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Wrestling Preview: Nittany Lion Wrestling Club Hosting Freestyle Event

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Perhaps tired of beating the hell out of each other, the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club wrestlers invite a host of competitors to town for some fresh opposition competition.

Cael Sanderson, here coaching Jake Varner in 2015, has since brought Varner into the Penn State Coaching Tree, and Varner is now the Head Coach of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club.
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors

13 bouts.

NLWC versus various excellent competitors.

Jeff Byers & David Taylor on the mic calling the action.

Starpower galore.

All video-and-audio-streamed to you, good fan, for the cost of $9.99 on the NLWC’s page on the Rokfin platform.

Saturday night, 7:30p pregame show, 8p wrestling begins. Let’s check it out!

What Is Rokfin / How to Watch

Rokfin is a content-creator platform founded by Martin Floreani after an ugly public split from Flowrestling, which he also founded. I’m not going to dig very deep into the dramas related thereto, but you can get a bit of a sense of the breadth of the split from this Martin tweet from December of last year, and I’ll also recommend the new-on-the-scene bro @stalematesshow for entertaining videos describing and summarizing the associated ‘tea.’

The platform hosts content from various creators (here’s a link to all the creator channels) some of which is free and some of which is premium. To get access to the free content, you must create a free login, a process I found easy & straightforward. So far, on the NLWC’s Rokfin page, all the content is free:

Content available on the NLWC Rokfin page.

I appreciate the clearly-visible “Free” indicator on each tile. Here’s a link to the Zain video promo of this event, which will prompt you to create a free account if you haven’t already.

To get access to the premium content, you must subscribe with a credit card, to a particular channel. I used the NLWC’s page, and I found this part easy and straightforward as well. I also appreciate that the $9.99 fee is only charged monthly, an option that conveys to me an interest by the company in assuring customer’s have flexibility . For comparison to NLWC’s so-far-all-free content, here’s a link to Iowa Wrestle’s page, which shows some free and some premium content, each clearly labeled.

Rokfin cancellation looks easy to find (two clicks, into account settings) and not difficult to execute as well, but I didn’t want to chance testing it before tomorrow night’s event:

Rokfin’s cancellation page, in account settings.

Rokfin’s About page has this to say about becoming a creator on their platform:

The marketing descriptions at https://rokfin.com/about

Other informational resources hosted there include a page about their custom tokens, called RAE, which I haven’t learned enough about to attempt a description, but you can read about them here, and their FAQ page hosted on Medium.

The NLWC tested out its live stream last night, kind of. They streamed from three locations:

  1. A very brief segment of a practice at David Taylor’s M2 Training Center, which was put on loop. I didn’t mind, since I’ve wished I could be a fly on the wall at a Penn State practice for many years now. It was only a 5min segment of light-medium drilling, but it was cool to spot all these superstuds rolling with each other. I was certain I spotted these pairs: Nickal & Snyder; Nolf & Casey Cunningham (who showed the most levity), Zain & Espinal (who also joked around a small bit), Gilman & Jordan Conaway (Cael provided some technique guidance to Gilman, who thanked him (I’m such a fanboy dork, I know). Jennifer Page (more below) & Mark McKnight (an NLWC Coach) drilled but hardly spoke. Nick Gwiazdowski, who works out with the NLWC pretty frequently, it sounds like, drilled with Nick Nevills, and they did a fair bit of talking to each other. I wasn’t sure who Kerkvliet was rolling with (bald, white & big; does anybody know if Eric Thompson fits that description?), but I’m now pretty sure David Taylor was rolling Riley Lefever (who looks a fair bit like Snyder). Cenzo may have been drilling with Bekzod, but I’m least certain about that one, and I couldn’t idenitify Jane Valencia’s (more below) drilling partner.
  2. The Ballroom, at the Ramada. This looks set up to be the main event mat. It had a head table and a scoreboard, and black drapes creating a faux wall in front of the 4 real walls. I spotted Darian Cruz, Ringer, Abounader and, I think, Hemida warming up there. I saw Salata, but it looked like she had just finished.
  3. A Warmup Room, at the Ramada. The stream only panned in here very briefly.

I’m not sure what all they were testing, but from the consumer side, the NLWC’s recording seemed to play nicely with Rokfin’s delivery to my browser. There were no audio or video hiccups and video quality was high.

Lastly, as I always do when algorithms are at play, I have a ton of questions about how back-end things work at Rokfin. How is subscriber money distributed across the platform to different creators?

How does the lone subscription choice provided to subscribers (which channel to be on when we hit the subscribe button) impact our chosen creator’s income? Do they get more of our subscriber $ than others?

Is that kind of intel already publicly documented somewhere? Do we consumers even have a right to ask?

I think there is a lot of fascinating discussion to be had around such things, but not on this day.

Let’s get on to the fire matchups!

Fire Matchups

Full card bouts, in order, and weights for the September 19, 2020 NLWC Wrestling Event. It is acknowledged that this image isn’t nearly as beautiful as the one at the NLWC Twitter, but if you’re at all like me, you *need both kilograms & pounds beside each other.

(Warning notes: ok, these matchups are way more fire than my previews of them will be, but I’m trying to knock the writing rust off, so let’s bear with each other pretty please. Additional caveat: I’m extremely inexperienced with blogging about Freestyle—and even with finding and locating Freestyle results. We’ll see how that turns out).

1. Rick Durso vs Malik Amine; 74kg / 163.2lbs

2/24/19, Sam Janicki, sjanickiphoto.com

When last I heard or read Durso’s name, he was going by Richard.

In 2014, he became Franklin & Marshall’s first All-American since 1981, when he placed 8th in Oklahoma City. He redshirted in 2015, and finished R16 in 2016. Durso was 3-0 in his college career against Penn Staters, with decision wins over Luke Frey and Gary Dinmore, and a Medical Forfeit win over Jimmy Gulibon.

Malik went 1-2 in both his trips to Nationals, in 2018 & 2019. WrestleStat lists his career record (including TRFR redshirting season) at 64-46. He’s 2-1 career in Folkstyle against Penn Staters, with wins over Luke Gardner and Jarrod Verkleeren, and a loss to Zain.

Malik also co-hosts a relatively new podcast, The Cave Talk, with his brother Jordan. My podcast consumption has fallen off drastically with the disappearance of my beltway commute, so any reviews you fine folk might be able to provide will be appreciated.

2. Nick Nevills vs. Jordan Wood, 125kg / 275.6lbs

Nevills was a 2x All-American at Penn State, finishing 5th in 2017 and 7th in 2018. He famously was beaten out in 2019 by teammate Anthony Cassar, who went on to win the National Championship. In Freestyle action, most recently, he finished 4th in the 2019 U.S Senior Nationals. See USA Wrestling’s youtube for a list of Nevills’ Freestyle videos.

Wood is a 1x All-American at Lehigh, who finished 4th in 2019 and has one year of college eligibility remaining. Wood’s USA Wrestling youtube is a deep catalog because he made the U.S. World Team as both a Cadet (a Silver World Medalist in 2014) and a Junior.

3. Jennifer Page vs. Desiree Zavala; 62kg / 136.7lbs

2016. 63 KG Rd 5 Champ Semi Finals Semifinal - Jennifer Page (Titan Mercury Wrestling Club) won by decision over Erin Clodgo (Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club) Dec 4-0
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors

I’m so excited to see the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club now with women on its official roster. Women’s Wrestling has the potential to make the biggest contribution ever to the growth of this great sport, and representation and exposure are the cornerstones to that growth. Many, many longtime wrestling fans are like me in that we have a lot to learn about the athletes, their styles and their stories, and events like this that include women’s bouts really help. I can’t wait to see how the two women’s bouts on this card, and their placements at bout orders 3 and 10, contribute to one of wrestling’s most inclusive core truths: that all different body types can compete.

Page is a longtime National Team member, and won Bronze at the 2013 Junior Worlds. Most recently, she finished 5th in the 2019 Senior Nationals. You can check out video of lots of her matches here.

Zavala is still in college, a recent transfer to powerhouse Wayland Baptist University. Her most recent finish was a runner-up second to Kayla Miracle at the 2019 U.S. Open, and her full USA Wrestling catalog is here.

4. Jaimie Espinal vs. Domenic Abounader; 88.9kg / 196lbs

Jaime Espinal in the 2015 Pan American Games
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
Abounader gave Bo Nickal a good fight in the 2018 Semifinals, before dropping a 6-3 decision. Here he prepares to face Emory Parker in the consi semis, which resulted in a tough 6-5 loss.
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors

As Taylor Miller noted in USA Wrestling’s preview of this event, both of these athletes wrestle for other countries.

Espinal recently returned to competition and to the NLWC. From his NLWC Bio:

Jaime was a member of the NLWC Resident Athlete Program and had trained at the Club’s RTC on his way to the Silver medal at the 2012 Olympics. He decided to return to competition and rejoined the NLWC in 2019. Jaime is a phenomenal athlete and an outstanding competitor and training partner.

Abounader, who finished at Michigan after placing 5th in 2018 (his lone All-American finish), wrestles for Lebanon. From Miller:

Born and raised in the USA, Abounader has been competing for Lebanon since 2018. In his debut for Lebanon, Abounader finished with a silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games. He then went on to wrestle in the 2018 World Championships as well.

Abounader was always one of my favorite Michigan wrestlers. It will be good to see him go live again.

5. Zain Retherford vs. Alec Pantaleo; 71.2kg / 157lbs

Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors

These two met three times in 2016 when they were both Sophomores, and every bout ended the same way: with Zain pinning Pantaleo. In the dual, Pantaleo lasted the longest, getting decked at the 6:35 mark. In the Big Ten Tourney Semis, things ended more quickly, in 2:46 (Pantaleo fought back for 3rd). Then in the National Semifinals, it ended in 4:49. Worse, each of Pantaleo’s next two bouts also ended in him getting pinned (2:49 & 3:40). His final placement was 6th, his first AA.

After that disappointing finish to the tourney, and perhaps considering a future of a possible 3 meetings a year against the powerhouse Nittany Lion, Pantaleo redshirted in 2017. Then when he returned in 2018, he competed at 157, where he avoided the Retherford juggernaut at 149, and went on to earn All-American twice more, finishing 7th in 2018 & 4th in 2019. WrestleStat lists his career record at 95-32, and he finished his Wolverine career as a 3x AA.

Zain of course finished as a 3x Champ, a 2x Hodge winner and a 4x AA. In Freestyle, Zain was the U.S. World Team representative in 2017 and 2019, but he has yet to replicate the World Gold he won in Cadet in 2012.

Pantaleo has represented the U.S. in 2016 Junior Worlds and 2019 U23 Worlds.

6. Jason Nolf vs David McFadden; 79kg / 174.2

Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors

Nolf was a 3x Champ, 4x Finalist and, shockingly, a 0x Hodge winner, given his career 117-3 record (from PSWC), with an 82% bonus rate (from WrestleStat, which includes redshirting TRFR year). Wrote Miller:

Nolf made his international debut in November with a silver medal at the Bill Farrell International. He improved on that, winning a gold medal at the 2020 Pan American Championships earlier this year.

McFadden was a 2x AA at Virginia Tech, placing 6th in 2016 & 8th in 2018. He recently begain training at the Penn RTC, and, more recently, competed in the Wrestling Underground event, where he defeated Tommy Gantt 8-4.

7. Vincenzo Joseph vs. Dan Vallimont; 77kg / 169.8

Caption Contest, in the Comments, please?
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
In the 2010 NCAA Finals at 165,-#1 Andrew Howe (Wisconsin) Dec #6 Dan Vallimont (Penn State) 9-3
Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors

Dan Vallimont was Cael Sanderson’s first Penn State Finalist. This bout is quite a time-hop for Penn State fans: Vallimont’s final Nationals was in 2010 and Vincenzo’s first Nationals weren’t until 2016.

Vallimont was a 2x AA, placing 3rd in 2008, before his run to the Finals in 2010. He trains in Philly with the Penn RTC.

Cenzo was a 2x Champ, 3x Finalist who was denied by COVID a chance to become Penn State’s 5th 3x Champ. He is relatively new to Senior Freestyle competition.

8. Greg Kerkvliet vs. Youssif Hemida; 125kg / 275.6lbs

Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarrior
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors

Kerkvliet hasn’t yet competed attached for Penn State, but he went 9-0 and won two tournaments unattached this past year. His Freestyle creds are substantial: 2017 Cadet World Champ (in his International debut), 2018 Cadet World Silver, and 2019 U23 5th.

Hemida’s a 2x AA for Maryland, who finished 8th in 2018 and 6th in 2019. He also placed in his International debut, winning Silver in 2018 U23s.

9. Bekzod Abdurakhmonov vs Logan Massa; 77kg / 169.8

In the 2017 World Championships, 74KG Ali SHABANOV (BLR, in Red) df. Bekzod ABDURAKHMANOV (UZB, Blue), 8-4 for Bronze.
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
Sam Janicki, sjanickiphoto.com

Bekzod was a 1x AA for Clarion, placing 3rd at 165 for Clarion in 2012, after getting decked by David Taylor in the Semis. From his NLWC bio:

A native of Uzbekistan, Bekzod joined the NLWC Resident Athlete Program in the fall of 2018. He was a 2014 World Bronze Medalist, a 2016 Asian Gold Medalist, and a bronze medal match finalist at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Bekzod finished the 2017-18 season by earning another bronze medal at the 2018 World Championships. \\

Massa has one more year of college eligibility remaining. He used an NCAA redshirt his TRFR year in 2016. In his RSFR year, he went 32-3 and placed 3rd behind Vincenzo & IMar. In 2018 as the 7-seed, he was eliminated in an unlucky first round of consis, after a sudden victory loss to the 8-seed Chandler Rogers. In 2019, he made it to the R12, before bowing out, and last year he used an eligible Olympic redshirt.

Evidence of the Freestyle-only focus of the year presented itself in the form of Massa winning the whole Senior Nationals in an incredible tourney performance! Here he is talking about overcoming injuries to win:

10. Jane Valencia vs. Julia Salata; 62kg / 136.7lbs

In the 2020 Pan Am Games in Ottaway, Alma Jane Valencia Escoto (MEXICO) won by decision over Betzabeth Rebeca Sarco Colmenarez (VENEZUELA) Dec 5-1
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
Jane Valencia celebrates becoming the first female wrestler from Mexico to qualify for the Olympics.
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors

Jane Valencia competes for Mexico, and trains with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. She’s not listed as a “Resident Athlete” of the NLWC, as her husband, Espinal, is, but she is mentioned on that same page, in the 2020 Achievements section:

Also noteworthy at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier tournament, Jane Valencia (wife of NLWC R.A. Jaime Espinal) who also trains at the NLWC made history by becoming he first-ever Mexican women’s wrestler to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Julia Salata is a longtime National Team competitor and one of the wrestling community’s strongest & clearest voices. Here’s Miller again, in the USA Wrestling preview, with their Salata bio:

A multiple-time National Team member, Julia Salata has been a threat on the Senior national level for years and has represented the United States at multiple international tournaments, including the Pan American Championships in 2013, 2014 and 2019, where she won two bronzes and a gold, respectively. She was also a two-time Junior World team member. Salata trains out of Bristol, Tennessee, at King College, where she is an assistant coach for the women’s wrestling program.

Julia is a passionate advocate for all styles of wrestling and an assertive and reasonable proponent of women’s wrestling at all levels. She owns a versatile skillset that includes competitor, coach, advocate and writer. Check out this 2700 word article she wrote in May describing how COVID has affected her Olympic aspirations. It’s a fun and entertaining read that provides interesting insight into the mindset and training of an elite athlete, especially around dealing with setbacks.

Salata is also the brainchild of the @HowSheWrestles storytelling project. If you’re newish to Women’s Wrestling, it’s an amazing starting place, packed full of personal stories that are inspiring to little girls and old men alike.

11. Thomas Gilman vs. Darian Cruz; 59kg / 130.1lbs

At 2018 Final X, 57 Thomas Gilman Council Bluffs, IA (Titan Mercury Wrestling Club) defeats Daton Fix Sand Springs, OK (Titan Mercury Wrestling Club), 2-1, to earn the right to represent the U.S. in the World Championships.
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
At the 2020 Pan Am Games, 57 kg 3rd Place Match Darian Toi Cruz (UNITED STATES) won by tech fall over Edwin Alexi Segura Guerra (GUATEMALA) (TF 10-0)
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors

Gilman is the newest member of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, having just arrived this summer. He of course was a 3x AA at Iowa, where he placed 4th, 2nd & 3rd, and where he was a very outspoken loyal Hawkeye, which makes the move to PA especially interesting.

Justin Basch managed to interview Gilman on his Baschamania podcast three times this year, and each makes for extremely good listening. Here he is in January, when he was wrestling for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club; in April, just after announcing the move to the NLWC; and again last week, when he said he’s never felt better.

Gilman won World Silver in 2017 and took 5th in 2018.

Cruz was a 3x AA at Lehigh, where he placed 7th, 1st and 5th. That Championship he earned in 2017 by shocking Gilman in the Semifinals. Of Cruz’ Freestyle chops, Taylor writes:

Last spring, Cruz earned his way on to his first Senior National Team as the No. 3 wrestler in the country, just behind No. 2 Gilman. Since then, he has been active on the international scene and most recently won a bronze medal at the 2020 Pan American Championships in Canada.

12. Kyle Snyder vs. Mike Macchiavello; 99kg / 218.3lbs

Kyle Snyder confirming the metallic flavor of his Olympic Gold Medal, Rio, 2016
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
2018 Nationals,197 lbs Michael Macchiavello (NC State) DEC Jared Haught (Virginia Tech), 3-1 for his first National Championship.
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors

During and after becoming a 3x college National Champion and 4x Finalist for Ohio State, Snyder also finished like this in the major international championships:

  • 2015 World Championships: Gold
  • 2016 Olympics: Gold
  • 2017 World Championships: Gold
  • 2018 World Championships: Silver
  • 2019 World Championships: Bronze

Those 2019 World Championships were held in Nur-Sultan in September, and in October Snyder announced he was joining the NLWC.

Macchiavello achieved the uncommon feat of becoming a National Champion the first time he ever earned All-American honors, when he won the title for NC State in 2018. He also was on Baschamania, this June.

USA Wrestling’s Miller notes that “Snyder’s last international competition was the Pan American Championships in March, where he won gold,” and added:

Macchiavello made his first Senior National Team last year at 92 kg. He has competed internationally five times since then, collecting three top-five finishes, including a silver medal at the Bill Farrell International and bronze medal at the Dan Kolov International. Snyder and Macchiavello last met in the Bill Farrell finals, where Snyder came away with a 10-0 victory.

13. Bo Nickal vs. Alex Dieringer; 86.2kg / 190lbs

In 2019 Final X 92KG Round 2: J’den Cox Columbia, MO (Titan Mercury) defeated Bo Nickal (Nittany Lion WC), 5-0, to earn the right to represent the U.S. at the World Championships.
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarrior
In the 2018 U.S. Open, Kyle Dake Ithaca, NY (TMWC) defeats Alex Dieringer Stillwater, OK (TMWC), 5-5
Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors

Nickal was a 3x Champ, 1x Hodge winner and 4x Finalist, who finished with only 3 career losses.

Dieringer was a 3x Champ, 1x Hodge winner and 4x AA, who finished with only 3 career losses. One of which was to deceased Penn State legend, James Vollrath in the 2013 Southern Scuffle:

2013 Southern Scuffle, 157pound upper bracket.

Dieringer finished college in 2016, Nickal in 2018. Writes Miller:

The night’s main event will pit some of the world’s best wrestlers against each other in Bo Nickal and Alex Dieringer.

A three-time NCAA champion for Penn State, Nickal put himself on several countries’ radars last fall, when he eased his way to a gold medal at the U23 World Championships in Hungary. He also put the USA on alert as he took World champion and Olympic medalist J’den Cox to two close matches in the Final X series for the 92 kg Senior World Team spot.

Dieringer is also a three-time NCAA champion, competing for Oklahoma State. This summer, he moved out to Michigan to continue his training at the Cliff Keen WC. A four-time National Team member, Dieringer has been stuck behind legends like Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Dake on the National Team ladder, keeping him from a World Championship bid. However, he has proven himself to the world, collecting a top-three finish in every single international tournament he’s competed in since 2013. He also owns a silver medal from the 2013 Junior World Championships.

Tomorrow will be the first time Nickal and Dieringer will wrestle.

The weight class they selected is interesting, and could indicate that Nickal is more likely to compete in the Olympic Team Trials at 86kg / 189.6lbs (and against David Taylor!), than up at 97kg / 213.9lbs (and against Kyle Snyder and J’Den Cox!)

Thanks for reading along with us this morning, and I look forward to hanging out with you all tonight. Feel free to use this post as an open-thread for tonight’s festivities.

Special thanks to Tony Rotundo and Sam Janicki for allowing us the opportunity to showcase and amplify their beautiful photographic works, and to USA Wrestling for all their amazing written and video content.

In the common parlance of Nittany Lion wrestling, signs seem to be pointing toward it being a very #fun night of grappling!