J'den Cox before his match at Final X: Rutgers on June 8, 2019 in Piscataway, N.J.
J’den Cox punched his return ticket to the wrestling world championships with a win over the NCAA wrestler of the year on Saturday.
The win came at the first Final X competition at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Cox defeated Bo Nickal, a three-time NCAA champion from Penn State, by scores of 4-2 and 5-0 in the 92 kg. weight class, advancing to a world or Olympic team for the fourth time.
Nickal, who was named the 2019 Dan Hodge Trophy winner as the nation’s top college wrestler, won 30 consecutive matches on his way to a third national championship with Penn State this year. He also won the 2019 U.S. Open, qualifying him for the showdown with Cox.
The victory will result in Cox looking for his fourth consecutive medal on the world stage since 2016. He won a bronze medal in his Olympic debut in Rio in 2016, and followed that up with a bronze medal at the 2017 world championships and a gold medal at the 2018 world championships.
Cox was one of 14 wrestlers to secure world team berths on Saturday. The second Final X competition, which will determine the remainder of the world team, is June 15 in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The 2019 World Wrestling Championships are in September in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
Nick Gwiazdowski, a bronze medalist at the last two world championships, secured his spot on the world team with a wild victory over Gable Steveson in the 125 kg. weight class. Gwiazdowski won both matches, which were tied at the end of regulation, on rules criteria. He clinched the victory by scoring the final point in a 3-3 tie in the second match.
Also winning in men’s freestyle was Zain Retherford at 65 kg.
Tamyra Mensah-Stock, a bronze medalist at the 2018 world championships, continued her successful run with a 6-0, 10-0 win over Alexandria Glaude in the women’s freestyle 68 kg. class. Mensah-Stock has won gold medals at three United World Wrestling ranking tournaments this year, and won her first world championship medal – a bronze – in 2018.
Ellis Coleman, a 2012 Olympian in Greco-Roman, was one of six winners during Saturday’s day session. He made his fourth world team with 9-1 and 6-0 wins against Jamel Johnson, dominating Johnson with a series of gut-wrench moves.
“My best move,” Coleman told USA Wrestling about the gut wrench. “I wasn’t just going to let it leave my repertoire or lose it from my arsenal, so I’ve been consistent with my gut wrench at the senior level.”
Winning bouts Saturday to join Coleman on the Greco-Roman world team were Joe Rau, 87 kg.; John Stefanowicz, 82 kg.; Pat Smith, 77 kg.; and Max Nowry, 55 kg.
Jenna Burkert made the world team in women’s freestyle for the fourth time with a sweep of 2017 world bronze medalist Becka Leathers. She won the 57 kg. match by scores of 4-2 and 5-0.
“It’s my job now to qualify the weight (for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020),” Burkert said. “We’re going to get it done.”
Top-six finishes in any of the classes at the world championships lock down Olympic quota spots.
Other women’s freestyle winners were Victoria Francis, 72 kg.; Forrest Molinari, 65 kg.; and Whitney Conder, who made her fourth world team with a victory over Victoria Anthony in 50 kg.
Also securing his spot on the world team was freestyle wrestler Patrick Downey, who clinched the spot at 86 kg. by appearing Saturday to make weight. His scheduled opponent, 2018 world champion David Taylor, was out due to a knee injury.