2022 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational

2022 CKLV Middleweight Preview & Predictions

2022 CKLV Middleweight Preview & Predictions

A preview for 149-174 at the 2022 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational on December 2-3.

Nov 28, 2022 by Jon Kozak
2022 CKLV Middleweight Preview & Predictions

The Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational is one of the best tournaments of the season and will feature a number of the nation’s top wrestlers at every weight on December 2-3. Check out a full preview with predictions for the 149-174 weight classes below. 

149 Pounds

The Favorites

With Yianni Diakomihalis out of the CKLV preparing to wrestle at the World Cup, the group of favorites at 149 is a large list consisting of past All-Americans - #3 Jonathan Millner, #4 Kyle Parco, #5 Sammy Sasso, and #7 Yahya Thomas. Sasso was upset early in the season by freshman stud Caleb Henson (who we’ll get to in a minute), but he has past wins over Jonathan Millner and Kyle Parco. In fact, Sasso upended both the aforementioned Millner and Parco at the NCAA tournament last season on his way to a 5th place NCAA finish. Beyond that, Sasso’s only losses in the 2021-22 season were to Austin Gomez and Yianni Diakomihalis. Sasso’s consistent results show he’s a “safe pick” to go far at the CKLV and should be considered a favoritte in every match in Vegas.

Sasso's win over Parco at the 2022 NCAA Tournament:

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Millner finds himself in the #3 spot after Sasso was upset early in the season. Millner’s earned that spot after an outstanding past two years at NCAAs (8th in 2021 and 6th in 2022) with notable wins over the likes of Kyle Parco, Max Murin, Josh Heil, and Zach Sherman. Millner is currently unbeaten on the year and continues to show steady improvement over his college career. Is he capable of making another jump to climb even higher on the podium? His performance at the CKLV will certainly help answer that question.

Kyle Parco went down with an injury on the second weekend of the year during a match against Doug Zapf. However, Parco responded by defeating 2-time All-American Brock Mauller the following week in a tight, 3-2 match. If Parco is 100%, he’s capable of taking out anyone in this weight. 

Then there’s 2021 All-American Yahya Thomas. Though he failed to place last year at NCAAs, he has past notable wins over Brock Mauller, Boo Lewallen, Jaden Abas, and a number of other quality wrestlers. Thomas has never wrestled Millner or Parco in his college career but tech-falled Millner in two-straight matches over the summer at U23 Nationals. 

Thomas' win over Millner at U23 Nationals:

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Contenders

True freshman Caleb Henson put the nation on notice when he took out Sammy Sasso in the second week of the year with a 5-3 overtime win. Though Henson lost to #10 Doug Zapf in overtime at the Keystone Classic, Henson showed the Sasso match wasn’t a fluke and he’s a threat to everyone in this weight.

After Henson, Dom Demas is a clear contender at this weight. Demas placed 4th at the NCAA tournament back in 2019 and has past career wins over the likes of Clay Carlson, Chad Red, Nick Lee, and Kaid Brock. Demas also has the ability to “go big” in any match, making him an even bigger threat to the top 4 at this weight. 

Dom Demas' win over Nick Lee at the 2019 NCAA Tournament:

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Sleepers & Landmines

Though #11 Colin Realbuto will also be entered in this weight, he doesn’t fit the description of this category as well as Martinez and Arrington. Dylan Martinez opened the year with a 5-4 win over Jarod Verkleeren pin over All-American Jaden Abas. He’s dropped a few matches since then but those wins show how dangerous he can be when wrestling his best.

Jackson Arrington has been impressive so far in his true freshmen campaign. He’s had two competitive losses to Millner and Parco and most recently recorded wins over Kevon Davenport and 2-time national qualifier Johnny Lovett. The CKLV will show Wolfpack fans how close Arrington is to challenging for All-American honors this season. 

Jackson Arrington's win over Johnny Lovett:

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149 Predictions: 1) Sammy Sasso, 2) Yahya Thomas, 3) Jonathan Millner, 4) Caleb Henson

157 Pounds

The Favorite

Will Lewan placed 5th at the NCAA tournament last season and will be the favorite to win the CKLV at 157. Lewan has two past wins over #3 Peyton Robb and is coming off a 3-1 victory over Bryce Andonian at the NWCA All-Star Classic. He might not wrestle the most exciting style, but Lewan has proven to have elite-level defense and is more than happy to win every match by 1 point. 

Lewan’s win over Andonian at the All-Star Classic:

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Contenders

Despite the past losses to Lewan, Peyton Robb and Bryce Andonian are capable of winning this bracket and getting revenge on Lewan. Robb had a fantastic end to his season last year placing 4th at the NCAA tournament highlighted by wins over Jacori Teemer, Hunter Willits, Ed Scott, and Brady Berge. This year, Robb has been fantastic with a 7-0 record and ranked wins over #6 Jared Franek, #13 Ed Scott, #17 Chase  Saldate, and #22 Peyten Kellar.

Peyton Robb's win over Ed Scott in the round of 12 at last year's NCAA tournament:

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Anyone who watched Bryce Andonian last season knows he’s one of the most exciting wrestlers in all of college wrestling. Andonian placed 3rd at the NCAA tournament (at 149) in 2021 and had notable wins over Austin Gomez and Jon Millner. It might take Andonian a little time to adjust to the new weight class and the CKLV will be the perfect opportunity for him to test himself against some of the top competitors at 157. 

Andonian talks about what he overcame to take 3rd last season at NCAAs:

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Sleepers & Landmines

It's worth noting there will be other ranked wrestlers #9 Jacob Wright, #11 Kendall Coleman, #18 Andrew Cerniglia, #19 Derek Holschlag, #23 Peyten Kellar, and #24 Trevor Chumbley will all be in the field and be a factor at this weight. However, I don't think they fit the "sleeper & landmine" category as well as the above group. Of the three listed, Ed Scott is the most notable as a round of 12 finisher in 2022. Scott has struggled to start the season after losing 8-2 to Peyton Robb and 4-1 to Central Michigan’s Corbyn Munson. Scott has past wins notable wins over Austin O’Connor, Quincy Monday, Kaleb Young, Jarrett Jacques, and the CKLV might be the perfect opportunity for Scott to get back on track.

After Scott, Colton Yapoujian and Paddy Gallagher are wrestlers ranked in our honorable mention category and interesting 157-pound prospects. Gallagher has only lost to Northwestern’s Trevor Chumbley this season but tech-falled Corbyn Munson at the MSU Open.

Yapoujian just made his season debut last weekend at the Mat-Town Open where he went 3-0 with a pin and a tech-fall. The CKLV will show both Cornell and Ohio State fans just how close Gallagher and Yapoujian are to contending for All-American honors this year. 

157 Predictions: 1) Peyton Robb, 2) Will Lewan, 3) Bryce Andonian, 4) Ed Scott

165 Pounds

The Favorites

Cam Amine and Carson Kharchla have split matches in their college careers and are the clear favorites at 165 at the CKLV. Amine had a fantastic end of the season last year when he placed 2nd at the Big 10 tournament and 4th at NCAAs. However, Amine has yet to wrestle this season and might sit out of CKLV in order to get to 100% for the second half of the year. 

If Amine’s in Vegas, it’s a coin-flip match between him and Kharchla. However, if Amine’s out, Kharchla will be a big favorite to win the bracket. Kharchla placed 7th at last year’s NCAA tournament and is currently 3-0 on the year highlighted by wins over Joshua Ogunsanya (6-3) and Connor Brady (3-1). 

Kharchla's win over Julien Ramirez in 3rd place match at the 2021 CKLV:

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Contenders

Of the above contenders, Julian Ramirez has the best wins of the bunch with victories over Josh Ogunsanya, Cam Amine, and Shane Griffith. In fact, it was at last year’s CKLV that Ramirez defeated Cam Amine and placed 4th. 

Julien Ramirez's win over Cam Amine at the 2021 CKLV:

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After Ramirez, Josh Ogunsanya could make a run to the finals with an upset or two. Though Ogunsanya lost to Kharchla earlier this year, he defeated the aforementioned Ramirez last season along with an overtime win over 2021 NCAA runner-up Jake Wentzel. Ogunsanya will be a tough-out for any wrestler in this field and a potential finals threat

Sleepers & Landmines

Tanner Cook is the true definition of a landmine. Cook wrestles an incredibly exciting style with big move potential. Of his 24 wins over the past two years, he’s recorded 17 by fall! Cook is always looking to end the match and will be “must watch” wrestling this weekend in Vegas. 

Tanner Cook's recent overtime win over HM Andrew Sparks:

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It’s not confirmed whether or not Mitchell Mesenbrink will be wrestling in Vegas but if he does take the mat, look for him to make some noise in this bracket. Mesenbrink won a U20 world silver and is currently 2-0 on the year with 2 pins. He also recently competed at the Bill Farrel against senior level competition where he lost only to world fifth Arman Andreasyan (2-1) and 2016 All-American Tommy Gantt (9-4). Mesenbrink looks to have all the skills to be a college star and the CKLV would be a great preview of the true freshman. 

It's also worth mentioning #11 Austin Yant, #16 Matthew Olguin, #19 Michael Caliendo, #20 Connor Brady, and #22 Will Formato could all potentially be in the 165-pound field. Any one of this group could make a big impact in this bracket and move up the rankings. 

165 Predictions: 1) Carson Kharchla, 2) Joshua Ogunanya, 3) Julian Ramirez, 4) Tanner Cook

*I don’t think Amine will wrestle at the CKLV. If he does, I predict he takes 2nd.

174 Pounds

The Favorite

2019 NCAA champion and returning runner-up Mekhi Lewis is the favorite to win the CKLV and the best wrestler in the weight class. Of the ranked wrestlers competing in the field, Lewis hasn’t lost to any in his college career and has past wins over #5 Demetrius Romero, #6 Ethan Smith (2), #11 Lance Runyon, and #23 Chris Foca. Mekhi has firmly established himself as the 2nd best wrestler in the country at 174 pounds behind Carter Starocci and should end atop the podium in Vegas.

Mekhi Lewis' win over Demetrius Romero all the way back at the 2017 Wolfpack Open:

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Contenders

  • #3 Mickey Labriola, Nebraska 
  • #5 Demetrius Romero, Utah Valley 
  • #6 Ethan Smith, Ohio State

While Mekhi is the clear favorite, the above list of contenders is about as quality as you’ll find at a regular season tournament. Labriola, Romero, and Smith are all former All-Americans and will present unique challenges to Lewis in Vegas. 3-time All-American Labriola is the highest ranked of the bunch and brings with him the most diverse set of skills. He’s a high-level scrambler and has the strength to match anyone in the country at 174 pounds. 

Demetrius Romero is entering his 8th year after graduating from high school and earned All-American honors back in 2021. That season, he finished 6th and only lost two competitive matches on the year - 2-0 to Starocci and 5-4 to Labriola. This tournament will show whether or not Romero is just an All-American threat or if he’s ready to challenge for a title.

Then there’s Ethan Smith. No one has had more of a roller coaster year than Smith. The Buckeye wrestled a highly competitive match with Mekhi Lewis during the second weekend of the year but ultimately lost, 3-2. Then a week later, Smith lost to unranked and unknown Lenox Wolak only to defeat returning All-American Clay Lautt 2 days later. What Ethan Smith will we see in Vegas? It’s hard to predict at this point, but if Smith’s wrestling his best, he is more than capable of making the finals for a rematch with Mekhi Lewis. 

Ethan Smith's win over #8 Edmond Ruth at the 2022 MSU Open:

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Sleepers & Landmines

There will likely be higher-ranked wrestlers in this field in #13 Phil Conigliaro, #17 Hayden Hastings, #15 Cade DeVos, and #11 Lance Runyon. However, those wrestlers don’t fit the “Sleepers & Landmine” definition in my opinion. With that in mind, Chris Foca, Lennax Wolak, and Cael Valencia are my picks for guys who could blow up this bracket with an upset or two. 

Foca is currently 5-0 on the year and had some interesting results last season. For instance, he lost to guys like Thomas Flitz, Jake Logan, and Adam Kemp but had incredibly close matches with both Mekhi Lewis (3-1 loss in overtime) and Carter Starocci (3-2 loss). 

Columbia's Lennax Wolak is an interesting sleeper in this field. Wolak showed how dangerous he can be when he defeated All-American Ethan Smith 8-6 two weeks ago in Columbia's dual against Ohio State. If Wolak is able to wrestle up to that ability in Vegas, he's capable of taking out another ranked guy or two. 

Cael Valencia is off to a slow start this year with losses to Ross McFarland, Blake Bahna, and Peyton Mocco. However, last season Valencia notably defeated both #16 Hayden Hastings and #15 Tyler Eischens. If he’s back to that form, look for Valencia to knock some ranked guys off this weekend and move back into rankings at 174. 

Valencia's win over Hayden Hastings from last year's Cowboy Open:

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174 Predictions: 1) Mekhi Lewis, 2) Mikey Labriola, 3) Ethan Smith, 4) Demetrius Romero


Check out a list of every ranked wrestler who could potentially compete at the 2022 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational here.