Greco-Roman is in a constant battle in America for attention, dollars, and athletes. Its struggle is a familiar one, and will likely continue for the entirety of this Olympic quad.
Matt Lindland begins 2017 slightly ahead of the game, though, since he did not take over until halfway through the last quad. He managed to oversee Andy Bisek's back-to-back bronze medals in 2014-15, the first senior-level world hardware for the Greco program since 2009. Lindland was in Paris coaching the juniors to second place after day one of junior worlds.
But only four athletes qualified for Rio, none of whom earned medals, and no one won a medal at Cadet worlds. Bisek is now the head coach at Northern Michigan, and aside from that, a second college Greco program has opened up at Wayland Baptist. There is a new group of hungry wolves, itching to take control of the squad.
The 2017 world championships are in Paris on August 21-26, and below are our projections for the team the United States will be sending in the classic style.
59kgJesse Thielke (and Ildar Hafizov) helped end a run that many thought could only be stopped by retirement: Spenser Mango's grip on the lightest Greco weight class. One could argue that his run in the final Olympic qualifier was one of the two best days for Greco in this country this year (the other being day one of junior worlds).
No one was more excited about the rule change of no more forced par terre than Thielke, but he has yet to wrestle under it. In the meantime, Hayden Tuma shrunk himself down from 66kg and made the Farrell finals before straight lifting Ryan Mango right on his head to win Senior Nationals. Tuma has always been one of the foremost Greco prospects, as he had four straight age-level world teams.
Thielke, Mango, and Tuma are the three with the physical tools and body to make a difference at the senior level. Sam Jones ended up third at both events and was the 59kg guy at the Greco Clubs Cup. Taylor LaMont split with Jones in Vegas, winning on the championship side before losing in the third place bout. Like Tuma, the future looks bright for LaMont after making four straight age-level world teams and getting junior bronze at 60kg this year.
- Jesse Thielke (NYAC)
- Ryan Mango (Army WCAP)
- Hayden Tuma (Army WCAP)
66kgAlejandro Sancho may be the best wrestler in the country at two weights, but he has yet to make a world team. He had beaten Ellis Coleman twice in a row before losing in the Senior Nationals finals, in part because he was not aware that the deciding point had been put on the board for Coleman.
Sancho has the size to go either 66kg or 71kg. Now is the time for Coleman or Sancho to take the reins. Coleman is too small to go 71 full time, but Sancho would likely have an easier time making the finals at the lower weight since Pat Smith and Chris Gonzalez will be staying up.
Junior world teamer Jamal DeArmond was the only one to make the Farrell and Senior Nationals semis at this weight, so he is a strong candidate to take the third spot on the ladder. Another young up-and-comer is Austin Morrow, who won University Nationals and made the Farrell finals. However, if Brian Graham decides to continue competing, he should likely find his way into the mix here.
Sancho's controversial loss to Coleman
- Alejandro Sancho (NYAC)
- Ellis Coleman (Army WCAP)
- Jamal DeArmond (NYAC)
Pat Smith was in the finals in the first two world team trials at the non-Olympic weight, and he was the favorite to win the weight last month in New York. That is until Chris Gonzalez pinned Smith in the WTT semis. Gonzalez would go on to wrestle in Budapest, Hungary, winning his first senior-level tournament to make his first world team at any level.
Gonzalez lost in the second round to the eventual bronze medalist, and Smith dominated his way to his first Senior Nationals title, outscoring opponents 32-1 over four matches. Smith also participated in both the Golden Grand Prix and Greco Clubs Cup, going 3-3 across both events. It is setting up for a fantastic three-match battle for the spot this coming April.
Looking at the final national team spot, Anthonie Linares has made the jump. He lost in the consolation semis to Coleman in New York and then made the finals in Vegas, all this after making the University finals in May.
- Chris Gonzalez (Army WCAP)
- Pat Smith (Minnesota Storm)
- Anthonie Linares (NYAC)
75kgIt's Kamal Bey's time now. Andy Bisek is on to coaching. Geordan Speiller is MIA, and Kendrick Sanders hasn't made the finals since beating Harry Lester at last year's Farrell. Bey didn't qualify for the Olympic Trials, but no one thought much of it since he hadn't even graduated high school yet. He even had to go through three matches to make the junior world team.
There were a few bumps after that, losing in the quarters at junior worlds to a guy who lost in the semis, as well as two losses on the first day of Clubs Cup. Since then, Bey has had eight matches, seven of which ended early. He is making the leap to take control of this weight, and he still has two years or junior eligibility left.
The upside on Porter, while not quite the same as for Bey, is great as well. He proved that in his 12-6 upset win over Sanders in Vegas and with his epic 15-14 win over Bey in the first match of their junior WTT series. Even though Sanders has been the primary prospect for years, the next four months is crucial for Porter if he wants to hold his edge over Sanders.
- Kamal Bey (Sunkist Kids)
- Jesse Porter (NYAC)
- Kendrick Sanders (NYAC)
80kgA clear top five has emerged at the heaviest non-Olympic weight, with Pat Martinez at the top. He has wrestled in each of the past two world championships at 80kg.
At Senior Nationals, Cheney Haight beat Jon Jay Chavez in the finals, the same opponent Haight beat in the WTT quarters a month earlier. Likewise, Chavez beat Barrett Stanghill at both events.
Where the fun starts is that Anderson beat Haight at the Farrell but then lost to Chavez and Stanghill at Senior Nationals. Using results from both tournaments could set up Anderson/Stanghill rematch in the quarters, with the winner facing Martinez in the semis.
Chavez over Anderson in Vegas
- Pat Martinez (Army WCAP)
- Cheney Haight (NYAC)
- Jon Anderson (Army WCAP)
85kgFew weights are more in flux in American than this one. Jordan Holm and Jake Clark are retired. Two-time Olympian Ben Provisor just lost at Senior Nationals to Khymba Johnson, who then lost in the finals to Kevin Radford. That means the finals were between someone who didn't qualify for OTT (Johnson) and someone who went 0-2 in Iowa City (Radford).
Lucas Sheridan was the highest placing American at the Farrell and only one to make the semis. He lost a highly contentious 5-5 match to Radford in Senior Nationals semis, this after teching Radford 9-0 a year earlier. Avoiding Ryan Hope would be key for Radford, as he has never beaten the lone full time Greco guy training with the Cliff Keen WC.
The X-factor is Hayden Zillmer, who is now living in Minnesota and training full time with the Storm. Zillmer is huge for the weight and beat Johnson, Sheridan, Hope, Holm, and Pat Martinez this year. He was in the 98kg finals at Farrell and Senior Nationals, but if he drops down again will be a dark horse to win.
- Ben Provisor (NYAC)
- Hayden Zillmer (Minnesota Storm)
- Lucas Sheridan (Army WCAP)
98kgDisclaimer: this projection may come with a strong case of recency bias. G'Anglo (Tracy to some) Hancock has been on a tear this past year. After not placing at the Bill Farrell, Hancock upset former national team stalwart John Wechter on his way to third at the Open last December.
He then went on to get second (highest-placing American) at the Dave Schultz, and was once again third at OTT to make his first national team. Hancock used that momentum to not only make the junior world team but also win a bronze medal as Team USA finished day one in second place.
Most recently, the OTC resident won the Farrell and Senior Natonals, sandwiched around a trip to the Greco Clubs Cup in which he upset Olympic bronze medalist Cenk Ildem of Turkey -- all of this while OTT winner Josef Rau rests and recovers from surgery.
Rau teched Hancock twice in the course of the Olympic qualifying cycle. But that was before the young stud's success on the world level. With Caylor Williams done, the WTT finals should come down to those two. Rau may be the better wrestler right now, but an extended period on the mend and another four months of Hancock potential may be too much to ignore.
- G'Angelo Hancock (NYAC)
- Joe Rau (Minnesota Storm)
- Enock Francois (NYAC)
130kgUntil Robby Smith retires, he will be THE guy at heavyweight for Greco in America. There is a huge gap between Smith and everyone else, as he was the world and Olympic rep every year of this quad. He was also sent to the 2013 and 2015 Pan Am championships, 2014 World Cup and 2015 Pan Am Games.
Behind him is 2014 junior world bronze medalist Adam Coon, currently redshirting in his fourth year at Michigan. Coon won the Bill Farrell and Open at the end of last year and was Smith's opponent in the OTT finals.
The finals of the Senior Nations this month was between Army WCAP teammates Toby Erickson and Jacob Mitchell. Erickson was in the 2014 and 2015 WTT finals against Smith, while Mitchell appears to have made the move up to heavyweight full time.
- Robby Smith (NYAC)
- Adam Coon (Cliff Keen WC)
- Toby Erickson (Army WCAP)