WRESTLING Preview: First Final X matches set for Rutgers to determine half of U.S. Worlds team

Not only has USA Wrestling seen an uptick in its performance on the mat, especially in the two Freestyle disciplines, but it has partnered with FloWrestling to make something close to a full season out of its qualification process for the World Championships.

That’s a good thing and create drama for the sport. The final, winner-makes-the-team matches are the end of a road which begins with the U.S. Open, then a World Team Trials Challenge tournament and than the Final X matches.

American wrestlers who win World Championships medals are allowed to go all the way to Final X and skip the other steps, but in most cases, it’s a lengthy battle that sees re-matches and upsets along the way.

Saturday’s line-up at Rutgers – in Piscataway, New Jersey – has 14 matches scheduled, but 13 will be held. Thumbnails:

Men/Freestyle:

65 km: Yianni Diakomihalis vs. Zain Retherford

This should be great: Diakomihalis defeated Retherford in the final of the U.S. Open, 6-4, in an upset very few saw coming. But Retherford made his way back to Final X. A three-time NCAA champ for Penn State, he was a member of the 2017 U.S. Worlds Team and third at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. Diakomihalis was a two-time NCAA title winner for Cornell (2018-19) and a Cadet World Champion way back in 2015-16. Another upset?

92 kg: J’den Cox vs. Bo Nickal

Cox was something of a surprise in winning the 2018 World Championships at the new weight of 92 kg. But he had won Olympic bronze at 86 kg and a Worlds bronze at that weight in 2018. Nickal was a three-time NCAA champ for Penn State and won both the U.S. Open and the World Team Trials Challenge tourneys.

125 kg: Nick Gwiazdowski vs. Gable Steveson

The 2017 and 2018 Worlds bronze medalist, Gwiazdowski has owned this division in the U.S. for three years. Steveson was the 2017 World Junior Champion, but had to win the Team Trials Challenge tournament to get to Final X after skipping the U.S. Open.

Men/Greco-Roman:

55 kg: Max Nowry vs. Brady Koontz

Nowry has won the U.S. Open in both 2018 and 2019 and won the Pan Am Champs earlier this year. Koontz won the Team Trials Challenge event; he was a member of the 2018 U.S. World Juniors team.

67 kg: Ellis Coleman vs. Jamel Johnson

Coleman has been a three-time U.S. Worlds Team member, in 2013-17-18 and owns five U.S. Open titles, from 2013 and in 2016-17-18-19. Johnson was third at the Open in 2018 and 2019, and won the Team Trials Challenge tourney.

77 kg: Kamal Bey vs. Pat Smith

Bey has won four U.S. Opens in a row and was seventh in the 2018 World Championships. He defeated Smith, 7-5, in the U.S. Open final, but Smith was a 2017 World Team Member and a three-time Pan American Champion.

82 kg: Kendrick Sanders vs. John Stefanowicz

Sanders won the 2014 and 2019 U.S. Opens, but Stefanowicz was only fifth at the 2019 Open. He came back to win the Team Trials Challenge tourney.

87 kg: Joe Rau vs. Greg Provisor

Provisor has been the top American in this class, as a 2012-16 Olympian and on 2017 World Champs team. But Rau won the U.S. Open title in 2019 – his second career national title – and forced Provisor to work through the World Team Trials Challenge to get a chance to make the U.S. team.

Women/Freestyle:

57 kg: Becka Leathers vs. Jenna Burkert

Leathers won a World Championships bronze in 2017 and on the 2019 U.S. Open and Pan American Championship. Burkert got to Final X last year by winning the Team Trials Challenge tourney and did it again in 2019. In the 2019 U.S. Open final, Leathers won a tight one from Burkert, 7-5.

59 kg: Whitney Conder vs. Victoria Anthony

Lots of experience on both sides: a six-time U.S. Open champ (Conder) and a two-time national champ (Anthony) Conder won the U.S. Open this year, with Anthony third. Conder was a three-time World Team Member, and Anthony won two World Junior titles in 2009 and 2010.

65 kg: Forrest Molinari vs. Maya Nelson

Another decorated U.S. veteran, Molinari was fifth at the 2018 Worlds and won the 2019 U.S. Open. Nelson was the 2017 World Junior Champion, but Molinari won their match-up in the U.S. Open final, 5-1.

67 kg: Tamyra Mensah-Stock vs. Alexandria Glaude

Mensah-Stock is the biggest favorite of the night, tearing up not only the U.S. scene, but winning three international tournaments this year. She was the 2018 World Championships bronze medalist. Glaude was third at the U.S. Open, then came back to win the Team Trials Challenge tournament.

72 kg: Alyvia Fiske vs. Victoria Francis

Fiske is the U.S. Open champ and beat Francis in the final, 5-4, and then Francis worked her way back to a rematch by taking the Team Trials Challenge event. Francis was a member of the National Team in 2017; Fiske was a World Junior Team member in 2018.

In the men’s Freestyle 86 kg division, 2018 World Champion David Taylor was supposed to wrestle Pat Downey in Final X, but suffered an injury and withdrew. That hands the Worlds spot to Downey, who won both the U.S. Open and World Team Trials Challenge.

The remaining classes will be determined next week in Lincoln, Nebraska; the World Championships will be in Nur-Sultan (KAZ) from 14-22 September.

Final X will be shown only online by FloWrestling; look for results here.

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