USA Wrestling Wins Team Title at Worlds
This is part II of Stephen’s look at the 2017 World Wrestling Championships. You can read part I here.
The world was treated to perhaps the greatest wrestling match of all time on Saturday. More on that in a bit. For now, let’s jump back in to the weight class break downs.
74kg: Jordan Burroughs (Nebraska). Wow. The King is back on top. One can now honestly ask the question, is Jordan Burroughs the greatest American wrestler of all time? I would still slide John Smith and Bruce Baumgartner ahead of him, but the debate is ramping up, and Burroughs doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
I never thought he would win another World title. After not medaling in the Olympics last year, and frankly looking awful (compared to his standard) at the World Cup, I and many wrestling fans alike, thought Burroughs’ time was done. This feeling was compounded when Kyle Dake beat Burroughs in the first match out of three at the trials. It was finally Dake’s time. In two truly remarkable matches, Burroughs would reassert himself as the best in America, taking out Dake 8-4 and 5-3. The question remained though, was he still the best in the World?
After a tough opening bout vs Shabanau (Belarus) Burroughs rolled 12-2 and 13-2 in his next two matches. This setup a rematch with Clarion University alumni, and the man who eliminated Burroughs from Rio, Bekzod Abdurakmonov (Uzbekistan). In a back a forth match that featured JB’s legendary freight train double, Burroughs would earn a 6-5 decision, placing him back in the World finals, a place all too familiar to the four time World/Olympic champ. In a match similar to Bekzod’s, Burroughs would mount a come from behind victory over Khetik Tsabolov (Russia) winning 9-6, and capture his fourth World title. Now with five total (four Worlds + one Olympics) Burroughs trails John Smith (six) for the most all time in US history by just one. Can he do it next year in Budapest? I don’t see any evidence to the contrary.
86kg: J’den Cox (Missouri). Cox’s journey to his second straight Bronze medal has been interesting to say the least. He is undoubtedly one of the best NCAA wrestlers of all time and is now building an impressive international resume as well. In order to make the team, Cox had to beat the “Magic Man” David Taylor two out of three. Taylor who has yet to make a World Team, but was currently ranked No. 3 in the world (Cox was No. 2) was on a hot streak unprecedented in his senior level career. At the World Cup last spring he teched and pinned two Olympic Gold Medalists, including Hassan Yazdani Charati of Iran. After taking out Cox in the first match 9-3, it appeared Taylor was on his way to his first World Team, and most likely his first World Title. Cox would take the second match however, setting up a highly anticipated do-or-die third bout.
As Taylor was attempting to finish a single leg, Cox’s leg came down awkwardly and he hyper-extended his knee. While barely being able to weight-bear, Cox fearlessly attempted to finish the match. In case you have never seen him wrestle, Cox is a notorious sweater. While Taylor was frantically trying to score in the last seconds, Cox slid across the mat on his own sweat, preventing Taylor from scoring. This prompted Taylor and his coach, Cael Sanderson, to lose their temper, yell at the ref, throw a chair from the corner, and eventually, in Cael’s case, get ejected. For the normally mild-mannered Mormon, this was unseen behavior for Sanderson, but accurately personified the frustration of David Taylor. Now three years out of college, Taylor has never been on a World Team, despite finishing 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st in NCAA tournaments, being ranked 3rd in the world, owning wins over top guys in the world, and sporting the nickname the “Magic Man”.
When Cox lost his semi-final match in Paris on Friday Taylor took to twitter to communicate his dissatisfaction. He tweeted: “Cox had the golden goose served on the Golden platter to be WC w/ that draw. He is too talented to have no fight down 6-1. Makes me sick.” The wrestling community quickly responded condemning Taylor’s remarks, including Olympic Gold medalists Kenny Monday and Kevin Jackson. Questioning someone’s “fight” in a tournament you couldn’t qualify for is tacky; saying it makes you “sick” is unbecoming and childish. Even with Cox’s sweat lubricating the mat, he was still wrestling on one leg and very vulnerable. Taylor has no one to blame but himself. Cox has won two straight Bronze medals for his country. Those residing in Happy Valley should be more appreciative.
97kg: Kyle Snyder (Ohio State). Epic. Historic. Legendary. Choose any adjective you want. Kyle Snyder’s victory over Abdulrashid Sadulaev on Saturday will be long remembered by the wrestling community, and may go down as the greatest match of all time.
The “Russian Tank”, as he’s known, lives up to every letter of his nickname. Sadulaev is only 21 years old, as is Snyder, but already had THREE World titles going into Saturday’s finale, compared to Snyder’s two. He was the most dominant wrestler in the sport, had yet to lose on the senior level, and was carrying the fate of Russia’s team performance on his back. It was the last match of the tournament, and the winner’s country would clinch the team title. Russia also had no champions up to this point, and he was their last chance. On the other hand, Snyder had the opportunity to clinch the first team title for the US since ’95, establish himself as the No. 1 overall wrestler in the world, and for both of them, remain undefeated in title matches. Everything was pointing towards a larger-than-life scenario: Two phenoms. USA vs Russia. Team Title. It was all there. And it did not disappoint.
Snyder came out flying, like he said he would, but was perhaps too aggressive. He went for a front headlock but got too high, allowing Sadulaev to come out the back for the first takedown. The rest of the match would continue to be back and forth with multiple lead changes. Snyder, down one with 25 seconds left, scored a two point takedown giving him a 6-5 advantage. Although it ended up being the deciding score, the last fifteen seconds would not come easy. Sadulaev has a deadly lefty underhook and can score from it at will against most opponents. Not Snyder though. He was able to hold him off, win the team race for his country, and cement himself in history before his senior year in college.
125kg: Nick Gwiazdowski (NC State). One of two World Team members not from the Big Ten, and the only from the ACC, “Gwiz” entered his first World Championships as something of an unknown on the international stage. He had a distinguished college career for the Wolfpack winning two NCAA titles, and had been poking around the top of the US freestyle rankings at heavyweight for several years. This year he finally broke through, defeating Dom Bradley in two straight at the trials, and earning that prestigious roster spot.
Gwiz somewhat revolutionized the heavyweight class in college. He was lighter, faster, and more athletic than almost all his opponents. This contrasted the style of highly successful big men from just a few years ago, Bobby Telford for example. Like so many Americans entering their first World tournament, the question loomed: how would his college success translate to wrestling Russians, Turks, Azeris, and Mongols. Nick answered that question with tangible evidence: A Bronze medal.
- Bill Zadick, Head coach, and Rich Bender, Executive Director of USA Wrestling deserve a tremendous amount of credit for this weekend. I could write an entire article on this, but kudos to those gentlemen, and the entire staff of USAW.
- Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Russian territories Dagestan and Chechnya total approximately 100,000 square miles. This is comparable to the size of Oregon. It is truly fascinating the amount of wrestling talent that comes from this small region of the planet. It’s to the world what the WPIAL is to high school wrestling, only better, and with more political turmoil and secession movements.
- In a tweet by Olympic Gold medalist Brandon Slay, he outlined part of the reason our country had so much success in Paris: “In 2008/2009 @ZekeJones had the vision to go all in with RTC’s, & 2 quads later, it has really paid off. Having quality RTC coaches is key.”
- This is pertinent to Pitt, as they just received the designation as an RTC (regional training center), and are currently fundraising to support more senior level athletes.
- Not to rain on USA’s parade, but it’s worth noting some Russians and Iranians that were NOT at the tournament. From Russia, Kurbanaliev (65), Ramonov (70), Geduev (86) and Makhov’s (125) absence certainly diluted the competition. From the Islamic Republic of Iran, Rahimi (57), Mohammadi (65), and Tahan (97) not competing surely created a void of talent, and cost Iran a few team points.
- The World Championships next year are in Budapest. My brother and I will be there, not just to enjoy and cover the tournament, but also to explore out Hungarian heritage. Can’t wait.
- Speaking of covering the tournament, I promise the readers of this website I will try my hardest to interview Davit Madzmanashvili, Uzbekistan’s heavyweight, and Western Asia’s version of James Harrison