Big Ten

Jaden Bullock Rockets Into Rankings After Strong Performance In Vegas

Jaden Bullock Rockets Into Rankings After Strong Performance In Vegas

Michigan junior Jaden Bullock, who brought a 7-8 career record into this season, is already 10-4 and entered the 184-pound rankings at #11

Dec 7, 2023 by Mark Spezia
Jaden Bullock Rockets Into Rankings After Strong Performance In Vegas

Jaden Bullock put quite an exclamation point on the first day of his first appearance in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational last Friday.

Entering the tournament unseeded and unranked at 184 pounds, the Michigan junior reeled off three straight wins after finding his offense following a 4-1 opening-round loss to Arizona State's Tony Negron, who entered the tourney ranked #22.

One of Bullock's wins was a 6-4 decision over Utah Valley's #33 Jacob Armstrong. Bullock then needed just 69 seconds to pin Long Island's Anthony D'Alesio which earned him a meeting with 11th-ranked and Ohio State's sixth-seeded Gavin Hoffman, an All-American in 2022. 

With a guaranteed spot on the podium at stake, the match was scoreless until Bullock managed an escape with 1:40 remaining in the second period. As the clock ticked to under a minute left in the period, the two were in the center of the mat before Bullock drove through Hoffman with a powerful double-leg takedown, which keyed a 4-3 victory for the Wolverine. 

"This season, I've focused on training, conducting myself and going into matches with the mentality that I'm one of the best 184-pounders in the country," Bullock said. "That's the approach I'm taking, so I felt prepared to wrestle strong and win against guys like Hoffman. After losing that first match, I concentrated on wrestling my own match and letting my offense go."

That continued when Bullock began the tournament's second day against North Carolina State's Dylan Fishback, the #12 seed who came into the tournament ranked #18. 

Down 5-3 in the final period, Bullock scored a deficit-erasing, double-leg takedown with 1:16 to go before Fishback pulled even 17 seconds later with an escape following a restart. In overtime, Bullock utilized his quickness to gain control of Fishback by clutching his right ankle during an extended scramble and working into position for a match-ending takedown. 

In his next match, Bullock remained within striking distance of Nebraska's Lenny Pinto (currently ranked #5) before dropping a 9-6 decision. Bullock then lost just 10-9 on riding time to 10th-ranked Sam Wolf of Air Force in the fifth-place match.

All the noise Bullock made at Cliff Keen did not go unnoticed as he rocketed into the 184-pound rankings at #11, fifth among Big Ten wrestlers.

On a Michigan roster boasting six All-Americans, it's Bullock who leads the team in wins.  

"I've done things since last season that have made me more confident in myself, which has made a difference," he said. "For example, I focused on being more deliberate in my training, taking a step back and looking at what is really most important to work on, like the best ways to get good positioning. I also spent plenty of time with our team psychologist improving the mental aspect of my wrestling."

That proved crucial as Bullock's mental toughness was tested when he re-tore his meniscus during practice roughly six weeks before the season began. The situation was beyond frustrating for Bullock after the same injury had ended his 2022-23 season by mid-November.

Surgery, which kept him out of practice for three weeks, was Bullock's only option to salvage the upcoming season and show how improved a wrestler he is after putting in so much work since first suffering the injury.

"I had really dedicated myself to getting stronger, improving all aspects of my wrestling and then it's late August and the same injury happens to me in just about the same way it did the first time," he said. "Honestly, I did not know what to do or think at that point. Initially, I was like 'I'm done.'"

Bullock's outlook changed, however, following a heartfelt conversation with his father, Patrick.

"I come from a family in which our faith is very important to us," he said. "Dad reminded me that God puts things in our lives to test us, there is a reason for everything that happens to us and that God will guide me through any test. My mind was clear after our talk and I was confident I could still be ready for the season. After I healed from surgery, nothing was going to hold me back from just letting my wrestling flow."

Just two weeks after returning to live wrestling drills, a positive showing at Michigan's wrestle-offs resulted in Bullock filling the lineup vacancy created by the graduation of four-time NCAA qualifier Matt Finesilver.

After beginning the season by going 3-1 at the Michigan State Open, Bullock won both his matches as the Wolverines defeated Columbia and Rider to kick off the duals portion of their schedule. 

He bested Columbia's Aaron Ayzerov, 9-5. He then shut out Rider’s Isaac Dean, 12-0. 

Bullock, a two-time Virginia state champion, committed to Michigan during his senior of high school in April, 2021. 

He was called on as a true freshman to start five duals and represent Michigan at 184 pounds at the Big Ten Tournament when Jelani Embree, the previous season's starter, was limited to one match during the 2020-21 season.

Bullock finished 3-6 before redshirting the next season and going 18-7. He was 4-2 last season, including starting at 197 pounds in the Wolverines' first dual against North Carolina before missing the remainder of the season. 

"I originally committed to Michigan because it's the perfect combination of a strong wrestling program at a strong academic institution and I've loved my time here so far," Bullock said. "I've really appreciated how big the support system is for our program from the administration, fans and alumni, who all have our back. It's great when we have successful people connected to the program come in and talk to us."

The Wolverines are off until a dual at South Dakota State on Jan. 4, which should be the first in a series of challenging matches for Bullock. SDSU's Bennett Berge is currently ranked #25.

After that comes potential tests against #9 Layne Malczewski (Michigan State), #2 Bernie Truax (Penn State), #18 Brian Soldano (Rutgers) and rematches against Hoffman and Pinto. 

"My goal is winning Big Ten and national championships, this season," Bullock said. "I'll keep working hard, learning and improving to achieve those goals. Of course, I want to us to achieve team success too. I feel we have a really strong lineup and we're all excited to show how strong it is when the season continues." 

Davison Takes Home Runner-Up Finish

Heavyweight Lucas Davison went 4-1 in his fourth and final Cliff Keen tourney appearance, reaching the title match before suffering his first loss of the season at the hands of Iowa State's Yonger Bastida, currently ranked #3. Bastida was fifth at the 2022 NCAA Championships before reaching the round of 16 last year. 

Along the way, Davison, ranked #4, knocked off #11 Taye Ghadiali (Campbell) and #20 Hunter Catka (Virginia Tech).

The two-time All-American and four-time NCAA qualifier was also second last season and fifth in 2021 while wrestling for Northwestern. Davison finished with a 14-6 overall record at Cliff Keen. He is 6-1 this season with two technical falls, two major decision and a pin. 

Davison's career mark is now 97-33, including 59-16 at heavyweight.