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Tim Hands of 5 Point Move is back again to preview the Greco-Roman lower weight classes at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament in Raliegh, NC.
Is it time to reel in the chaos? Or has the chaos not even arrived yet?
The five lightest weight classes at the 2019 US Greco-Roman World Team Trials Challenge Tournament involve a lot of moving parts. Three of the first five brackets on Friday include reigning World Team members who will need to survive a litany of dangers to even have a shot of summiting the mountaintop once again. Their collective experience, an obvious presumed advantage to be sure, would seem to come in handy most years -- but 2019 isn’t just any other year.
May 17-19 | 10:00 AM Eastern
With the Tokyo Olympics about to cascade into view, Greco’s participation has been strengthened, thanks in large part to a recent influx of youth competitors who are fast developing into established Seniors. Most of these dudes can be found among the lightweights. Several have shown they can press the more well-known of the lot, while others are still scratching the surface in terms of what they might have to offer down the road.
Hunger is the preeminent variable separating contenders from champions, and those willing to take risk have a tendency to be rewarded at a Trials tournament. And if there is one thing the American light guys like to prove, it’s that when face to face with one another, they’ll take the risks. They’ll bring their swords and their shields, and swing mightily so as to impart a vanquishing that leaves no doubt.
You saw that at the US Open. But that was just a dress rehearsal.
This week in North Carolina, they’re playing for keeps. A berth in the Final X Series, the first year that sees Greco’s inclusion, means not only potentially making the World Team, but also becoming part of history. That’s more than enough incentive to bring out the best in every athlete worth his salt.
Final X Entrant: Max Nowry (Army/WCAP)
2019 US Open runner-up: Dalton Duffield (NYAC/OTS)
As is the case for most of the weight classes, 55 kilos’ National runner-up, Duffield, is projected by most as the favorite to earn a rematch with the champ (Nowry) at Final X. The trio of Jabari Moody (NYAC), Jemone Carter (Marines), and Sean Sesnan (WBU) are capable of putting a wrench in the works, but the real wildcard here is Senior newcomer Ibrahim Bunduka (INWWTC), who gave Nowry a bit of a test in the Open quarterfinal. Despite his rawness, Bunduka never appeared rattled in Vegas and displayed surprisingly stout positional mechanics. Maybe there hasn’t been enough time between the Nationals and the Trials for him to pull off what would be a monumental upset, but a bout between he and Duffield could wind up closer than you might think.
Final X Entrant: Mike Fuenffinger (Army/WCAP)
2019 US Open runner-up: Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP)
At 60 kilograms, the seeding will work out to where Hafizov and reigning World Team member Dalton Roberts (NYAC/OTS) are going to be setup for another chapter in their min-saga from a year ago. Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS) also figures to have a say in the argument, as does Taylor LaMont (Sunkist), and both have shown they are right there with the top two seeds. And should those seeds hold, the semifinals in this weight class will likely be the most-watched of the entire tournament. Roberts is going to come in with more rest than he had prior to Vegas, and that could spell trouble for the others given the fact he has been far more active competitively compared to the field. However, Hafizov is the most polished and experienced Greco wrestler in the country; Miranda and LaMont, like Roberts, represent the future. Any combination of these four advancing to the final is as predictable as the sunrise.
Final X Entrant: Ryan Mango (Army/WCAP)
2019 US Open runner-up: Sammy Jones (NYAC/OTS)
2016 Olympian Jesse Thielke (NYAC/LOG) missed out on both the Pan Ams and the US Open due to injury but should be good to go this week in Raleigh. Such is Thielke’s standing that his presence instantly elevates him to favorite status. National Team member Xavier Johnson (Marines) defaulted out of his Open semifinal against Jones, a minor injury to blame there, as well. Again, health isn’t the question for Johnson, he’s okay. 63 is a little top-heavy. Jones and Travis Rice (IRTC) are clearly ready to take their respective steps up the ladder, and Johnson is one of the most electrifying prospects in the sport. Plus, they’ve all basically beaten each other’s brains in before. Senior newbies Kyle Evans (Western Wyoming) and Nate Cervantez (CYC) both impressed in Vegas, and for different reasons -- Evans for his bullish toughness and Cervantez for his old-school flair and lockdown lift. Neither are expected to actually press any of the top dogs here, but they might.
Final X Entrant: Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP)
2019 US Open runner-up: Hayden Tuma (Army/WCAP)
Tuma, a Trials runner-up in ‘17 at 60 kilos before bumping (back) up to 67 last year, is the most explosive athlete in this bracket, and also, maybe the one most capable of threatening Coleman at Final X. Therefore, you have to wonder what kind of tweaks Jamel Johnson (Marines) and Austin Morrow (NYAC/OTS) have made over the past two weeks in acknowledgement of that concept. Johnson, for some reason, has been unable to solve the Tuma puzzle thus far, even though everything he does on a mat suggests that it’s his name everyone should be talking about. As for Morrow, he’s the sleeper. He has also been to hell and back stemming from two major shoulder injuries and has worked himself into becoming quite the intriguing candidate. Now include Jarod Verkleeren (NLWC), who wowed everyone with his fifth in Vegas, and ‘18 Open silver Jessy Williams (NYAC/FLWC), who absolutely has a point to prove after coming in seventh. You’ve got the makings of a beastly weight class here with its own story to tell, even if most think they already have the ending figured out.
Final X Entrant: Ray Bunker (Marines)
2019 US Open runner-up: RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC)
Out of the US Open’s ten finals bouts, Perkins’ loss to Bunker was the only upset -- and aside from Spencer Woods defeating Cheney Haight in the 82-kilo semis -- it was the biggest upset of the tournament, period. That’s not a slight to Bunker; the concept of favorites and upsets reside in mere perception, anyway. But still, it was a defeat for Perkins that didn’t digest very well, so he’ll probably be ramped up come showtime this week. Hot on his heels is Alex Sancho, making his triumphant return to competition following basic training for Army WCAP. Michael Hooker (Army/WCAP), who took third in Vegas, is deserving of a place at the table, as well, and now that Colin Schubert (NYAC/OTS) is finally done with school he’s had more time to train, which is something to look forward to. As far as sleepers go, Lenny Merkin (NJRTC) has to be the guy. Still not all the way there in terms of classical feel and approach, but he certainly has the chops to do something big here, though for now that might look more like fighting for the National Team spot.