Jordan Burroughs and Amit Elor of the USA on the podium after winning Senior World titles in Belgrade, Serbia. Photos by Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors.

To start this annual column, I’d like to mark a milestone in my life. In 1972, as a seventh grader at Oldfield Junior High in Greenlawn, N.Y., along with my older brother Jim, I joined the wrestling team. I started my career on the B team with six straight losses but rallied to win the last two matches. But I also found a new sport that I was determined to stay with. This holiday season marks 50 years that I have been involved in the sport of wrestling. I remember a while back when dear friend Doc Bennett told me he had been in wrestling 50 years, which then seemed like such a long time. Now that I have reached the half-century mark in the sport, I am tremendously grateful and amazingly humbled.

While it was a crazy year for me in 2022 for a lot of reasons, it was a crazy good year for Team USA on the mats, perhaps the best in our history. The hardest part of this column will be deciding the No. 1 selection. How do you choose between the greatest season ever for a young U.S. star, or the crowning of the greatest champion in U.S. wrestling history? Rather than declare a tie, I will force myself to decide. (PS – I changed my mind a few times).

1. Jordan Burroughs wins seventh World and Olympic title, the most golden U.S. wrestler ever – When Jordan Burroughs stood on top of the podium in Belgrade, Serbia as the World champion at 79 kg in men’s freestyle, he raised six fingers. This was accurate as it was his sixth Senior World title. I kind of wish he raised seven fingers, because that is what made his victory so historic. Jordan Burroughs won his seventh World and Olympic gold medal, breaking a tie he held with John Smith and Adeline Gray. In 1992, John Smith won his sixth straight World and Olympic title with a Barcelona Games gold medal. He never officially retired, focusing on coaching and other things. It took 30 years for another American to beat his record. Early in his career, Jordan Burroughs came up with the Twitter handle of @AllISeeIsGold and talked about breaking Smith’s record. Some saw it as brash, but I never did. Jordan was just being honest, sharing his goals and his belief in himself with the rest of the world. Jordan has reached this specific goal, and at the age of 34, he is not yet done. This new record may not last 30 more years. Jordan is still wrestling and could extend it. Adeline Gray, at six, is coming back. Kyle Dake has four World titles. Kyle Snyder has four combined golds and is just 27 years old. With seven golds and 10 medals at the World and Olympic level, Burroughs deserves the No. 1 story of 2022. There is a lot of talk about who the GOAT is within American wrestling, and deservedly so. Go ahead and debate that. It is good for wrestling.

2. Amit Elor wins U20, U23 and Senior World titles in the same year – On October 23, Jordan Burroughs tweeted this: “Now this is what you call the Triple Crown!” He was re-tweeting a FloWrestling graphic listing Amit Elor’s three World titles in 2022, at the U20, U23 and Senior World levels. Elor had the most remarkable season ever for a young U.S. athlete, and achieved something that had never been done before. In 2021, Elor won two World titles, at the U17 and U20 levels. In 2022, she moved up into two new higher age divisions, and won them both, the U23 and Senior level, while repeating at the U20 level. Clearly, the most impressive was winning the Senior World title at age 18 (our youngest Senior champion ever). She did it with such poise and skill that it was hard to believe her age. The most difficult victory could have been the U23 title, only a few weeks after her Senior title, where she had to peak one more time and put it on the line again so soon. Elor is very strong, has amazing defense, and is not afraid to go after points when she needs them. That combination works well at any age level, Everyone is so very excited to see what she will do in the years ahead. One other athlete did this amazing Triple Crown in 2022, Japan’s Nonoka Ozaki, which takes none of the luster off Elor’s amazing achievement. I have no problem with anybody selecting this as the No. 1 story of 2022. I am still debating this with myself even after publishing the story.

3. Men’s Freestyle Team USA wins its fourth Senior World title with dominance in Belgrade – World Team titles are so rare in wrestling, and so very precious. Coming into 2022, the USA had done it only five times before, with men’s freestyle (1993, 1995, 2017), Greco-Roman (2007) and women’s freestyle (1999). With an amazing performance, including four World champions, eight finalists and nine semifinalists, the USA ran away from Iran to claim the men’s freestyle World Team title in Belgrade. How do you put nine in the semifinals, really? It was a tremendous display of greatness, something our team has never done before. Thumbs up to the four champions: Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Dake, David Taylor and Kyle Snyder, all who are multiple World champions. In fact, these four have won a combined 15 World gold medals. This group of current men’s freestyle wrestlers compare favorably with the other greatest era of our history (the 1993-1996 quad which won two team titles and the Olympic medal count). Before you get too deep into this line of thinking, it doesn’t matter that Russia was not there. You can only compete against the opponent placed in front of you. This USA team did not just compete – it dominated.

4. Led by five champions, Penn State wins ninth NCAA title under Cael Sanderson – Led by five individual champions, Penn State won the NCAA Div. I title with 131.5 points, a full 36 points ahead of runner-up Michigan with 95 points. The Nittany Lions clinched the team title in the morning session on Saturday, then went a perfect 5-for-5 in the finals. Penn State champions were Roman Bravo-Young (133), Nick Lee (141), Carter Starocci (174), Aaron Brooks (184) and transfer Max Dean (197). All except Dean won their second career NCAA title. Brooks avenged a loss from the Big Ten finals to Myles Amine of Michigan. Starocci stopped past NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech in the finals. Bravo-Young beat Oklahoma State star Daton Fix in the finals for the second straight year.

5. Olympic champion Steveson finishes college career (maybe?) with big show at NCAAs – Fans wanted the last match of the NCAA finals to feature Olympic freestyle champion Gable Steveson of Minnesota. He drew the No. 1 Greco-Roman heavyweight in the nation, Arizona’s State Cohlton Schultz, in the NCAA folkstyle finals. Steveson scored a two first-period takedowns that led to a 6-2 win. After waving to the crowd and hugging his coaches, Steveson whipped up the crowd noise then hit his patented back flip to the delight of the crowd. After blowing kisses to the crowd, Steveson took off his shoes in the traditional wrestling retirement ceremony. He was named Outstanding Wrestler, and later in the week got the Dan Hodge Trophy. Although Steveson has said his college career is done, he still has eligibility, and there is chatter that he may return in 2023. Gable is great at keeping people on the edge of their seat, isn’t he?

6. Dake, Snyder, Taylor add to their amazing legacy with more World golds – While Jordan Burroughs’ sixth Senior World title was huge for its historic value, the other three U.S. men’s freestyle stars who won 2022 World titles also added to their legacy in Belgrade. Kyle Dake became just the third U.S. men’s freestyle wrestler to claim four Senior World titles, when he beat Taimuraz Salkazanov of Slovakia, 3-1, in the 74 kg finals. (Burroughs has six, John Smith had four). It was a rematch of the 2021 finals, also won by Dake. Kyle Snyder won his third World title (plus a 2016 Olympic title), with his 6-0 shutout of Batyrbek Tsakulov of Slovakia in the finals. Snyder has now won a World or Olympic medal in eight straight years. David Taylor won a second World title (plus a 2020 Olympic title), dominating his rivalry match against 2016 Olympic champion Hassan Yazdani Charati of Iran by a convincing 7-1 margin. Taylor now has a 4-1 record against Yazdani, losing only in the 2021 World Championship finals.

7. Tamyra Mensah Stock gets back on podium; Dom Parrish wins World gold on first try
– While Amit Elor’s Senior World title was big news, Team USA also had two other Senior World champions in women’s freestyle to brag about big time. 2020 Olympic champion Tamyra Mensah Stock was dominant in claiming her second Senior World title at 68 kg, with a pin in 2:10 over 2022 U20 World champion Ami Ishii of Japan. She smashed all of her opponents, with two pins and two technical falls along the way. A new star was born in Belgrade when Dominique Parrish won the 53 kg World title in her first Senior World appearance. Parrish was sharp in a 4-2 victory over 2022 Asian runner-up Khulan Batkhuyag of Mongolia in the finals. Also winning two matches by technical fall, Parrish outscored her opponents 27-3 over the course of two days.

8. In its 100th year, Michigan wins Big Ten title and places second in NCAAs in Detroit – All season, the Michigan wrestling program celebrated its 100 years with wrestling, putting one of its greatest teams on the mat. The Wolverines almost had a perfect ending of this milestone season with a strong post-season. At the Big Ten Championships in Lincoln, Neb., led by individual champions Nick Suriano (125) and Myles Amine (184), Michigan beat Penn State by 1.5 points for the team title. Amine beat returning NCAA champion Aaron Brooks of Penn State with an overtime takedown. It was Suriano’s second Big Ten victory, but his first for Michigan. Two weeks later, at the NCAAs in nearby Detroit, the Wolverines could not keep pace with Penn State’s five champions. Suriano claimed the national title, Amine placed second and four other Michigan wrestlers placed in the top five of their weights to give Michigan the second place team trophy, 21 points ahead of third-place Iowa. Michigan fans truly had something to celebrate this year.

9. USA beats Iran 6-4 to win World Cup in men’s freestyle – It was the men’s freestyle finals that wrestling fans wanted to see, World champion USA against World runner-up Iran. Both teams were dominant in their pools, setting up a finals showdown at Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa. Although there were some twists and turns along the way, the USA won 6-4 in an exciting dual meet. The USA won its first two bouts with Zane Richards (57 kg) and Seth Gross (61 kg). After Iran’s 2022 Senior World champion Rahman Amouzakhalili edged World silver medalist Yianni Diakomihalis at 65 kg, Alec Pantaleo won a clutch match at 70 kg. Iran won the next two matches, including an upset of six-time World champion Jordan Burroughs by Ali Savadkouhi at 79 kg. Zahid Valencia scored a huge 5-3 win at 86 kg over three-time Senior World medalist Alireza Karimimachiani. The USA team win was clinched at 97 kg, when three-time World champion Kyle Snyder controlled Kamran Ghasempour, a two-time World champion who moved up in weight, by a 5-0 margin. The last USA win in the World Cup was in 2018, but the last time the USA has won with Iran in the field was in 2001 in Baltimore, Md. It was a historic year with men’s and women’s freestyle being held side-by-side at the World Cup for the first time. An inspiring Ukrainian team won the team title on the women’s side in Coralville.

10. Daton Fix wins matches in two styles at Bout at the Ballpark in Arlington, Texas – A unique wrestling competition was held at Globe Life Field, the home of MLB Texas Rangers, in February, when Oklahoma State took on Iowa in a college match, held right next to a USA vs. International All-Stars team in a freestyle match on another mat. NCAA runner-up and World silver medalist Daton Fix, who was in the college season with Oklahoma State, agreed to wrestle in both dual meets, and he won them both. In freestyle, Fix needed less than two minutes for a 10-0 win against Ecuador’s Guesseppe Rea. Later in the night, he defeated No. 3 Austin DeSanto of Iowa, 5-2, in the college event. It was a unique double win, something we had never seen before.

Other major stories that are worth mentioning about 2021:

Tervel Dlagnev gets 2012 Olympic bronze alongside Big Tens in Lincoln – Here’s to one of our sport’s best people getting something he richly deserves. It had been announced that due to the IOC ability to catch doping cheats years later, U.S. men’s freestyle heavyweight Tervel Dlagnev was going to be elevated to a bronze medal from the 2012 London Olympic Games. But it was not until March 6, in a special Olympic Medal Reallocation ceremony, that Dlagnev was able to wear that medal and receive his due recognition. With a special partnership between the IOC, the USOPC, USA Wrestling, the Big Ten and the University of Nebraska, Dlagnev received his medal where he lives, in Lincoln, Neb., in front of family and friends, just prior to the start of the Big Ten Championships finals. Dlagnev received a first-class ceremony with a healthy crowd in attendance to applaud his Olympic success. A great day for American wrestling, for sure.

Bruntil and Maroulis win Yarygin, Snyder gets third Yarygin title – Before Russia decided to invade Ukraine and get banned from major international sports competitions, the annual Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix was held in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. It is considered the toughest international freestyle event besides the World Championships each year. Three Americans won golds in 2022, including women wrestlers Emma Bruntil (65 kg) and Olympic champion Helen Maroulis (57 kg). Bruntil defeated World medalist Forrest Molinari in an all-USA finals. Bruntil and Maroulis were just the seventh and eighth USA women to win this event. On the men’s side, Olympic champion Kyle Snyder won his third Yarygin title, the most among U.S. men. He beat 2017 Junior World champion and 2019 U23 World silver medalist Shamil Musaev of Russia, 8-3 in the finals.

USA wins 49 World medals in 2022 – Wow. USA Wrestling came home with 49 World medals at all age groups, a new record for the organization. That included 15 Senior World medals, 14 U17 World medals, 11 U20 World medals and nine U23 World medals. The haul in 2021 was 43 medals at these levels. Medals came in all three disciplines. The USA also won two World team titles, Senior men’s freestyle and U17 men’s freestyle as well as other team podium appearances in both men’s and women’s freestyle. It is fair to say that the United States is competing at as high a level as ever before across all age levels.

McKendree wins third straight NCWWC women’s title, then coach moves on – Led by two champions, McKendree secured a third consecutive team title at the NCWWC Nationals, which is the national championships for NCAA women’s wrestling programs. Both of McKendree’s champions went through the tournament without surrendering a single point. Cameron Guerin, who became two-time champion at 130-pounds, was awarded the NCWWC Outstanding Wrestler Award. Teammate Sydnee Kimber, who wrestled in an all-McKendree final at 191 pounds, earned her third consecutive NCWWC title. Five other McKendree wrestlers placed second, giving the Bearcats the title over King by 22 points. Later in the spring, McKendree coach Sam Schmitz took the job as Director of Wrestling and men’s coach at Central Methodist. Some of McKendree’s athletes transferred after the Schmitz move, making McKendree’s chances for a four-peat more difficult in 2023.

Snyder beats Cox in Super Match prior to NCAA Championships in Detroit – In a first-time event, RudisPlus put together a full 16-card international-style card of quality wrestling bouts the night before the NCAA Div. I Wrestling Championships in Detroit. The headliner for the event, held at the Sound Board at the Motor City Casino Hotel, was a best-of-three series between Olympic medalists and World champions Kyle Snyder and J’den Cox. Their showdown did not occur as expected at the U.S. Olympic Trials last year, so fans had a great interest in this outcome. Snyder scored a 5-5 criteria over Cox in their first match. Cox led 5-3, but a two-point body lock by Snyder tied it up late in the match to win. The second match was all Snyder, a 7-1 win that included two takedowns by Snyder and three step out points. Cox competed at 92 kg in 2022, winning a World silver, while Snyder was World champion at 97 kg. Cox says he is going up to 97 kg in 2023, so this series is expected to continue.

Grand View returns as NAIA men’s champion, 10th team title in 11 years – Grand View won nine straight NAIA titles, until they placed second behind Life in 2021. Just one year later, in Park City, Kansas, Grand View was the NAIA wrestling champion once again, making it an amazing 10 titles in 11 years. Led by individual champions No. 1 seed Esco Walker (125), No. 4 seed Israel Casarez (157) and No. 2 seed Casey Randles (174), Grand View finished with 206.5 points, a full 57.5 points ahead of runner-up Life, which had 149 points. Grand View also had three runners-up and put 11 athletes on the podium as All-Americans.

Record-setting Fargo featured 6,646 competitors as nation’s best show up – If there was any doubt that wrestling had returned from the pandemic setback, you just had to look at the combined USMC Junior and 16U Nationals, hosted in Fargo, N.D., the largest wrestling tournament in the world. In 2022, a combined 6,646 competitors entered, blasting the record of just under 6,000 participants in 2021. Five of the six tournaments saw growth in participation, with the Junior women having the most growth with a 281-athlete jump in their tournament. The quality was also first-class, a great celebration of American high school wrestling.

NAIA adds women’s wrestling as championship sport in 2023 – The NAIA announced in April that women’s wrestling would become an official championships sport in the 2022-23 season, making it the organization’s 28th championships. It became the first college organization with an official national championships in women’s wrestling. Previously, their year-ending event was the NAIA National Invitational. To be eligible for this designation, women’s wrestling needed 40 NAIA programs. This is another huge step forward for the sport in the USA. In the final NAIA National Invitational, held in March of 2022, Campbellsville, led by champion Kenya Sloan (155) and eight All-Americans, repeated as champions.
Wartburg finishes 1 point ahead of Wabash for NCAA Div. III title, as neither team scores in the finals – It was a crazy finish to a close NCAA Div. III national tournament. Wartburg led Wabash, 79-78 going into the gold-medal finals round. Wabash made its move in the morning session when Wartburg lost five of six semifinals and went 5-7 in the wrestlebacks. Wabash placed three into the finals, while Wartburg had just one finalist. All four of these wrestlers lost, giving Wartburg the 15th NCAA title in team history. Wartburg’s only finalist, Zayren Terukina, was beaten at 141 pounds, but three wrestlers from other schools stepped up and beat Wabash opponents in the finals.

NCAA champions Starocci and Lewis creating great rivalry at 174 pounds – One 2021 NCAA Div. I finals bout featured a pair of past champions, No. 1 seed and 2021 NCAA champion Carter Starocci of Penn State against 2019 NCAA champion and No. 2 seed Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech at 174 pounds. The match was tied at 4-4 in regulation, forcing overtime. There were no takedowns in sudden victory. In the tiebreaker, Starocci scored an escape in just eight seconds. With Lewis down, Starocci rode most of the 30-second period before Lewis tied it at 5-5 with an escape. Starocci won it on riding time. The two met again in the 2022 NWCA All-Star Classic in Austin, Texas in November, which does not officially count on their records, but means a lot to the athletes and fans. This time Starocci won 2-0, on an escape and riding time point. We will see if this match up will happen again in 2023.

Honoring a deal, Maple comes out of retirement to enter and win U.S. Open – Missouri assistant coach Kendric Maple made a deal with Mizzou star Keegan O’Toole that if he won the Junior World title last summer, Maple would make a comeback at the Senior level at the U.S. Open. O’Toole not only won the Junior Worlds, but he followed it up with his first NCAA title in March. Maple lived up to his promise and entered the 2022 U.S. Open in Las Vegas at a new weight class, 65 kg, claiming the No. 6 seed. Not only did Maple reach the finals, but he scored a stunning 54-second pin on a cradle over Matthew Kolodzic to win his second career U.S. Open title. Maple was later named Outstanding Wrestler. According to Maple, he is done and won’t come back to seek a third Open title.

NAIA champion Guilford beats NCWWC champion Makoyed to made Senior World Team – Women’s college wrestling no longer comes together for an annual national tournament between schools from all organizations. Since the end of the WCWA, the NCAA schools compete in the NCWWC, while the NAIA schools wrestle in their own national tournament. Two college stars at the same weight class from different associations reached Final X Stillwater at 76 kg, when Dymond Guilford, a two-time NAIA champion, beat two-time NCWWC champion Yelena Makoyed in two straight bouts. Guilford won the first match 10-5 and finished strong with a 12-2 technical fall in bout two to punch her ticket to the Worlds in Serbia. Makoyed beat Guilford in a ranking event in Tunisia later in the summer. This rivalry may continue well into the future, as both have high Olympic goals and potential.

Iowa sweeps Junior National Duals in honor of the late Mark Reiland – Wrestling lost a great leader, coach and friend with the passing of Iowa USA Wrestling’s state chairperson Mark Reiland in December of 2021. Reiland had done so much for wrestling in the state of Iowa, and his memory was celebrated by USA Wrestling Iowa’s teams competing in the 2022 season. At the Junior National Duals in Tulsa, Okla. in June, Iowa’s teams put on a wonderful performance, winning both the Greco-Roman and men’s freestyle division of this rugged event. In Greco-Roman, the finals dual meet against Minnesota Gold went down to the last match, with Ryker Graff scoring a technical fall at 106 pounds to secure a 34-31 win. In freestyle, Iowa was dominant in the finals, beating Ohio, 44-14, winning 10 matches with five technical falls, one pin, and four decisions. Mark Reiland was smiling in heaven, no doubt.

Mauger, Attao win rare Junior Triple Crowns in Fargo – To complete a Triple Crown, a wrestler must win a folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman national championship in the same calendar year. In the Junior division, this is a very difficult task, and many years there are no Triple Crown winners at all. In Fargo, N.D. in July, the week concluded with the crowning of two new Junior Triple Crown winners, Mack Mauger of Idaho at 106 pounds and Aden Attao of Idaho at 285 pounds. Mauger made quick work of his Greco-Roman finals, defeating Brayten Casey of Wisconsin in a first period 8-0 technical fall. Attao was also spectacular in his last match, scoring an 8-0 technical fall over Sebastian Lopez of Kansas in Greco-Roman. Attao scored a four-point throw, then scored a pair of front headlock turns from par terre to end the match in the first period. Now only nine athletes have won 11 Junior Triple Crowns since the award was launched in 2007. The only other year with more than one Triple Crown winner was in 2014, when Randon Miranda of California and Danny Vega of Arizona won the Junior Triple Crown.

U17 Greco-Roman World Champion Joel Adams dominates the field – Perhaps the biggest achievement for USA Wrestling’s Greco-Roman program came at the age-group level, when Nebraska star Joel Adams didn’t give up a single point on his way to gold at the U17 World Championships in Rome, outscoring his opponents 36-0 at 65 kg. In the gold-medal match against Aleksandre Rusitashvili of Georgia, Adams tallied three takedowns to win 6-0. Adams rolled through his bracket with dominant wins over Ukraine’s Petro Shafranskyi in the semifinals, plus Takaku Suzuki of Japan, Saya Brunner of Switzerland and Aleksandre Rusitashvili of Georgia. The last U17 Greco-Roman World Champion for the USA was Cohlton Schultz in 2017 in Athens, Greece.

USA wins U17 World men’s freestyle title with an amazing nine medalists – U.S. men’s freestyle won a team title at the U17 World Championships in Rome. Team USA won nine medals and scored 190 points, way ahead of India in second with 126 and Azerbaijan in third with 122. Four of the medals for Team USA were gold: Domenic Munaretto (45 kg), Luke Lilledahl (51 kg), Joseph Sealey (71 kg) and Koy Hopke (110 kg). Silvers went to Christian Castillo (48 kg), Jax Forrest (55 kg) and Tyler Kasak (65 kg). Bronzes were won by Zackary Ryder (80 kg) and Max McEneelly (92 kg). This was the first age-group World tournament under new National Developmental Coach James Green, who will have a high bar to match in upcoming years in this position.

Iowa women dominate at rugged Missouri Valley Open women’s tournament – The University of Iowa is the first Power Five college program with varsity women’s wrestling. The Hawkeyes are competing unattached during the 2022-23 season, with its first official college season to begin in the fall of 2023. However, the Hawkeyes under head coach Clarissa Chun gave the world a taste of what to expect next year, when seven athletes entered the Missouri Valley Open in November, considered the best women’s college open. Seven Iowa women entered. Five unattached Hawkeyes were champions: Sterling Dias (101), Nyla Valencia (109), Felicity Taylor (116), Nanea Estrella (136) and Reese Larramendy (143). The other two unattached Hawkeyes reached the finals and lost to their teammates: Emilie Gonzalez (101) and Brianna Gonzalez (109). They were unbeaten against any other team. Two other Missouri Valley finals featured the No. 1 wrestler from the NAIA facing the No. 1 wrestler from the NCAA. At 130 pounds, NAIA No. 1 Lexie Basham of Texas Wesleyan beat NCAA No. 1 Cameron Guerin of McKendree, 3-1. At 191 pounds, NCAA No. 1 Sydnee Kimber of McKendree defeated NAIA No. 1 Kelani Corbett of Missouri Valley College, 6-4.

I would love to hear from folks who have other stories they believe should make this list. Here’s hoping everybody in wrestling has a fantastic 2023 year, and we have many more things to celebrate next holiday season.

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