Gilman heats up his showdown with Fix during press conference for Final X in Lincoln

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | June 08, 2018, 9:55 p.m. (ET)
Thomas Gilman holding court during the Final X in Lincoln press conference. Photo by Justin Hoch.

VIDEO PLAYLIST: Final X interviews and press conferences

There has been a lot of talk around the wrestling community about some of the individual matchups for Final X, with special focus on the men’s freestyle war at 57 kg between World silver medalist Thomas Gilman and Junior World champion Daton Fix.

You can throw out the Iowa vs. Oklahoma State rivalry on this one. Fix hasn’t competed in a single match for the Cowboys yet, and Gilman’s Iowa college career ended quite a while ago.

This one goes a bit deeper. Gilman, who came into last year’s World Team Trials with a very low seed, not only made the World Team but reached the World finals. Fix, who tore up his opponents at the Junior Worlds on the way to gold last summer, lost in the 2018 U.S. Open finals to Tony Ramos but beat him to win the Freestyle World Team Trials Challenge Tournament to make Final X. On paper, you would think Gilman would be heavily favored.

Maybe not. The topic came up during the Final X in Lincoln press conference, and during the one-on-one interviews afterwards. When he was asked about how many fans are calling him an underdog, even as the reigning World silver medalist, Gilman took it head on.

“Good. Does that surprise me? No. He is very credentialed; he is a very talented opponent. He has won at every single level, which they which they have reiterated over and over. Does it matter if you are the underdog or the overdog, whatever you call it. No, it does not matter. I respect my opponent. If I am the underdog, good. I came in here as the underdog last year, with really not t a real lot of respect. I wasn’t even seeded. I am not saying I should have had any respect. I think that works in my favor a little bit, being the underdog. Right? Good.”

When asked afterward, Gilman admitted he is not satisfied with his season so far.

“It has been an interesting couple of months since the Worlds. I competed, maybe not as much as I would like, but there are reasons for that. My performances has not been on par with my World Championship performance. There are no excuses for that but there are reasons for that, too. I am ready to go now. I am peaked. This is what’s next. This has been a marquee event ever since I got second in the Worlds. I didn’t know the process yet, but this has been marked on my calendar. I had to wait and see who my opponent would be, and I am ready to go,” he said.

He also noted that perhaps his year so far is leading the wrestling fan base to question his ability to defend his turf.

“I think my performances since the Worlds, people look at that, and they look at his performances. They say Gilman is going to be down, he has lost a step, he is tripping a little bit. (Fix) has been wrestling good. How good are his opponents? Tony Ramos is on his way out the door. We will see. I never thought this would be an easy match, Daton Fix, Ramos, anybody. It is never easy. Everybody is getting ready for this match,” said Gilman.

When a report suggested that Fix had not been to the World Championships, like Gilman had, that was not correct in his mind. Gilman had been at multiple age-group World Championships before going to the Senior Worlds, and Fix has a deep age-group World resume.

“We can’t forget that just because he hasn’t wrestled on the Senior World stage doesn’t mean he hasn’t wrestled on a World stage. He is Junior World champion and we can’t forget about that. He is a very seasoned opponent. I don’t overlook that, not for a second,” said Gilman.

When experience came up in another question, Gilman jumped all over that.

“You keep asking about experience. People keep arguing that he has more experience than I do. So I don’t know. Experience might come in, as far as age. I am a little bit older, a little bit wiser. In that press conference, if you pay attention to how guys hold their composure when they are speaking, there may be a little bit of immaturity there. That’s not a judgment. I am just pointing out facts. Maybe, with composure, late in that match, we will see how he holds up, if he has that maturity,” said Gilman.

And when asked about his mindset, when he turns on the intensity in his matches, Gilman gave the kind of classic, unexpected answer that has made his interviews famous in the wrestling world.

“Getting ready to go, to compete. It is kind of a funny question. It is a controlled fist fight, a controlled street fight. If you have ever been done with a fist fight, you are damned possessed. Whether you are focused or not going in, you figure out how to get focused somewhere along the line. When you are done, you have tunnel vision, the only thing you are thinking about is ripping that guy’s head off,” he said.

When pressed more about Fix, Gilman told FloWrestling that they just need to wait and see.

“Everyone want to make this guy out to be the second coming of Jesus Christ. I think he’s good. I respect him. I am not saying I don’t. But I don’t know actually how good he is. We will see. If he goes out there and he humbles me and kicks the living crap out of me, he is pretty danged good. That is going to be a hard task to do,” said Gilman.

So, Fix may have a much more laid back style, but don’t believe for a minute that he lacks the confidence or the belief in his ability to beat Gilman and make the U.S. Senior World Team.

“I feel confident. I feel training has been going really well and I feel that this is the best I have wrestled in my life. I am at the top of my game, for sure, and I am just going to keep getting better,” said Fix.

When asked if he had some new technique or strategy ready for Gilman, Fix continued to explain his focus on improvement and his ability to grow and adapt.

“I am always improving. Every time I step out on the mat, I want to get better, one way or another. There are some things I might do that I may never have done in a match before. But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t practiced it. There are a lot of things I do in the room that I don’t do in live competition. I am going out there to wrestle, and have to get in as many wrestling positions as possible. That will put the match in my favor if I get into those wrestling positions,” he said.

He credits his experience moving up through the USA Wrestling age-group system, from the Youth Olympic Games and the Cadet World Championships through his Junior World title as giving him a firm belief in his ability to win at any level.

“The developmental program for USA Wrestling is obviously working. That is just the facts. We are getting better and winning more medals and winning team titles. It is something people expect us to do. It’s expected. When it is expected out of you, you tend to perform and meet those expectations. In wrestling, going to the Senior level, I have always believed in myself. Nothing has changed. I thought I could win at the Cadet level, thought I could win at the Junior level. I am at the Senior level and still believe I can be the best in the world.”

For Fix, Saturday night at Final X is something that he is excited about, something he feels is part of his make-up as a wrestler and as a young man.

“This is what I dream about, being on the big stage, winning the biggest match. At this moment in my career, this is the biggest match. This is the biggest stage I can possibly be on. This is what I dream to do. I live for these kind of moments and I feel like I rise to the occasion when it is that time,” said Fix.

Gilman vs. Fix. Who ya got? The talking ends Saturday night at the Bob Devaney Center in Lincoln.

Tickets are still available and anybody who can get there should. If you can’t be in Lincoln, check it out on FloWrestling live, starting at 6:00 p.m. You won’t want to miss this match, or the entire seven matchup card.