By Craig Sesker | March 13, 2019, 3:22 p.m. (ET)

Kyven Gadson competes at the U.S. Men’s Freestyle World Team Trials in 2017.

 

Last year’s Freestyle World Cup ended on a high note for the Americans, with the U.S. men’s wrestling team claiming its first win in the competition since 2003 — and doing it on home soil in Iowa City, Iowa.

The team will have a whole new challenge in its title defense this weekend, when the annual dual-meet event is held in the Siberian city of Yakutsk, Russia.

That’s because, unlike last year, Russia and Iran are expected to compete, meaning all of the top wrestling countries will take part.

“We’re excited and we’re looking forward to competing in the World Cup,” U.S. coach Bill Zadick said. “We’re taking a strong team to Russia that has some talented young wrestlers and some experienced guys. It’s a great opportunity for us to wrestle four dual meets against some of the best teams in the world.”

The World Cup features the top eight team finishers from the previous year’s world championships. United World Wrestling will use a new format for this year’s World Cup in all three styles. With the new system, the No. 1 team will be paired in one pool with the No. 4, No. 5 and No. 8 teams from the world championships. The No. 2 team will in a group with the No. 3, No. 6 and No. 7.

The winners of each pool will then meet in a dual meet to determine the champion. The U.S. defeated Azerbaijan 6-4 in the World Cup final last year.

Russia, the 2018 world team champion, will be in Group A with Cuba, Japan and Turkey. The U.S., which finished second at the 2018 worlds, will be in Group B along with Georgia, Iran and Mongolia.

Iran has dominated this event in recent years, winning six straight World Cups from 2012-17.

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“We will face some tough tests in our pool,” Zadick said. “It will be a real good challenge for us and we’re looking forward to it. The World Cup is an awesome event with an exciting format.”

In going for its 14th win in the competition, the American World Cup squad will feature an experienced roster that includes a number of proven athletes. Leading the way for the U.S. team are several wrestlers with elite NCAA experience.

Zain Retherford, the lone American with world championships experience, is a past cadet world champion who won three NCAA titles at Penn State and twice won the Hodge Trophy as the nation’s top collegiate wrestler. He competes at 65 kg.

The American team also features two-time NCAA champions Tony Nelson (125 kg.) and Isaiah Martinez (74 kg.) along with NCAA champions Kyven Gadson (97 kg.) and Nico Megaludis (61 kg.).

In addition, the U.S. squad includes past NCAA All-Americans Zach Sanders (57 kg.), Zane Richards (57 kg.), Jason Chamberlain (70 kg.), Tommy Gantt (79 kg.), Sammy Brooks (86 kg.) and Hayden Zillmer (92 kg.).

Gadson and Nelson are the only holdovers from last year’s World Cup, though neither wrestled in the event.

Gadson, an Iowa native, is eager to get his shot this year.

“I’m really excited to wrestle in the World Cup,” said Gadson, a 2015 NCAA champion at Iowa State. “Last year, I was the alternate and I sat and watched the whole thing. Now I get a chance to compete. I have to take full advantage of the opportunity that I have.”

Gadson won a bronze medal for the U.S. at the Cerro Pelado International last month in Cuba. He is part of an American World Cup team that consists of numerous national team members.

“We have guys on our team who are trying to work their way up the ladder,” Gadson said. “When you have an opportunity to represent your country on one of the biggest stages, you have to show up and show out. I’m excited to have a chance to showcase my skills against great competition.”

Gadson likes the format that is used for the World Cup.

“It gives us that dual meet feel we don’t really get much of on the senior level,” he said. “And it gives us a chance to have that team environment again — that’s one of the cool parts of the World Cup. It’s an awesome event.”

A number of top Americans, including Olympic and world champions Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder, will not wrestle at the World Cup after recently competing in another important event. Burroughs and Snyder recently won titles at the Dan Kolov International, the second UWW Ranking Tournament for men’s and women’s wrestling, earlier this month.

Craig Sesker is a sports writer based out of Waverly, Iowa. He has covered three Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.