WIN’s Top-X (10) Storylines from 2023 Final X

Updated: June 12, 2023

Photo: Zane Richards (right) was in almost disbelief after the former Illinois All-American defeated former World champion Thomas Gilman in two matches at 57 kilos at the Final X Saturday night in Newark, N.J. (Photo by Sam Janicki)

By Mike Finn

A lot happened within the confines of the Prudential Center in Newark this past Saturday when 29 of the 30 weight classes took place at Final X. Overall, 63 men’s freestyle, women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman matches were held within an eight-hour period, with the best-of-3 winners earning the right to represent the United States at the UWW World Championships this September in Belgrade, Serbia.

To keep the spirit of this event, which has had the Roman numeral of 10 for the four-year history of this event, here are the Top-X (10) moments or storylines from the 2023 Final X.

You will also find these and even more storylines in the upcoming issue of WIN Magazine, which will be printed June 22.

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I (1)10 World-Team rookies

10 wrestlers became first-time World Team members in the three styles. Of these, five defeated former World Team medalists: Zane Richards over Thomas Gilman, Nick Lee over Yianni Diakomihalis and Chance Marsteller over Jordan Burroughs in men’s freestyle, as well as Macey Kilty over Mallory Velte and Emma Bruntil over Forrest Molinari in women’s freestyle. The other first-timers in men’s freestyle were Vito Arujau, the 2023 NCAA champ from Cornell, former Arizona State great Zahid Valencia and oddly Gable Steveson, the former three-time NCAA champ from Minnesota and 2020 Olympic gold medalist, who returned to amateur wrestling this spring. Meanwhile in Greco-Roman, Brady Koontz and Zac Braunagel made their first World Teams.

II (2) Marsteller upset of Burroughs included controversy

Just when it appeared that Jordan Burroughs might score against Chance Marsteller (top), the former Lock Haven All-American executed a four-point throw at the edge of the mat in the closing seconds of their third bout at 79 kilos at Final X. (Sam Janicki photo)

Marsteller’s victory over Burroughs helped the former Lock Haven All-American avenge a loss to Burroughs in last year’s Final X, which also went to three matches as it did in 2023. Two of those matches in the Prudential Center had controversial endings as Burroughs won the first match 3-3 on criteria when a late review showed that Marsteller pulled on Burroughs’ singlet. The final match ended 8-3 when Marsteller scored a four-pointer with 38 seconds left when it appeared that he might have stepped out, which would have given the seven-time World/Olympic champ a 4-2 lead.

III (3)Moving up and down to World-Team spots

Three wrestlers qualified for the Worlds by winning at different weights than where they competed at the U.S. Open; Zahid Valencia moved up from 86 to 92 kilos in men’s freestyle, while in women’s freestyle, Jennifer Page moved down from 62k to 59k and Emma Bruntil moved up 68k after wrestling at 65k at the Open.

IV (4)Cox withdraws because of injury

For the second time in the past three years, an expected match-up between former World champs did not happen as J’den Cox was forced to forfeit to Kyle Snyder at 97k in men’s freestyle. Cox, the 2018 and 2019 World champ and 2022 World bronze medalist at 92k, had decided to move up to the Olympic weight to challenge Snyder, the four-time World/Olympic champ. Two years ago at the Olympic Trials, Cox missed the weigh-ins. This year, he weighed in after entering the arena on crutches before he was wheeled on out in a chair. He said he sustained an ankle injury the night before weigh-ins, Friday, June 9.

Injuries also impacted two other weight classes. There was no matchup at 57 kilos in women’s freestyle as World/Olympic champ Helen Maroulis was permitted to delay her meeting with Xochiti Mota-Pettis to a later date. (Cox was not allowed to delay his Final X because he was not the returning medalist at 97 kilos in 2022.) Meanwhile, two-time World Team member Alan Vera was forced to medically forfeit his third match to Zac Braunagel at 87 kilos in Greco.

Adeline Gray (left) trailed in the second period of both of her matches with Kennedy Blades at 76 kilos in women’s freestyle. But she rallied to win both and avenged a loss at the U.S. Open in April. (John Sachs photo)

V (5)Veteran Gray rallies to win 10th spot

Adeline Gray qualified for her 10th World Team … and in dramatic fashion … as the six-time World champ — who became the mother of twin babies last July — rallied in the last minute in both of her victories over Kennedy Blades, who defeated Gray 12-2 at the U.S. Open.

VI (6)Seven former champs return to Worlds

Seven former World champs qualified for another shot at gold: Kyle Dake, David Taylor and Kyle Snyder in men’s freestyle; Dominique Parrish, Jacarra Winchester, Amit Elor and Adeline Gray in women’s freestyle.

VII (7)Five Greco series go to Rubber Match

Ildar Hafizov (left) celebrated after he beat his U.S. Army WCAP teammate Dalton Roberts in the deciding third match at 60 kilos in Greco-Roman. (Sam Janicki photo)

Greco-Roman had five of its 10 weight classes go to three matches. That included 60 kilos where Ildar Hafizov avenged a U.S. Open loss to Dalton Roberts to make his third World Team. (The immigrant from Uzbekistan also represented Team USA at the 2020 Olympics.) These two wrestlers from the U.S. Army WCAP have met 14 times. Also in Greco, where all 20 wrestlers had to first compete in the 2023 U.S. Open in April, four of those Open winners —Roberts, Hayden Tuma, Robert Perez III and Alan Vera — all lost in Final X.

VIII (8)NLWC, WCAP & Sunkist put most on World Teams 

The Nittany Lion Wrestling Club qualified six wrestlers for the Worlds; Nick Lee, Zain Retherford, Kyle Dake, David Taylor, and Kyle Snyder in men’s freestyle and Jennifer Page in women’s freestyle. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club both qualified five World Team members. All of the WCAP qualifiers are in Greco-Roman: Ildar Hafizov, Xavier Johnson, Alejandro Sancho, Kamal Bey and Spencer Woods. The Sunkist Kids qualified three in women’s freestyle (Dominique Parrish, Kayla Miracle and Macey Kilty) as well as Zahid Valencia in men’s freestyle and Cohlton Schultz in Greco-Roman.

Nick Lee (top) of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club upset 2022 World silver medalist Yianni Diakomihalis to earn the 65-kilo spot in men’s freestyle. (Sam Janicki photo)

IX (9)2022 Silver medalists Hildebrandt/Miracle are back

A pair of 2022 World silver medalists in women’s freestyle — Sarah Hildebrandt (50k) and Kayla Miracle (62k) — earned a chance to go for gold again. This is the sixth World Team for Hildebrandt and fourth for Miracle. Both wrestlers were also on the 2020 Olympic Team.

X (10)Over 8,000 fans

This marked the first time Final X was held in one location (as opposed to two or three in the past) and the 2023 event, which benefitted Beat the Streets New York City, drew 8,031 fans to the Prudential Center. The 2023 Final X started with true third-place matches at noon (EST), followed by Final X first-round matches at 2 and second/third-round matches starting at 6 p.m.