Cohlton Schultz locks up a front headlock throw against Adam Coon in the 2023 U.S. Open finals. Photo by Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors.
The Greco-Roman portion of Final X in Newark, N.J. on June 10 will showcase a number of experienced athletes who are seeking to return to the World level, as well as a good mix of newcomers who have forced their way into Final X and aim to establish themselves heading into the Olympic year.
We will summarize each pairing in weight order, which is how the matches will be conducted in Final X.
55 kg – Brady Koontz (Dubuque, Iowa/Titan Mercury WC/Dubuque RTC) vs. Dalton Duffield (Colorado Springs, Colo./Army WCAP)
There will be a new U.S. Senior World Team member at 55 kg, with three-time USA Wrestling Greco-Roman Wrestler of the Year Max Nowry stepping away from competition this season. The athlete who has been No. 2 behind Nowry in recent years, 2023 U.S. Open champion Brady Koontz, and another talent who has shown improvement, 2023 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament champion Dalton Duffield, will square off with a World Team berth up for grabs. Going back to 2019, Koontz has beaten Duffield five straight times, most recently with a technical fall in the finals of the 2023 U.S. Open. On paper, Koontz is a favorite, but we don’t host Final X on paper.
Both athletes have had interesting journeys to Final X. Koontz became a Greco-Roman specialist as a youth in Wisconsin. Koontz and his brother Dylan went to Ohio State, and while not regular starters for the Buckeyes, they were able to focus on Greco-Roman while there. Along the way, Koontz qualified for U.S. age-group World Teams on the U17, U20 and U23 levels. Currently, the Koontz brothers train at the Univ. of Dubuque under legendary Dennis Hall. Duffield was a Junior Nationals Greco-Roman champion from Oklahoma. His journey includes some Div. I time at Oklahoma, a stint at the NMU-NTS in Northern Michigan and most recently with Army WCAP. Duffield has been a Senior National Team member. It will be interesting to see what Duffield changes up after losing handily to Koontz at the U.S. Open. The first match of the series will set the tone, especially if Duffield comes out strong.
Most recent match – 2023 U.S. Open finals – Koontz tech fall Duffield, 9-0
60 kg – Dalton Roberts (Fountain, Colo./Army WCAP) vs. Ildar Hafizov (Colorado Springs, Colo./Army WCAP)
Dalton Roberts and Ildar Hafizov are Army WCAP teammates and have a ton of respect for each other. They use words like “brother” when talking about each other. However, when they compete against each other, all bets are off. Since 2018, they have battled in official matches at least 11 times, with the results almost exactly even. In 2018 and 2021, Roberts beat Hafizov to make the Senior World Team. In 2022, Hafizov beat Roberts to make the World Team. They have met in Final X before, and they will meet there again this year. All three times they met with a World Team spot up for grabs, it has gone the full three bouts. This is the definition of a rivalry.
Hafizov was an Olympian and World Team member for Uzbekistan before emigrating to the USA. He joined the Army and has become an Olympian and World Team member for Team USA. At 35, Hafizov is on the backstretch of his career, but still competes at a high level. Roberts was successful in Greco-Roman as a Michigan high schooler, and went to NMU-NTS at Northern Michigan to finetune his craft. When done with college, Roberts joined Army WCAP. Their most recent meeting was a 7-6 win by Roberts in the 2023 U.S. Open finals. It is hard to know who will step up in Final X, since both of them have done it in the past. Fans will have to sit back, enjoy their popcorn and beverage, and watch closely as these two sort it out once again.
Most recent match – 2023 U.S. Open finals – Roberts dec. Hafizov
63 kg – Hayden Tuma (Nampa, Idaho/Suples WC) vs. Xavier Johnson (Colorado Springs, Colo./Army WCAP)
The 63 kg Final X series in Greco-Roman will place a new athlete on the Senior World Team, either 2023 U.S. Open champion Hayden Tuma, or 2023 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament champion Xavier Johnson. Although both of them have been on the national scene for a while, they have not wrestled each other much. At one point in 2019, when Tuma was with Army WCAP and Johnson was with the U.S Marine Corps, Tuma beat Johnson, 8-0. There could be other meetings over the years. Tuma is no longer with the Army, and Johnson has switched from the Marines to the Army, so both are in different training situations today.
Tuma was a hot-shot Greco-Roman star in high school from Idaho, training under coach Ivan Ivanov, winning national titles and making World Teams. Between 2011 and 2015, Tuma made two U17 World Teams and two U20 World Teams. Ultimately, Tuma chose to continue with Greco-Roman with Army WCAP. He won the 2016 U.S. Open and made the finals three other times. Since leaving the Army and going back to train with Ivanov, Tuma has won two more U.S. Open titles. Johnson built his career through the All-Marine team, winning a national title and making Senior National Team. With the Marine Corps stepping back from elite wrestling, Johnson is now wrestling with the Army. Tuma looked sharp at the U.S. Open and Johnson was on task at the Challenge Tournament. This series could be very interesting, perhaps going the full three bouts.
Most recent match – 2019 Armed Forces – Tuma tech fall Johnson, 8-0
67 kg – Robert Perez III (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids WC) vs. Alejandro Sancho (Colorado Springs, Colo./Army WCAP)
Who do you got at 67 kg in Greco-Roman, surprise U.S. Open champion Robert Perez III, or 2020 Olympian and 2023 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament champion Alejandro Sancho? These athletes have not competed against each other. Clearly, as an Olympian and Senior World Team member, Sancho has considerably more experience at the highest level than Perez. At this year’s U.S. Open, Perez pounded through the field with five wins, beating 2016 Olympian Jesse Thielke in the finals, by technical fall. In the semifinals, he stopped 2022 U17 World champion Joel Adams, 6-3. In the quarterfinals, Adams shocked Sancho with a victory by fall, and Sancho scratched after that. In the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, Sancho punched his ticket to Final X, winning two bouts by technical fall, then claiming the finals by forfeit over Thielke.
Sancho is a known quantity in international wrestling. In addition to his Olympic appearance, he was on the 2022 U.S. Senior World Team, and wrestled on U20 and U23 World Teams. A Florida native, Sancho got his Greco-Roman pedigree at the NMU-OTS, went to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center afterwards, then joined Army WCAP. Perez, just 19 years old, learned his Greco-Roman growing up in California. He has made U17 and U20 World Teams. Instead of wrestling in college, Perez moved out the USOPTC and started wrestling on the Senior level. Clearly, Perez has advanced quickly in his current environment. He went to the 2023 Pan American Championships the week after the U.S. Open and did not medal. Will Robert Perez III continue his upward path, or will Alejandro Sancho nail down another trip to the Senior Worlds?
Most recent match – No match-ups
72 kg – Justus Scott (Colorado Springs, Colo./Army WCAP) vs. Patrick Smith (Minneapolis, Minn./Minnesota Storm)
At 72 kg in Greco-Roman, Final X will be a rematch from the 2023 U.S. Open finals, where relative unknown Justus Scott upset three-time World Team member and veteran star Patrick Smith in the finals, 6-4. Smith earned a rematch with his solid victory at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. While Scott is just getting his Senior level career going, Smith is focused on getting additional opportunities to challenge for World and Olympic medals. With Final X as a best of three series, Smith will have a clear chance to show that his experience and savvy is capable of beating a young talent on a roll.
Pat Smith competed for the University of Minnesota and was already an elite Greco-Roman athlete while in college. His 2014 World University silver medal showed his abilities were already there internationally. Smith made World Teams in 2017, 2019 and 2021, and had a huge win at the 2019 Pan American Games. He boasts three Pan American Championships golds. Scott got his Greco-Roman career rolling in Nevada, where he was training when he made the 2021 U20 World Team. After joining Army WCAP, he made his military debut at the 2023 Armed Forces Championships, where he won a freestyle title. His U.S. Open run was a bit of a surprise, especially his 4-1 win over Army teammate and 2022 Final X runner-up Britton Holmes. Final X will clarify where Scott stands at this point of his career. Smith already is battle tested, but still has some goals he’d like to reach for Team USA.
Most recent match- 2023 U.S. Open finals – Scott dec. Smith, 6-4
77 kg – Kamal Bey (Colorado Springs, Colo./Army WCAP) vs. Aliaksandr Kikiniou (Poway, Calif.)
This Final X series has one of the better story lines among Greco-Roman battles. Kamal Bey, who has been competing at a high level in Greco-Roman since high school, is now a veteran star who is still seeking his first Senior World or Olympic medal. Aliaksandr Kikiniou won a World medal and made two Olympic Teams for Belarus before emigrating the United States. Since being here, Kikiniou has entered international events such as the Dave Schultz and Bill Farrell Memorials, winning the Farrell gold medal twice. At 43 years old, his citizenship came through, and Kikiniou used his skills and experience to reach the U.S. Open finals, where Bey opened it up on the way to a 9-0 technical fall. When Kikiniou won the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, he earned another shot at Bey in Final X.
Bey has been throwing people around since his Illinois youth wrestling days. He came to Colorado as a high school senior, influenced by Olympian T.C. Dantzler, and changed to a full-time Greco-Roman focus. He won a U20 World title in 2017, and made a nice run at the 2018 Senior Worlds, finishing seventh. Bey went from the USOPTC to the Army WCAP program. He was not able to compete during the Olympic year but came back in 2022 for another Senior World Team berth. In his two competitions this year in Las Vegas and Colorado Springs, Kikiniou showed great technical skills, with some slick throws of his own. The big question at Final X is whether Bey will be able to again quickly score big points, or if Kikiniou will have a game plan that would allow his abilities to be showcased.
Most recent match: 2023 U.S. Open finals – Bey tech fall Kikiniou, 9-0
82 kg – Spencer Woods (Colorado Springs, Colo./Army WCAP) vs. Ryan Epps (Cannon Falls, Minn., Army WCAP)
Army WCAP wrestler Spencer Woods, who competed at the 2022 Senior Worlds, is looking to win his first Final X and secure another trip to the Senior Worlds. Last year, Woods was second to two-time Olympian Ben Provisor at Final X, and when Provisor was unable to go to Worlds, Woods got his first big opportunity. This year, Woods made the U.S. Open finals and beat Provisor, 4-3. Veteran Ryan Epps, who has been on the Senior National Team in the past, defeated Provisor in the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament finals, 2-1, giving Woods a different challenge to make the World Team.
Woods has an interesting story on his way to Final X. A native of Alaska, he initially went to the University of Maryland for college. His next step was with the NMU-NTS in Northern Michigan to focus entirely on Greco-Roman. After NMU, he joined Army WCAP, where he has competed at the U23 Worlds and Senior Worlds. After winning the 2023 U.S. Open, he added a Pan American title. Epps initially learned Greco-Roman growing up in Minnesota. He went on to Augsburg, where he won a pair of NCAA Div. III national titles, then put his focus on Greco-Roman with the Minnesota Storm. Just recently, he went through basic training in the process of joining Army WCAP. Epps was not at the U.S. Open, but had qualified for the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. Without much wrestling training in recent months, he put it together in Colorado Springs to earn his shot against Woods. With two straight wins over Epps, Woods will be confident going into the Final X showdown.
Most recent match – 2022 U.S. Open semifinals – Woods tech fall Epps, 8-0
87 kg – Alan Vera (Jersey City, N.J./New York AC) vs. Zachary Braunagel (Belleville, Ill./Illinois RTC/Illini WC)
2023 U.S. Open champion Alan Vera comes to Final X as a two-time U.S. Senior World Team member, while World Team Trials Challenge Tournament winner Zachary Braunagel, a University of Illinois student-athlete, is just getting his Senior career unleashed. Vera defeated Braunagel in an 9-0 technical fall in the U.S. Open semifinals in Las Vegas, then won the finals over 2020 U.S. Olympian John Stefanowicz. It was Stefanowicz who beat Vera in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. In the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, veteran Richard Carlson beat Stefanowicz in the semifinals, then Braunagel stopped Carlson to qualify for Final X.
Vera learned his Greco-Roman basics competing for Cuba, where he won a Senior Pan American Championships title and a Pan American Games bronze medal. He emigrated to the USA, wrestling in open international events until he became a citizen. He is looking to make his third straight Senior World Team. Braunagel came up through the Illinois USA Wrestling program, winning a Junior Nationals Greco-Roman title and freestyle runner-up finish in 2018. Braunagel talks about enjoying competing in all three styles, including his college efforts for the Illini. Greco-Roman seems to be the style he has taken the farthest, making a U20 World Team and placing third at the U.S. Open twice. This will be a battle of a true Greco-Roman specialist against a rising young star with impressive skills in all styles.
Most recent match – 2023 U.S. Open semifinals, Vera tech fall Braunagel, 9-0
97 kg – Josef Rau (Chicago, Ill./Titan Mercury WC) vs. Christian DuLaney (Shakopee, Minn./Minnesota Storm)
Josef Rau, who has competed in a number of weight classes during his Senior Greco-Roman career, continues to put himself in position to achieve great things. An NCAA Div. III champion for Elmhurst, he made his first Senior World Team at 80 kg in 2014, then made his next World Team in 2019 at 86 kg. In 2016, he won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at 98 kg, but was unable to qualify the weight class for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. For a time, he was entering Senior events in both Greco-Roman and freestyle. Joe Rau comes back year after year and proves himself time after time. By winning the 2023 U.S. Open, beating Nick Boykin in the finals, he made Final X with another chance to go to the Worlds.
His opponent will be Christian DuLaney, who was a 2022-23 Senior National Team member at 86 kg but decided to move up to 97 kg this year. Another product of the Minnesota USA Wrestling program, he made three stops in his college career, going from Iowa Lakes CC to Northern Iowa to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. He is pursuing his Greco-Roman passion back with the Minnesota Storm. DuLaney was third in the 2023 U.S. Open, losing only to Boykin in the semifinals. At the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, Boykin was defeated by college wrestler Clay Lautt, who DuLaney beat in the finals. While DuLaney has good Greco-Roman credentials, Rau has a track record and skill set that makes him the favorite.
Most recent match – 2020 U.S. Open semifinals – Rau tech fall DuLaney, 10-0
130 kg – Cohlton Schultz (Parker, Colo./Sunkist Kids WC) vs. Adam Coon (Ann Arbor, Mich./Cliff Keen WC/New York AC)
Bring on the big men in Final X. In Greco-Roman, 2018 World silver medalist Adam Coon and two-time Senior World Team member Cohlton Schultz have renewed a rivalry this year. Leading up to the 2020 Olympic Games, which was delayed a year due to the pandemic, it was Coon who held an edge over Schultz, beating him in 2019 Final X and the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Coon was unable to qualify the weight for the 2020 Tokyo Games, then decided to pursue professional football for a while. After taking the No. 1 spot at 130 kg in Coon’s absence, Schultz turned the tables on Coon in the 2023 U.S. Open finals with an inspired 11-2 technical fall win. Coon won the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament for another shot at Schultz in Newark.
Coon was excellent in all styles, including making the NCAA finals for Michigan in college. He won U20 World medals in both freestyle and Greco-Roman, and also competed in Final X in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. He pinned his way into the 2018 World finals, before falling to a tough Russian. We will get a chance to see if Coon has recovered his Greco-Roman edge, as well as find out how he makes adjustments since Las Vegas. Schultz is also an NCAA runner-up for Arizona State (losing to Olympic champion Gable Steveson in the finals),but has focused mainly on Greco-Roman since high school. A U17 World champion and U20 World silver medalist, Schultz seeks his first Senior-level World medal. This will be a dynamite best-of-three series.
Most recent match – 2023 U.S. Open finals – Schultz tech fall Coon, 11-2
ABOUT FINAL X/BEAT THE STREETS BENEFIT
It is the second straight year Final X will serve as the Beat the Streets New York Annual Benefit. This year’s event will be the 13th BTSNY Annual Benefit. These unique and electrifying annual events help BTSNY raise more than $1 million each year to support local youth wrestling programs which empower young people in New York City. The BTSNY Annual Benefit after-party will follow the conclusion of Final X.
Benefit tickets and sponsorship packages (Final X plus exclusive after-party celebration access), that also provide the best wrestling-event seats, are available at give.btsny.org/beatthestreetsbenefit2023. For more information on ticket packages, email Katrin Pokalyukhin at email@example.com.
Proceeds from Benefit tickets and sponsorship packages will directly help BTSNY, which provides a safe, positive atmosphere for student-athletes to learn the essential life lessons of discipline, perseverance, self-reliance, humility and a strong work ethic through wrestling.
Event-only tickets for Final X without access to the BTSNY after-party celebration are available on Ticketmaster
FloWrestling will serve as the host broadcasting partner for Final X, presented by Tezos.