Tony Ramos, I just want to say for the record: I am very happy to eat my words. Pass the salt, will you?
This morning, while previewing the 57 KG matches, featuring former Iowa stars Ramos and Matt McDonough, I said this:
We've spent the last 4-5 years watching McDonough and Ramos wrestle and contend for championships, but we probably need to adjust our expectations for them here. Really, this tournament is just about giving us an idea of where they stand right now against some of the best guys at this weight. Ramos is just a few months removed from a folkstyle national championship and hasn't seriously competed in freestyle for several years. McDonough's folkstyle career ended in 2013, but he's also spent much of the past season rehabbing from the arm injury that hampered him during his senior season at Iowa. So neither guy has a ton of experience at this level or even in this discipline.
A first- and a third-place finish later and... mea culpa. It turns out we didn't really need to adjust our expectations -- because they sure as hell haven't. Although I guess we did find out where they stand against some of the best guys at this weight (or, rather, the best guys at this weight in the U.S.): pretty damn well. Matt McDonough lost his first match of the challenge tournament, losing a narrow 5-4 decision to old nemesis Northwestern's Brandon Precin, before battling through the consolation bracket and the true third-place match to place place third overall. (It gets even more impressive when you factor in that McD went down 8-0 in his first consolation match... before rampaging back to score the final fourteen points of the match on the way to a 14-8 victory.) Along the way, McDonough reasserted his dominance over a few familiar faces (ex-Minnesota wrestler Zach Sanders and current Penn State wrestler Nico Megaludis) and even managed to advance (albeit via injury default) past one of the few guys to beat him in college (ex-Indiana wrestler Angel Escobedo). All told, it was a very solid tournament for Matt McDonough and it announced his presence as a guy to be reckoned with at this weight for some time to come.
Of course, it looks like he's going to have to get past a former teammate if he wants to challenge for medals.... because Tony Ramos, just two months removed from a national championship at Iowa, has established himself as the man to beat right now in the U.S. at this weight. Ramos defeated Dan Mitcheff via 9-5 decision in his first match of the day, then ground out a pair of ugly but effective decision wins over Escobedo (2-0) and Megaludis (1-0). Those matches were reminiscent of the Ramos that won Big Ten and NCAA titles a few months ago: not as action-packed or offensively assertive as many of the matches from earlier in Ramos' career, but very cerebral and an excellent display of his tremendous defense (probably his most underrated skill) and his ability to generate offense from sudden bursts of activity.
If there were any doubts about Ramos' performance in the challenge tournament -- where he beat a somewhat hobbled-looking Escobedo and Nico, who doesn't have a ton of international experience -- they should have been erased by his performance in the finals. In the finals, Ramos took on Sam Hazewinkel, the defending 2014 US Open champion and a former member of the U.S. Olympic and World Teams. He's definitely no slouch -- and Ramos beat him 2 matches to 0, looking convincing the whole way. He won the first match 4-0 after a pair of slick turns that generated exposure points (a move he transitioned to after not being able to secure a more traditional takedown and a move that would only score points in freestyle; looks like he's adjusting to the new style pretty quickly, yeah?). Hazewinkel came out with a bit more desperation in the second match and got in deep on some offense against Ramos, but other than a few late points, Ramos was able to get out of it -- or turn it into his own offense. He came close to finishing a big throw (a possible 4-pointer) early in the match and used a beautiful re-shot off a Hazewinkel shot later to secure what wound up being the match-winning takedown.
It was an absolutely triumphant performance for Ramos -- and the fact that it came in his first major freestyle competition in years (and his first since his Iowa career ended) only makes it even more impressive. Like Brent Metcalf, Ramos seems like a wrestler who will flourish under the current freestyle rules, so this could be the start of a beautiful international career -- let's hope so anyway. Next stop? Uzbekistan and the World Championships in September. Well done, Tony.
Tony Ramos DEC (9-5) Dan Mitcheff
Tony Ramos DEC (2-0) Angel Escobedo
Tony Ramos DEC (1-0) Nico Megaludis
BEST 2-OF-3 FINALS
Tony Ramos DEC (4-0) Sam Hazewinkel
Tony Ramos DEC (5-4) Sam Hazewinkel
Brandon Precin DEC (5-4) Matt McDonough
Matt McDonough DEC (14-8) Kyle Hutter
Matt McDonough INJ DEF Angel Escobedo
Matt McDonough DEC (11-4) Zach Sanders
TRUE THIRD PLACE
Matt McDonough DEC (4-0) Nico Megaludis
Ramos also took part in an entertaining interview session after his match with Nico:
(H/T to IAWrestle -- thanks!)