Final X men’s freestyle preview: Olympic champions Burroughs, Taylor, Snyder, Steveson highlight incredibly deep field set for Newark
by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling
Photo: Jordan Burroughs hoists the U.S. flag after winning the 2022 World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. (Tony Rotundo/wrestlersarewarriors.com)
The men’s freestyle pairings at Final X feature some serious star power, perhaps more than we’ve ever seen at this stage of the U.S. World Team qualification process.
Eight competitors earned a medal at the 2022 World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. Seven Olympic medalists, including four Olympic champions, will grace the Final X mats at Prudential Center. 16-of-20 competitors are past NCAA champions, six of whom were awarded the Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation’s top college wrestler.
The June 10 lineup has the potential to be one of the greatest set of matches in a single night in U.S. wrestling history.
We will summarize each pairing in weight order, which is how the matches will be conducted at Final X.
57 kg – Thomas Gilman (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC/Titan Mercury WC) vs. Zane Richards (Champaign, Ill./Illinois RTC/Titan Mercury WC)
The 57 kg men’s freestyle weight class has been owned by Thomas Gilman in recent years. Gilman has represented the U.S. in five of the previous six World Championships or Olympic Games, earning four total medals during that stretch. Most notably, he was a World champion in 2021 and an Olympic bronze medalist in 2020.
Last year, Gilman came up one win short of his second-straight World title, falling to Albania’s Zelimkhan Abakarov, a Russian transplant, in the World finals. The silver medal performance earned Gilman an automatic berth to this year’s Final X. He bounced back with a dominant gold medal outing at the Pan-American Championships held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, earlier this month, and is primed to make another run at the 57 kg U.S. World Team spot.
Standing in Gilman’s way at Final X is U.S. Open champion Zane Richards, who has been in the upper echelon at 57 kg for the U.S. this quad. He was most impressive in Las Vegas, particularly in the finals against two-time NCAA champion Nick Suriano, where he scored the winning takedown at the buzzer. Richards is currently No. 3 on U.S. National Team ladder and does boast some valuable Final X experience having wrestled and won a true third match in Stillwater, Okla., last year.
Gilman and Richards have wrestled two matches against each other on the Senior level dating back to 2019, Gilman winning both convincingly.
Most recent match – 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Gilman tech. fall Richards, 11-0
61 kg - Vitali Arujau (Ithaca, N.Y./Spartan Combat RTC/Titan Mercury WC) vs. Nahshon Garrett (Bethlehem, Pa./Titan Mercury WC/Lehigh Valley WC)
With no returning World medalist, the 61 kg weight class was wide open as far as who would qualify for Final X. It has quickly become one of the most competitive and hard to predict weight classes with multiple World-class competitors in the mix. New to the weight class, Vitali Arujau cemented himself as the Final X favorite after blitzing the U.S. Open field last month in Las Vegas.
Following his first NCAA title run for Cornell University in March, Arujau proceeded to dominate the top contenders at 61 kg at the Open. He capped his title run with a lighting quick 10-0 technical fall over fan favorite Austin DeSanto. Arujau immediately hopped a flight to Argentina to compete at the Pan-American Championships, earning a gold medal with four non-competitive technical fall wins. The New York native appears to be hitting his stride at the right time for World-level success.
Arujau is no stranger to international competition, holding World silver medals from the U20 and U17 levels, and two Senior Pan-American gold medals. He was runner-up to Gilman at 2022 Final X and 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials down at 57 kg.
Fellow Cornell University NCAA champion Nahshon Garrett stands opposite Arujau in Newark. Although he finished in third place at the U.S. Open, Garrett is somewhat of a surprise Final X qualifier, as many expected either World silver medalist Daton Fix or reigning World Team member Seth Gross to take the second Final X spot at 61 kg.
The version of Garrett that showed up at the Senior World Team Trials Challenge Tournament looked unstoppable. He 10-0 teched both Nathan Tomasello and DeSanto, in addition to controlling Fix in the finals, 12-4.
Garrett is no stranger to the Final X stage. He won the 61 kg U.S. World Team spot back in 2018 over Joe Colon at Final X: Lehigh. Garrett was unable to compete at the World Championships due to injury and Colon went on to win a World bronze medal as his replacement.
Arujau and Garrett have wrestled three matches against each other on the Senior level dating back to 2020. Arujau has won all three contests, but Garrett has been able to throw up some points and be in contention late to get the win multiple times.
Most recent match – 2023 U.S. Open – Arujau dec Garett, 9-2
65 kg – Yianni Diakomihalis (Rochester, N.Y./Spartan Combat RTC/Titan Mercury WC) vs. Nick Lee (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC/Titan Mercury WC)
Last year in Belgrade, Serbia, New York native Yianni Diakomihalis snapped a near two-decade medal drought at the 65 kg weight class for the U.S., scoring a silver medal in his second World Championships appearance and earning the automatic berth to Final X. Current National Men’s Freestyle Head Coach Bill Zadick was the last to win a medal at the weight prior to Diakomihalis, capturing the 2006 World title in Guangzhou, China.
Diakomihalis cemented himself a legend in the college wrestling history books last March when he became just the fifth wrestler to win four NCAA Div. I titles, doing so for Cornell University. He earned his second Pan-American gold medal earlier this month in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is a two-time U17 World champion.
All indications are Diakomihalis is the man to beat for the foreseeable future at 65 kg stateside. However, a new challenger has emerged in the form of U.S. Open champion Nick Lee, who does own a 16-8 win over Diakomihalis from the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. It is the only Senior level match contested between the two.
At the U.S. Open, Lee defeated U23 and U20 World medalist Joey McKenna in the finals, 10-5, to secure his Final X berth. He also collected impressive wins over NCAA All-Americans Beau Bartlett and Matthew Kolodzik in Las Vegas.
Lee was a NCAA champion in 2021 and a four-time All-American for juggernaut Penn State University. He was a member of two Nittany Lion squads to win the NCAA team title.
Most recent match – 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Lee dec. Diakomihalis, 16-8
70 kg - Zain Retherford (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC/Titan Mercury WC) vs. Tyler Berger (Philadelphia, Pa./Pennsylvania RTC/Sunkist Kids WC)
Reigning 70 kg World silver medalist Zain Retherford has his sights set on a fourth World Championships appearance. Retherford qualified for Final X by navigating to last year’s World finals in Belgrade, Serbia, where he came up just short of gold to Japan’s Taishi Narikuni. He was the U.S. World Team representative at 65 kg in 2017 and 2019.
Most recently, Retherford earned a gold medal at the Pan-American Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He torched the 70 kg field to the tune of two pins and two technical falls. He also holds a U17 World title from 2012.
Retherford is one of the most decorated wrestlers in NCAA history as a four-time All-American for Penn State University with three individual titles, four team titles and two Dan Hodge Trophies to his name.
Standing opposite Retherford at Final X will be U.S. Open champion Tyler Berger. He edged Hayden Hidlay and Sammy Sasso, both of whom are past NCAA finalists, with one-point victories in Las Vegas on his way to the gold medal. Berger himself was a NCAA finalist and three-time All-American for Nebraska.
Retherford and Berger have only wrestled once on the Senior level, at the 2021 Senior World Team Trials, with Retherford taking the match, 11-0.
Most recent match – 2021 Senior World Team Trials – Retherford tech. fall Berger, 11-0
74 kg – Kyle Dake (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC/Titan Mercury WC) vs. Jason Nolf (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC/Titan Mercury WC)
In a rematch of last year’s Final X series at 74 kg, four-time World champion Kyle Dake will take on U.S. Open champion Jason Nolf for the right to represent the U.S. in Belgrade, Serbia.
Dake has commanded the 74 kg weight class globally since taking over the spot from Jordan Burroughs in 2020. He earned a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games and followed with a pair of World titles. Dake defeated three-time World medalist Tajmuraz Salkazanov of Slovakia in last year’s World final to secure a return trip to Final X.
Prior to 2020, Dake earned two World gold medals up at 79 kg. He is a three-time Pan-American champion, most recently tuning up the Pan-American field in Buenos Aires, Argentina, earlier this month.
While attending college at Cornell University, Dake became the first wrestler to win four individual NCAA Div. I titles across four different weight classes. At the time, he was just the third wrestler in history to win a fourth title. He was awarded the Dan Hodge Trophy in 2013.
Turning toward the challenger, Nolf will prove to be among Dake’s top threats to picking up a fifth World gold. Nolf has continuously improved since transitioning to the 74 kg weight class in 2019. He defeated college teammate Vincenzo Joseph 10-5 in the U.S. Open finals to qualify for Final X.
Nolf won a gold medal at the Zagreb Open last February, taking out reigning World bronze medalist Younes Emamichoughuei of Iran and U20 World champion Dzhabrail Gadzhiev along the way. He also picked up a silver medal at the 2022 Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix held in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, which is considered one of the toughest tournaments held annually on the international calendar.
Like his Final X counterpart, Nolf amassed one of the top NCAA careers we have ever seen. He was a four-time finalist and three-time champion for Penn State, and was a vital member of four NCAA team championships for the Nittany Lions.
Both matches between Dake and Nolf at last year’s Final X in New York City were tight ones. Dake won the series two matches to none by scores of 4-2 and 2-1.
Most recent match – 2022 Final X – Dake dec. Nolf, 2-1
79 kg – Jordan Burroughs (Philadelphia, Pa./Pennsylvania RTC/Sunkist Kids WC) vs. Chance Marsteller (Hoboken, N.J./New York City RTC/Titan Mercury WC)
The most decorated men’s freestyle competitor in U.S. history is back for another run at gold. Jordan Burroughs has won the last two World Championships at 79 kg, raising his World gold medal tally up to six. He also holds a gold medal from the 2012 Olympic Games.
His gold medal run at last year’s World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, qualified Burroughs for Final X. Since then, Burroughs posted a 2-1 record at the UWW World Cup, dropping a 6-6 criteria match to Ali Bakhtiar Savadkouhi of Iran. He also picked up a gold medal at the Pan-American Championships, his ninth overall Pan-American title.
All told, Burroughs has accumulated 10 World or Olympic medals, seven gold and three bronze. He is a two-time Olympian, competing at the London Games in 2012 and the Rio Games in 2016. While in college at the University of Nebraska, Burroughs collected two NCAA titles and was the Dan Hodge Trophy recipient in 2011.
Burroughs will face familiar foe Chance Marsteller for the 79 kg World Team spot. The two competed in Final X last year with Burroughs winning the series two matches to one.
Marsteller secured his second-straight Final X berth by winning the U.S. Open held in Las Vegas last month. He edged U20 World silver medalist and three-time NCAA champion Alex Dieringer in the finals, 3-2.
In 2023, Marsteller has earned two bronze medals at tough international events. His only losses have come to Asian bronze medalist Amirhossein Kavousi of Iran at the Ibrahim Moustafa tournament and to 2018 World silver medalist Avtendil Kentchadze of Georgia at the Zagreb Open.
Unlike the bulk of the men’s freestyle Final X lineup, Marsteller had an up-and-down career at the NCAA level. Entering college as a four-time Pennsylvania state champion and one of the top prospects of his generation, Marsteller initially committed to and competed for Oklahoma State University. After an unsuccessful tenure in Stillwater, he transferred to Lock Haven University where he earned two NCAA All-America honors.
Burroughs holds a 4-1 record on the Senior level against Marsteller, but the underdog has a shot to take this series. Not many men own a win over the American legend.
Most recent match – 2022 Final X– Burroughs dec. Marsteller, 5-0
86 kg - David Taylor (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC/Titan Mercury WC) vs. Aaron Brooks (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC/Titan Mercury WC)
Perhaps the most intriguing men’s freestyle matchup at Final X will be the 86 kg showdown between generational talents David Taylor and Aaron Brooks, both of whom are Penn State legends and currently train out of State College, Pa.
As the reigning World and Olympic champion at the weight class, Taylor is without question the favorite against his less experienced counterpart. We haven’t seen Taylor in competition since the 2022 Worlds in Belgrade, Serbia, where he took down rival Olympic champion Hassan Yazdanicharati of Iran in the finals. Taylor qualified for Final X by earning his second World title and third overall World medal.
Prior to his Senior level success, Taylor was a two-time NCAA champion and four-time finalist for Penn State. He was a member of four national championship teams for the Nittany Lions under head coach Cael Sanderson and was awarded the Dan Hodge Trophy twice.
Brooks qualified for Final X by winning the 86 kg bracket at the U.S. Open. He took out two-time U20 World champion and fellow Penn State prodigy Mark Hall 6-1 in the semifinals before stopping U20 World silver medalist and two-time NCAA champion Zahid Valencia 10-6 in the finals.
Much like Taylor, Brooks has excelled on the NCAA stage during his time at Penn State. He is currently a three-time NCAA champion with another year of eligibility remaining and has been a part of two national title teams.
Brooks does have the pedigree of a future World-level star, owning a U17 World title from 2017 and a silver medal from the 2018 U20 World Championships. He was a two-time U20 World Team member for the U.S.
There are no recorded matches between Taylor and Brooks on the Senior level, but one has to imagine the two have had their fair share of exchanges in the Penn State Room at Rec Hall.
No recent matches
92 kg - Michael Macchiavello (Raleigh, N.C./Wolfpack WC/Titan Mercury WC) vs. Zahid Valencia (Tempe, Ariz./Sunkist Kids WC)
The most unexpected Final X matchup in men’s freestyle comes at 92 kg, where a pair of current U.S. National Team members, one from 86 kg and one from 97 kg, are meeting in the middle with the U.S. World Team berth at stake.
The 92 kg field opened up drastically when reigning World silver medalist J’den Cox elected to bump up to 97 kg for this World Championships cycle. With no returning World medalist at the weight competing, two Final X slots became open, one going to the U.S. Open champion and the second to the Senior World Team Trials Challenge Tournament champion.
Michael Macchiavello took the first Final X spot after winning a stacked bracket out in Las Vegas last month. He defeated three current U.S. National Team members on the way to gold: Jonathan Aiello in the quarters, Nathan Jackson in the semis and Kollin Moore in the finals. He went on to bring home a gold medal from the Pan-American Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the following week.
Macchiavello dropped from 97 kg, where he is No. 3 on the U.S. ladder, for the U.S. Open. He was a 2018 NCAA champion for North Carolina State.
Earning the second 92 kg Final X berth was 86 kg U.S. Open runner-up Zahid Valencia. The U20 World silver medalist and 2022 Pan-American champion decided to give 92 kg a go at the Senior World Team Trials Challenge Tournament held in Colorado Springs last week.
Valencia won impressively over Morgan McIntosh, Tanner Sloan and Kollin Moore to secure his third Final X appearance. He lost the 79 kg Final X series to Kyle Dake in 2018 and the 86 kg series to David Taylor last year. Both Dake and Taylor went on to win World gold after facing Valencia.
On the international stage this year, Valencia has earned a silver medal at the Ibrahim Moustafa tournament and a bronze medal at the Zagreb Open, both at 86 kg. He secured a bronze medal at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix in 2022.
Valencia was a two-time NCAA champion at Arizona State under former U.S. Men’s Freestyle National Team Head Coach Zeke Jones.
Given the weight class discrepancy, there are no Senior level results to note between Macchiavello and Valencia. It’s anyone’s guess as to who will take this series in Newark.
No recent matches
97 kg - Kyle Snyder (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC/Titan Mercury WC) vs. J’den Cox (Ann Arbor, Mich./Cliff Keen WC/Titan Mercury WC)
The Final X headliner regardless of style is the 97 kg men’s freestyle matchup between Olympic and World medalists Kyle Snyder and J’den Cox.
Snyder picked up his third World title and sixth overall World medal at 97 kg last year. Cox finished with a World silver down at 92 kg, his fifth World medal. The two have been major contributors on two U.S. teams to win World titles, last year in Belgrade, Serbia, plus 2017 in Paris, France.
Both Snyder and Cox were members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team that competed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Snyder became the youngest Olympic champion in U.S. wrestling history as he won the 97 kg gold medal. Cox also made the Olympic podium, earning a bronze medal at 86 kg.
During the 2020 Olympic cycle, Snyder picked up a silver medal at the Tokyo Games. Cox was slated to compete against Snyder for the Olympic spot at 97 kg but did not make weight at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
With Snyder holding the automatic berth to Final X at 97 kg by way of being the reigning World champion, Cox elected to make the move up to 97 kg and win the U.S. Open to secure his spot in Newark. Although he could have stayed at the non-Olympic weight of 92 kg for another World Championships run, Cox decided to move up and challenge Snyder ahead of the looming Olympic year.
In 2023, Snyder has collected a trio of international gold medals. He earned first place at the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov Tournament, the Zagreb Open and the Pan-American Championships. By comparison, Cox has not competed much since the World Championships. His only international result since Belgrade is a fifth-place finish at the Henri Deglane Challenge where he wrestled one match before forfeiting out of the event.
Both men were three-time NCAA champions and four-time All-Americans in college, Snyder at Ohio State University and Cox at the University of Missouri.
The rivalry between the two can be traced back over a decade where the pair split freestyle and Greco-Roman national titles at both the Cadet and Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D., in 2011 and 2012. At the 2015 NCAA championships, Snyder defeated Cox 3-2 in the 197-pound semifinals, their only meeting in college. Weeks later, Snyder went on to top Cox again in the U.S. Open semifinals, 4-3, before taking the reins from 2012 Olympic champion Jake Varner. The two last met in a best-of-three series at Rudis Super Match 1, which was held during NCAA Championships week in 2022. Snyder won the series two matches to none.
Most recent match – Rudis Super Match 1 – Snyder dec. Cox, 7-1
125 kg – Gable Steveson (Minneapolis, Minn./Gopher WC-RTC) vs. Mason Parris (Ann Arbor, Mich./Cliff Keen WC/Titan Mercury WC)
The heavyweight clash at Final X features 2020 Olympic champion Gable Steveson, who is in the midst of a career comeback, taking on up-and-coming contender Mason Parris.
Following the 2022 NCAA Championships where he won his second NCAA title at heavyweight for the University of Minnesota, Steveson left his shoes on in the center of the mat signifying his retirement from wrestling. He then went on to sign with the WWE and pursue a career in entertainment.
In a stunning turn of events last April, Steveson announced he would enter the U.S. Open and attempt another run at World gold. He qualified for Final X with a dominant run in Las Vegas where he took out every opponent by technical fall, including Parris and two-time World medalist Nick Gwiazdowski.
Steveson has a long history of international success on the freestyle circuit. He was a two-time U17 World champion, earning titles in 2015 and 2016. Additionally, he won a U20 World title in 2017.
Paris is fresh off a title run at the Senior World Team Trials Challenge Tournament where he booked his ticket to Final X. His road to gold in Colorado Springs wasn’t an easy one. He took out U23 World champion Anthony Cassioppi, U20 World Team member Wyatt Hendrickson and Gwiazdowski to secure a rematch with Steveson.
At the 2023 NCAA Championships, Parris earned his first national title for the University of Michigan. He also scored the Dan Hodge Trophy. Coincidentally, Steveson and Parris are the last two winners of the coveted college award.
Like Steveson, Parris has a U20 World title to his credit. The Indiana native earned a gold medal at the 2019 U20 World Championships held in Tallin, Estonia. He pinned future Olympic bronze medalist and World champion Amir Zare of Iran in the finals.
It was all Steveson when the two met in Las Vegas last April. The duo also tangoed in the 2021 NCAA finals, again, won by Steveson. Parris has the goods to compete with the best in the World at 125 kg but will have to make considerable adjustments if he wants to make his first Senior-level World Team.
Most recent match – 2023 U.S. Open – Steveson tech. fall Parris, 12-1
ABOUT FINAL X/BEAT THE STREETS BENEFIT
It is the second straight year Final X will serve as the Beat the Streets New York Annual Benefit. This year’s event will be the 13th BTSNY Annual Benefit. These unique and electrifying annual events help BTSNY raise more than $1 million each year to support local youth wrestling programs which empower young people in New York City. The BTSNY Annual Benefit after-party will follow the conclusion of Final X.
Benefit tickets and sponsorship packages (Final X plus exclusive after-party celebration access), that also provide the best wrestling-event seats, are available at give.btsny.org/beatthestreetsbenefit2023. For more information on ticket packages, email Katrin Pokalyukhin at email@example.com.
Proceeds from Benefit tickets and sponsorship packages will directly help BTSNY, which provides a safe, positive atmosphere for student-athletes to learn the essential life lessons of discipline, perseverance, self-reliance, humility and a strong work ethic through wrestling.
Event-only tickets for Final X without access to the BTSNY after-party celebration are available on Ticketmaster
FloWrestling will serve as the host broadcasting partner for Final X, presented by Tezos.