2020 Olympians Hafizov, Sancho among champions as U.S. Greco-Roman World Team set at Final X
by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling
Alejandro Sancho pummels with Robert Perez III in Final X. Photo by Sam Janicki
NEWARK, N.J. – It was a highly-competitive night as the 2023 U.S. Senior Greco-Roman World Team was determined at Final X on Saturday night.
Five of the 10 best-of-three series went the full three bouts, and the U.S. team will be a mix of proven veterans and some new faces. Winners in Final X will compete at the Senior World Championships in Serbia in September.
A pair of 2020 U.S. Olympians claimed titles, Ildar Hafizov at 60 kg and Alejandro Sancho at 67 kg.
Hafizov needed three matches to beat Army WCAP teammate Dalton Roberts in the finals. Hafizov pinned Roberts in the first match in 4:01, but Roberts rallied for an impressive 9-0 technical fall in the second bout. In a tense third match, the match ended at 1-1 for Hafizov with criteria, but Roberts’ corner challenged at the end, which was denied. It was the third time Hafizov and Roberts had wrestled each other in Final X, with Hafizov having won two of the three times.
Sancho showed his experience edge with a two-match sweep of rising young talent Robert Perez III. Sancho won a tight 3-2 match in the first round, then came back with a 5-1 victory in bout two. Sancho will compete at the Senior Worlds for the second straight year.
Five other Final X Greco-Roman champions have competed on at least one previous Senior World Team: Patrick Smith at 72 kg, Kamal Bey at 77 kg, Spencer Woods at 82 kg, Josef Rau at 97 kg and Cohlton Schultz at 130 kg.
Smith needed three matches to defeat 2023 U.S. Open champion Justus Scott in the final series. Scott won the first match in a 3-3 criteria decision, but Smith rallied to win the second bout 5-4. In the deciding third match, Smith jumped to a 6-0 lead, and held off a late Scott comeback for a 7-5 victory. Smith avenged a loss to Scott in the U.S. Open finals and heads to his fourth Senior Worlds.
Bey was in control of his two-match sweep over Aliaksandr Kikiniou, a 43-year-old who is a past World medalist and Olympian for Belarus and now a U.S. citizen. Bey had a big four-point throw to finish his 9-0 technical fall in bout one, then scored early and cruised to a 5-1 win in the second bout. It was a rematch of the 2023 U.S. Open finals won by Bey, who is now on his third Senior World Team.
Woods, also a 2022 World Team member, was pushed to three matches by Army WCAP teammate Ryan Epps. Woods won a 3-3 criteria decision in the first match, but Epps exploded to a 9-0 technical fall in round two. In the deciding third bout, Woods shut down Epps in a 5-0 victory.
Rau made his third Senior World Team with a two-match sweep over Christian DuLaney. Rau edged DuLaney 3-2 in the first bout, then opened up his attack in an 8-0 technical fall in the second match.
Schultz needed just two bouts to stop 2018 World silver medalist Adam Coon in two straight bouts. Schultz edged Coon 3-2 in the first match. With the second bout tied at 1-1, Schultz hit a big four-point throw to break open the bout and win 5-1. Schultz also beat Coon in the 2023 U.S. Open finals, while Coon had beaten Schultz in the 2020 Olympic Trials finals. Schultz heads to his third straight Senior Worlds.
Making their first Senior World Teams were Brady Koontz at 55 kg, Xavier Johnson at 63 kg and Zachary Braunagel at 87 kg.
Koontz was beaten in the first match of his series by Dalton Duffield, who hit some big throws in an 8-0 technical fall. Koontz rallied in the second match for a 4-1 decision. With bout three tied at 3-3, Koontz rallied to score and secure a 7-3 victory to take the series. Koontz was second in Final X last year.
Johnson, a former Marine competing for the Army now, was dominant in his two-match sweep of Hayden Tuma, with a pair of technical falls. Johnson won the first bout 10-1, then followed with a 10-0 victory in the second match.
Braunagel, who competes for the University of Illinois, lost his opening bout by an 11-0 technical fall to two-time World Team member Alan Vera. In the second bout, Braunagel powered back for a 6-5 victory, and Vera was injured late in that match. When the third match was called, Vera was unable to compete and lost by injury default.
At Newark, N.J., June 10
55 kg – Brady Koontz (Titan Mercury WC/Dubuque RTC) vs. Dalton Duffield (Army WCAP)
Bout One – Duffield tech fall Koontz, 8-0
Bout Two: Koontz dec. Duffield, 4-1
Bout Three: Koontz dec. Duffield, 7-3
Koontz wins series, 2 matches to 1, and makes World Team
60 kg –Ildar Hafizov (Army WCAP) vs. Dalton Roberts (Army WCAP)
Bout One: Hafizov pin Roberts, 4:01
Bout Two: Roberts tech. fall Hafizov, 9-0
Bout Three: Hafizov dec. Roberts, 2-1
Hafizov wins series, 2 matches to 1, and makes World Team
63 kg –Xavier Johnson (Army WCAP) vs. Hayden Tuma (Suples WC)
Bout One: Johnson tech fall Tuma, 10-1
Bout Two: Johnson tech fall Tuma, 10-0
Johnson wins series 2 matches to 0 and makes World Team
67 kg –. Alejandro Sancho (Army WCAP) vs. Robert Perez III (Sunkist Kids WC)
Bout One: Sancho dec. Perez III, 3-2
Bout Two: Sancho dec. Perez III, 5-1
Sancho wins series 2 matches to 0 and makes World Team
72 kg –Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) vs. Justus Scott (Army WCAP)
Bout One: Scott dec. Smith, 3-3
Bout Two: Smith dec. Scott, 5-4
Bout Three: Smith dec. Scott, 7-5
Smith wins series, 2 matches to 1 and makes World Team
77 kg – Kamal Bey (Army WCAP) vs. Aliaksandr Kikiniou (California)
Bout One: Bey tech fall Kikiniou, 9-0
Bout Two: Bey dec. Kikiniou, 5-1
Bey wins series, 2 matches to 0, and makes World Team
82 kg – Spencer Woods (Army WCAP) vs. Ryan Epps (Army WCAP)
Bout One: Woods dec. Epps, 3-3
Bout Two: Epps tech fall Woods, 9-0
Bout Three: Woods dec. Epps, 5-0
Woods wins series, 2 matches to 1, and makes World Team
87 kg –Zachary Braunagel (Illinois RTC/Illini WC) vs. Alan Vera (New York AC)
Bout One: Vera tech fall Braunagel, 11-0
Bout Two: Braunagel dec. Vera, 6-5
Bout Three: Braunagel inj. dft. Vera, 0:00
Braunagel wins series, 2 matches to 1, and makes World Team
97 kg – Josef Rau (Titan Mercury WC) vs. Christian DuLaney (Minnesota Storm)
Bout One: Rau dec. DuLaney, 3-2
Bout Two: Rau tech fall DuLaney, 8-0
Rau wins series, 2 matches to 0, and makes World Team
130 kg – Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist Kids WC) dec. Adam Coon (Cliff Keen WC/New York AC)
Bout One: Schultz dec. Coon 3-2
Bout Two: Schultz dec. Coon, 5-1
Schultz wins series, 2 matches to 0, and makes World Team