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VOICES FROM VEGAS: Greco-Roman World Team Trials
Photo: Ben Provisor, who competed in the past two Olympics for the United States, qualified for his first World Championship in Greco-Roman after he beat Olympic Trials champ Joe Rau at 85 kilograms. (Photo by John Sachs)
By Mike Finn
The 2017 United States World Team in Greco-Roman will feature four wrestlers who have competed in World-level tournaments, but only two — Cheyney Haight (80k) and Robby Smith (130k) — have actually wrestled in previous UWW World championships: Haight in 2011 and Smith in 2013 and ’15 (in addition to the 2016 Olympics).
Two other wrestlers, who won their weight classes at last weekend’s World Team Trials in Las Vegas — Ellis Coleman (66k) and Ben Provisor (85k) — have qualified for past Olympic tournaments but had not earned a trip to the Worlds … until last weekend. Coleman wrestled in London in 2012, while Provisor represented the U.S. in 2012 and 2016 in Rio.
Speaking of wrestlers who had competed in the Olympics but never represented the U.S. at the Worlds, another was Ildar Hafizov, who won the 59k weight class, at the South Point Arena. Now a member of the U.S. Army WCAP, Hafizov came to this country in 2014 from Uzbekistan, where he represented that country at the 2008 Olympics.
Meanwhile, three other Americans earning their first trip to the Worlds were Pat Smith (71k), Mason Manville (75k) and G’Angelo Hancock (98k). Both Manville and Hancock are just 19 years old.
WIN Magazine will provide even more coverage of the World Team Trials in our next issue, which will be printed May 24. Click here to subscribe to WIN or call 888-305-0606.
The following is a closer look at the eight World Team Trials champs and comments from their experiences that earned them trips to the 2017 World Championships, Aug. 21-26, in Paris, France.
59 kg/130 lbs.: Ildar Hafizov, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army WCAP) dec. Hayden Tuma, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army WCAP), two matches to none
Bout one – Hafizov dec. Tuma, 7-3
Bout two – Hafizov dec. Tuma, 7-1
Hafizov explained that he came to the United States when he won a Green Card lottery that was created by the United States, and explained his reason for bringing his family to the U.S. from Uzbekistan came after competing in this country.
“In 2010, I came to the States and wrestled in the Dave Schultz tournament, then went back home and talked about the United States,” said the 29-year-old Hafizov, who also competed in three World Championships for Uzbekistan. “I told my wife we need to move to the States because I love it, I love the people. My coaches helped me a lot and my teammates for helping me be in shape, for helping me come here, for everything.”
66 kg/145.5 lbs. – Ellis Coleman, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army WCAP) dec. Alejandro Sancho (New York AC), two matches to one
Bout One – Coleman dec. Sancho, 4-3
Bout Two – Sancho dec. Coleman, 2-1
Bout Three – Coleman dec. Sancho, 3-1
Coleman, a native of Chicago, was only 19 years old when he earned a trip to the 2012 Olympics; shortly after he executed a “flying squirrel” at the 2011 Junior Worlds. He admitted that early success may have actually hurt him as he tried unsuccessfully to earn another World/Olympic berths before 2017.
“I’ve been battling a lot since I started,” said Coleman, who now represents the U.S. Army WCAP. “A lot of people say I’m a vet because I made it so high so quick, when I was 20 years old and made my first Olympic team. But I’ve only been wrestling for about four years on the Senior level.
“I’ve had a lot of surgeries and was out for the year because of a concussion. I broke my ankle and knees, tore my hamstring. I feel like I only have a quad and a half under my belt. It’s God’s grace that I’ve been healthy this year.”
71 kg/156 lbs.: Pat Smith, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm) dec. Chris Gonzalez, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC), two matches to none
Bout one – Smith dec. Gonzalez, 4-1
Bout two – Smith dec. Gonzalez, 6-0
In the previous three years, Smith finished second in the 2014 U.S. Open, second in the 2015 World Team Trials and second in the 2016 Olympic Trials.
“It was tough,” said Smith, who finished second to RaVaughan Perkins in last year’s Olympic Trials. “Last year was a good wake-up call. I don’t want to come out and squeak by. I want to make sure there is no doubt in any one’s mind; that I’m the best guy at the weight and that (attitude) is what is going to win World and Olympic gold medals.”
75 kg/165 lbs.: Mason Manville, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army WCAP) dec. Kamal Bey, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids), two matches to none
Bout one – Manville dec. Bey, 9-8
Bout two – Manville tech. fall Bey, 8-0
Manville, originally a native of Virginia, has been quite the road warrior as he has tried to excel in wrestling; first moving to Apple Valley, Minn., and then to Blair Academy in high school, where he won state and national honors. And the past year, before starting his college career at Penn State in 2017-18, he spent the past year at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He also competed in the 2016 Olympic Trials in Greco-Roman.
“I’ve been in so many high-level rooms and have been able to get it all together. It’s been a perfect melting pot for me,” said Manville, who was able to represent the Army WCAP before he became a member of Penn State’s ROTC. “I’m really honored that the WCAP guys would let me participate and coach me. I can’t wait until I graduate from college and fully join the program as an officer in the Army.”
80 kg/176 lbs. – Cheney Haight, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) dec. John Stefanowicz, Camp LeJeune, N.C. (Marines), two matches to none
Bout One – Haight dec. Stefanowicz, 3-1
Bout Two – Haight dec. Stefanowicz, 3-1
All of the points in both of Haight’s matches with Stefanowicz came from passivity calls.
“The best thing to do is ignore it,” said Haight. “If you start listening to the ref that you are being passive, it will get in your head and change the way you wrestle. Don’t let them change the way you wrestle.”
The 32-year-old Haight, who is called “Uncle Cheyney” by OTC teammates, stepped away from wrestling in 2012, one year after competing at the 2011 Worlds.
“I thought I was retired from the sport right after 2012 and took two and a half years off,” said Haight. “I started coaching the Suplex club. It made me realize how much I missed wrestling and I wanted to give it one more chance to get a (World-level) medal.”
85 kg/189 lbs.: Ben Provisor, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) dec. Joe Rau, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm), two matches to none
Bout one – Provisor dec. Rau, 4-1
Bout two – Provisor dec. Rau, 4-3
Provisor stood nearly five inches shorter than Rau, who won the 2016 Olympic Trials at 98 kilos but did not qualify the weight for the United States. But Provisor did not let that affect him.
“It made me have a better stance and use my legs more,” said the two-time Olympian from Wisconsin. “Our styles are so different.”
98 kg/215 lbs. – G’Angelo Hancock, Colorado Springs, Colo. (NYAC/Sunkist Kids) dec. Hayden Zillmer, Crosby, Minn. (Minnesota Storm), two matches to none
Bout One – Hancock dec. Zillmer, 6-4
Bout Two – Hancock dec. Zillmer, 2-0
One year after earning a bronze medal at the Junior Worlds, Hancock is ready for his first Senior-level Worlds.
“This is just a stepping stone, but’s not where I want to be,” said Hancock, who is dealing with different rules that no longer require forced par terre. “These rules help me 100 percent. Par terre was not my strength. I’m more confident in being on my feet.”
130 kg/286 lbs. – Robby Smith, Colorado Springs, Colo. (New York AC) dec. Toby Erickson, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army WCAP), two matches to none
Bout One – Smith dec. Erickson, 2-1
Bout Two – Smith pin Erickson, 1:04
Despite his World-level resume, including fifth-place finishes in 2013 and ’15 and a berth on the 2016 Olympic team, Smith said he felt disrespected by those who did not understand why he did not wrestle in last December’s U.S. Open.
“I don’t understand the doubters, but doubt me,” said the native of California. “I love it. I love being the underdog. When you make me the underdog, I have something to feed off. Don’t pay attention to me. Think I’m garbage.”
Smith said he stepped away from the sport for six months.
“I’ve been dealing with some (stuff). I’ve had a lot of injuries,” he said. “I don’t want to get into them but there was the wrist, knee, ankle, shoulder, body, face. Everything. People thought I was done or didn’t think I had it anymore. I proved that I have it.”