The Huskers have a trio of alums competing this weekend to see if they can represent Team USA in wrestling at the 2021 Olympic Games.
This weekend, Jordan Burroughs and James Green, both very successful wrestlers for Nebraska, will compete in freestyle at the 2021 US Olympic Team Trials in Fort Worth, Texas. Competing in the Greco-Roman style is former Husker offensive lineman Tanner Farmer, who punched his ticket with a win at last weekend’s USA Wrestling’s Last Chance Qualifier. The former Husker football player also wrestled with the team intermittently while on campus, but he really got back into wrestling when he used his final semester of eligibility to wrestle for Concordia, eventually making it all the way to the NCAA DII Championships final at heavyweight.
Due to his bronze medal at 74kg at the 2019 World Championships, Burroughs gets a bye into Saturday’s best-of-three final, while Green will be competing at 65kg and sits as the 4-seed in a 10-man field. Farmer will wrestle Greco-Roman at 130kg and is seeded No. 6 out of eight competitors. All finals matches will be best-of-three matches.
Matches during the day on both Friday and Saturday can be seen on Peacock, while the night sessions both nights will air on NBC.
74kg (164 pounds)
Burroughs is easily the most decorated wrestler in the United States. After winning two NCAA titles for the Huskers, Burroughs won an Olympic gold medal in 2012 along with seven World Championship medals (four golds, three bronzes). After failing to medal for the only time in his senior-level career at the 2016 Olympics, Burroughs looks to become the first American to wrestle at three-straight Olympics Since Kenny Monday made the team in 1988, 1992 and 1996.
Throughout his illustrious senior-level career, Burroughs has compiled a 197-12 career record but is coming off a 3-2 loss to Italy’s Frank Chamizo at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series in early March. Chamizo is a two-time World Champion and an Olympic bronze medalist with a career 141-24 record.
Being 32 years of age, Burroughs is the elder in the field and isn’t quite as explosive as he used to be. But he’s still one of the best in the world and it’ll be a tall order to dethrone the king at 74kg.
Burroughs’ chief competition at 74 kg is Kyle Dake, who earned a bye to Friday’s Challenge Tournament semifinal as the reigning World Champion at 79kg (a non-Olympic weight class). Dake will move down for another attempt at taking out Burroughs. Dake, the only wrestler ever to win four NCAA titles at four different weight classes while at Cornell, is widely considered one of the best wrestlers in the world, but he had to move up to 79kg in non-Olympic years just to make Team USA. He’s won the last two World Championships at 79kg.
Burroughs is 7-1 against Dake on the senior level. After defeating Dake two matches to none in the World Team Trials best-of-three final in both 2013 and 2015, Burroughs then downed Dake in the final at the 2017 U.S. Open. Later that year, Dake and Burroughs met again in the World Team Trials final with Dake taking the first match 6-6 on criteria to take a 1-0 lead. Burroughs then downed Dake twice to earn his spot on the World Team.
The cameras have been along for this journey since 2013, capturing every key moment that created the animosity and fierce rivalry between Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Dake. Bad Blood puts in full display the moments of controversy and triumph between these two legends.— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) March 26, 2021
For those interested, you can see the entire Bad Blood documentary right here on YouTube.
The seven other competitors at 74kg are no slouches themselves, led by “1-seed” Jason Nolf (Burroughs and Dake aren’t technically seeded) who won three NCAA titles and two Hodge Trophies at Penn State. Then there’s 2-seed Chance Marsteller who just blew through the Last Chance Qualifier tournament without giving up a point. The 3-seed Thomas Gantt has some impressive senior-level wins, while 4-seed Logan Massa was the 2019 Senior National Champion. The 5-seed David Carr just won the 2021 NCAA title at 157 pounds for Iowa State. Carr also won the 2019 Junior World Championships. Evan Wick, the 6-seed, is a former All-American for Wisconsin who’s been impressive on the freestyle circuit. Vincenzo Joseph, the 7-seed, was a two-time NCAA champion for Penn State, but he needs some more time before he can translate that success to the senior level. He qualified with a runner-up finish at last week’s Last Chance Qualifier.
But in all reality, it’ll be Burroughs and his eight Olympic and World medals against Dake and his two world titles competing on Saturday night for the right to represent Team USA in Tokyo. Make no mistake, Kyle Dake is Team USA’s future at 74kg, but it’s no surprise Burroughs isn’t ready to pass the torch just yet.
65kg (143 pounds)
James Green doesn’t get the benefit of a bye to the finals as he didn’t medal at the 2019 World Championships, so he’ll have to navigate a stacked field at 65kg. Green has struggled as of late and is dropping down to a weight he’s not been overly successful at, but the five-time World Team member is easily the most decorated freestyle wrestler in the field.
Unfortunately for Green, during Olympic years he finds himself in weight-class limbo. A true 70 kg (154 pounds) wrestler, Green has to decide on Olympic years whether he wants to sap his body to make 65 kg (143 pounds) or move up and face much bigger and stronger foes at 74kg (164 pounds). With guys like Burroughs and Dake up at 74kg, I imagine it was an easy decision for Green to go down.
So with that said, Green has shown that he’s the best 70kg wrestler in the country, having represented Team USA at the World Championships since 2015. But that Olympic spot has eluded him.
Here’s Green taking down Jason Nolf (the 1-seed this weekend at 74kg) at 70kg in the 2019 U.S. Open semifinal round.
To get it done this year, the 4-seed Green will receive an all-important bye in the first round, as the top six seeds receive first-round byes. And with Green making a difficult cut down to 65kg, every extra second he can get to recover will be helpful.
In the quarterfinal round, Green will face 5-seed Joey McKenna who was a three-time All-American for Stanford and Ohio State. The 2019 NCAA finalist, McKenna won two Pac-12 titles and two Big Ten titles. McKenna has been solid on the senior circuit as well, winning the 2018 U.S. Open, finishing runner-up at the 2019 Senior National Championships, and finishing with the bronze medal at the 2021 Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series.
If Green can down McKenna, he’ll likely face top-seed Zain Retherford. Retherford, who is a true 65kg wrestler, is a two-time World Team member for Team USA. In college, Retherford was one of the most dominant wrestlers ever at Penn State. After finishing fifth at NCAAs in 2015 as a freshman and redshirting the following year, Retherford went 93-0 the next three years while winning three NCAA titles and collecting two Hodge Trophies. Retherford was also the 2012 Cadet World Champion in freestyle before heading to Happy Valley.
With a win over Retherford, which isn’t likely but also wouldn’t be shocking, Green would likely face a familiar foe in Yianni Diakomihalis in the finals. The youngster from Cornell has been on fire lately and comes in as the 2-seed. Diakomihalis won NCAA titles at Cornell as a freshman and sophomore before sitting out this season to get ready for a run at the Olympics.
Just since December 2020, Green and Diakomihalis have wrestled three times with Green dropping all three matches. Diakomihalis downed Green 3-3 and 4-4, both by criteria, at the Flowrestling RTC Cup in early December. Diakomihalis then beat Green 5-0 in the final of the 2021 Henri Deglane Grand Prix.
If Green does make the finals, likely against Diakomihalis, it’ll be a best-of-three series on Saturday night that could be extremely entertaining.
Watch our for Yianni though. If I was a betting man, my money would probably be put on this young phenom to represent Team USA. And he’d have a legitimate chance at a medal in Tokyo.
130kg (286.5 pounds)
Tanner Farmer was impressive at last weekend’s Last Chance Qualifier as he won the 130kg division, going 4-0 and outscoring his opponents 36-1 on the way to punching his Olympic Trials ticket. In the final, Farmer downed Thomas Helton 9-0 (below). For his efforts, Farmer earned the 6-seed in the eight-man field and will first face 3-seed Jacob Mitchell in the quarterfinals.
Mitchell was a junior college national champion before finishing second at the Division II level in 2014. In 2016, Mitchell won silver at the U.S. Greco-Roman Nationals before earning silver at the 2017 U.S. Open and third at the 2017 World Team Trials. In 2019, Mitchell broke through and won his first U.S. Open title in Greco-Roman.
With a win over Mitchell, Farmer would likely face 2-seed Cohlton Schultz, a freshman at Arizona State. The youngster is extremely decorated in the Greco-Roman style and was the top-ranked recruit coming out of high school in 2019. Schultz also owns a win over Farmer with a 4-3 decision (below) at the 2020 Senior Nationals.
Schultz was a three-time junior world teamer and a two-time cadet world teamer, winning the 2017 Cadet World Championship. He then went on to the senior level, where he won the 2020 Senior National title.
If Farmer can pull another upset against Schultz, he’d most likely face top-seeded Adam Coon, who is a two-time World Teamer and won silver at the 2018 World Championships. He’s the heavy favorite in this field, so it’d be an enormous upset.
I have the feeling Farmer isn’t afraid of the challenge though.