If college wrestling fans were making a list of dream matches across eras to watch again, there’s no doubt that Kyle Snyder vs. J’den Cox would make that list.
These two stars wrestled just once in college, in 2015. Snyder, a true freshman at the time, topped Cox 3-2 in a competitive bout. Snyder would go on to finish second that year after being pinned in the NCAA finals by Kyven Gadson, while Cox would end that season fifth. Both athletes, following this national tournament, would win multiple NCAA tiles each as well as Olympic medals — Snyder earning gold in the Rio Games at 97kg and Cox earning bronze at 86kg.
Now, on Saturday, Cox and Snyder will wrestle again in Final X, the final domestic tournament to determine the 2023 World Championships team for the men’s freestyle, women’s freestyle and men’s greco programs. The Cox vs. Snyder match will occur at 97kg and will be one of 30 matches to watch this weekend featuring a mix of Olympic, NCAA and high school stars.
Here’s everything you need to know about Final X and the biggest names wrestling in this event.
First, a quick overview of the event:
Athletes interested in qualifying for the 2023 World Championships have a number of pathways to make the team, but all of those paths run through Final X. Any athlete who medaled in the world championships in 2022 earned a bye to this tournament. They did not have to compete in any of the qualifying events such as the U.S. Open or the World Team Trials, and they instead waited as the rest of the field battled it out for the opportunity to wrestle the returning world medalist.
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This year, there are 13 returning medalists across men’s and women’s freestyle, including Thomas Gilman (men’s freestyle, silver, 57kg), Yianni Diakomihalis (men’s freestyle, silver, 65kg), Zain Retherford (men’s freestyle, silver, 70kg), Kyle Dake (men’s freestyle, gold, 74kg), Jordan Burroughs (men’s freestyle, gold, 79kg), David Taylor (men’s freestyle, gold, 86k), Kyle Snyder (men’s freestyle, gold, 97kg), Sarah Hildebrandt (women’s freestyle, 50kg, bronze), Dominique Parrish (women’s freestyle, 53kg, gold) Helen Maroulis (women’s freestyle, 57 kg, silver), Kayla Miracle (women’s freestyle, 62 kg, silver), Mallory Velte (women’s freestyle, 65kg, bronze) and Amit Elor (women’s freestyle, 72 kg, gold).
World champion Amit Elor takes on U.S. Open champion Joye Levendusky for the 72 kg women's freestyle spot at #FinalX | @BeattheStreets @FloWrestling— USA Wrestling (@USAWrestling) June 7, 2023
🗓️ June 10
Cox also earned silver in 2023 at 92kg but is moving up to 97kg to take on Snyder and thus did not earn a bye to Final X. Olympic gold medalist Tamyra Mensah-Stock earned gold in women’s freestyle at 68kg in the 2022 World Championships but has since retired from freestyle wrestling.
Athletes who did not earn a world medal to 2022 and a bye to Final X had an opportunity to earn their Final X spot by winning the U.S. Open in April. This is how Zane Richards, Nick Lee, Tyler Berger, Jason Nolf, Chance Marsteller, Aaron Brooks, J’den Cox, Audrey Jimenez, Katie Gomez, Xochitl Mota-Pettis, Adaugo Nwachukwu, Macey Kilty and Joye Levendusky earned their spots. They will face the returning medalists.
Vito Arujau, Michael Macchiavello, Gable Steveson, Alisha Howk, Michaela Beck, Forrest Molinari, Kennedy Blades, Brady Koontz, Dalton Roberts, Hayden Tuma, Robert Perez III, Justus Scott, Kamal Bey, Spencer Woods, Alan Vera, Josef Rau, Cohlton Schultz also won the U.S. Open but competed in a weight that did not have a returning medalist. These athletes earned their Final X spot after their U.S. Open wins and then awaited the winner of the the World Team Trials mini-tournament to see what their opponent would be.
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The following athletes won their World Team Trials brackets to earn the last remaining spots at Final X: Nahshon Garrett, Zahid Valencia, Mason Parris, Jacarra Winchester, Jennifer Page, Emma Bruntil, Adeline Gray, Dalton Duffield, Ildar Hafizov, Xavier Johnson, Alejandro Sancho, Patrick Smith, Aliaksandr Kikiniou, Ryan Epps, Zachary Braunagel, Christian Dulaney, Adam Coon.
Now all 30 matches are set and world championship teams will be determined.
Added intrigue surrounding this year’s Final X:
The winner of Final X goes to Worlds. Any athlete who medals at Worlds this year earns a bye to the Olympic Trials finals next spring. So, win Final X, win a medal at worlds, and you exponentially increase your chances of making the Olympic team. Those are the stakes.
Breaking down some of the biggest matches to watch at Final X:
Snyder vs. Cox, of course, is one of the main events. It features a three-time NCAA champion Snyder from Ohio State now wrestling for the Nittany Lion wrestling club vs. Cox, a three-time NCAA champion from Missouri now wrestling for the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club.
Three-time NCAA champions Zain Retherford (70kg), Jason Nolf (74kg) and Aaron Brooks (86kg), Penn State legends and current Nittany Lion Wrestling Club members, will also be competing, with Retherford taking on former NCAA finalist Tyler Berger, Nolf competing against Kyle Dake and Brooks wrestling Olympic gold medalist David Taylor.
The Nolf vs. Dake match is interesting because Dake recently left Cornell, where he was training, and moved to State College, the home of Penn State and the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. Dake, a four-time national champion for Cornell, now works out in the same room as Nolf. He’s also gotten the better of the Penn State star in the past, so this will be Nolf’s chance to show off his improvements.
For Penn State fans, however, the most notable bout might be the Brooks vs. Taylor matchup at 86kg. Taylor, a two-time NCAA champion and two-time Hodge winner for the Blue and White, graduated in 2014 but has remained connected to the program. Brooks, a current Penn State wrestler, won his third NCAA title this year after defeating Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen 7-2 in the national finals. He earned his Final X bid by topping two-time NCAA champion Zahid Valencia in the finals of the U.S. Open, forcing Valencia to bump up and try to earn a bid at 92kg in the World Team Trials.
Valencia successfully bulked up, won his bracket at the World Team Trials and earned a shot against 2018 NCAA champion Michael Macchiavello. However, Valencia is not the only two-time NCAA champion in this event. Penn State’s Nick Lee is also on the lineup, and he’s set to take on returning World silver medalist Yianni Diakomihalis, who just finished up his career with Cornell as the fifth four-time NCAA champion and the second in program history.
Jordan Burroughs, a seven-time World and Olympic champion, is another two-time NCAA champion with a chance to book a ticket to worlds. He’ll have a familiar foe in Chance Marsteller, an All-American from Lock Haven, in his bout. If the winner of 79kg, like all non-Olympic weights, medals at Worlds, he will sit out until the semifinals of the Olympic Trials next year at the Olympic weight of his choice.
And then there’s two-time NCAA champion Gable Steveson. The 2021 Olympic gold medalist unretired from wrestling to make his triumphant debut at the 2023 U.S. Open and looks to be back in full form. His upcoming opponent, Mason Parris, is someone Steveson has wrestled nearly half a dozen times in college and won every time. If Steveson makes the team, as he’ll be expected to do, look for him to chase a medal at Worlds and maybe make another Olympic run.
Steveson rounds out the two-time champs in the field, but don’t count out the excitement that will come from the bout at 61kg, when two former Cornell NCAA champs — Vito Arujau vs Nahshon Garrett — wrestle. Arujau has been on a tear these last few months after stopping Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young from winning his third NCAA title in March, and he’s looking every bit like a World medalist. But Garrett is a veteran and understands the weight of the task in front of him. Expect fireworks in this one.
Last but not least, former Iowa wrestler and current Nittany Lion Wrestling Club athlete Thomas Gilman may not have an NCAA title to his name, but he does have a world title and an Olympic medal at 57kg, and he’s looking for more. Taking on Gilman will be former Illinois All-American Zane Richards, someone who may have been counted out early on but has shown that he’s capable of beating some of the best athletes at this weight.
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Speaking of returning Olympic medalists, the women’s freestyle lineup features a number of stars, including several former college wrestlers. Olympic bronze medalist and two-time WCWA champion Sarah Hildebrandt will look to make another world team and chase her fourth World Championship medal at 50kg, and her bout with Audrey Jimenez should be a fun one as the veteran lightweight takes on Sunnyside High School phenom. This is just one of several matches features an Olympic medalist and a young star with the most highly anticipated matchup coming at 76kg as six-time World champ Adeline Gray battles Kennedy Blades, a wrestler with the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club who beat Gray in the U.S. Open. Gray’s been a member of the 2016 and 2021 Olympic teams and earned silver in 2021. Her quest for gold continues, but Blades is one of the best in the world at this weight as well.
The women's field also includes Olympic gold medalist Helen Maroulis, who is expected to take on Xochitl Mota-Pettis, though this match has been delayed due to an injury to Maroulis.
Speaking of best in the world, 72kg returning world champion Amit Elor, a 19-year-old superstar, will wrestle Joye Levendusky with the goal of defending her title, but Levendusky has some serious accolades of her own. A three-time college national finalist, Levendusky competed with McKendree and Southern Oregon and will be shooting to pull off one of the biggest upsets of Final X.
The other returning World medalists include Dom Parrish, Kayla Miracle and Mallory Velte who finished first, second and third in last year's world championships. Parrish is slated to wrestle high school standout Katie Gomez while Velte will take on Macey Kilty. Miracle, who was also a member of the 2021 Olympic team, will compete against Adaugo Nwachukwu. Miracle finished 12th in the 2021 Olympics after securing the spot following her Olympic Trials wins over Kilty in the best two-of-three series. Kilty will wrestle up at 65kg, though 65kg will not be offered as a weight class for next year's Olympics, as the Olympics only offer six weights, as opposed to the 10 weight contested in the World Championships.
The 55kg, 59kg and 68kg weights will also feature a number of veterans, with Olympic Jacarra Winchester competing against Alisha Howk at 55kg with the goal of earning another World Team spot. Winchester won gold at Worlds in 2019 and qualified for the 2021 Olympics. She's also won her last three bouts against Howk. As a former Olympian, Winchester knows what it means to compete on this stage, and this should be an exciting matchup.
The storyline at 59kg is notable, as Michaela Beck, a previous U23 World Team member, won the U.S. Open while Jennifer Page of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club reevaluated her strategy after falling short in the open. Page shifted weights for the World Team trials and won her bracket, earning the opportunity for her best two-out-of-three match with Beck for the World spot.
At 68kg, the two names are familiar as well, as Forrest Molinari and Emma Bruntil are set to compete. Molinari was an Olympic Trials finalist and a world bronze medalist in 2021, while Bruntil won the U.S. Open in 2022. Bruntil has taken a match from Molinari before, and Saturday will be a real test for both of these athletes.
The 10 Greco Final X will feature few former NCAA athletes, though there are a few standouts. Brady Koontz, who will wrestle at 55kg, spent a number of years with the Ohio State Buckeyes, and he'll take on Dalton Duffield, who briefly wrestled for Oklahoma. The biggest names in this style come at 130kg, as All-American and NCAA finalist Cohlton Schultz is set to take on U.S. Olympic Trials champion Adam Coon. These two All-Americans have made their mark on the collegiate scene but have also been staples on the Greco side. Coon, who earned the Olympic spot in 2021, was unable to qualify the weight, and thus transitioned briefly out of wrestling to pursue an NFL opportunity. Now back on the wrestling scene, this is a match between two big men that you won't want to miss.
Illinois starter Zac Braunagel is also a Greco name that NCAA fans will know, as he's finished in the Round of 12 in the last two seasons and will return in 2024 with the goal of ending up on the podium. His opponent, Alan Vera, hails from Cuba, and has not gone through the NCAA system.
Full list of Final X matches
|Thomas Gilman||Iowa||Nittany Lion Wrestling Club||57kg|
|Zane Richards||Illinois||Illinois Regional Training Center||57kg|
|Nahshon Garrett||Cornell||Lehigh Valley WC||61kg|
|Vito Arujau||Cornell||Spartan Combat||61kg|
|Yianni Diakomihalis||Cornell||Spartan Combat||65kg|
|Nick Lee||Penn State||Nittany Lion Wrestling Club||65kg|
|Zain Retherford||Penn State||Nittany Lion Wrestling Club||70kg|
|Tyler Berger||Nebraska||Penn Regional Training Center||70kg|
|Kyle Dake||Cornell||Nittany Lion Wrestling Club||74kg|
|Jason Nolf||Penn State||Nittany Lion Wrestling Club||74kg|
|Jordan Burroughs||Nebraska||Penn Regional Training Center||79kg|
|Chance Marsteller||Lock Haven||NYC RTC||79kg|
|Aaron Brooks||Penn State||Nittany Lion Wrestling Club||86kg|
|David Taylor||Penn State||Nittany Lion Wrestling Club||86kg|
|Michael Macchiavello||N.C. State||Wolfpack Wrestling Club||92kg|
|Zahid Valencia||Arizona State||Sunkist Kids||92kg|
|Kyle Snyder||Ohio State||Nittany Lion Wrestling Club||97kg|
|J'den Cox||Missouri||Cliff Keen Wrestling Club||97kg|
|Gable Steveson||Minnesota||Gopher Wrestling Club RTC||125kg|
|Mason Parris||Michigan||Cliff Keen Wrestling Club||125kg|
|Sarah Hildebrandt||King University||New York AC||50kg|
|Audrey Jimenez||Sunnyside High School||Sunkist Kids||50kg|
|Dominique Parrish||Simon Fraser||Sunkist Kids||53kg|
|Katie Gomez||Arizona State||Sunkist Kids||53kg|
|Alisha Howk||N/A||Sunkist Kids WC||55kg|
|Jacarra Winchester||Missouri Valley College||Titan Mercury WC/USOPTC||55kg|
|Helen Maroulis||Simon Fraser||Sunkist Kids WC||57kg|
|Xochitl Mota-Pettis||N/A||Rise RTC||57kg|
|Michaela Beck||N/A||Sunkist Kids WC||59kg|
|Jennifer Page||Oklahoma City||Nittany Lion Wrestling Club||59kg|
|Kayla Miracle||Campbellsville University||Sunkist Kids||62kg|
|Adaugo Nwachukwu||Iowa Wesleyan||Titan Mercury WC||62kg|
|Mallory Velte||Simon Fraser||Beaver Dam RTC||65kg|
|Macey Kilty||N/A||Sunkist Kids||65kg|
|Forrest Molinari||Missouri Baptist, King||Sunkist Kids||68kg|
|Emma Bruntil||Formerly McKendree||USOPTC/Titan Mercury WC||68kg|
|Amit Elor||N/A||New York City RTC||72kg|
|Joye Levendusky||McKendree, Southern Oregon University||Southern Oregon RTC||72kg|
|Kennedy Blades||Arizona State||Sunkist Kids||76kg|
|Adeline Gray||DeVry University||New York AC||76kg|
|Brady Koontz||Ohio State, University of Dubuque||Dubuque RTC||55kg|
|Dalton Duffield||Oklahoma||Army WCAP||55kg|
|Dalton Roberts||Northern Michigan University||Army WCAP||60kg|
|Ildar Hafizov||N/A||Army WCAP||60kg|
|Hayden Tuma||N/A||Suples WC||63kg|
|Xavier Johnson||N/A||Army WCAP||63kg|
|Robert Perez III||N/A||Sunkist Kids WC||67kg|
|Alejandro Sancho||Northern Michigan University||Army WCAP||67kg|
|Justus Scott||Baker||Army WCAP||72kg|
|Patrick Smith||University of Minnesota||Minnesota Storm||72kg|
|Kamal Bel||N/A||Army WCAP||77kg|
|Spencer Woods||University of Maryland, Northern Michigan University||Army WCAP||82kg|
|Ryan Epps||Augsburg University||Army WCAP||82kg|
|Alan Vera||N/A||New York AC||87kg|
|Zachary Braunagel||Illinois||Illinois RTC||87kg|
|Joe Rau||Elmhurst College||Titan Mercury WC||97kg|
|Christian Dulaney||Southern Illinois Edwardsville||Minnesota Storm||97kg|
|Cohlton Schultz||Arizona State||Sunkist Kids||130kg|
|Adam Coon||Michigan||Cliff Keen||130kg|