Olympic Champs Jordan Burroughs, Helen Maroulis, David Taylor Are Among Victors At Final X New York
by Lynn Rutherford
(L-R) Jordan Burroughs competes against Chance Marsteller in the men’s freestyle 79 kg. match at the Beat the Streets Final X on June 8, 2022 in New York City.
NEW YORK — Some of the biggest names in American wrestling lived up to the billing at the second installment of the Final X on Wednesday. Five days after 15 grapplers secured spots at the fall’s world championships at the first Final X in Oklahoma, 14 more joined them following an action-packed night of wrestling in New York City.
Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater played host to best-of-three showdowns in the three Olympic disciplines: men’s and women’s freestyle, and Greco-Roman. The favorites prevailed 2-0 in 13 of the match-ups, with just three of the wrestle-offs extending to three bouts.
The U.S. roster for the world championships taking place Sept. 10-18 in Belgrade, Serbia, still has one spot to fill, but already the powerhouse team includes seven of the nine Americans who won Olympic medals in Tokyo.
Jordan Burroughs provided much of the excitement in New York. Wrestling at 79 kg., the five-time world and 2012 Olympic champion won a tough first bout 4-0 against Chance Marsteller. Marstetler grinded out a 2-2 win on criteria in the highly physical second bout, which left both athletes bloodied and wearing head bandages.
Burroughs used strategy and experience to win the third bout 5-0. Forcing Marstetler into two step-outs and a two-point takedown on Marstetler helped the Sicklerville, New Jersey, native qualify for his 11th Olympic or world championships team.
“One of the things you realize when you first start this journey is, you are naïve to the challenges you will face,” Burroughs, 33, said, reflecting on his failure to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“I rattled off 69 straight victories, three straight world championships, I never realized there would be a low period, there would be years where I didn’t make a team,” he added. “You start to readjust your goals, your values and your perspective; you start to gain the realization this is a very difficult journey. … At this point in my career, I have a new zeal to go into the wrestling room and perform. I have a great team, I have a great family and all those things are motivating for me.”
The event’s big upset came when Minnesota native Hayden Zillmer, 29, defeated two-time world medalist Nick Gwiazdowski in the freestyle 125 kg. event, winning the tiebreaking third bout 5-5 on criteria with a flurry of offense in the last minute.
Other match-ups went more to form. Reigning Olympic champion David Taylor (freestyle 86 kg.) lived up to his “Magic Man” nickname as he defeated Zahid Valencia 10-0 in their second bout, which included two spectacular four-point takedowns.
At age 31, the St. Paris, Ohio, native shows no signs of slowing down and is a strong bet for a second world title in Serbia. He also wants another trip to the Games.
“(After winning gold), you take some time off, and you feel, what is next?” Taylor said. “I realized I really love wrestling, and (I thought), ‘Let’s do that again in Paris 2024.’ It’s an addictive feeling, to have your hand raised, and you get hungry for more.”
Two-time Olympic medalist Helen Maroulis looked untouchable in her 57 kg. match-up against two-time California State champion Alexandra Hedrick, winning both bouts 10-0.
(L-R) Helen Maroulis competes against Alexandra Hedrick in the women’s freestyle 57kg match at the Beat the Streets Final X on June 8, 2022 in New York City.
The 30-year-old Maroulis, from Rockville, Maryland, has won five world medals, including three golds; still, her motivation is undiminished.
“I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to win a gold medal, and I got to experience that,” said Maroulis, who won Olympic bronze in Tokyo after becoming the first U.S. woman to win Olympic gold in wrestling in Rio. “And I also experienced what it is like to lose, or to not reach my goals. One of my goals I still have is to be part of a team, where we win as a team. I really believe we have the team to do that, all of the girls are really motivated. I’m around great people, we have a great program and it’s fun and enjoyable, so that motivates me more.”
Sarah Hildebrandt, winner of a bronze medal in Tokyo, overpowered two-time world medalist Alyssa Lampe in the women’s 50 kg. match-up, winning both bouts 10-0 with an aggressive series of takedowns.
“I really feel like I want to approach this season differently than I have in the past,” Hildebrandt, a 28-year-old from Granger, Indiana, said. “I have found success doing what I was doing, but clearly not the (gold medal) I was actually after. … Wrestling is a tool, a wonderful thing that is just adding to my being. Realizing that has really freed me to just enjoying it again. I am really committed to that mindset this year and the rest of the (Olympic) quad.”
Three-time and reigning world champion Kyle Dake won two nip-and-tuck bouts at 74 kg. against Jason Nolf. The Tokyo bronze medalist used strategy and defense to defeat the three-time NCAA champion.
“I’m working on tiny little things that will eventually pay dividends,” the 31-year-old from Ithaca, New York, said. “It’s not like it is going to be (perfect) right away, but I’ve been doing it the past few years and I can see it picking up daily now, which is pretty cool. … It’s just trying to be as creative as possible, not getting crazy with it by trying to do things that are low risk and high reward but focusing on the details.”
In Greco-Roman, two-time Olympian Ildar Hafizov (60 kg.), 2020 Olympian Alejandro Sancho (67 kg.), Kamal Bey (77 kg.), Alan Vera (87 kg.) and G’Angelo Hancock (97 kg.), won spots on the world team. Hancock, a 2021 world championships bronze medalist, is also a Tokyo Olympian.
Dominique “Dom” Parrish will represent Team USA in the women’s 53 kg. event, while 18-year old Amit Elor will compete in women’s 72 kg.
Yianni Diakomihalis will contest the men’s 65 kg. freestyle in Serbia.
A 15th wrestler was planned to punch a ticket to Serbia on Wednesday as well, but Kayla Miracle, a 2020 Olympian and 2021 world championships silver medalist, was granted a delay in her Final X wrestle-off against Jennifer Rogers due to injury. The two were scheduled to do battle in the women’s 62 kg.
Following the bouts, Beat the Streets, a nonprofit organization that works to develop the full human and athletic potential of the New York City urban youth through the lessons learned on the wrestling mat, held its 2022 benefit gala.
“This is the first time BTS has hosted the Final X world team trials, and it’s our first (gala) in three years,” Brendan Buckley, the organization’s executive director, said.
“We work with 2,500 male and female student-athletes, as young as kindergarten all the way through college. They look up to all of you (wrestlers) and it really means a lot. You have always been the first to raise your hands to do an event, and that means a lot to us.”