Both finished ahead of Hunter Stieber, who made the Farrell finals in his return to the mat.

The seeding of the big four will have a lot to do with how this weight shakes out, though luckily we have USA Wrestling's March rankings as a guide. Zain at the three means he gets Oliver in the semis, and we already mentioned Oliver's struggles against guys who hand fight and have the pace of a guy like Zain. Molinaro seems destined to pull out a criteria win over Kennedy, who is the best athlete in this field.

A couple NCAA studs are likely to show up in Jaydin Eierman and Joey McKenna, along with a bruising veteran in Nick Dardanes. The parade of NCAA champs inhabiting this weight is only going to continue, and Zain is the latest to join the club. With Molinaro leaving the Penn State room, I'm going with the young buck to get the bye to the trials finals.

Nomad's Picks

  1. Zain Retherford
  2. Frank Molinaro
  3. Jimmy Kennedy
  4. Jordan Oliver
  5. Kellen Russell
  6. BJ Futrell
  7. Hunter Stieber
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