2020 is shaping up to be an electric year for the sport of wrestling. Not only is it an Olympic year, but there are only six weight classes in Olympic Men's Freestyle as compared to 10 weight classes at the Collegiate and United World Wrestling Championships organizations.This means some weight classes we are used to seeing will be funneled together during Olympic qualifiers in a bid to make the team, and for fans, a chance to see some dream match ups between wrestlers who normally wouldn't cross paths.
Competitors at these non-olympic weights have a tough decision to make: do they go up or do they go down? The Bill Farrell Tournament in NYC this weekend revealed some answers. The action on the mats was nothing short of spectacular: here were some of the match-ups we were treated to.
57KG Quarterfinal: Nick Suriano vs Seth Gross
Nick was the aggressor the whole match, in on the legs of Gross multiple times, but Gross was too tough to finish on. With 5 seconds left at the end of the match, the score 2-1 in favor of Suriano, Nick shot a single leg to run out the clock and was 'exposed' (rolled onto his back) by Gross. That gave Gross a 3-2 lead, and after a lost challenge, Gross won the match 4-2.
I think Seth Gross's plan is to let the other guy get his leg and almost finish the shot before Gross crushes his opponents hopes and dreams of a takedown. Here's the game I think Gross is playing...Best case scenario; Gross scores on his opponents shots (which happened often at the Bill Farrell). Worst case scenario, by letting his opponents shoot, Gross conserves his energy and makes the other guy spend a lot of energy trying to finish.
Gross and Suriano are on a different level than the rest of the Bill Farrell field. After the quarterfinals, both guys blitzed through their next two opponents. I'm hoping to see Spencer Lee and Nick Suriano in the US Open field in 5 weeks!
In the future, I think Gross' opponents are going to start going for push-outs instead of trying to convert the takedown; similar to what Frank Chamizo's (Italy's 74KG Superstar) opponents do knowing how hard it is to get two points for the takedown. Eventually, the 1pt push-outs add up, and Gross may find himself needing his own leg attacks late to win a key match. I doubt that bothers Gross though. His offense of probably just as good as his defense!
Something to keep an eye on: Cliff Keen RTC, Coach Sergei Beloglazov, was sitting in Suriano's corner this weekend. That could be bad news for American Wrestling fans, as the Cliff Keen RTC has 5+ athletes on world teams for other countrys. Don't be surprised to see Suriano (and Youssif Hemida for that matter) not wearing the stars and stripes in Tokyo.
74KG: Quarterfinals: Vincenzo Joseph vs Mekhi Lewis;
Semifinals: Vincenzo Joseph vs Jason Nolf;
Finals: Jason Nolf vs Isaiah Martinez
Was 74KG fire this weekend or what? The four guys above could be all be 4x NCAA Finalist! The craziest part? The best one of this group will still have to beat Kyle Dake and Jordan Burroughs just to get on the Olympic Team! What a story that would be to tell your kids some day!
You can watch the matches on Flo, but in my opinion, Jason Nolf impressed me the most. Make no mistake, Nolf had a major injury going into the finals. He couldn't even put on weight on his right leg, so I throw the I-Mar match out. Before the finals, Nolf's motion, level changes, and misdirection shots were unbelievable. What I didn't realize is how strong and explosive Nolf is. The man can finish his leg attacks super fast or blast his opponents out-of-bounds.
Freestyle seems to require more strategy than Folkstyle, and I-Mar's mat IQ has improved a ton. If you watch his matches, you can see what I'm talking about; timed attacks, edge wrestling, forcing his opponent into bad positions with his underhooks, etc. I-Mar's gonna need all the tricks in the book to knock off world champions, Dake and Burroughs in April at the Olympic Team Trials!
Here are just some general thoughts...
Freestyle is more fun to watch than folkstyle. I love (most of) the rules of Freestyle. It keeps the action moving! If you haven't given it a shot yet, make sure you watch some freestyle matches.
Even heavyweights score a ton of points! Props to the big boys for getting after it. They put on a great display of offense and athleticism!
Dudes are tough to finish shots on... Most of these high-level wrestlers are getting so good at defending leg attacks. When does it become a disadvantage to shoot?
Step-outs (1pt for going out-of-bounds) are awesome. They force action. Every time someone starts being pushed toward the edge, I can feel my heart start to race. What's going to happen? That's great for fans to have those exciting moments even if there aren't points scored every time. Folkstyle wrestling needs a push-out rule!
All freestyle tournaments are going to be so much fun to watch this year. I've been following freestyle for 6+ years, but I can't recall the Bill Farrell ever having such a competitive field. The US Open is going to have more unbelievable (re)matches, so make sure to tune in Dec 22-23rd!