Voices from Vegas: Men’s Freestyle

Updated: May 2, 2017

Unlike the international styles of Greco-Roman and women’s freestyle, which held it’s U.S. Open in December and decided its World Team at their Trials last weekend in Las Vegas, men’s freestyle held it’s U.S. Open April 29-30 at the Southpoint Arena in Vegas … and will determine what eight wrestlers will represent the United States at the UWW World Championships in Paris in August at the men’s freestyle World Team Trials, June 10, in Lincoln, Neb.

The following are words from each of the wrestlers who won U.S. Open championships.

Five of the champions — Tony Ramos (57k), Jordan Oliver (65k), James Green (70k), Jordan Burroughs (74k) and Nick Gwiazdowski (125k) — earned spots in the Best-of-3 Championship Finals at the upcoming Trials.

The three other champs — Kendric Maple (61k), David Taylor (86k) and Kyven Gadson (97k) — will have to win the Challenge Tournament of the Trials if they wish to face, respectively, Logan Stieber, J’den Cox and Kyle Snyder in the Championship Finals. Those three earned spots after claiming either an Olympic or World medal in the past year. Both Stieber (World gold) and Snyder (Olympic gold) helped train (Columbus, Ohio) Regional Training Center teammates in Vegas, while Cox (Olympic bronze) was in Columbia, Mo., training. His college coach, Brian Smith, confirmed that his three-time NCAA champ would be at the World Team Trials.

WIN will provide even more information from this event, and preview the World Team Trials, in the next issue, which will be printed May 24.

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57k/125 pounds — Tony Ramos dec. Nahshon Garrett, 5-3

Ramos, who rallied to beat Garrett — as he did in beating Frank Perrelli in the quarterfinals and Nathan Tomasello in the semifinals — in the finals, spoke about winning while training at Chapel Hill, N.C., where he assists North Carolina head coach Coleman Scott, instead of Iowa City, where he won an NCAA championship and three All-American honors.

“It wasn’t just letting go of Iowa,” Ramos said. “I had to deal with the relationships that I had in Iowa. They were like family. Tom and Terry (Brands, his Hawkeye coaches) were like my dads. It was about clearing my head and forgetting the past and training with a clear mind.

“I had a lot of respect for Coleman. I think we work great together. I feel like I’ve been with these guys forever now. I love the family atmosphere I have now.”

61k/134 pounds — Kendric Maple dec. Brandon Wright 10-7

Maple, a former All-American and NCAA champion at Oklahoma, has made a lot of changes, including moving to Purdue, where he is an assistant coach. He hopes his success can help Boilermakers believe in winning because he remembered what was important.

“I always felt like I had it in me,” said Maple, who led 7-0 before holding off the former NAIA champ from Grand View. “It’s just whether I wanted it. I know God gave me these gifts. I just have to use them

65k/143.5 pounds — Jordan Oliver dec. Frank Molinaro 4-4 criteria

The former NCAA champion, who lost in the 2016 Olympic Trials quarterfinals to Aaron Pico and then finished second to James Greens at the Non-Olympic Trials at 70 kilos, could not help but show his excitement after beating the 2016 Olympian. He also had words toward those who doubted his ability to win this tournament.

“I was hurt,” Oliver said. “I tore my shoulder and wrestled the Olympic Trials with the torn shoulder. Nobody knew and they judged me and they put labels on me and disrespected me by picking dudes that I had beaten. Guess what? J.O. is back, baby.”

Oliver earned a shot at wrestling Molinaro when he beat Penn State’s two-time NCAA champ and 2017 Hodge Trophy winner Zain Retherford, 5-3, in the semifinals as the deciding point came after he countered a single-leg takedown and took Retherford to his back for questionable back points.

“Rules are rules,” said Oliver. “There were years that I lost on pushouts and passivity calls. I’ve taken those losses and lived with them. Finally one call when my way (against Retherford) and I’m happy to be here.”

70k/154 pounds — James Green dec. Nazar Kulchytskyy, 4-1

Green, who lost in the first round to Penn State’s Zain Retherford at the Olympic Trials at 65 kilos, one year after claiming 2015 World bronze medal at 70 kilos, said that he actually benefitted from that experience in Iowa City.

“It made me understand how much time and dedication I had to put into something, especially in understanding the weight cut alone,” said Green, who did qualify for — and finished seventh at — the 2016 Worlds at the non-Olympic weight at 70 kilos. “Just getting down to that weight did not earn me a chance to wrestle in the Olympics. It just proved to me how dedicated and focused I could be.”

74k/163 pounds — Jordan Burroughs dec. Kyle Dake, 2-2 criteria

Shortly after beating the former four-time NCAA champ from Cornell, Burroughs simply made a statement, rather than take questions, on his latest accomplishment.

“This has been a tough six or seven months for me since Rio where there was a lot of fear and doubt and a lot of anxiety,” said Burroughs, whose deciding point came in the final 20 seconds when Dake was unable to score after being placed on a shot clock “I know that I have to beat Kyle two times again in June. I’m not going to sit on my laurels. It’s just a stepping stone that I need to get me back to Paris (and the World Championships). It’s never going to be easy. I commend Kyle for a great match.”

86k/189 pounds — David Taylor won by TF over Richard Perry, 10-0

Taylor, who also went 4-0 at the UWW World Cup in Iran earlier this year, won all of his matched by technical fall.

The former two-time NCAA champ and Hodge Trophy winner from Penn State, said he has finally adjusted to making the move from 74 kilos to 86 kilos at the start of 2016.

“For a while, it was tough,” he said. “I was getting beat more than I had ever gotten beat. I started doubting myself, my strength and conditioning; all those different things. That was tough.

“It was a slow process. I remember when I first made 195, 200, 205, I was able to lean my body back down. This is the strongest and best conditioned my body has ever been. I have to cut a little weight and enjoy what I’m doing.”

97k/197 pounds — Kyven Gadson dec. Micah Burak, 3-0

Instead of smiling, there were tears coming out of Gadson, who found himself thinking of his wife, Haley, and their soon-to-be adopted daughter Isabella.

“This is one of my first tournaments since I got married (Nov. 1),” said Gadson, who has dealt with many emotional moments, including winning an NCAA title for Iowa State a year after his father — former Iowa State great Willie Gadson — passed away. “I have a daughter now and it’s hard to be away from them. Isabella is looking up to me and I tell her every day that she’s the hardest working girl in the world and I make her repeat it back to me. I just want to be the hardest working dad in the world.”

125/265 pounds — Nick Gwiazdowski dec. Zach Rey, 3-2

The past year was filled with plenty of disappointment for the former NCAA champ from N.C. State, who lost to Kyle Snyder in the 2016 NCAA finals, then lost to Rey in the Olympic Trials semifinals. He could only watch as Tervel Dlagnev competed in Rio, where the Dlagnev lost in the bronze medal match while dealing with a serious back injury.

“It wasn’t meant to be,” said Gwiazdowski. “I didn’t have the right preparation. Tervel deserved to be there. I probably did not do as much work as I should have done. Nonetheless, I learned from that experience. I learned from losing to Zach in that tournament and overseas tournaments and training with other people.”