The most wide-open bracket at the 2017 Senior World Team Trials in Lincoln, Nebraska, this Saturday could very well be 57 kilograms.
Many still expect Tony Ramos to emerge victorious from the best-of-three championship series, and naturally, T-Ram expects exactly that as well.
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But there are nonetheless a host of worthy contenders who are all capable of overcoming Ramos' clutch gene. Ramos may have the odds in his favor, but there are quite a few well-credentialed wrestlers who also have a solid shot at representing America in Paris this August.
Tony RamosTo start with, Ramos is the 2017 U.S. Open champion and has that all-important bye to the best-of-three final series that comes with it. Ramos also has world championship experience, having made the 2014 and 2015 team. Ramos has also been nearly unbeatable against Americans since making the full-time switch from folk to freestyle in 2014. Ramos' nemesis and former Hawkeyes teammate, Dan Dennis, will not be competing this weekend, which should further tilt the odds in Ramos' favor.
Whoever does make it through the challenge bracket should plan on either finishing the finals matches early, as Dennis did with a rib-crushing gut wrench at the 2016 Olympic Team Trials, or else be ridiculously well conditioned, so as to be able to fend off Ramos' unstoppable leg attacks in short time.
Tyler GraffIf anyone will be able to close the finals matches against Ramos in a hurry, it's the barrel-chested former Wisconsin Badger Tyler Graff. The Colorado native is an absolute terror on top, known for running up 10-0 scores with both suffocating guts and vice-grip leg laces.
Graff also knows how to win tournaments. Though they aren't the toughest events on the UWW slate, Graff has nonetheless reeled off seven consecutive tournament championships in a row. If Graff has is par-terre game on point, there could be no stopping him in Lincoln.
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Nathan TomaselloNaTo doesn't have much in the way of international freestyle experience, but the battle-tested Buckeye is one of the pound-for-pound toughest wrestlers at the entire trials. He showed as much at the 2017 U.S. Open, when he pushed Tony Ramos to the brink, losing by criteria in the semifinals 2-2.
Built like a Pocket Hercules, Tomasello has the strength to compete in higher weight classes and will be a problem for folks at 57kg this Saturday. He's also got a lightning-quick high crotch shot. If Tomasello is firing on all cylinders, he will be a bantam juggernaut no one will want to see in his draw.
Nahshon GarrettCornell's Nahshon Garrett was picked by many a pundit to be the future of 57 kilograms in America ever since he won the NCAA championship at 133 pounds during his senior year in March 2016.
Though he hasn't made it to the top of the heap just yet, Garrett does have the current 57kg field beat in lankiness and is able to cover huge amounts of mat space in a short time with his massive wingspan. He also had Ramos on the ropes in the finals of the U.S. Open, holding a lead until the last minute of the match (before Ramos' clutch gene activated). Garrett still has some freestyle kinks in his game to smooth out, but if and when he does, it's bad news not just for the guys in this bracket but overseas as well.
UWW Junior and Senior WTT schedule
Nico MegaludisIt's been two years since Nico Megaludis graduated from Penn State as a 125-pound NCAA champion. In that time, Megaludis has been slowly but surely ramping up his freestyle skills and hauling in international trophies. He won the Grand Prix of Paris this January and the Bill Farrell last November. It was at the Farrell that Megaludis infamously "broke" highly touted Russian up-and-comer Khasan Badrudinov.
Megaludis also gives Nahshon Garrett a run for his money in the lankiness department and probably has him beat in flexibility. Megaludis' "split" defense has frustrated opponents trying to finish takedowns on him for many years in all styles. Add in the conditioning and training he receives at the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club and you've got a finely tuned 57kg title contender.
Thomas GilmanGilman knows how to beat Ramos, and the 57kg finalist knows it too. At least, that is according to Gilman. It's also true that Gilman's first major freestyle tournament since earning a junior world bronze medal in 2014 was the team trials last chance qualifier less than a month ago.
If Gilman can fully shake off the freestyle mat rust, he will be as dangerous an opponent as anybody in the tournament. His Iowa-style offense will at the very least make life miserable for his opponent. Gilman may also have the strongest mental game in the field, with indefatigable confidence in his talent and ability.
The Rest Of The FieldIs this cheating? Of course it is. But now that all but four of the qualifiers have been listed, it would seem silly to leave these guys completely out. Frank Perrelli is this year's potential "2016 Frank Molinaro" dark-horse contender. Zach Sanders is one of the most overlooked four-time NCAA All-Americans in recent memory. Alan Waters is coming for Gilman and everyone else in the bracket. Jesse Delgado is a two-time NCAA champion (people forget that). And Darian Cruz is your most recently minted NCAA 125-pound champion.
Fifty-seven kilograms is going to be a bloodbath. Sleep on this weight and regret it for the rest of your life!
Make sure you tune in this Saturday and see who punches his ticket to Paris LIVE on FloWrestling.