2021 UWW Ranking Series: Matteo Pellicone

USA Greco Back In Action At Matteo Pellicone

USA Greco Back In Action At Matteo Pellicone

Previewing the Greco-Roman wrestling competition at the UWW Ranking Series: Matteo Pellicone.

Mar 3, 2021 by Timmy Hands
USA Greco Back In Action At Matteo Pellicone
The first “Ranking Series” event of the season is finally on the doorstep and tournament points are hardly a concern. Though, they will matter, eventually. Once the dust settles following the US Olympic Trials (and subsequent World OG Qualifier in Bulgaria), topics such as World rankings and potential seeding in Tokyo will nudge their way into conversations. But, not yet. 

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The first “Ranking Series” event of the season is finally on the doorstep and tournament points are hardly a concern. Though, they will matter, eventually. Once the dust settles following the US Olympic Trials (and subsequent World OG Qualifier in Bulgaria), topics such as World rankings and potential seeding in Tokyo will nudge their way into conversations. But, not yet. 

Watch the Matteo Pellicone LIVE on FloWrestling

Greco-Roman begins Thursday, March 4  | 4:30 AM ET

No, this week at the Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Rome, Italy, everything revolves around preparation. Looks. Feels. And for half of the American Greco-Roman roster, embracing an opportunity to shake off gathered dust for the first time in 12 months, if not longer. 

Even those wrestlers who have managed to compete this season are operating with disjointed, incomplete sample sizes. There have been matches. Joe Rau (87 kg, TMWC/IRTC, world #7, 5PM #2) has had eight of them, including five overseas. Nine if you feel inclined to count a mixed-style affair against a freestyler back in the summer. The Marines on board for this trip all took the mat in France just over a month ago. Dylan Gregerson (60 kg, UVRTC), West Cathcart (130 kg, NYAC/IRTC, 5PM #6), well-known stars like Patrick Smith, RaVaughn Perkins and Ben Provisor… They have all heard whistles blow and watched scoreboards tally points at least once or twice during the pandemic-fueled slowdown. 

Except, it’s different now. When an athlete is x’ing out days on a calendar leading to an Olympic Trials, as soon as they are able to begin a sentence with  “In less than a month”, the whole thing starts becoming real. The feeling that a tournament exists within the realm of the hypothetical dissipates, automatically so. All of the US wrestlers in Rome are experiencing this sensation. Their competitive valves have become pressurized, thus the only way for them to glean a sense of relief is by treating their bodies like singlet-clad battering rams in a live setting. 

Matteo Pellicone, they will insist, is all part of a training plan. That it is just a miniature fact-finding mission and a decent chance to test new wrinkles out, work positions, and re-acclimate to match speed mechanics. Maybe it’s true. Maybe igniting the engine and pulling out of the driveway offers some type of intrinsic value when it comes to gaining comfort behind the wheel. It is nice to hit the throttle after remaining parked for so long. 

But with an Olympic Trials mere weeks away and a pair of weight categories still in need of securing for Tokyo, this is more than simply another overseas tournament. 

It’s different now. 

Matteo Pellicone Greco-Roman Overview

Team USA

The most efficient manner for exploring the US roster is by isolating athletes and presenting snapshot reasoning relative to what Pellicone may represent to each competitor on an individual basis. 

We begin with those who are making their official season debuts. 

Ildar Hafizov (60 kg, Army/WCAP, 5PM #1)
Along with Rau, Ildar Hafizov is one of two athletes in Rome who qualified his weight for the Olympics and thereby already resides in the Trials finals series. The nation’s best overall technician has not competed since the Pan-Am Qualifier nearly a year ago. Now 33, that might not be such a bad thing.

Hafizov is oft dealing with minor dings but is said to be in excellent condition. He thrives off of in-match confidence. All he needs is to exit this event with a decent taste in his mouth and he’ll be happy. 

Sammy Jones (63 kg, NYAC/UVRTC, 5PM #5 at 60 kg)
Two-time National finalist Sammy Jones is the father of a newborn son, so he has been busy in between his job and training sessions at Utah Valley. It also might help explain why he opted for 63 instead of Olympic 60. Nevertheless, Jones’ open attack style tends to play well against like-minded foreigners.

There are a few athletes here who enjoy the kinds of exchanges upon which Jones relies, like Kazakhstani World medalists Mirembek Aingulov and Aidos Sultangali. Give Jones one of them and let’s make this interesting right out of the gate. 

Ray Bunker (72 kg, Marines, world #11, 5PM #3 at 67 kg)
From Rome earlier on Tuesday afternoon, Ray Bunker confirmed he was sticking at 72 for the tournament and that he was “excited”. He should be. Not only will Pellicone be Bunker’s first tournament since winning the ‘20 Pan-Ams, there are three terrific Turks in his bracket, one of whom holds special interest -- Ahmet Yilmaz. In a bout that from start to finish exemplified the Marine’s heart, Bunker defeated Yilmaz for bronze at the ‘19 Pytlasinski in what wound up as the 5PM “Match of the Year”.

There is another item involved, however. Bunker is very much a push-the-pace competitor, and sometimes wrestlers like him require a few match minutes to find a proper lather. So, if Bunker were to get off to a slow start in his first bout, it wouldn’t necessarily be a shocker. The advantage for him in that sense is the timing. Even if Pellicone doesn’t provide Bunker with the sample size he’d like, it will still go a long way towards warming up his ferocious skill-set for Fort Worth. 

RaVaughn Perkins (82 kg, NYAC, 5PM #4 at 77 kg)
RaVaughn Perkins’ most recent official appearance was in the ‘19 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament where he was forced into an early exit following a loss to Alex Mossing. Perkins, who has a long and well-documented injury history, went into that tournament hurt and left it in even worse shape. He was back in form for the December ‘19 Nationals, and also, back at 77.

It has been a very healthy break. Perkins is naturally bigger now, a legit 77 and not a “tweener”. At his apex, he is among the best in the country, as well, and a wrestler with an impressive overseas resume. Like most, he is looking to use this event as a test run but he is certainly capable of much more than that. 

Ben Provisor (82 kg, NYAC, 5PM #3 at 77 kg)
Ben Provisor had originally targeted Pellicone as his pre-Trials weigh-in for 77, a weight class in which he has not appeared dating back to roundabout ‘13. That is no longer part of the plan. “Big Ben” will instead occupy space in the 82 bracket with Perkins. And reigning World champ/multi-time medalist Tamas Lorincz (HUN). And Emrah Kus (TUR). And Burhan Akbudak (HUN). And there are more.

Provisor has had a few exhibition bouts over the past few months but it has been a while since we’ve seen him operate on European soil. 82 kilos isn’t 77, but it will still be interesting to hone in on his movement and vitality, provided he has adequate dance partners. Which he should. 

Patrick Martinez (87 kg, NYAC, 5PM #3)
“P-Mart”, steady like a two-ton boulder and with legs strong enough to press one overhead, can claim a rather dubious distinction: his last showing was this very tournament. At the January ‘20 Pellicone, Pat Martinez placed fifth. And, of course, he has been shelved ever since. He has also returned to Colorado Springs following a year-long stint in Ithaca. 

The move back out west is a step above immaterial considering the pandemic and its associated restrictions, but Martinez has made the most out of the litany of training camps in recent months. A power player of the highest order, the three-time World Team member is a big-time candidate to face Rau in the Trials best-of-three series but here’s hoping those two don’t see each other early in the bracket. 

Adam Coon (130 kg, NYAC/Cliff Keen, world #6, 5PM #1)
Behind the scenes, and in spite of the circumstances affecting most Seniors around the country, Coon has been devoutly working on every meaningful phase of the sport. He has to. The heavyweight landscape in the US is the deepest it has been in a generation. Coon, World silver in ‘18, is still top of the food chain. That perception is still in place. It cannot change, at least not until April 3, if at all.

But aside from that ‘18 run in Budapest, Coon has had his issues overseas, dropping weird decisions to athletes he has either beaten, or eventually did later on (like say, Hellburg). 130 is stocked appropriately in Rome. Counting the man himself, there are four medalists and a slew of others who aren’t too far outside of that scope. A monster performance in Rome isn’t necessary for Coon to keep his eye on the ball. But if one should transpire, the momentum he stands to gain could prove invaluable. 

Cohlton Schultz (130 kg, Sunkist, 5PM #2)
Cohlton Schultz is unsurprisingly having himself an excellent season for Arizona State, and the next time he wears a headgear in a match will come at the NCAA Division I Championships. But he cares about both styles equally. Schultz employs the competitive and emotional maturity to chase down two targets at once and he, rightfully, expects to contend for the Olympic Team spot.

It is also worth remembering Schultz’s last Senior Greco tournament. At Thor Masters 14 months ago, he placed fifth and gave Euro gold Alin Alexuc-Ciurarriu (ROU) all he could handle in a close decision loss -- as a then-19-year-old. Schultz sticks to the basics and doesn’t overextend in give-or-take tie-ups. Couple that with his total wrestling ability and he might be able to push one of the decorated foreigners in Rome. But if he cannot, if Schultz doesn’t have a fantastic day at the office, he will shake it off quickly. Even more so than for Coon, this tournament for Schultz is just an ice-breaker. 

The Rest

Miniature scouting reports of those who have competed this season. No one has had what would be defined as “a lot” of matches, but they at least have a baseline. 

60 kg: Dylan Gregerson (UVRTC) -- Coming off of his very first major international Senior camp. Already a dedicated athlete and U23 National champ, “Greco’s Son” can use Rome as a springboard for the Last Chance Qualifier and everything else moving forward. 

67 kg: Jamel Johnson (Marines, 5PM #4) -- As legit as they come, Johnson is without a doubt a serious threat to go deep at the Trials. He has reinvested in several key aspects of his game during the hiatus, and in France, demonstrated just a little more pop that could make a difference. 

77 Kilograms

Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm, 5PM #1) -- Aside from Rau and Martinez, no other US athlete understands better how to compete in a big international tournament and be able to apply whatever happens towards domestic concerns. Smith is so used to this, it is virtually routine. His bracket is hardcore, and he’s used to that, too. 

Peyton Walsh (Marines, 5PM #9) -- In France, Walsh had little trouble converting attacks into scores. On the flipside, he also gave up a wide share of points, which bugged him greatly. He wants to undo that feeling, especially before Trials. This is a good venue for that line of thinking so long as he keeps the same energy he had at Deglane. 

82 Kilograms

Terrence Zaleski (Marines, 5PM #10 at 87 kg) -- He’ll be at 87 in Fort Worth and has done his best to prepare his body for that weight category. It makes sense. Just five kilos up the scale and Zaleski is even more potent and explosive than he was at 82. He’s in this weight due to a shift in the delegation. Long story. The short version is that part doesn’t really matter. Zaleski wants looks. 82 is full of guys who can give him what he wants. Just don’t be surprised if he winds up paired with Provisor or Perkins first-round. 

87 Kilograms

Joe Rau (TMWC/IRTC, world #7, 5PM #2) -- The most competitively active US athlete by far this season. Joe Rau has been overseas since mid-December. Counting the October Nationals, he has competed in three events already with mixed results. Do those results have any bearing towards April? No, they don’t. Not even close. But they have left him dissatisfied. Will the presence of countrymen help in terms of morale? Possibly. Either way, the Chicagoan wants to return stateside on a high note. 

John Stefanowicz (Marines, world #3 at 82 kg) -- Should John Stefanowicz’s weight be ignored? We’re about to hit the third international tournament in 16 months where he is up at 87. The ‘19 World Teamer has been non-committal when it comes to his weight class for Trials, but he is at 87 due to Alan Vera opting to stay home. Last time out in Nice, Stefanowicz got clipped for bronze. The bright spot is he appeared in superb condition given the time away from matches and, to be honest, he also wore the weight well. It doesn’t take a genius to piece this together. If Stefanowicz puts together a fine day’s work on Thursday, he’s likely going to very heavily consider staying put right here, if that isn’t the deal already. 

97 Kilograms

Daniel Miller (Marines, 5PM #3) -- Patience is a strong suit for Daniel Miller. When he stays within his scope of abilities, namely busying up underhooks and minding his legs so as to compel favorable movement in ties, there aren’t too many antagonists who can ease into their positions without paying a price. But when he rushes, vulnerabilities are exploited because he has put so much effort into the attack(s). All of the US athletes need work with par terre defense, and Miller is no exception. That said, Pellicone offers a pre-Trials opportunity for Miller to settle back into the methodology that helped him become a two-time National champ. 

130 Kilograms

West Cathcart (NYAC/IRTC, 5PM #6) -- Cathcart, a National runner-up in October, has been overseas before, but it was years ago. This is the first time he’s across the Atlantic as a top, National-level athlete. He’s a bruiser -- but with an arm spin. He is also navigating his way to consistent positional situations that favor his approach and physicality, which can be credited in large part to Bryan Medlin. You just don’t want Cathcart to care, to look at the country code on the back of someone’s singlet and think that means anything. Since his return to Senior action two years ago, he has transformed into a viable contender. If he understands that’s good enough to be in Rome, and wrestles like it, a fruitful experience it could be.