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 - 125 kg
It’s no secret what most expect to happen here - the RTC Cup set the stage. Mason Parris took it to Nick Gwiazdowski, who mounted an impressive comeback. Then, Gable Steveson handled Gwiazdowski with little difficulty. In their second meeting, Mason Parris was able to defeat Gwiazdowski. Three months later - Gable Steveson destroyed Mason Parris at the Big 10 Championships, and cruised to an easy win against him again in the NCAA finals. Based on those results, the pecking order at heavyweight seems clear.
Nick Gwiazdowski - Qualified as the 2019 World team member. A two-time NCAA champion, Nick Gwiazdowski had a great start to his freestyle career, placing 4th at the Olympic Trials in 2016 and making the World team for the first time in 2017. He went on to take bronze, and then repeated that bronze medal performance at Worlds in 2018. 2019 was a struggle - he went 0-2 at the Dan Kolov, won the World team spot from Gable Steveson, then failed to place for the first time at Worlds after losing his first match. He ran into tough competition later that year at the Alans, losing 9-2 to Batras Gazzaev and suffering an embarrassing technical fall loss to Amir Zare, every point coming by push-out. Since then, Gwiazdowski had faced lighter competition at the Pan-American and domestic level, until the 2020 RTC Cup in December. There he was able to come back and defeat Mason Parris, but was bested by Gable Steveson and lost his rematch with Parris. Perhaps Gwiazdowski is going to peak for this tournament, as Nittany Lion Wrestling Club members do, but it certainly seems like the two young generational talents have his number.
Gable Steveson - Qualified as the 2019 Bill Farrell Memorial champion and a 2021 NCAA champion. After winning two Cadet World titles and one Junior World title, Gable Steveson set his sights on the senior level. He took his lumps, losing to giant monsters like Adam Coon and more mature athletes like Anthony Cassar, but eventually made it to the World team wrestle-off in 2019, falling to Gwiazdowski. Since then, Steveson has picked up wins over Jordan Wood, Dom Bradley, Nick Gwiazdowski, and Mason Parris. He looks unstoppable in his current form. He’s had some difficulty with international competition - namely Khasanboy Rakhimov, but he appears to be the man to beat domestically. This may be one of our last looks at Gable Steveson the amateur wrestler - a career in the WWE awaits.
Mason Parris - Qualified as the 2019 Junior World champion. One of the most incredible athletes in wrestling, Mason Parris has made his mark quickly. In his 2019 Junior World Championships appearance, he burned his way through the field, pinning Iran’s Amir Zare in the finals. Considering what Zare did to Nick Gwiazdowski, that’s quite an achievement. He has not yet been able to get past Gable Steveson, but Parris’ two RTC Cup performances vs. Gwiazdowski in December speak highly of his level. Unfortunately, the seeding places him on Steveson’s side of the bracket, meaning he won’t get a chance at Gwiazdowski for the Olympic spot unless he can do what he has failed to do in three matches thus far.
The Rest of the Field
Dom Bradley - Qualified as the 2019 Senior Nationals champion. Bradley had an excellent Senior Nationals - he took out Garrett Ryan, Anthony Cassar, and Tony Nelson to win gold. Bradley looked solid at the RTC Cup in December as well, although he went 1-1 against Jordan Wood. He’ll likely face Tony Nelson again in the quarterfinals for a shot at Nick Gwiazdowski.
Tony Nelson - Qualified as the 2019 Senior Nationals runner-up. Two-time NCAA champion Nelson defeated Tanner Hall and Daniel Kerkvliet to make the finals at Senior Nationals. At his last World Team Trials in 2019, his only loss was to Gable Steveson. Nelson was winless at the RTC Cup in December, losing to Mason Parris and Amar Dhesi. Nelson had a great tournament at the 2021 Matteo Pellicone, going 3-1 in the round-robin. Nelson had a rough draw, even if he gets past Dom Bradley, he’ll have Gwiazdowski in the semifinal.
Daniel Kerkvliet - Qualified by placing 3rd at 2019 Senior Nationals. At one point, Kerkvliet was the hottest recruit in the country - committing to three different schools before landing on Penn State. He placed at his first NCAA tournament, taking losses to more seasoned competitors. He did, however, have the honor of being the only wrestler to score a takedown on Gable Steveson all season. Kerkvliet was a Cadet World champion and Cadet World silver medalist, only losing to Amir Zare in those two tournaments. He represented the USA at the U23 World tournament in 2019, but lost in the semifinals and then fell in the bronze match as well. At Senior Nationals, Kerkvliet pinned Nick Nevills before falling to Tony Nelson, but he came back and beat Garrett Ryan and Nevills again for 3rd. He’s going to have Mason Parris in the first round, it will be a battle of young titans.
Tanner Hall - Qualified as the 2021 Last Chance Qualifier champion. It feels like Tanner Hall has been around forever. He was a NCAA qualifier this year as a fifth-year season and could technically come back for one more try. He made it through the Last Chance Qualifier by beating Dan Chaid and Jordan Wood. Unfortunately, his first match will probably be against Gable Steveson.
Jordan Wood - Qualified as the 2021 Last Chance Qualifier true second. A Cadet World silver medalist and Junior World team member, Wood has been solid at heavyweight in freestyle since high school. He had a solid 2019 Medved tournament, placing bronze behind Gable Steveson and Khasanboy Rakhimov. Wood participated in a “pro” match in September, defeating Nick Nevills. He had a bit of a rough showing at the RTC Cup in December 2020, losing to Dhesi, Bradley, Steveson and Parris, but he did get one win back against Dom Bradley as well. He’ll have Garrett Ryan first and then move on to face Gwiazdowski.
Garrett Ryan - Qualified by placing 5th at 2019 Senior Nationals. A Cadet World team member in both freestyle and Greco-Roman, Garrett Ryan is definitely under the radar in the domestic heavyweight discussion. He was a four-time NCAA qualifier with over 100 wins in college. He doesn’t hold recent wins over anyone in this field, but will have a chance to prove himself against Jordan Wood.
You already know I’m picking Gable Steveson. I thought he would be the guy after the RTC Cup, and I was even more sure of it after he manhandled Mason Parris. I think he’ll get past Parris for the fourth time, and beat Gwiazdowski in two straight matches. He’s that good. I’m not sure how I feel about him vs. the rest of the world - he’s not necessarily a small heavyweight, but there’s a lot of wiggle room when you set a 125 kg weight limit. Wrestlers like Taha Akgul and Geno Petriashvili are going to be tough to beat. Thinking ahead, I think I’d prefer he have to wrestle Akgul than Petriashvili, largely because of the difference in foot speed.
Gwiazdowski may be the #1 seed, but it would be an upset in my eyes if he was able to retain his spot as the USA’s top heavyweight. Check back in with me next week as I break down some of these matches! It’s going to be great.