Despite it still being the offseason, this is an extremely eventful week for the Nebraska wrestling program. The Huskers are being represented by both former and current wrestlers on a handful of different stages. Also, Nebraska officially signed its class of 2020 recruiting class.
Taking part in an MMA-style fight card put on by FloWrestling on Saturday night, former Husker and five-time Olympic/World Champion Jordan Burroughs will compete in the main event while current Husker volunteer assistant coach Tyler Berger, a former All-American for the Huskers, will wrestle in the prelims.
As for current Huskers, five of them will be competing this weekend at the UWW Junior and U23 Nationals in freestyle at the CHI Health Center in Omaha.
Keep your eyes on Corn Nation for results and breakdowns from the weekend.
Jordan Burroughs vs. Zahid Valencia
Jordan Burroughs is easily the most accomplished American wrestler on the planet. In case you missed it, here’s a very in-depth look at Burroughs’ career. He’s a four-time World Champion, an Olympic Champion, a two-time NCAA Champion for Nebraska, and also a Hodge Trophy winner.
The 32-year-old Burroughs will take on a unique challenge when he faces Zahid Valencia in Saturday’s main event. Valencia is 23 years old and just finished a career at Arizona State that saw him win two NCAA titles while racking up a 129-5 record. Valencia’s career at Arizona State was cut slightly short as a senior this February when he was suspended for failing a drug test for a recreational substance.
Not only is there a vast age difference, there’s also a sizable size difference between the two. Burroughs wrestled in four weight classes in college (141 pounds, 149, 157 and 165) while Valencia wrestled much heavier than the former Husker, weighing in at 174 pounds until moving up to 184 pounds as a senior in 2019-20. At the senior level, Burroughs competes at 74 kg (163 pounds) while Valencia competes at 86 kg (189 pounds). That’s a 26-pound difference. That’s a lot.
This matchup will take place at a catchweight of 185 pounds, which obviously is much closer to Valencia’s weight class than it is to Burroughs’. Make no mistake, there will be a noticeable size advantage for Valencia, who will be no slouch for Burroughs. Valencia is the No. 7-ranked wrestler in the world at 86 kg.
Tyler Berger vs. Sammy Sasso
Berger and Sasso will compete at a catchweight of 160 pounds. Berger currently competes in freestyle at 74 kg (163 pounds) while Sasso wrestled at 149 pounds this past season. It does appear that Sasso will be moving up in weight soon for Ohio State, so it’ll be interesting to see how much bigger he looks.
Berger is one of the best wrestlers to come through Lincoln over the past decade, as the current volunteer assistant coach for Nebraska put together a 116-32 career record. Berger was a three-time All-American and even made it to the 2019 NCAA final but fell short against top-ranked Jason Nolf of Penn State. Nolf was a four-time NCAA finalist and a three-time NCAA Champion for the Nittany Lions, so it was by no means a bad loss.
Berger currently trains with Burroughs in Lincoln and most recently defeated former Ohio State All-American Joey McKenna 8-2 at the Wrestling Underground 1 event put on by Chael Sonnen. In the event, competitors grappled inside a cage.
Berger’s opponent will be Sammy Sasso, who is going into this sophomore season for the Buckeyes. The former top-tier recruit, Sasso went 24-3 as a redshirt freshman this past season while finishing runner-up at the Big Ten Championships at 149 pounds. Sasso has some serious freestyle chops, as he’s a multiple Fargo All-American and a Junior World Team Trials finalist.
Berger has a size and experience advantage in this one, but Sasso is the kind of scrambler that can score from anywhere. This will be a fun match to watch.
Five Huskers at Junior and U23 Nationals
Nebraska will have four wrestlers competing at the UWW Junior Nationals and another at the Under 23 Nationals Saturday and Sunday in Omaha. All five will be competing in freestyle.
At Junior Nationals, incoming freshman Dominick Serrano will compete at 57 kg (125 pounds), sophomore Ridge Lovett will compete at 61 kg (134 pounds), and redshirt freshman Isaiah Alford and incoming freshman Elise Brown Ton will both compete at 74 kg (163 pounds). Sophomore Jordan Kelber will be competing in the U23 field at 61 kg.
Serrano and Lovett are definitely the most accomplished Huskers at freestyle wrestling and should be every bit in contention for individual national titles. Serrano and Lovett both competed last month at Senior Nationals, with Serrano competing in freestyle at 57 kg and Lovett moving up to 67 kg (148 pounds) while competing in Greco-Roman. Both finished with 2-2 records in their first competition at the Senior level.
Serrano has been wildly successful in freestyle throughout his young career. In 2018, Serrano won the Cadet Nationals tournament while outscoring his competition 68-1. In 2019, Serrano advanced to Junior Nationals and won the title, outscoring his opponents 74-3 with all seven wins by tech fall. Serrano was also the 2018 FloNationals champion and was a Super 32 All-American. All in all, Serrano seems to be a supreme freestyle talent for Nebraska and judging by his entries in both Senior and Junior Nationals this fall, it looks like he’ll continue to pursue a freestyle career during his college career.
Lovett, a 2019 recruit, had a solid freshman season with a 17-8 record against stiff Big Ten competition. However, Lovett is seemingly a better Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestler judging by his high school prowess in those disciplines. In 2017, Lovett made the Cadet World Team in freestyle after winning the US Cadet World Team Trials in Akron, Ohio. He then won the Junior Nationals title in Greco-Roman in 2018. After wrestling at 67 kg just a month ago, Lovett should be one of the biggest competitors this weekend at 61 kg.
At 74 kg (163 pounds), Nebraska will be sending both Alford and Brown Ton.
Brown Ton has an impressive freestyle resume also, having won the 2019 Reno Tournament of Champions at 170 pounds. A runner-up finisher at the 2018 USA Wrestling Preseason Nationals, Brown Ton also finished fourth at the 2019 Cadet World Team Trials. The Texas native also won three straight Texas-USA Wrestling State Championships in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. He’ll be a guy to keep an eye on.
Alford doesn’t have much freestyle experience, but the former two-time Nebraska state champion in Class A for Lincoln High will be an interesting watch. After wrestling at 174 pounds for Nebraska during his redshirt season, Alford is wrestling at 163 pounds this weekend. With an opening at 165 pounds in the Nebraska lineup and a junior (All-American Mikey Labriola) above him on the depth chart at 174, is it possible he’s going to drop down in an attempt to earn the starting spot? Could be. The more options Nebraska has at 165 the better.
In the U23 division, Nebraska will be represented by redshirt sophomore Jordan Kelber. A Valentine, Neb. product, Kelber was a three-time Nebraska state champion while putting together a 149-12 record. As a Husker, Kelber went 1-4 as a redshirt freshman at 141 pounds.
2020 Signing Day
Nebraska officially inked their two 2020 commits on Wednesday. Lenny Pinto and Jagger Condomitti have both been committed for some time, so there was no signing-day drama to speak of.
Both guys are top-3 recruits at their respective weight classes, as Condomitti is ranked No. 1 at 152 pounds and Pinto is No. 3 at 170. Check out an in-depth look at both Condomitti and Pinto here.
After pulling in large, talented classes for a few straight years, Nebraska signed an unusually small class. But for what Nebraska lacked in numbers, they made up for in quality. Nebraska has a lot of talent coming through the pipe, and Pinto and Condomitti will play a big part in Nebraska’s future.