Overall, this isn't the team that would have been hand picked by the powers that be if you told them to do so back in March. Despite that, spirits are pretty high as the team walks around Rio this week getting prepared to bring home hardware.
- This is a tough weight to call every year. Similar to 125 in NCAA D1, the staying power in this international weight class does not seem to be something one can possess making it a constantly competitive weight.
Vladimer Khinchegashvili (Georgia) hit the "super-duck heard around the world" for the 2015 title and is back this year for Olympic glory. At the World Cup, Daniel Dennis actually got a takedown and two guts at the World Cup to take a 6-0 lead, but the Georgian stormed back to create a tough situation to pin Dennis.
The Georgian lost in the 2014 final to Yang from North Korea. The lilliputian country has done well in the lower weights and Yang also won the 2009 title. His back up, Jong (not making that up), won the Asian Games in 2014 and was 5th at 2015 Worlds. Some are writing off Yang for his lack of appearances since 2014, but I think that would be foolish with him getting the nod.
Lebedev (Russia) has been in and out of the games so much he should have to pay alimony at this point. If he is in, the 2015 bronze medalist has two world titles and is still very dangerous.
Our Guy: Daniel Dennis is a dangerous guy making his first world team appearance. He does not have the experience, but his point scoring ability could absolutely cause him to pull off a few upsets. With the right draw he could be right in the medal mix.
My Pick: Hassan Rahimi (Iran) won the 2013 title as part of 4-straight medals and has been the most consistent performer and even looked great at the 2016 World Cup. This is such a tough weight to call though so it's certainly something I'm not willing to put any money on.
Wild Card: Yowyls Bonne (Cuba) dropped down to 57 kg after taking bronze at 61 kg in 2014. Most American fans know him from destroying Tony Ramos more times than once. In 2015, he lost 2-2 to Lebedev and wasn't pulled in to repechage. Bonne is very powerful and physical and the 33-year old has some tricks up his sleeve. Either way, watch his matches because there are usually some highlights.
Frank Chamizo won a bronze in 2010 for Cuba at the ripe old age of 18 then he did what every good Cuban athlete does and leaves for a country with actual paying wages. Last year, he won gold for Italy and at just 24 and he looks to add Olympic Gold.
There will also be a whole heap of tough competitors though.
The two previous World Champions will also be a factor Ramanov (Russia) & Safaryan (Armenia). Nazruzov (Uzbekistan) kind of came out of nowhere to finish silver in 2015. Meysam Nasiri (Iran) should be a tough out as well.
Our Guy: Frank Molinaro is the wild card in this bracket and has certainly had a unique journey winning the trials as a 9-seed and then failing to qualify before drug test allocations were opened up. He then struck gold at the World Cup. Molinaro has great ability to score quickly but is also not afraid to make things a physical one takedown match. Virtually any result in Rio shouldn't be a surprise.
My Pick: Chamizois young and we possibly haven't seen his ceiling yet.
Jordan Burroughs is our guy and my pick and has yet to show any reason not to be. He has all the tools including the work ethic and intelligence to navigate through the big stage again.
Aniuar Geduev (Russia) has been able to step out of Tsargush's shadow and immediately make his mark on world competition. I truly feel he is the best guy in the world not named Burroughs at this weight class. Little Yaz (Iran) looked great at the World Cup and will be looking to break out this year on his first world team.
Wild Card: Soner Demirtas (Turkey) is a young (25) guy on the rise. He won the European Games this year and could be a surprise factor.
Abdulsharid Sadulaev (Russia) is off to an incredible start to a career. Hopefully he is actually clean, but who knows with the motherland and the IOC. He was born in 1996 to a horse and a bear, but already has two world championships.
The defending Olympic champ will be back at it, (after not appearing for awhile) Sharifov (Azerbaijan). Salas (Cuba) has a lot of hardware on the world stage as well as Espinal (Puerto Rico). Yasar (Turkey) was the silver in 2015.
Our Guy: J'Den Cox, like Molinaro, was a 9-seed and a surprise victor at the trials. He then went to Mongolia and beat the crap out of everyone to qualify the weight. I don't know if the world is ready for the speed at this weight that Cox can provide or the cardio challenge of going six minutes with him. It will certainly be fun to watch.
My Pick: Sadulaev has been not just winning, he has been dominant. It will be a significant surprise if he goes down.
Kyle Snyder shocked the world when he became the world champion in 2015 at the old age of 19. He looks to add Olympic Gold, but that will not be an easy task. The Russians have had a host of incredibly tough guys at this weight every year. This year Boltukaev steps in for Gadisov (whom Snyder beat in the finals). He's been on a roll including a win over Snyder earlier this year, although the Russian refs certainly let him hang back after an early cheap two.
"Big Yaz" Yazdani (Iran) was the 2013 World Champ and will be a factor as well. Gazyumov (Azerbaijan) has two Olympic bronze's including 4-straight world medals. Oliynyk (Ukraine) is a 2-time medalist who is hitting his prime. He lost his first match to Snyder at the 2015 Worlds 2-1 but then battled all the way back for bronze.
My Pick: Snyder is a homer pick of sorts and those are glasses I can't take off. However, the kid's work ethic and gathering of experience in big moments makes me think he is the best bet for gold in Rio in this bracket.
Turkey's Taha Akgul is a star. In fact, their coup d'etat didn't work because Akgul walked outside and asked people to "keep it down". The 25-year old 2-time defending World Champ is a monster and fun to watch.
His biggest challenge is the dangerous Geno Petriashvili (Georgia) who is only 22. He had his junior world title taken away when he pissed hot so who knows I guess. He puts up a lot of points and is still young so it'll be very likely he is a strong factor and he may just know how to hide it better. Magomedov (Azerbaijan) caught and tech'd the Georgian in the 2015 semis which was a bit of a surprise. Veteran Bilyal Makhov (Russia) will be in the mix as well boasting a resume of 5 world freestyle medals and 2 in greco.
Our Guy: Tervel Dlagnev has been a great story for a long time not starting wrestling until high school, going D2, and even doing some good stand-up comedy after the Olympic Trials. He has two World bronze medals, but has battled injuries that kept him from the 2015 World Championships and had him contemplating not competing in the trials. Tervel can win matches, but a medal may be hoping a lot if he's not 100%. I hope he is and we will be rooting for him.
My pick: Akgul seems unstoppable until proven otherwise.