Most wrestlers have been starved of competition for almost eight months.
They have the chance to feast again, so it’s no surprise The who, what, when and where doesn’t matter since they’re so hungry to return to the mat.
Current University of Iowa wrestlers and Hawkeye Wrestling Club members will wrestle against some of the nation’s top talent in a unique 17-match freestyle event at the HWC Showdown Open at Xtream Arena in Coralville on Sunday. An undercard begins at 4 p.m. with the main bouts set for 6.
“The last time we competed was in almost February or March, so it’s been a while,” Hawkeyes two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee said. “I’m just ready to do what I love and wrestle hard.”
The event is comprised of eight undercard matches between Hawkeyes or HWC members. The main event features some of the top Hawkeyes against world-level foes and two women’s matches with nationally-ranked participants.
“I think our fans are hungry to see wrestling,” Brands said. “They want to see the right matchups and the right guys on the mat as well.”
On the main card, Lee will take on former Minnesota wrestler Zack Sanders. Austin DeSanto will wrestle former Wyoming two-time NCAA finalist Bryce Meredith. Two-time Big Ten champion Alex Marinelli and heavyweight Tony Cassioppi will compete against world medalists James Green and Nick Gwiazdowski, respectively. Pat Lugo has Princeton’s Matthew Kolodzik, which could have been the 149-pound final at the canceled NCAA Championships in March.
Most notably, recent Iowa transfer Jaydin Eierman will face Georgian Olympic champion Vladimer Khinchegashvili.
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“With Covid and the way things are delayed until January 1, it was a no-brainer to come out of the gates strong with some matchups,” Brands said. “It made sense to us and it makes sense to our guys as well. We have to be ready to go.
“We have the defending Olympic champion coming in Eierman’s weight. We have to be ready to go. Fun stuff.”
Iowa has been innovative in the way it has promoted its program and wrestling, in general. This plan was hatched in July and a lot of work had to be done by Iowa assistant Ryan Morningstar and the Iowa administration.
“We had to do it in a unique way,” Brands said. “It had to be an open tournament, so Morningstar and our compliance handled all that. That was No. 1.”
According to trackwrestling.com, which is livestreaming the matches, $100,000 will be awarded to wrestlers without NCAA eligibility. Male and female athletes will be compensated equally, which was important to Brands and organizers. The event was originally scheduled without fans, but that changed when staff saw how things were handled during the U.S. Senior Nationals at the arena earlier this month.
“It’s awesome,” DeSanto said. “Just blessed to compete and to get this high-level opponent I get to look forward to wrestle and just show what I’ve been working on.”
Marinelli jumped at the opportunity to take the mat with the three-time world medalist. Green earned silvers at the 2017 Senior Worlds and 2014 University Worlds.
“I was just really excited to wrestle anyone,” Marinelli said. “I didn’t really care who it was and when he said it was James Green I was just super excited because he’s a world-class level athlete. He’s very good on the freestyle scene. He’s ranked in the world.”
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DeSanto and Meredith promises to be one of the more energetic battles. DeSanto’s high-octane and aggressive style clashes with Meredith’s wide-open, funky and scramble abilities.
“It’s just get on the mat and just wrestle, controlling the center of the circle,” DeSanto said. “I just think both of us are ready to score points and just get out there and compete.”
Gwiazdowski claimed World bronze medals in 2017 and 2018 and was a two-time NCAA champion for North Carolina State. He is the type of strong and athletic heavyweight Cassioppi will see during the college season.
“He’s a high-level opponent,” Cassioppi said. “Everybody I face this year I have to be ready for and at the top of my game. That’s how it prepares me.”
World silver medalist Sarah Hildebrandt highlights the women wrestlers. She will take on Erin Golston. Two-time U.S. Open champion Precious Bell wrestles Jordan Nelson as well.
The Hawkeyes are excited for their first chance to compete together since they won the Big Ten Championships. The coronavirus pandemic wiped out the NCAA tournament as Iowa was favored to win its first NCAA title since 2010. The national tournament was wiped out, disrupting offseason workouts and freestyle/Greco-Roman competition as well.
It is not the home opener to a season that won’t likely start competition until January. It will be held in a newer venue.
“I think my teammates are ready to go anywhere,” Marinelli said. “I don’t think they really care where it is. I think we’d wrestle in a barn for all we care. Having it at an arena is pretty cool.”
HWC Showdown Open matches
Jesse Ybarra vs. Nodir Safarov
Justin Stickley vs. Carter Happel
Bretli Reyna vs. Cobe Siebrecht
Max Murin vs. Mitch McKee
Kaleb Young vs. Jeremiah Moody
Patrick Kennedy vs. Myles Wilson
Nelson Brands vs. Abe Assad
Jacob Warner vs. Zach Glazier
Spencer Lee vs. Zach Sanders
Sarah Hildebrandt vs. Erin Golston
Austin DeSanto vs. Bryce Meredith
Jaydin Eierman vs. Vladimer Khinchegashvili
Pat Lugo vs. Matthew Kolodzik
Alex Marinelli vs. James Green
Precious Bell vs. Jordan Nelson
Michael Kemerer vs. Tommy Gantt
Tony Cassioppi vs. Nick Gwiazdowski
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