With the USA men’s freestyle Olympic Team Trials coming up this weekend, I’ll be taking a look at the field per each weight class to lay out the title picture. I focused on results from the past two years, as a lot can change in wrestling over a short period of time.
USA Men’s Freestyle Olympic Team Trials - 74 kg
If you ask almost anyone, they will tell you that this weight is about Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Dake. After two World titles at 79 kg, can Dake finally get over the hump and knock off Burroughs to make the team at an Olympic weight?
Jordan Burroughs - Qualified for the best 2 out of 3 Olympic team wrestle-off as the returning 2019 World bronze medalist. Jordan Burroughs has made Team USA in World and Olympic years for almost ten years straight. He has never failed to become the representative at 74 kg, and has only returned home without a medal once. But, after two straight years of “only” bronze, is his reign nearing an end? He is not invincible - Burroughs lost one match to Isaiah Martinez at the 2019 World team wrestle-off, and previously took a loss to Dake way back in 2017. However, from 2013 to 2017, Burroughs and Dake wrestled eight times. Burroughs has only competed against an American once in the past couple of years, a criteria lost to 86 kg World champion David Taylor earlier in the year. He did drop a close, controversial match to Frank Chamizo last month, but it appears Burroughs is holding his form over the last two or three years.
Kyle Dake - Qualified for the semifinals as a returning 2019 World champion at a non-Olympic weight. Kyle Dake has now won back-to-back World titles at 79 kg. His last international loss was in 2018 (a loss he avenged in one-sided fashion that same year) and you’d have to go back to 2012 to find a domestic loss at 74 kg for Dake against anyone other than Jordan Burroughs. The four-time NCAA champion has been the picture of dominance, and he’ll be sitting in the semifinals, one win away from another shot at Burroughs. As dismissive as it may seem to look past the field, all eyes are already on another 2-3 match series between Burroughs and Dake.
The Rest of the Field
Isaiah Martinez - Qualified as the 2019 Bill Farrell Memorial champion. The World Team Trials champion in 2019 over Jason Nolf, Isaiah Martinez raised his stock in a big way when defeated he took a match off of Jordan Burroughs at their Final X best 2 out of 3 series. He has largely competed internationally at 79 kg since then, earning silver at the Intercontinental Cup before bumping back down for the Bill Farrell Memorial. There he knocked off Tommy Gantt and Jason Nolf to earn his Olympic Trials bid. He has not wrestled since then, but Martinez is a very likely semifinalist. Well, at least he was before this announcement came out.
IMPORTANT: Isaiah Martinez, No. 1 at 74 kg, has pulled out of the tournament. Jason Nolf is now No. 1. This change is now reflected in our article. https://t.co/CTR9EtJHav— USA Wrestling (@USAWrestling) March 29, 2021
Jason Nolf - Qualified by winning the 2020 Pan-American Championship. The Three-time NCAA champion will try once again to break through at 74 kg. He has been unable to get past Isaiah Martinez, who has defeated him many times over the years at qualifying tournaments. With Martinez out, that opens things up a bit. He’s picked up wins over Jordan Oliver, David McFadden and Bubba Jenkins over the past year or so, but has been inactive against top competition since the 2019 Bill Farrell Memorial. Nolf has struggled with knee injuries even in his college days, and it’s hard to see him holding up against this field.
Logan Massa - Qualified as the 2019 Senior Nationals champion. Massa’s run has been very confusing. To win Senior Nationals, he took out Anthony Valencia, Nazar Kulchytskyy, and Mekhi Lewis. In 2019 he also made a claim for a World ranking when he earned bronze at the Dmitri Korkin tournament in Russia. In September of 2020, he won 4-3 against World and Olympic medalist Bekzod Abdurakhmonov. With all of that behind him, Massa should be one of the favorites to make a semifinal. However, things began to trend negatively. He failed to place at the 2020 Matteo Pellicone. At the RTC Cup in December he beat Evan Wick, Hayden Hidlay, and Mekhi Lewis, but lost to Tommy Gantt. Not terrible, but his NCAA season was truly puzzling. He dropped an early season match to future NCAA champion Carter Starocci, lost matches to Michael Kemerer and Mike Labriola at Big 10s, and lost twice to the unheralded Bernie Truax at NCAAs. Perhaps it’s a weird disconnect between folkstyle and freestyle, but it seems as if Logan Massa is in a slump.
David Carr - Qualified as the 2019 Junior World champion and as a 2021 NCAA champion. After burning his way through the Junior Worlds in 2019, David Carr entered the 2020 NCAA season as the man to watch. He dropped an early season match to Ryan Deakin, but was otherwise dominant right up until the cancelled NCAA tournament. His 2021 season was flawless, he went 20-0 to win an NCAA title, with a notable semifinal victory over Hayden Hidlay. We know Carr can hang with senior-level competition - his World semifinal opponent went on to defeat three World medalists at the 2019 Senior Worlds. This is someone who David Carr put away by technical fall in mere seconds. He’s very, very good and could be someone to watch for as a landmine in this field.
Thomas Gantt - Qualified by placing 3rd at 2019 Senior Nationals. Tommy Gantt has made great strides since his days in college. At 2019 Senior Nationals, he knocked off Evan Wick, fell to Mekhi Lewis, then came back to beat Anthony Valencia and Evan Wick again for 3rd. Mekhi Lewis and Isaiah Martinez handed Gantt tough losses at the Bill Farrell Memorial in 2019 as well. But Gantt stayed active internationally, winning the Henri Deglane and taking silver at the Cerro Pelado in 2019. On the “pro” circuit, Gantt defeated Michael Kemerer in November before participating in the RTC Cup in December. There he notched wins over Logan Massa and Evan Wick, taking a loss to the young phenom Carson Kharchla. Gantt’s last match was in January, a 3-2 loss to Chance Marsteller.
Chance Marsteller - Qualified as the Last Chance Qualifier champion. Marsteller had an excellent tournament at the Last Chance Qualifier - he took out Alec Pantaleo and Vincenzo Joseph, all without giving up a single point. On the “pro” circuit, Marsteller took a 4-2 loss to Carter Starocci, defeated Tommy Gantt 3-2 and defeated Evan Wick by technical fall. He’s someone who could have a great tournament and surprise many by making a semifinal.
Vincenzo Joseph - Qualified by winning true 2nd at the Last Chance Qualifier. Although he dropped a match to Marsteller, Joseph looked solid up to that point. The two-time NCAA champion can never be counted out, although he has had little success against this field thus far.
Evan Wick - Qualified by placing 4th at 2019 Senior Nationals. Evan Wick has picked up solid wins over Nazar Kulchytskyy and Mekhi Lewis, but has more often been the nail in this field - losing to Gantt, Massa, Marsteller and even non-qualifier David McFadden. The two-time All-American will most likely not be a factor.
Shane Griffith - Qualified as a 2021 NCAA champion. The man who put #SaveStanfordWrestling on the map, Griffith knocked off #1 seed Alex Marinelli and #3 seed Jake Wentzel to become an NCAA champion this year. He won a Pan-American championship in freestyle at the junior level in 2019, but he will likely be out of his depth right now if he decides to wrestle at the trials.
Carter Starocci - Qualified as a 2021 NCAA champion. Aside from his stellar NCAA run, which saw him take out tough competitors like Michael Kemerer and Mike Labriola, Starocci has been active on the “pro” circuit. He went 3-0 in those showings, his most significant result being a 4-2 win over Chance Marsteller. If we see Starocci compete, it’s possible he could knock off a few names in this bracket.
*After seeds came out it was revealed that Starocci will be going 86 kg.
Mekhi Lewis - Qualified as the 2019 Senior Nationals runner-up. The former NCAA champion suffered a torn pectoral against Jake Wentzel this season, causing him to sit out the ACC Championships. Lewis returned in March to wrestle at NCAAs, and despite not losing up to the quarterfinals, his injuries were too severe and he was forced to medically forfeit. It is extremely unlikely that Lewis competes at the trials, and if he does it wouldn’t make much sense to pick him over anyone.
Anthony Valencia - Qualified by placing 5th at 2019 Senior Nationals. Anthony Valencia is another qualifier coming off of a recent injury - he was badly hurt in his NCAA quarterfinal match with Ethan Smith. He was able to wrestle one more match to become an All-American, but was promptly tech-falled by Keegan O’Toole and forfeited his medal match. As a long shot in this bracket, Valencia will probably not compete.
Call me crazy, but I think I’m going to stick with Jordan Burroughs. Although he’s 7-1 against Kyle Dake, many people see the “momentum” of each and feel a Dake win is inevitable, considering how close many of their matches has been. In truth, Dake really has been closing the gap stylistically - his ability to control positioning on the mat and use his chest wrap and crotch lift counters to score off his opponent’s shots have all improved dramatically. Not only that, Dake will be bigger than ever, adding another layer to an already difficult stylistic matchup for Burroughs.
However, Burroughs has continued to adjust his own style to his changing physicality, and seems to have an extra gear that only one or two people in the world have ever been able to deal with. I was still leaning in favor of Kyle Dake, but Burroughs performance while severely undersized against David Taylor was shocking and revealing. Giving up over 20 pounds, Burroughs took Taylor to the brink and was one point away from victory. Dake’s last match against world-class opposition was an exhibition with Frank Chamizo - a match where neither party looked particularly interested in winning. Consider that Dake will also have to win a match before getting to Burroughs, giving the returning Olympian a slight advantage in “freshness”.
Either way, it’s going to be a battle. Other than the potential Snyder-Cox showdown at 97 kg, this is probably the most anticipated matchup of the trials. As for the rest of the 74 kg bracket, it looks like we’ll have Jason Nolf sitting at the 1 seed at the top and Chance Marsteller sitting at the 2 seed at the bottom, meaning the top-side semifinalist will likely wrestle Kyle Dake for a shot at Jordan Burroughs. If they both hold up, we could see a Jason Nolf vs. Logan Massa match for that honor. There are a lot of different ways this bracket could go now, but Burroughs vs. Dake for the team spot seems like a certainty.