By Craig Sesker
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The United States men’s freestyle wrestling team is on top of the world right now.
And the powerful American squad is planning to stay there.
The reigning world team champion, the U.S. will send its star-studded lineup onto the mat for the UWW Senior Men’s Freestyle Wrestling World Cup on Saturday and Sunday at the University of Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The American squad, led by Olympic gold medalists Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder, ended a 22-year drought by winning the team title at the world championships this past August.
Now they are hoping to lead the U.S. to its first World Cup team title since 2003. The annual international dual meet competition features eight of the best teams in the world.
“I’ve wrestled in a lot of World Cups, but I’ve never been a part of a team that’s won it,” Burroughs said. “I really want to win this thing — I’m excited to have another opportunity to do it. Our team is competing at a high level. It’s our time.
“This team is so amazing and this is the team that is going to make it happen. I don’t think there is anybody in the world that can compete with what we’ve got going on right now.”
Burroughs already is considered one of the best American wrestlers of all time.
He captured an Olympic gold medal in 2012. He’s also won four world titles, including the last two. He competes at 74 kg. Burroughs has compiled a remarkable 23-0 record in five World Cup appearances.
Snyder has emerged as arguably the best pound-for-pound wrestler on the planet. He became the youngest Olympic gold medalist in American history in 2016, a year after he became the youngest U.S. world champion in 2015.
Snyder knocked off Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev of Russia in an epic battle to win the 2017 world title and clinch the team title for the U.S.
Snyder wrestles at 97 kg. He just capped his collegiate career at Ohio State by winning his third NCAA title at heavyweight.
Snyder is 7-1 in two World Cup appearances. He suffered his only loss when he fell to Azerbaijan’s Aslanbek Alborov 5-4 last year. He outscored his other three opponents by a combined 28-2 score in the 2017 event.
The U.S. team also returns world silver medalists Thomas Gilman and James Green along with Olympic and world bronze medalist J’den Cox and world bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski.
“We’re excited to go out and put on a show,” said U.S. National Freestyle Coach Bill Zadick, a world champion himself and an NCAA champion for Iowa. “The World Cup is a major event and it’s been a while since we’ve won this. All 10 of our guys are great champions and they’re motivated to have a great performance here.
“We’re looking forward to wrestling in front of a great crowd. I want to hear people screaming ‘U-S-A’ and pulling for our team.”
2016 world champion Logan Stieber is also on the American squad along with Hodge Trophy winners Kyle Dake and David Taylor.
“Any time you have an opportunity to wrestle for the United States, that’s pretty special,” Taylor said. “We’re hungry and we’re definitely ready to roll.”
Six of the top eight finishing teams at the 2017 world championships will compete at the World Cup. Those countries include the United States, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Japan, Cuba and Kazakhstan. Georgia was third and Azerbaijan fifth at last year’s worlds.
Traditional wrestling powers India and Mongolia also are in the field.
Leading the strong Azerbaijan team is Olympic and world champion Sharif Sharifov. The team also features three-time world champion Haji Aliyev, Olympic bronze medalist Jabrayil Hasanov and two-time world medalist Jamaladdin Magomedov.
Among the top international wrestlers in the field are 2017 world champion Yuki Takahashi of Japan and world silver medalist Amit Kumar of India along with two-time world bronze medalist Bekhbayar Erdenebat and world bronze medalist Mandakhnaran Ganzorig of Mongolia.
Cuba brings a strong and experienced lineup into the event. Among their wrestlers are 2012 Olympic bronze medalist and world silver medalist Livan Lopez, two-time world silver medalist Reineris Salas, two-time world bronze medalist Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez and world bronze medalist Alejandro Valdes.
Burroughs downed Lopez 6-2 in the 2015 World Cup.
Takahashi beat Gilman 6-0 in the world finals at 57 kg. last year in Paris. Gilman, a three-time All-American for Iowa, will be competing in the arena where he wrestled in college. Kumar and Erdenebat are also in that weight class.
“We have a lot of medalists and big names on our team, but we still have to go out there and perform,” Gilman said. “We have a team that can go out there and win this, but we know everybody is looking to knock us off.”
Japan also features world silver medalist Sohsuke Takatani and world bronze medalist Yuhi Fujinami. Burroughs owns two wins over Takatani in this event.
The two-day event will be divided into three pool-play sessions. The winners of each pool will meet in the gold-medal match on Sunday afternoon.
The United States is in Pool A with Japan, Georgia and India. Pool B consists of teams from Azerbaijan, Cuba, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
The World Cup started in 1973 and the U.S. has won the event 13 times. The U.S. has hosted the World Cup 30 times, most recently in Los Angeles from 2014-16.
Carver-Hawkeye Arena attracted crowds of close to 15,000 fans per session for the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling.
“This is an incredible venue for wrestling with all of the tradition and history,” Burroughs said. “I can’t wait to compete here again.”