The RTC Cup men’s freestyle tournament in December was a changing of the guard for the United States at heavyweight. Long-time World representative and two-time medalist Nick Gwiazdowski was tested by two young phenoms, Gable Steveson and Mason Parris. He split matches with Parris, his win coming as a dramatic comeback after going down big, early. Gable Steveson had lost to Gwiazdowski at the World team wrestle-offs in 2019, two matches to zero. But in December at the RTC Cup, Steveson controlled the match to a comfortable win over Gwiazdowski.
Gable Steveson and Mason Parris did not wrestle at that event, Minnesota’s team sent out two-time NCAA champion Tony Nelson instead. Michigan fans and Parris himself claimed that Steveson was ducking the match-up. The two phenoms had wrestled at the end of the cancelled 2020 season, with Steveson winning 8-6. Parris had demonstrated clear progress by defeating Gwiazdowski, it was reasonable to believe he could give Steveson an even tougher match next time around.
They finally met in the finals of the Big Ten wrestling conference tournament in March. Steveson was clearly favored, but most expected a competitive match.
What we saw was an absolute blowout.
There was plenty to admire in this match, but I would like to focus on one scramble sequence in particular that shows off just how incredible these two athletes are.
Mason Parris tends to spam his high-crotch attack to the lead leg off of collar and elbow control. He’s a high volume shooter and a powerful finisher, which makes him an absolute monster in the heavyweight class. As an intelligent wrestler who has clashed with Parris on numerous occasions, Steveson was ready.
Feeling the shot, Steveson stepped his lead leg back and began to pivot off his rear leg to circle away from the attack. One important detail to look for is Gable Steveson’s collar tie - he did not disengage to avoid the shot. Instead, he kept pressure on the head and used it to steer Parris toward the center of the mat.
This motion left Parris extended and broke down his base, allowing Steveson to switch to heavy downward pressure on the collar tie, bringing Parris to both knees. Steveson was perfectly positioned to reattack a head-outside single on Parris as he attempted to rise back into his stance. Steveson secured a grip across the waist and got height, looking to circle behind and finish his shot in referee’s position, or turtle.
Credit to Mason Parris, he was able to loop his left arm through and frame against the hips of Steveson to create separation, got to his feet and looked to fight the tight-waist while turning to face Steveson. But Steveson’s feet never stopped moving. He took a huge step behind and across Parris with his right leg, sliding his left leg through to glide gracefully directly behind Parris.
Parris responded quickly, thrusting his hips forward and reaching back to establish some sort of grip. A risky maneuver - he could get caught on his back if he doesn’t belly down as soon as possible. Steveson switched his grip to palm the back of Parris and “catch” him on his descent, which actually gave Parris a window to spin out to the right.
Steveson got right back to work. He blocked the reaching arm of Parris with his left arm across the armpit, then quickly began running his feet to the right to chase the go-behind as Parris recovered his base. Parris was quick to stand up in order to prevent this, in response Steveson swiftly changed levels and switched to a snatch single. Steveson drove forward, placed his head on the outside of the hip, lifted the leg with his right arm and secured a grip on the far hip with his left arm.
Continuing to run his feet and drive upward, Steveson works to finish the shot by taking a bit step forward with his right leg and pivoting off of it, away from the center of the mat. His rear leg comes through in front of Mason Parris as a block, and Steveson elevates the single leg while using his head as a lever against the lat, and pulling with the tight-waist. This works to angle Parris’ upper body downward while raising his lower body, putting his hips in the air and taking away his base.
This was one of many takedowns Gable Steveson scored on Mason Parris en route to a 12-4 major decision victory, but it perfectly demonstrates the absurd athletic and technical level of both of these rare generational talents at heavyweight. Parris is enormous, mobile and talented, and Gable Steveson picked him apart with perfect fundamentals.
His run at the NCAA title begins tomorrow, Thursday, March 18th. Make sure to tune in and witness greatness. Less than a month from now, Gable Steveson will be wrestled at the Olympic Team Trials for a shot at a trip to Tokyo.