Monday, April 23, 2018

The Top 5 USA Freestyle Wrestlers at 74 KG

I went to the UWW Freestyle World Cup in Iowa City, and it was awesome. In fact, it got me so amped up that I'm going to be coming at you with a bunch of wrestling content. I'm ranking the top five guys at every weight class, and today we move on to 74 KG (approximately 163 pounds). Let's get to it.

5. Alex Marinelli
I have my Hawkeye Homer glasses on, but I still don't see a way for Marinelli to compete with the best guys at this weight. I do think he showed a lot of improvement in the folkstyle world this past season, so hopefully he puts together a couple of wins and keeps that wrestling momentum going into next season for Iowa.

4. Vincenzo Joseph
Joseph hasn't really done much at the freestyle level, but he is a two-time defending NCAA Champion, and that's got to count for something. I'm not sure how strong his interest is at this point in his career, but he definitely has the talent if he dedicates himself to a transition down the line.

3. Nazar Kulchytskyy
Nazar is crafty enough to be an alternate, but not really a threat to challenge for the top spot. He's a very good wrestler, but if everything breaks right, he gets tech'd twice by the man at the top of this list.

2. Isaiah Martinez
Isaiah Martinez was a guy who I had the highest of hopes for when it came to his potential. After his undefeated freshman season, I thought he would go all four years undefeated. He was so totally overwhelming and awesome that I just couldn't see anybody beating him. He ended up getting beat in his sophomore year, and did not win a national title in either his junior or senior years. He just never really seemed to get better, and his underhook offense got figured out by the best wrestlers out there. Even against lesser competition, he didn't dominate like he did early in his career. And now he is going to the international world where I just can't see him giving the top guy a run for his money. I-Mar is still a physical freak, and I could still see an amazing MMA career if he chooses to go down that path.

1. Jordan Burroughs
Still the King. He bounced back from a disappointing Olympics in 2016 to win yet another World Title in 2017. He's older, not quite as explosive, but definitely craftier in his attacks. He's the man. Thinking anything else would be ridiculous. He had the single best moment of the World Cup when he managed a pin against Azerbaijan in the finals. He won't be able to do this forever, so appreciate it while we still can. He's still awesome, and ain't nobody from the USA taking his spot at the top of this weight class.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Top 5 USA Freestyle Wrestlers at 70 KG

I went to the UWW Freestyle World Cup in Iowa City, and it was awesome. In fact, it got me so amped up that I'm going to be coming at you with a bunch of wrestling content. I'm ranking the top five guys at every weight class, and today we move on to 70 KG (approximately 154 pounds). Let's get to it.

5. Richie Lewis
Lewis won the gold medal at the U23 tournament this past fall, and while that is certainly the best accomplishment at that tournament, the strength of the U23 usually leaves quite a bit to be desired. It's this weird in-between tournament for people who are too old for Juniors but not quite at the talent level of the Senior level guys. I don't really see Lewis as a great threat to take this weight, and considering that he wrestled all year at 165, he might bump up to 74 KG.

4. Frank Molinaro
Molinaro is moving up from 65 KG this year, and I have never been a huge Molinaro believer. In fact, you could probably safely classify me as a Molinaro hater. He manged to take fifth place a couple years ago, but that was his peak in my opinion, and I don't see a move up in weight helping him any. Still, he is a solid wrestler with a lot of great experience, but I just don't think he has the necessary skills to be a true threat at this weight.

3. Dylan Ness
Is this too high for Dylan Ness, a man that has not shown any great success at the Senior level? Yes, it definitely is, but Dylan Ness is awesome, and I will gladly overrate somebody who is incredibly fun to watch. Let's just hope that somebody puts him in a position to scramble, because then we are all in for a treat.

2. Jason Nolf
Speaking of guys that can scramble, Nolf definitely fits that bill, and I would love to see a match between Nolf and Ness. Still, Nolf is coming off of a knee injury, so there is a decent chance he sits this year out. He is somebody who is still learning how to translate his folkstyle skills to the world of freestyle, but he gets better every year, and it certainly wouldn't be surprising if he was giving the top guy a run for his money this year.

1. James Green
Green won the silver medal at the World Championships last year, and he's still the clear favorite for the United States. He seems to run hot and cold as sometimes he can really just fail to get going on offense. Still, he's had an incredible transition to the freestyle world (working every day with Jordan Burroughs seems to be a good thing), and it would be very surprising to see anybody from the United States upset him this year.

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57 KG

The Top 5 USA Freestyle Wrestlers at 65 KG

I went to the UWW Freestyle World Cup in Iowa City, and it was awesome. In fact, it got me so amped up that I'm going to be coming at you with a bunch of wrestling content. I'm ranking the top five guys at every weight class, and today we move on to 65 KG (approximately 143 pounds). Let's get to it.

5. Ryan Deakin
Deakin makes this list, mostly since Yianni Diakomihalis will probably not be able to wrestle this year. Deakin is solid as he had some good results at lower levels, but I cannot see him coming out on top at a weight class with some very good options at the top.

4. Joey McKenna
McKenna has elite defensive skills, and he showed that this past year when nobody scored on him during the B1G Tournament. Still, the offense isn't quite up to that elite level, and he was unable to come out on top at the NCAA Tournament. Still, he was good enough to be an alternate at this weight during the World Cup, so clearly, Team USA has some faith in him, but I'm not quite ready to buy what he is selling.

3. B.J. Futrell
BJ Futrell is the gatekeeper. He keeps everyone out of the top spots. When you can beat Futrell, you can have the opportunity to represent the United States. It is not a glamorous position, but Futrell is a tough out, and I do see him as still retaining his spot as our country's third best option at 65 KG.

2. Zain Retherford
This is where it gets real. I definitely had this order reversed when I initially ranked the guys, but the more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that Zain is not quite ready to take over as the man at this weight class. It's counter intuitive since Zain did represent the United States last year at this weight, but even though he was dominant this past year in college, he seemed to tighten up in big matches instead of opening up like he was usually able to do. Although he has been the top guy, I see a former nemesis moving up in weight and taking that spot from him this year.

1. Logan Stieber
When he was a senior, Stieber was upset by Retherford, who was only a freshman, but he bounced back to beat him when it mattered and secured a fourth NCAA title. Stieber has been consistently competing at freestyles since then where Retherford has been bouncing back and forth between folkstyle and freestyle. Although the styles are similar, I do think Stieber has gained better experience, not only because of the stylistic differences but also competing consistently against guys who are the best in the world. I think a match between these two will be incredibly close, and I wouldn't be surprised if it goes to a decisive third match, but I have to give just the slightest edge to Stieber.

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

The 45 Most Important Players to the Chicago Bulls Dynasty - #3 Horace Grant

Horace Grant
Horace Grant was selected 10th overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 1987 NBA Draft. As good as a player as Horace Grant was, he was still only the second most valuable acquisition for the Bulls during that draft as it was also the year that they selected Scottie Pippen. This is fitting for Horace Grant as he was a very good player who was constantly overlooked due to the surrounding cast he had during his time in the NBA.

After Grant's rookie year, the Bulls traded Charles Oakley to acquire Bill Cartwright. This gave the Bulls a starting center and opened up the starting power forward position for Grant. Once that happened, he was a model of consistency. You could always count on about 13 points, 9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, a steal, a block and some sweet rec-specs every game. He was the perfect third wheel for those early Bulls teams as he provided efficient scoring as a third option while doing the dirty work of defense and rebounding in the front court.

And this is where I get sad as a writer. There is nothing more to write about Horace Grant's time with the Bulls. He was a super good basketball player, but nothing about him stands out. He was above average in everything for a power forward, but there's not a lot of ways to wax poetically about above averageness. Did he have some exciting games? Yeah, but it's not like he ever took over a series, and even in his highlight video, he's not even doing the most impressive move in half of the plays.

Never second, never fourth, he was always the third best player on those Bulls teams.

And this is driving me crazy, because Horace Grant deserves better. The man is third on this list, and maybe that says it all. He was the third best player on the championship Bulls teams, the third best player on some really strong Orlando Magic teams, and even the third best player on the first Lakers championship team with Kobe and Shaq. He had the talent of the second best player on a contending team, and he ended up as a number three that helped build a dynasty.

With his talent, Horace Grant deserved more, but hopefully this was enough. It may not be the most exciting career, but it's still damn impressive.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Top 5 USA Freestyle Wrestlers at 61 KG

I went to the UWW Freestyle World Cup in Iowa City, and it was awesome. In fact, it got me so amped up that I'm going to be coming at you with a bunch of wrestling content. I'm ranking the top five guys at every weight class, and today we move on to 61 KG (approximately 134 pounds). Let's get to it.

5. Seth Gross
Gross won the NCAA Tournament this past year and has shown some impressive skills in his freestyle career. Although I don't see elite level talent at this weight class, I do think there is a ton of depth at it. When it came to facing the top competition in the NCAA, he was almost always able to get a takedown when he needed it, but I think he will struggle to do that against the guys he will be facing who have a lot more experience than him. Still, Gross is a guy who has excellent body control, and it wouldn't surprise me if he finished higher than this based off an upset or two.

4. Tyler Graff
It is at this point that I could easily see any of the remaining guys coming out on top at this weight. Graff was the favorite to take on Ramos at 57 KG last year but ended up losing a close match to Thomas Gilman. I think Graff will be just as tough up a weight, and he has the ability to take on anyone. It isn't going to be in shootout matches, but he does make it hard for anyone to score.

3. Kendric Maple
Maple is basically the opposite of Graff. He is going to find a way to score points, even if he has to give up some in the process. He is the top ranked guy for the USA right now, but it's never really clicked to the point where he is a real threat on the international level. There is a very strong argument for him being the favorite at this weight, but I just haven't seen a ton of progression from him, and I see him getting knocked off as the top guy at the US Open this year.

2. Joe Colon
Colon has always had a ton of physical talent as he has the ability to overwhelm opponents with his strength. He seemed like a guy who would look stronger in his initial freestyle run, but it's taken him a few years to put things together. I very nearly put him as the favorite as I think he has now combined his physical traits with enough freestyle experience to be very dangerous at this weight class. Still, I couldn't quite give him that top spot.

1. Nahshon Garrett
Garrett is one of those guys that when he is on, I find it ridiculous that anybody could beat him. He has incredible athleticism and body control, and if he wants to get to somebody's legs, it's damn near impossible to stop him. I think the weight cut to 57 KG was too much for him, but with the 61 KG weight class, I could see him finally putting it together and going to the World Championships for the United States this year.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The 45 Most Important Players to the Chicago Bulls Dynasty - #4 Dennis Rodman

Dennis Rodman
Before he was America's greatest ambassador to North Korea, Dennis Rodman was actually a basketball player. He was also an actor and a professional wrestler, so the guy definitely stayed busy, but he still managed to find plenty of time to get in trouble. Between famous relationships with Carmen Electra, Madonna, and, uh, himself...
...not to mention run-ins with the law, alcohol abuse, and multiple books, it was quite the ride. His time management skills must have been impeccable. But for now, let's stick with the basketball side of things before touching on the extracurricular activities.

Rodman was drafted in the second round (27th overall) by the Detroit Pistons where he fit in well with the Bad Boy Pistons. Rodman was always a guy who was willing to do the dirty work, and where many players want more scoring opportunities as their career progresses, Rodman went the opposite direction as he averaged 11 points per game in his second year but would never average double-digit points again in his career. But Rodman was never known as he excelled on defense and rebounding, winning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year for the 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons.

He would spend his first seven years with the Pistons, winning two titles, before being traded to the San Antonio Spurs in a deal that got the Pistons Sean Elliott. After two years with the Spurs, he was traded to the Bulls for Will Perdue right before the beginning of the 1995-96 season.

Rodman continued to contribute by doing the dirty work for those Bulls teams. In his first year with the team, he was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First team, along with Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, while leading the league in rebounding. Of course, this was not without incident, as he was suspended for six games for headbutting a referee.

In the playoffs, he played even better as the competition got tougher. That year, the Eastern Conference Finals may have been more important to the Bulls than even the NBA Finals. The Orlando Magic were the first team to eliminate a Jordan-led Bulls team since 1990. But in 1996, the Bulls went out and annihilated them, helped greatly by Dennis Rodman who both suffocated the Magic on defense and annoyed them with repeated offensive rebounds on offense. Hell, he even managed 11.5 points per game in the sweep of the Magic. He continued his great play in the Finals, highlighted by a 9 point, 19 rebound, 5 assist, 3 steals, and a block in the Championship clinching Game Six against the Seattle SuperSonics.

Rodman would turn 35 during the 1996-97 season, and his age began to show. He still led the league with over 16 rebounds per game, but he only managed to play in 55 games that season, partially due to missing 11 games after kicking a cameraman in the groin. In the playoffs he averaged just 28 minutes per game, down from 34 the year before and only managed 8.4 rebounds per game.

He would bounce back for the 1997-98 season as he managed to play in 80 games that year. Still, it was clear that he was not the same player he once was. In the playoffs, he played great early on, but as the games got more important in the Eastern Conference and NBA Finals, Rodman's impact diminished, although the Bulls were still able to beat the Jazz in six games for their third straight title.

The Bulls would release him after the lockout where Rodman would play a partial season with the Los Angeles Lakers and another one with the Dallas Mavericks, but his antics far outweighed his contributions at that point in his career.

But this was okay as Rodman had plenty of hobbies outside of basketball. He was a professional wrestler, tagging up with Hulk Hogan and earning the nickname, "Rod The Bod," a nickname that is criminally left off of his basketball-reference page.

He would have singles runs against both Macho Man Randy Savage and Curt Hennig, but his greatest accomplishment may have been winning Hulk Hogan's Celebrity Wrestling tournament, besting the likes of Frank Stallone, Butterbean, and Screech.

Outside of the ring, Rodman was Commissioner of the Lingerie Football League in 2005, was on the Celebrity Apprentice in both 2009 and 2013, and may now be our best hope of avoiding a nuclear war with North Korea. All of this, and I still consider his greatest accomplishment marrying Carmen Electra, and then claiming that she forced him into the marriage. Now that is a baller move.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Top 5 USA Freestyle Wrestlers at 57 KG

I went to the UWW Freestyle World Cup in Iowa City, and it was awesome. The United States won the title and showed that they are going to be one of the best nations in the world at wrestling for the foreseeable future. Now unfortunately, due to a bunch of bullshit politics, Iran and Russia were not able to attend the event. Iran is solid but probably not any better than the Azerbaijan team that the United States beat in the finals. Russia is a different beast, and right now, them and the USA stand above the rest of the world in freestyle wrestling. But after watching the best that the United States has to offer, I wanted to break down all of the weight classes to see who would be representing the United States later this year at the World Championships. Let's start at 57 KG (approximately 126 pounds) where the United States won a Silver Medal at last year's World Championships.

5. Daton Fix
Fix is the guy I know the least about, mostly since he has only had unattached matches for Oklahoma State as he took a redshirt this season. Still, the guy won the Junior World Title last year, so the bonafides are definitely there. Stepping up from the Junior to the Senior level is still incredibly difficult, and although I think he can have a good showing, I don't think he's quite ready to take on some of the older competition.

4. Tony Ramos
This is where some of my stupidity shines through as I'm going to play psychologist. But doesn't Tony Ramos seem happy? I think that's a great thing, but that dude always seemed pissed off back in the day, and that was part of his edge. Now that he's a happy adult, how driven is he? We really haven't seen anything from him since Gilman beat him at the US Open last year. This is another guy who could definitely rise up and take the top spot, as working with Coleman Scott should add some new tricks to his repertoire, but I could just as easily see him getting upset early and really never being a top guy for the USA ever again.

3. Nathan Tomasello
Tomasello had a disappointing senior season, but really, he did exactly what you would have expected outside of running into a buzzsaw from Iowa. Tomasello was big enough to wrestle at 133 the previous season, and I think the weight cut may have worn on him. Just having to peak a few times a year will likely help him at the lower weight, and I do think he is going to be a tough out for anyone in the tournament. But I still have him falling just short of making the finals.

2. Thomas Gilman
How Gilman is only number two may shock some people. Not only was Gilman the representative for the United States last year, he won the damn Silver Medal at the World Championships. Do I think the USA should definitely be taking gold this year? Not at all, but I do think that just about everything worked out for Gilman last year. He managed to pull off every close match, and I just don't think that is a repeatable skill. Now, that being said, as a medal winner last year, he's already guaranteed a spot in the finals, so he only has to win two close matches instead of five. But, if I'm being totally honest, I would have put him fourth on this list if he wasn't guaranteed a finals spot. I doubted him last year, and he made me look stupid. I certainly won't be disappointed if he does that again.

1. Spencer Lee
I know Lee is coming off of his true freshman season, and he has never competed at the senior level, and it's insane to pick someone with no track record of success at that level. BUT, did you see Lee at the NCAA Championships? I know folkstyle and freestyle are different beasts, but Lee turned EVERYBODY. If he gets a takedown, he could end the match in an instant at the freestyle level. So the question becomes how good is Lee on his feet. He looked pretty damn unstoppable at the NCAA Tournament once he got that knee brace off. It's too early to say he's going to be a lightweight version of Kyle Snyder, but after what we saw from him, is it really a crazy prediction? I was about 50/50 on him winning an NCAA Championship, and the only way I can ever see giving him odds that low is if he's facing off against 57 KG's number one ranked wrestler, Japan's Yuki Takahashi, at the World Championships. I wouldn't be surprised if that match was for a gold medal, and I certainly wouldn't bet against him.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The 45 Most Important Players to the Chicago Bulls Dynasty - #5 Ron Harper

Ron Harper
Ron Harper is always a guy who perplexed me. Drafted eighth overall in the 1986 NBA Draft, he was a great player back in his day for both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers. The numbers don't lie. He had three years of averaging over 20 points per game and four other years of over 18 points per game. On top of that, he added five rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a block through his first eight seasons. Despite all of that production, he was never once named to an All-Star team.

I wanted to touch on those first eight seasons, because he went to the Bulls during his ninth season, and it is baffling what happened when he did. Joining the Bulls before the 1994-95 season, Harper was brought in to be another scoring option to help out Scottie Pippen, especially with Horace Grant leaving in the offseason. The year before he averaged over 20 points per game, so he appeared to be a great fit for a Bulls team that was in desperate need of a shooting guard with Michael Jordan leaving the team after that first threepeat.

But for some reason, it just didn't happen for Ron Harper. He managed to eclipse 20 points just three times throughout the entire season. His reduced role turned into a completely diminished role when Michael Jordan returned as he didn't move to backup shooting guard; he moved to the end of the bench and barely played in the playoffs. For the season, he ended up averaging less points than Will Perdue, averaging a very nice 6.9 points per game.

The following year would start the Bulls second threepeat, and even though Harper was no longer filling up the box score, he was still an incredibly valuable part of those Bulls championship teams. He started alongside Jordan in the backcourt, and he was the guy who was willing to do the dirty work. He freed up Jordan to take on a less demanding defensive assignment in order to fully focus on carrying the offense. He was a guy who was in the right place at the right time on offense to keep the Triangle working. He never had any standout performances, but that was no longer his job, and maybe the thing that stood out the most was how happily he accepted his new role.

Harper would hang around the Bulls for the strike-shortened 19999 season, but then sign with the Los Angeles Lakers to rejoin Phil Jackson and win an additional two championship rings before retiring in 2001. Despite taking a backseat later in his career, Harper reflects fondly on his time as he was finally on a winning team. Considering he has enough rings to fill a whole hand, it didn't work out too bad for him.