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FEATURE: Observations from day one at the U.S. Senior Nationals

4/9/2004 Gary Abbott/USA Wrestling

Las Vegas is a wide open, active, busy town, where anything is possible and nothing is expected.

That is very similar to the spirit of the U.S. Nationals when it is held here at the Convention Center. The nation’s best men and women wrestlers battle on 20 mats, spread across a long convention hall setting.

For those who like their wrestling upclose and personal, and feel comfortable with the hustle and bustle of seven tournaments held over a few days, Las Vegas can be paradise.

You can walk right up to a mat and watch a battle between world-class athletes. You literally get a chance to rub elbows with all the best wrestlers and athletes in the nation.

Right off the bat, No. 1 Daniel Cormier of the Gator WC draws unseeded two-time NCAA champion Tommy Rowlands of the Dave Schultz WC on the raised mat. Cormier quickly took Rowlands to the mat, and was able to turn him quickly, going on to a 6-1 victory.

An equally important match in that division was placed on mat 10, way down in the far part of the ConventionCenter. No. 2 Dean Morrison of the New York AC drew unseeded NCAA champion Mark Munoz of the Gator WC. The regulation ended tied at 2-2, and the athletes went into the clinch.

Three times, the official tried to lock the athletes up in the clinch unsuccessfully. The mat official raise his hand to award a point and a caution to Munoz. Things broke loose among the coaches and officials, and discussions went on for awhile. The ref brought Munoz and Morrison to the center and started a clinch, but then stopped it right in the middle of live action. Again there was a discussion about things. Finally, the two locked up and went for it, with Morrison tripping Munoz from the lock down to the mat for the win.

With a 20 ring tournament going, fans spend time moving from place to place watching matches. Sometimes, even the best wrestlers are placed on mats at the far end, such as No. 1 seeds Stephen Abas of the Sunkist Kids and Cael Sanderson of the Sunkist Kids.

Our guests from Iraq, wrestlers Muhammed Mohammed and Ali Salmon, along with coach Jamal Hasson, were here to watch the wrestling. A television crew from College Sports TV were there to capture them enjoying the action and meeting with more of the American wrestling community.

Another feature that CSTV is developing is on the USOEC university resident Greco-Roman program up at Northern Michigan Univ., with a focus on 96 kg wrestler R.C. Johnson of the Gator WC. Johnson’s parents are

As well, National Public Radio’s top sports correspondent, Tom Goldman, is in town to do a feature on Patricia Miranda of the Dave Schultz WC. With his sensitive audio equipment, Goldman captured the sounds of the tournament, as well as an early round victory by Miranda. He also visited with Miranda’s dad, as well as with Patricia at the conclusion of that match.

On a far mat, 20 minutes after the time that the first session was supposed to end, heavyweights Leonce Crump and Tony Walters were doing battle. The athletes stepped in at the same time and banged heads sharply. According to Michael Lightner, who was a teammate with Crump at Oklahoma, you could hear the collision quite a distance away. Both athletes were laying down on the mat, both looking injured and a bit lost. It was like the scene in Rocky II when both boxers went down at the same time. Only, since both are wrestlers and are tough, they shook off the shock and went back to wrestle. Crump, who looked worse for the wear, quickly scored a takedown and went back to the business of wrestling.

The quarterfinals come quickly, starting at 7:00 p.m. You would like to see them all, but there are four raised mats which many of the featured bouts are held. Two of them are freestyle, with one each for Greco-Roman and women.

Right off the bat, things got interesting, with 2000 Olympic silver medalist Sammie Henson beating No. 3 seed Teague Moore, 7-3. Henson turned Moore twice from the top in the second period, the key to the win.

A very exciting match at 145.5 pounds featured 145.5 pounder Jared Frayer, seeded No. 4, beating No. 5 Eric Larkin, 8-7. It was a great battle of young talents. Frayer won it at the end with a counter turn with less than 30 seconds to go.

Chris Bono, the veteran star, won another clinch on his way to a 3-1 win over a very tough T.J Williams.

An interesting battle came at 163 pounds, when Joe Heskett edged Casey Cunningham, 3-1. Heskett is now at No. 2, a position Cunningham held on the U.S. ladder a few years back. The No. 1 at the division, Joe Williams, also advanced, but had a tough go with exciting Yoshi Nakamura.

Old man Melvin Douglas, wrestling’s George Foreman at 40 years old, made the semifinals as well, beating young talent Dawid Rechul, 3-1. Douglas tossed Rechul for three early on and held on for the win. Rechul had beaten Douglas at the NYAC Christmas event in December.

There was a rematch from the 2003 NCAA finals, when Steven Mocco scored an impressive 9-3 win over Kevin Hoy at superheavyweight.

The women’s mat was not very competitive, as most of the No. 1 ranked wrestlers just tore up their opponents, scoring pins or technical falls or lopsided victories.

Perhaps the most interesting win came from No. 6 Stephanie Murata, who beat No. 3 Marcie Van Dusen at 121 pounds. How quickly people had forgotten that Murata had won this event for seven straight years, having her streak stopped last year.

The Greco-Roman event had the only upset of a No. 1 seed, when No. 8 Oscar Wood beat 2000 Olympian Kevin Bracken. Alas, while watching another bout, I did not see that match.

Rulon Gardner seemed in fine form, in spite of a motorcycle accident last week, and an injured hand from a weekend workout. The big man is often the center of attention at an event like this.

This event is a sight to see. Those who really enjoy great wrestling, and don’t mind spending the time to wander around and find some gems, can truly have a tremendous time.

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