IOWA CITY, Iowa – David Taylor wasn’t always that popular among University of Iowa wrestling fans.
That’s what happens when you compete for rival Penn State.
But when Taylor stepped on the mat Saturday morning at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, he was treated like one of their own.
That’s what happens when you compete for Team USA at the UWW Senior Men’s Freestyle Wrestling World Cup.
Taylor and his U.S. teammates rolled past India 10-0 before rallying past Japan 7-3 as the World Cup kicked off Saturday before an enthusiastic crowd of 6,388 fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“It’s nice to wrestle in Carver-Hawkeye and have the fans cheering for me,” said Taylor, who competes at 86 kg. “It’s an awesome atmosphere and we’re excited to put on a show for them. It’s exciting to wrestle in front of a crowd like this.”
Kyle Dake, a former Cornell competitor who beat Iowa wrestlers in two of his four NCAA finals wins, received a similar reception when Hawkeye fans rewarded him with a thundering ovation.
Dake countered, lifted and launched world silver medalist Sohsuke Takatani of Japan twice for five points to score a stunning 10-0 win by technical superiority at 79 kg.
“This is the best atmosphere in the world to wrestle in,” Dake said. “The crowd is incredible and the fans are really into it. It’s a blast wrestling in here.”
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The U.S. opened the day with a 10-0 win over India. Dake and Taylor were among seven Americans who won by technical fall in that dual.
In their second session, the Americans dropped the first three matches to Japan before coming back strong to win the final seven.
Reigning world silver medalist Thomas Gilman dropped a hard-fought 4-1 to 2017 world champion Yuki Takahashi at 57 kg.
Gilman was in prime position to score on a number of single-leg attacks, but Takahashi twice countered for takedowns in the second period. Takahashi topped Gilman 6-0 in the 2017 world finals in Paris.
Gilman, a three-time All-American for Iowa, was competing in the arena where he wrestled in college.
“It’s not about moral victories, but sometimes you have to find a positive,” Gilman said. “It’s more of a step in the right direction. Three times I shot, and every time I was in there to score. I feel like I opened him up more than in the past.
“This is my job. The sun is going to come up tomorrow. It’s just a matter of who steps out there ready to go. It’s in the past. I have to put it behind me. We'll sit down and learn from it, pick it apart. It’s all about moving forward.”
The U.S. clinched the win over Japan when Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion Kyle Snyder earned a quick 10-0 technical fall over Takeshi Yamaguchi at 97 kg.
The U.S. will face Georgia at 10 a.m. Sunday. A win there would put the Americans in the gold-medal match at 4 p.m.
“We haven’t won the World Cup in a long time and our guys are excited about having an opportunity to win it this year,” USA Wrestling National Freestyle Coach Bill Zadick said. “We came on strong in the dual with Japan and we’ll be ready to go again tomorrow.”
Team USA is seeking its first World Cup team title since 2003. The U.S. has won this event, an annual dual meet competition, 13 times.
The U.S. freestyle team recently ended another long drought – this one 22 years – by winning the team title at the world championships in 2017.
American star Jordan Burroughs treated the fans to some high-level wrestling on Saturday with his lethal leg attacks in a pair of lopsided wins at 74 kg.
Burroughs overcame a slow start against defensive-minded Vinod Kumar of India to earn an 11-1 win by technical superiority. He scored on a double-leg takedown and transitioned immediately into a leg lace to cap the victory.
He followed with a 7-1 win over Japan’s Ken Hosaka. Burroughs tweaked his knee during the bout, but came back strong to finish the win.
Burroughs, an Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion, is now a remarkable 25-0 in the World Cup.
“This is an incredible venue for wrestling with all of the tradition and history,” Burroughs said. “I love competing here. It’s a mecca for wrestling – I love it. You can’t beat it.”
Craig Sesker is a sports writer based out of Cedar Falls, Iowa, who has covered three Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.