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• A two-time World bronze medalist meets a former lighter-weight wrestler for the battle to replace Olympic champ Gable Steveson at heavyweight.
• An NCAA runner-up from Arizona State hopes to make a second World Team in Greco, but first must beat a former Nebraska football player.
• A pair of young California natives are set to lead the 76-kilo weight class this year as five-time World champ Adeline Gray takes on motherhood.
These are three storylines from WIN’s tenth and final installment of previews for the 2022 Final X matches that will take place June 3 in Stillwater, Okla., and June 8 in New York City.
WIN Magazine will provide a comprehensive look at both the Challenge Tournament and Final X in the next issue of WIN, which will be printed June 16. Click here or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe to WIN.
The 30 wrestlers — 10 each in men’s freestyle, women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman — who eventually win the Final X bouts will be our U.S. World Team for the 2022 UWW World Championships, Sept. 10-18, Belgrade, Serbia.
The following is also a schedule of when the Final X previews will take place. Action begins at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater with Round 1 matches at 2 p.m. (CDT) and Round 2 at 7 p.m., Round 3 bouts, if necessary, will follow after the completion of Round 2. The Final X in NYC will take place in the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Round 1 matches begin at 2 p.m. EDT and Round 2 at 6 p.m.
(Please note that 14 World Team Trials Challenge Tourney winners had to win Best-of-3 finals in Coralville, Iowa, before meeting a 2021 World medalist at Final X. The other 16 weights feature wrestlers who only had to win a Challenge semifinal to earn a spot in Final X, in weights where there was no returning World medalist.)
Thursday, June 2
MFS – 125k: Nick Gwiazdowski (Spartan/TMWC) vs. Hayden Zillmer (Gopher WC/RTC) at June 8 Final X in New York City
When Gable Steveson, last summer’s Olympic champ, announced this past year of his plans to join the WWE — following his recent college season that saw the Minnesota Gopher win a second NCAA title and second Dan Hodge Trophy — most expected to see Gwiazdowski, 29, regain his World Team spot at the heaviest weight class in men’s freestyle.
Not only did the native of Niskayuna, N.Y., finish second to Steveson in the 2020 Olympic Trials last April, but he went on to earn a spot on his fourth World Championship team last fall when Steveson elected not to wrestle in the Worlds after winning the August Olympics in dramatic fashion.
And while Gwiazdowski finished fifth in last year’s Worlds, which forced him to compete in the 2022 WTT Challenge Tournament, the former two-time NCAA champion from NC State had earned bronze medals in two previous Worlds: 2017 and 2018.
The bigger surprise at this weight class probably is Hayden Zillmer, 29, who is at the highest weight of his career. Last year, the native of Crosby, Minn., reached the semifinals of the 2020 Olympic Trials at 97 kilos. Three years earlier, Zillmer finished second at the 2018 Final X at Lehigh where he lost to J’den Cox at 92 kilos.
Zillmer entered the 2021 World Team Trials at 125 kilos and finished third with two victories over Dom Bradley. The former North Dakota State collegian beat Bradley again in this year’s U.S. Open title and in the recent WTT Challenge Tournament semifinals, which earned him a spot in the Final X.
To give fans an idea of how much bigger when he started wrestling on the national scene, Zillmer won a Cadet Nationals title in both freestyle and Greco-Roman at 84 pounds in 2007; the same year Bradley won a Junior National title at 285 pounds.
Even now, Zillmer, who weighs 225 pounds, is a lot lighter than a majority of his opponents at the 275-pound weight class. He said he made the decision to move up to heavyweight when he realized it was going to be hard to dethrone Olympic and World champ Kyle Snyder at 97 kilos.
“I had already had built myself up, moving up to 97 kilos and I figured that 92 kilos could be too much of a cut for me,” said Zillmer. “Gaining weight is my biggest challenge. I have a high-paced lifestyle. I’m always on the go. I’m busy and have a lot of projects. If I don’t eat a ton of calories per day, I lose weight.”
Zillmer, who trains in Minneapolis, said his former Minnesota Storm teammate, Gable Steveson, helped him adapt to the bigger weight class.
“Gable and I were training partners for a long time,” Zillmer said. “We are good friends and have grown together. He’s been pushing me. Everyone tells me I need to slow down a little bit (wrestling at this weight class).
“My family is 6-foot-6 so I knew I’d get bigger at some point. I’ve always been the crazy guy who takes things serious and won’t quit until the job is done. I’m always that guy and it’s expected of me.”
GR – 130k: Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist Kids WC) vs. Tanner Farmer (NYAC) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
Born on Sept. 27, 2000, the same date that USA’s Rulon Gardner beat Russian legend Alexander Karelin at the Sydney Olympics, Cohlton Schultz appears to have been born to be a strong heavyweight in Greco-Roman. For this is the style the native of Parker, Colo., wrestled when he won a Cadet World championship in 2017 as well as Junior bronze and silver medals in 2018 and ’19, respectively.
Last year, Schultz finished second to Adam Coon at the Olympic Trials, and two months later he earned a trip to his first Senior-level Worlds in Norway, where he finished 14th. He has also excelled on the college folkstyle mat, earning two All-American honors, including this past March when he lost to Gable Steveson in the NCAA finals.
Farmer, 26, meanwhile, has been better known for his football days at Nebraska, where he played offensive lineman before he spent one year wrestling at Concordia in 2020 when he was an NAIA national runner-up. The native of Highland, Ill., understands how unique his story is and loves sharing it with fans, especially younger ones he loved taking a selfie with at the WTT Challenge Tournament.
“When I was at Nebraska, I was lucky to be an idol for many fans,” said Farmer. “I can’t pass up the opportunity to be a positive influence on someone. I feel like I have a responsibility to be that positive influence. If we don’t do it, shame on all of us.”
WFS – 76k: Dymond Guilford (USOP/TMWC) vs. Yelena Makoyed (Card/TMWC) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
This weight became more open when five-time World champion Adeline Gray chose not to accept her Final X invitation for a spot in the finals as a 2021 medalist because she is pregnant.
Guilford, 22, is from Lancaster, Calif., where she did not start wrestling until her junior year at Eastside High School, where she won a state championship in 2016. She eventually accepted an offer to wrestle at Missouri Baptist in St. Louis, where she began her international career and made the 2018 Junior World Team. She has since become a full-time resident of the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. She has set herself up to become the top women’s heavyweight with a U.S. Open championship and a pair of wins at the WTT Challenge Tournament, where she avenged a 2020 Olympic Trials loss with a technical fall over former World Team member Victoria Francis.
Makoyed, 21, a native of Fair Oaks, Calif., posted a respectable fifth-place finish at the 2020 Olympic Trials and was third at the World Team Trials last fall. A 2019 California state high school champ from Bella Vista, she won a college national championship for North Central College of Naperville, Ill., this past year. She used that momentum to finish third at the U.S. Open, then scored a pair of technical falls at the WTT Challenge tournament to earn a Final X spot.
Click on Previous Dates to preview those weight classes.
MFS – 57k: Thomas Gilman (Nittany Lion WC) vs. Vito Arujau (Spartan) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater, Okla.
GR – 55k: Max Nowry (Army WCAP) vs. Brady Koontz (Ohio RTC) at Final X (June 3) in Stillwater, Okla.
WFS – 50k: Sarah Hildebrandt (NYAC) vs. Alyssa Lampe Sunkist Kids WC at June 8 Final X in New York City
MFS – 61k: Daton Fix (Cowboy RTC) vs. Seth Gross (Sunkist Kids WC) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater, Okla.
GR – 60k: Dalton Roberts (Army WCAP) vs. Ildar Hafizov (Army WCAP) at June 8 Final X in New York City
WFS – 53k: Felicity Taylor (Bearcat WC) vs. Dominique Parrish (Sunkist Kids WC) at June 8 Final X in New York City
MFS – 65k: Yianni Diakomihalis (Spartan) vs Evan Henderson (Ohio RTC) at June 8 Final X in New York City
GR – 63k: Sammy Jones (NYAC) vs. Jesse Thielke (Army WCAP) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
WFS – 55k: Jenna Burkert (US Army WCAP) vs. Jacarra Winchester (TMWC) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
MFS – 70k: Zain Retherford (NLWC) vs. Jordan Oliver (Sunkist Kids WC) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
GR – 67k: Alejandro Sancho (Army WCAP) vs. Alston Nutter (Sunkist Kids WC) at June 8 Final X in New York City
WFS – 57k: Helen Maroulis (Sunkist Kids WC) vs. Alex Hedrick (USOP/TMWC) at June 8 Final X in New York City
MFS – 74k: Kyle Dake (Spartan) vs. Jason Nolf (NLWC) at June 8 Final X in New York City
GR – 72k: Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) vs. Benji Peak (Sunkist Kids WC) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
WFS – 59k: Lexie Basham (Spartan) vs. Abigail Nette (Army WCAP) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
MFS – 79k: Jordan Burroughs (Penn RTC) vs. Chance Marstellar in June 8 Final X in New York City
GR – 77k: Britton Holmes (Army WCAP) vs. Kamal Bey (Army WCAP) at June 8 Final X in New York City
WFS – 62k: Kayla Miracle (Sunkist Kids WC) vs. Jennifer Rogers (NLWC) at June 8 Final X in New York City
MFS – 86k: David Taylor (NLWC) vs. Zahid Valencia at June 8 Final X in New York City
GR – 82k: Ben Provisor (NYAC) vs. Spencer Woods (Army WCAP) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
WFS – 65k: Forrest Molinari (Sunkist Kids WC) vs. Mallory Velte (BDRT) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
MFS – 92k: J’den Cox (TMWC) vs. Nathan Jackson (NYAC) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
GR – 87k: Alan Vera (NYAC) vs. Timothy Young (Illinois) at June 8 Final X in New York City
WFS – 68k: Tamyra Mensah Stock (TMWC) vs. Sienna Ramirez (Southern Oregon) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
MFS – 97k: Kyle Snyder (NLWC) vs. Kollin Moore (Ohio RTC) at June 3 Final X in Stillwater
GR – 97k: Tracy G’Angelo Hancock vs. Braxton Amos (Wisconsin RTC) at June 8 Final X in New York City
WRS – 72k: Skyler Grote (Dam RTC/NYAC) vs. Amit Elor (NYC/TMWC) at June 8 Final X in New York City