Final X Preview: Epic Showdown – World champ Cox vs Hodge winner Nickal

Updated: June 5, 2019
Bo Nickal, the former three-time NCAA champion from Penn State, who also captured WIN’s Dan Hodge Trophy and Schalles Award for pinning, was considered the most dominant college wrestler this past year. In the showdown every fan wants to see, what will the matches be like between will the reigning World champ and three-time NCAA champ Cox and Nickal in a battle of a three-timers?.

This could be among the biggest and best of the 13 matches that will be held at Final X Rutgers that will eventually send 30 USA wrestlers in all three styles to the 2019 UWW World Championships, Sept. 14-22, in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. There will also be a Final X, June 15, in Lincoln, Neb., where 15 other best-of-3 battles will also take place. (Pat Downey earned a spot on the 2019 World team at 86 kilos when World champ David Taylor was forced to withdraw because of an injury. There will also be a later special wrestle-off between Alex Dieringer and World champ Kyle Dake, who asked for a Final X postponement because of an injury.)

Here is a preview of a Best-of-3 men’s freestyle meeting between Nickal and Cox as well as a preview of a women’s freestyle bout between Forrest Molinari and Maya Nelson at 65 kilos and Kamal Bey and Pat Smith in Greco at 92 kilos.  Matches will start at either 12 noon or 6 p.m. EDT at the Rutgers Athletic Center this Saturday in Piscataway, N.J.

MFS-92k/202lb            J’den Cox vs. Bo Nickal

When Cox, a former three-time NCAA champion from Missouri, qualified for the 2016 Olympics, some considered that a surprise considering he had never wrestled internationally in freestyle. But the 24-year-old native of Columbia, Mo., not only earned a bronze medal in Rio at 86 kilograms three years ago, but also added a World bronze medal in 2017 (also at 86k) and a World championship at 92 kilos last October in Paris. That World medal also earned Cox an automatic spot at Final X Rutgers.

Nickal, who went 30-0 with 18 pins on college mats this past winter at 197 pounds (after also winning two NCAA titles at 184), continued his domination at the U.S. Open this past April in Las Vegas and the World Team Trials Challenge tournament last month in Raleigh, N.C., where the 23-year-old native of Allen, Texas, shut out Michael Macchiavello, 10-0 and 5-0, to earn a trip to Final X Rutgers.

Cox warmed up for Final X when he dominated at the Beat the Streets and Pan-American Championships in May. Nickal, meanwhile, had some World-level experiences as he finished fifth in the 2013 Cadet World at 76 kilograms.

GR-77k/169lb            Kamal Bey vs. Pat Smith

Both of these Greco-Roman wrestlers have represented the United States at past World Championships, but Bey earned the automatic berth in Final X, when he defeated Smith, 7-5, at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas in April.

Bey, a 21-year-old native of Bellwood, Ill., wrestled in both the Junior and Senior World Championships last year at 77 kilos; claiming fifth and seventh place, respectively. This came after Bey also won a Junior World championship at 74 kilos in 2017, the same year he represented the USA at the U23 World Championships at 80k. Bey also competed in the 2016 Junior Worlds, where he finished eighth.

Smith earned a Final X rematch with Bey after the 28-year-old native of Chaska, Minn., won two straight matches over 2017 World teammate Mason Manville (75k) at the World Team Trials Challenge tournament last month at N.C. State. In the past, Smith finished second at the 2016 Olympic Trials to ReVaughn Perkins at 66 kilograms, but came back to wrestle in the 2017 World Championships where he split two bouts at 71 kilos.

WFS-65k/143.5lb             Forrest Molinari vs. Maya Nelson  

A 5-1 victory by Molinari over Nelson in the finals of April’s U.S. Open in Las Vegas gave Molinari the automatic spot in Final X Rutgers, while Nelson earned her spot in Piscataway when she dominated Macey Kilty, 5-0 and 11-3, at the World Team Trials Challenge tournament in Raleigh, N.C.

This marks the second straight year that Molinari, a 23-year-old native of Benicia, Calif., has competed in Final X. Last summer, she won a pair of bouts over Julia Salata that sent her to the World Championships in Paris, where Molinari finished fifth. She split four matches at the 2018 Worlds, which included a victory over Russia’s Maria Kuznetsova, but lost a bronze-medal match to Irina Netreba of Azerbaijan.

Molinari, who trains with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club in Iowa City after winning a 2016 WCWA title for King University, has competed in four World championships in her life. That included a pair of visits to the U23 Worlds in 2017 and ’18 (finishing seventh last year) and a seventh-place finish at the 2015 Junior World Championships.

Nelson, a 21-year-old native of Denver, Colo., has also competed in three age-group World championships, highlighted by a World title in 2017. She also wrestled in the U23 Worlds that autumn and also collected a Junior World bronze medal in 2016.

WIN magazine will provide comprehensive coverage of both Final X events. To get a Subscription to WIN’s Monthly Print or Digital Magazine so you get the Final X coverage, click here.


Previous and Upcoming Final X Rutgers Daily Previews

(Click on dates to read other previews)

Date Style/Wt Matchup
Monday, June 3 MFS-65k/143.5lb Yianni Diakomihalis vs. Zain Retherford
GR-55k/121lb Max Nowry vs. Brady Koontz
WFS-50k/110lb Whitney Conder vs. Victoria Anthony
Tuesday, June 4 MFS-79k/174lb Kyle Dake vs. Alex Dieringer
GR-67k/147.5lb Ellis Coleman vs. Jamel Johnson
WFS-57k/125.5lb Becka Leathers vs. Jenna Burkert
Thursday, June 6 MFS-125k/275lb Gable Steveson vs. Nick Gwiazdowski
GR-82k/180lb Jon Stefanowicz vs. Kendrick Sanders
WFS-68k/149.5lb Alex Glaude vs. Tamyra Mensah-Stock
Friday, June 7 GR-87k/191.5lb Ben Provisor vs. Joe Rau
WFS-72k/158.5lb Victoria Francis vs. Alyvia Fiske

Next week, WIN will examine the 15 Final X matches in Lincoln, Neb., which will take place on Saturday, June 15

Men’s Freestyle

57k/125.5lb Thomas Gilman vs. Daton Fix
61k/134lb Tyler Graff vs. Joe Colon
70k/154lb James Green vs. Ryan Deakin
74k/163lb Isaiah Martinez vs. Jordan Burroughs
97k/213lb Kyven Gadson vs. Kyle Snyder


60k/132lb Ildar Hafizov vs. Leslie Fuenffinger
63k/138.5lb Xavier Johnson vs. Ryan Mango
72k/158.5lb Alex Mossing vs. Raymond Bunker
97k/213.5lb Lucas Sheridan vs. G’Angelo Hancock
130k/286.5lb Cohlton Schultz vs. Adam Coon

Women’s Freestyle

53k/116.5lb Katherine Shai vs. Sarah Hildebrandt
55k/121lb Dominique Parrish vs. Jacarra Winchester
59k/130lb Lauren Louive vs. Alli Ragan
62k/136.5lb Kayla Miracle vs. Mallory Velte
76k/167.6lb Precious Bell vs. Adeline Gray