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Tim Hands of 5 Point Move breaks down the middleweight senior Greco-Roman divisions of the 2019 U.S. Open.
When it comes to US domestic Greco-Roman, there are spectrums to observe. The lightweights offer the lightning; the upper-weights deliver the thunder. So what it is that the middleweights will bring to the table on Thursday at the US Open in Las Vegas?
The most complete style of wrestling available in the country.
Between 72 and 82 kilograms, they do it all. You get some of the zippiness the smaller guys are known for along with the hard-hitting pummeling and brutal landings the monsters have a tendency to display. Not to mention, it is right here within these three weight classes where many of America’s most overall talented athletes can be found, period.
April 25-27 | 12:00 ET
RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC)
Recent: 2019 Pan Am Championships gold; 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix 8th; 2019 Grand Prix Zagreb Open 9th; 2018 World Team member
You turn around and look, and hey, Perkins is searching for his third Open title. Although, it’s not hard to believe since few in the nation have been as consistently excellent as the native Nebraskan. He’s also back down to 72, where he is both most comfortable and most effective. Anyone who watched his great good work at the Pan Ams knows he’s hitting on all cylinders. The question is, who is going to rise up and pose a realistic threat?
Check out Perkins in his stop-sign winning bout in last year's Open:
Ray Bunker (Marines)
Recent: 2019 Armed Forces Championships gold; 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial gold; 2018 Lavrikov Memorial bronze
He’s like a machine. Bunker just keeps on coming and never wears down. That used to be all he had, but not these days. His skill-set is increasing in conjunction with his confidence. After he won the Schultz, he intimated that a place on this year’s World Team was a realistic goal. If he said that even just a year ago, he would have been laughed off. Well, no one’s laughing anymore. Bunker is legit.
Colin Schubert (NYAC/OTS)
Recent: 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial 8th; 2018 World Team Trials 4th
Being looked at as a “wrestler’s wrestler” is a nice feather in one’s cap, but it doesn’t make World Teams or earn medals, which is all Schubert is focused on. He’s had a not-so-fantastic run recently, but part of that is because he’s not finding his way into workable positions. A correctable issue, but a necessary and important adjustment for an athlete who is as mean on the mat as it gets.
Michael Hooker (Army/WCAP)
Recent: 2019 Armed Forces Championships silver
Some athletes are entering the Open not because they think they can win, but because they just want to qualify for the Trials. Hooker is entering because he needs to reassert his place in the pecking order. He’s so talented and was once thought of as a can’t-miss prospect. Those pieces are still there, but the accolades are not. Now would be an opportune time to change the narrative.
Lenny Merkin (NJRTC)
Recent: 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial 4th
Merkin’s life is not entirely Greco, not yet. If it were, who knows how he’d be viewed? Who knows what he would, or could, or will achieve? What you get with Merkin is an appealing blend of all-style mechanics with a hard-nosed Greco attitude. He can be turned and lifted, but he can also drum up scores in a heartbeat. That’s exactly what this sport needs.
Eleazar Deluca (NJRTC)
Recent: 2018 World Team Trials 4th; 2018 US Open 7th
Last year, it was readily apparent that Deluca needed to grow comfortable with the environment, with the general way Senior Greco operates. He took a few lumps -- and he also collected a few scalps. We are a full season removed from that beginning phase. So unless Deluca, who at one point was listed on an overseas trip but didn’t go, has been completely dormant, expect a much improved athlete out there on the arena floor Thursday morning.
Kamal Bey (Sunkist)
Recent: 2019 Pan Am Championships silver; 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix 9th; 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial gold; 2018 World Championships 7th; 2018 Junior World Championships 5th
Trite to say, but like US National Team head coach Matt Lindland pointed out recently, the only way to beat Bey is to not wrestle him. That means tying him up, and hard; hanging on two-on-one’s; and burying your head in his clavicle whilst hoping the ref just lets it go. Domestic opponents have shown more of an eagerness to exchange with Bey, and their collective track record of late kind of speaks for itself.
Watch Bey win a 2018 US Open title:
Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm)
Recent: 2019 Thor Masters 5th; 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix 19th; 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial gold; 2018 Haavisto Cup silver; 2018 Haparanda Cup bronze; 2018 Lavrikov Memorial bronze; 2018 US National Team member
An active Smith is a happy Smith, and so far this season, no one has been as active as Smith. Simple, right? What’s maybe not as simple but definitely as interesting is that the Minnesota brawler has performed impressively up a full weight class, and his Schultz final against Manville showed that he’s a real player here both this year and next.
Mason Manville (NLWC)
Recent: 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial silver; 2018 World Team Trials runner-up
We’re talking two tournaments in a row where Manville basically came in cold and lit up the joint en-route to the finals. The first was the ‘18 Trials with the aforementioned Schultz as the second. A true “competitor”, and when you say it, you enunciate the “tor” like Daniel Plainview. Manville was born to compete, and he’s also a master at figuring out others’ weaknesses on the fly. Should he just up and win this thing, either over Bey or someone else, no one will die of shock.
Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS)
Recent: 2019 Thor Masters 9th; 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial bronze; 2018 U23 World Team member
It’s not meant as a slight to Porter’s past vanquishers, but most of his domestic losses have arrived by his own undoing. He likes to lull opponents to sleep before unleashing all sorts of flying chaos, and while really, really entertaining, he can also get caught in-between because of this. Consistency, on both US shores and foreign, is the next piece in the Porter puzzle. Once he locks it into place, look out.
Kendrick Sanders (NYAC/OTS)
Recent: 2018 US Open dnp
The best US Greco-Roman wrestler of his generation to have never made a World Team. A dubious distinction, but it’s hardly subjective. Sanders took his place among the elite as soon as he decided this style was for him. You get the feeling that 2020 will be it, one way or the other. Sanders is still in his athletic prime, and truth be told, more skillful than everyone here. But does he know that? And if so, does he believe it? We’d like to see Sanders at his zenith and Friday evening sounds about right.
Corey Hope (NYAC)
Recent: (It’s been a while)
There is likely not one fan, one coach, or even one fellow athlete who is expecting a run from Hope in Las Vegas. Who could blame them? He has spent way more time rehabbing the past few years than he has competing. Thing is, Hope is too strong and knowledgeable to just dismiss. He also likes to be in your face the entire six minutes. Tough to deal with. So while a trip to the Final X Series would certainly catch most off-guard, and rightfully so, a very solid first-time-back effort that at least gets him to Raleigh is where the smart money resides.
Chris Gonzalez (NYAC)
Recent: 2018 World Team Trials 4th; 2018 US Open 4th
Gonzalez is making his Bellator debut just two weeks after the Open wraps up. You might say that his participation in Vegas is just part of his training, or some kind of distraction before a high-profile fistfight. Wrong. Gonzalez showed last year he can manage both disciplines well. If anything, he demonstrated more heat in matches, not less. After barely missing out on the National Team last June, his viability will only be questioned by the foolish.
Cheney Haight (NYAC)
Recent: 2019 Pan Am Championships gold; 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial 4th; 2018 World Team Trials runner-up; 2018 US Open bronze
The lion may sleep tonight but the “White Tiger” is wide awake. Haight, 34, is still prowling the prairie, handing out arm throws and beatdowns to willing dance partners. Last week in Argentina, Haight cruised to his third Pan Ams title and said beforehand that he feels even better than he did a year ago, when he fell to Geordan Speiller in the Trials finals. If you’re in this weight class, that’s not fantastic news.
John Stefanowicz (Marines)
Recent: 2019 Armed Forces Championships gold; 2019 Grand Prix Zagreb 8th; 2018 Haparanda Cup bronze; 2018 US National Team member
Stefanowicz’s season thus far has included: a bronze overseas in his first tournament back; a win over U23 World finalist/’19 Euros champ Rajbek Bisultanov of Denmark; and a close victory over multi-time Trials finalist Jon Anderson at Armed Forces. Not bad. But he hasn’t beaten Haight yet. He doesn’t have to here, either, but wouldn’t you know it, there is an incentive being offered if he does. Not that he needs one.
Watch Stefanowicz win in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Open:
Jake Fisher (Curby 3-Style)
Recent: 2018 World Team Trials bronze; 2018 US Open 7th
Fisher took two years off before returning for the ‘18 Open, where he went all the way up to 87 kilos. He looked okay, despite part-timing it. But he’s too good for it to look like anything else. 82 fit him much nicer at the Trials, and you saw flashes of the old Fisher out there in Oklahoma. He still has that punishing underhook, stout positioning, and will to win. As for his actual candidacy in Vegas? He’s being seen as a sleeper, though that can change in a hurry based on how his first match goes.
Carter Nielsen (Minnesota Storm/OTS)
Recent: 2019 Thor Masters 8th; 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial silver; 2018 U23 World Team
If belief in one’s self is the most essential component to becoming a successful Greco-Roman athlete, then consider Nielsen on the right path. He does not wrestle to win; he wrestles as if giving an inch equals death. You might remember Nielsen going at it with Bey in the Schultz final, but hopefully you didn’t miss his first two matches at Thor Masters, or his second bout at the U23 Worlds. The movement, the aggression, the darting setups...they’re hard to ignore. But it’s the intangible desire to fight past exhaustion that stands out the most.
Andrew Berreyesa (NYAC/FLWC)
Recent: 2018 Junior World runner-up; 2018 U23 World Team Trials runner-up; 2018 UWW Junior National Champion
Simply put, Berreyesa is one of the US program’s top young faces, and it would have still been this way had he NOT engineered that mesmerizing march to the Junior World final. He’s a mature, analytical kind of athlete, knows where his strengths are but is devoted to eliminating weaknesses. Berreyesa enjoys as full of a Greco toolbox as we’ve seen from a young guy in quite a while, including par terre defense, which already sets him apart from most in the pack.