Defending NCAA champ Valencia confident as he will battle 2017 NCAA champ Hall on Friday

By Taylor Miller, USA Wrestling | Dec. 14, 2018, 1:12 p.m. (ET)

The wrestling world is eagerly awaiting the fourth installment of the Zahid Valencia/Mark Hall rivalry, which will go down on Friday night.

“This is exciting! He’s ranked No. 2 in the country and I’m No. 1, so having this matchup early in the season is a lot of fun because I get to see where I’m at early on,” Valencia said.

Valencia of Arizona State holds a 2-1 series advantage so far, taking both wins over Penn State’s Hall in the 2017-18 season.

As a true freshman, Hall edged out Valencia in the 2017 174-pound NCAA semifinals, 4-3, which was their first collegiate meeting. Hall went on to win his first individual national title.

Just months later, the two met up again at the NWCA All-Star Classic, where Valencia flipped the result, defeating Hall, 3-2.

Many wrestling fans expressed that they felt Valencia’s All-Star win was a fluke. However, the Sun Devil proved them wrong in March at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

Both undefeated on the season, Valencia received the No. 1-seed at NCAAs, while Hall was placed on the bottom side of the 174-pound bracket as the No. 2 seed.

After running through their respective sides of the bracket, Valencia and Hall met up in the NCAA finals. Valencia, a native of California, left no doubt as he walked off the mat with an impressive 8-2 win and the 2018 NCAA title.

Tonight, the two will go head-to-head for the fourth time in front of Hall’s home crowd at Rec Hall on Penn State’s campus. The dual will be televised live on ESPN2 on Friday at 6 p.m. ET.

“Looking back at the national championship match and how I controlled it, I just have to keep the same pace,” Valencia said. “We both have some world-class coaches, so he’s obviously making some adjustments in order to change that outcome. I don’t feel like I need to change much. I need to focus on making sure I finish all of my shots and keep that high pace. I think that’s what will get me the win.”

While Hall holds the home-crowd advantage, Valencia, who competed at Final X in State College, Pa., said he already has an idea of what he’s walking in to.

“The last time I wrestled in that arena was against Kyle Dake in Final X, so I kind of know what the crowd is like already because there were a ton of PSU fans there,” Valencia said. “I’m excited to see all those Penn State fans and hope to get a win in front of that crowd. Should be a lot of fun.”