USA Wrestling Who ya got in FloWre...

Who ya got in FloWrestling's 8-man 195-lbs. Challenge on Saturday with $20K to the winner?

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Oct. 30, 2020, 11:48 a.m. (ET)

Admit it. You miss great wrestling. You can’t wait until this pandemic goes away and we can all get back to the way things were and should be.

One positive thing that has come out of this disaster has been the creation of a number of all-star wrestling competitions which have showcased many of the sport’s top stars. FloWrestling has been a leader in this movement, putting together some compelling cards with exciting matchups which we can all enjoy on a live broadcast.

On Halloween, Saturday, October 31, we can enjoy the newest concept launched by Flo, a challenge bracket of eight talented men’s freestyle stars who are weighing in at 195 pounds. They are battling for a champion’s prize of $20,000, with over $40,000 split up among the entries in this bracket. The action begins at 6:00 p.m. CT, and will also include a pair of top women’s freestyle bouts.

The big news from this field is the return of Pitt head coach Keith Gavin, a 2013 Senior World Team member who has not wrestled in a number of years. The field features seven other current Olympic contenders, with a wide variety of experience and international results. We will look at the first-round pairings, and will let you fill out the bracket from there. If you want the current odds and additional information, FloWrestling has blanket preview coverage for you to absorb.

Top Bracket matchups

Shakur Rasheed v. Keith Gavin

Everybody is looking forward to seeing just how sharp Keith Gavin will be in his return to the mat. At his best, he was a world-class freestyler, competing for Team USA at the World Championships and winning numerous international medals. There is little doubt that Gavin has kept in shape working out with his Pitt wrestlers, helping prepare them for the regular season and fine-tuning their spring and summer freestyle skills. Yet, how good can Gavin be at 35 years old, perhaps with what some mat rust? One thing for sure, nobody in this bracket has the resume to match Gavin at the international level.

Shakur Rasheed is perhaps the biggest question mark, and maybe the most intriguing of those taking the challenge. Rasheed made his mark on the college level at Penn State, and showed some explosive technique, including the ability to pin quality opponents. There is no doubt he has access to great workout partners, including Olympic champion coaches Cael Sanderson and Jake Varner, plus talented current stars David Taylor, Bo Nickal, Anthony Cassar and others. Rasheed lost his chance to compete at the cancelled 2020 NCAA Championships, and should be hungry for this chance to take a step up at the next level. Often injured in college, reports are that Rasheed is healthy and completely ready to roll.

Taylor Lujan v. Gabe Dean

Taylor Lujan is a young star coming out of Northern Iowa who is just getting his Senior freestyle career untracked. He was seventh in the Senior Nationals in Iowa in October. In the quarterfinals, he lost to Gabe Dean by technical fall, who he draws in round one of the 8-man bracket. Lujan’s other loss at Nationals in the consolation rounds was to David McFadden. Lujan was the No. 1 seed at 184 (with a 28-2 record) going into the 2020 NCAA Championships before it was cancelled by COVID. The pride of Georgia, Lujan has a great upside, and could make a huge step forward with a strong run in the 8-man bracket.

When Gabe Dean went to the Senior Nationals in Iowa in October, he said that he entered to get in matches and help prepare for the Flowrestling 8-man Challenge. He did that one better – he won his first Senior Nationals title, and beat two of the competitors in this 8-man bracket, Taylor Lujan in the quarterfinals by 10-0 technical fall and Nate Jackson in the finals, 1-1. Dean won two NCAA titles, but decided to focus on coaching rather than make a strong run for the 2020 Olympics. If he wins the FloWrestling bracket, he might want to consider continuing his comeback at the 2021 Last Chance Qualifier and make an Olympic Trials run in April. Then again, maybe he just cashes his $20K check and returns his focus on coaching. Who knows at this point? Gabe is a fierce competitor, that is for sure.

Bottom Half-Bracket matchups

Nate Jackson vs. Sammy Brooks

2020 Senior Nationals runner-up Nate Jackson continues to improve and impress. His 1-1 loss in the finals of the nationals in Iowa in October shows that he is right there with national champ Gabe Dean, who many believe is the “favorite” for this 8-man bracket. Jackson also had a 7-4 win over Drew Foster in the Senior Nationals, and Foster is in this bottom half-bracket. Jackson’s biggest obstacle, however, could be in the first round, when he battles longtime Big Ten rival Sammy Brooks. They have some wild back and forth battles going back to college, when Brooks starred at Iowa and Jackson was with Indiana. Most recently, at the 2019 Senior Nationals, Brooks won two times over Jackson. A big question is who has made the most progress since those battles? Jackson has found a home with the NJRTC and we can continue to expect him to make progress.

Sammy Brooks has been a high-level freestyle wrestler going back to his high school days in Illinois. He was also a hammer in college at Iowa. (You can still google his interviews about his mullet back in the day). Now focused full time on freestyle, Brooks brings a lot of experience and skill to this challenge bracket. Back in 2017, he made a U23 World Team by beating Myles Martin in two straight in the finals series. At the 2019 Senior Nationals, he scored a tech fall over Nate Jackson, 10-0, on the winner’s side, but their consolation battle later that tournament was a crazy 21-10 comeback win over Jackson. (Brooks also had a 2019 Senior Nationals win over Drew Foster who is in this half-bracket). One of the big questions for Brooks, and all of these athletes, is how sharp they are after the pandemic shutdown. Brooks is always in the fight at major events. If he puts together three wins on Halloween, it will be a big step forward for him on the international scene.

Myles Martin v. Drew Foster

What can you say about MyMar, who is capable of winning every tournament that he enters? An NCAA champion at Ohio State, he was competing at the Senior level throughout his college career. In the December 2019 Senior Nationals, Martin placed second, beating Alex Dieringer in the semifinals but losing to Zahid Valencia in the finals. He has a good record against the athletes in this half-bracket in freestyle. At the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, Martin defeated Nate Jackson twice (including a tech fall for third place), and stopped Drew Foster by technical fall. He has another win over Jackson in the 2019 Bill Farrell Memorial. He has given first-round opponent Drew Foster a rough time in their past meetings. Martin is strong in every position and wrestles well with the bright lights on.

We are just getting to see Drew Foster’s potential in freestyle. When he won his 2019 NCAA title, he had a great story of being unheralded in high school and stepping up in college under Olympian Doug Schwab at UNI. We saw him get his Senior career started at the 2019 Beat the Streets event when David Taylor was injured during an exchange with Foster. At the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, he lost to both Sammy Brooks and Myles Martin, who are in this half-bracket. At the December 2019 Senior Nationals, he had another loss to Brooks. This October, Foster was fourth at the 2020 Senior Nationals in Iowa, losing to another guy in this half-bracket, Nate Jackson, 7-4. It is fair to say he enters as a bit of an underdog, but has proven fully capable of competing with everybody in this Challenge event. It is not smart to underestimate him, as Foster is looking to use this competition as a way to rise on the international scene.

For fans of women’s freestyle, we also get to enjoy two competitive battles. Five-time age-group World medalist Macey Kilty battles National Team member Desiree Zavala, and Cadet World champion and Youth Olympic Games champion Emily Shilson will battle Stefana Jelacic.

Emily Shilson vs. Stefana Jelacic

Another superstar of USA Wrestling age-group programs, Emily Shilson won six Fargo titles, a Cadet World title, a Youth Olympic Games title and a trophy-case full of other big victories. She is almost always at the lightest weight class. Last year as a freshman at Augsburg, she won two college national titles, taking the WCWA title and the NCWWC (NCAA-only) title. She has wrestled at the Senior level since 2019, including taking fourth in the December 2019 Senior Nationals. At the October 2020 Senior Nationals, she scored a 10-0 technical fall over Stefana Jelacic in the quarterfinals and, after losing in the semifinals to World silver medalist Sarah Hildebrandt, she scratched to place sixth. While she may still be a little small at 50 kg, Shilson is always in great shape and battles hard every time.

Stefana Jelacic is coming off a 10-0 loss to Emily Shilson at the 2020 Senior Nationals. They were scheduled to wrestle for fifth place, but Shilson had pulled out after the semifinals. Jelacic and Shilson competed at different weights in high school, and both were ranked No. 1 in the nation during their prep years. Jelacic has always done well in freestyle, and competed at the Dec. 2019 Senior Nationals at 53 kg. She has made the move down to 50 kg this year, and her only losses at the October 2020 Senior Nationals were to Shilson and two-time World bronze medalist Alyssa Lampe. A native of Arizona and a product of the Sunkist Kids program, Jelacic is capable of competing with Shilson if she can avoid getting turned on the bottom.

Desiree Zavala vs. Macey Kilty

Don’t forget that Desiree Zavala earned a spot on the Senior Women’s National Team by placing third on the ladder at 62 kg back in 2019. A native of Washington, Zavala has competed well nationally going back to her Cadet days. She has moved around in college, going from Southern Oregon to Grays Harbor to Wayland Baptist. In recent years, her Senior-level losses have been to talented opponents, current No. 1 Kayla Miracle (a number of times) and veterans Jennifer Page and Julia Salata. Zavala will face Kilty with confidence, since they both have high goals for the Olympic year and beyond. If Kilty stays at 62 kg, this could develop into a great rivalry.

Macey Kilty is one of the best U.S. women athletes ever at the age-group level, a Cadet World champion and five-time World medalist for Team USA. In order to make that many teams, Kilty has been dominant in her battles against other American athletes through the Trials process. She jumped in hard on the Senior level in 2019, placing third in the April 2019 and December 2019 Senior Nationals events, and earning a spot on the Senior National Team at the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. She has dropped weight and settled in at 62 kg for her Olympic quest this year. She is so good that sometimes you forget how young Kilty is in comparison with her Senior opponents and just how much better she can become.

Additional resources

FloWrestling: How Each 8-Man Competitor Can Win It All On Halloween Night

FloWrestling: The 195lb 8-Man Challenge Betting Odds