USA Wrestling Freestyle World Team...

Freestyle World Team Trials preview at 86 kg/189 lbs.

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | May 31, 2017, 11:54 a.m. (ET)

The amazing J’den Cox burst onto the international scene shortly after winning a second NCAA title as a junior for Missouri last spring at 197 pounds. Without fanfare, Cox dropped down to 189 pounds, entered the Olympic Trials and powered through a deep weight class, beating Kyle Dake in the best-of-three finals series by taking the deciding third match. Then Cox went to Mongolia to qualify the weight class for the Olympic Games and had a strong effort at World Cup. Down in Rio, Cox went on a memorable run to win an Olympic bronze medal.

This year, Cox returned to college and won his third NCAA title. He talked about playing football for Mizzou, or not returning to the mat quite yet. However, a month out from World Team Trials, Cox was named volunteer coach for Missouri and confirmed he would compete at the World Team Trials. Because of his Olympic medal, Cox advances directly to the best-of-three Championship series.

Fans are eagerly anticipating a possible finals bout between Cox and 2017 U.S. Open champion David Taylor, who was third in the Olympic Trials, and has followed up with a fantastic season to kick off the new Olympic cycle. Taylor won the Paris International, then beat all of his opponents at the World Cup in Iran, including wins over three Olympic medalists, including two Olympic champs. At the U.S. Open, he dominated his opponents.

If Taylor wins the Challenge Tournament in Lincoln, he gets a shot at Cox, who he did not face at the Olympic Trials. A two-time NCAA champion and two-time Hodge Trophy winner at Penn State, the popular Taylor seeks his first Senior World Team berth.

Richard Perry had his best U.S. Open appearance this year, placing second behind Taylor. Since the Olympic Trials, Perry won a silver medal at the Paris International and a bronze medal at the Bill Farrell International. The former Bloomsburg star burst onto the national scene with a win at the 2014 Bill Farrell International, and has been steadily improving. He has taken numerous international tours as he finetunes his skill set.

Former Ohio State star Nick Heflin, who was training and coaching at Princeton, also had his best national effort with a third-place at the U.S. Open. Previous freestyle achievements were fifth at the 2011 University Nationals and seventh at the 2013 University Nationals. Since the Open was held, Heflin was added to the coaching staff at Oklahoma.

Penn State NCAA champion Bo Nickal placed a strong fourth at the U.S. Open in his first Senior-level test. Nickal was fifth in the 2013 Cadet World Championships as a high school star out of Texas. Nickal beat two-time NCAA champion Gabe Dean of Cornell in the finals of the NCAA Championships this year, and Dean also qualified for Lincoln. Nickal has a passion for freestyle and has a big upside.

Taking fifth at the U.S. Open was Patrick Downey III, a 2012 Junior World bronze medalist. His college journey has been a bit ragged. He spent some time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and started his college career at Nebraska, but did not stay long. He was a NJCAA junior college national champion for Iowa Central CC, and moved on to Iowa State, where he was a 2016 NCAA All-American. Downey was dropped from the Iowa State team late this season. Among his wins in Las Vegas at the 2017 U.S. Open was against Dean, who had had hoped to meet at the 2017 NCAA Championships.

A recent college grad, Oklahoma State All-American Kyle Crutchmer proved that he has high potential in freestyle with a sixth-place finish at the U.S. Open, earning the trip to Lincoln. A two-time All-American for the Cowboys, Crutchmer’s major freestyle achievement while in college was a 2014 University Nationals title.

Dean, who ended seventh at the U.S. Open, has shown great abilities in the Olympic styles. He was a 2014 Junior World bronze medalist and a 2017 Pan American Senior Championships bronze medalist in freestyle. In addition, Dean won a silver medal at the 2014 Pan American Senior Championships in Greco-Roman. Although he lost his final college match in the featured bout against Nickal, he is now fully focused on success at the next level.

Veteran Austin Trotman earned his spot in the field for the World Team Trials with a gold-medal effort at the 2016 Bill Farrell International, then added another gold medal at the 2017 Dave Schultz Memorial International. An All-American at Appalachian State, he has been a consistent challenger in this weight class going back to 2012. Trotman trains with the Nebraska Wrestling Training Center, giving him home-field support when he wrestles in Lincoln.

Josh Asper, an NCAA All-American at Maryland, was third at the 2017 Dave Schultz Memorial, and as the highest U.S. placewinner who had not qualified, he earned his spot in the World Team Trials. He was third in the 2012 University World Team Trials.

The final qualifier for this weight class moved over from the Greco-Roman side, as Joe Rau entered in freestyle and won the Last Chance Qualifier in Minnesota in May. Rau was second to Ben Provisor at 85 kg in the 2017 Greco-Roman World Team Trials in April. Rau scored a 10-0 technical fall over former Edinboro star Vic Avery in the Last Chance finals to punch his ticket to Lincoln. Rau was an NCAA Div. III national champion for Elmhurst College, which shows he has excellent abilities when he is allowed to grab the legs also.

The world seems ready for a Cox vs. Taylor showdown for the World Team position. With Taylor’s dominance so far this season, he will be heavily favored to win the Challenge Tournament and set up a battle to remember.

The 2017 Freestyle World Team Trials will be hosted at the Devaney Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, June 10. Tickets can be purchased here at


The event will be broadcast by Flowrestling.

World Team Trials Qualifiers at 86 kg/189 lbs.
’16 Olympic medalist advances to Trials Finals series– J’den Cox, Columbia, Mo. (Titan Mercury WC/Missouri WF)
World Team Trials Tournament qualifiers
’16 Bill Farrell highest U.S. medalist – Austin Trotman, Lincoln, Neb. (Titan Mercury WC/Nebraska WTC)
’17 Dave Schultz highest U.S. medalist – Josh Asper, Annapolis, M.D. (Navy-Marines Corps Mat Corp)
’17 NCAA Division I champion – Bo Nickal, Allen, Texas (Nittany Lion WC/Penn State)
’17 U.S. Open champion – David Taylor, State College, Pa. (Titan Mercury WC/Nittany Lion WC)
’17 U.S. Open runner-up – Richard Perry, Lancaster, Pa. (New York AC/Pennsylvania RTC)
’17 U.S. Open third place – Nick Heflin, Bordentown, N.J. (Princeton WC)
’17 U.S. Open fifth place – Patrick Downey III, Baltimore, Md. (unattached)
’17 U.S. Open sixth place – Kyle Crutchmer, Tulsa, Okla. (Titan Mercury WC/Cowboy WC)
’17 U.S. Open seventh place – Gabe Dean, Ithaca, N.Y. (Titan Mercury WC)
’17 Last Chance Trials Qualifier highest place – Joe Rau, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm)

2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials at 86 kg/189 lbs.
1st - J’Den Cox (Missouri Wrestling Foundation) dec Kyle Dake (Ithaca, N.Y./Titan Mercury WC), two matches to none
Cox dec Dake, 8-1
Dake dec Cox, 5-3
Cox dec Dake, 4-3
3rd – David Taylor (Nittany Lion WC) tech. fall Keith Gavin (Titan Mercury WC), 13-3