Zain Retherford is seeking to make his second world team, but the emergence of Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) and longtime rival Jordan Oliver will present a very difficult challenge for Retherford. He finished second at the US Open to Diakomihalis, and this means Retherford is going to have to go through the entire tournament to for a rematch at Final X for the world team spot. The World Team Trials are May 17-19, and will be broadcasted live on FloWrestling.
Retherford dominated at the US Open until his final match against Diakomihalis, who ended up becoming the story of the tournament. Diakomihalis turned the weight class on his head with an exceptional performance, including a 16-5 tech fall win over Jordan Oliver. At Beat the Streets last week, Diakomihalis beat 2018 world silver medalist Bajrang Punia (India), and he's already being penciled in as the next great young American who can win many world medals.
However, Retherford really carved through the competition though at the Open prior to his match with Diakomihalis. Here were his wins at the open:
- Round of 64 - Zain Retherford tech fall Peter Lipari (NJ RTC), 10-0
- Round of 32 - Zain Retherford tech fall Tristan Moran (Wisconsin), 10-0
- Round of 16 - Zain Retherford tech fall Mitch McKee (Minnesota), 10-0
- Quarterfinal - Zain Retherford tech fall Jayson Ness (Minnesota), 10-0
- Semifinal - Zain Retherford dec. Jaydin Eierman (Missouri), 11-3
It's pretty clear that Retherford has a big gap between him and some of the field at the World Team Trials. His par tarre and pace is really causing a lot of problems for his opponents. He showed off his leg lace at the open in his wins against Lipari, Moran, McKee and Ness. Retherford is still dominating on the mat like he was at Penn State. Earlier this year, he picked up some solid wins at the World Cup, and competed at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix. Retherford is having a very good year for freestyle, but he's going to need to come up with something special to win his world team spot back.
There appears to be a clear top-two at this weight class for the tournament, with Retherford and Oliver. There are some interesting young guys who could cause an upset like Jaydin Eierman, but all in all, these two seem to be a head above the rest. A wild card at this weight could be Frank Molinaro, as he's a former Olympian and is able to stay in a lot of matches. If Molinaro can hit his hi-crotch with the same efficiency he did to earn his Olympic team spot, then he can make noise too.
However, for Retherford to get to Final X and a best of three showdown with Diakomihalis, he's going to likely have to do something he's never done before, and that's beat Oliver. Retherford is 0-3 lifetime against Oliver, including a loss in the US Open final in 2017. He's been close to beating Oliver, but he has not been able to get it done. He took losses at the Dave Schultz in 2014, the US Open in 2017 and an AWL exhibition in the fall last year.
Perhaps Retherford will be able to get to his offense more against Oliver, who did not have the greatest showing at the US Open before his 16-5 loss to Diakomihalis in the semifinals. Retherford has the better top game, but Oliver is such a dangerous competitor and can come up with big points at any moment.
Retherford is 2-1 in his career against former Nittany Lion Molinaro. The only time they have wrestled was in the 2017 World Team Trials finals, where Retherford beat Molinaro in a best-of-three series to win the world team spot. However, Retherford did not really dominate Molinaro in that series, and a potential one-off semifinal could be interesting given Molinaro's ability to keep things tight. It seems like Jayson Ness will be the three-seed, but Retherford dispatched him pretty easily at the Open in a first period tech fall.
Prediction - Retherford wins the World Team Trials over Oliver in the finals 2-1 in the best of three series. I know what you might be thinking, why are you picking Retherford to beat Oliver in a best of three when he's 0-3 against him?
I think Retherford is better equipped to deal with the physical demands of a best of three series than Oliver is. Oliver's weight cut and gas tank issues have been well documented at 65 kg, and while Oliver has great speed, agility and technique, I think Retherford's pace and ferocity can wear down Oliver over the course of a best of three series.
Oliver also had some real problems against Diakomihalis in defending leg laces late in their match. If Retherford can get Oliver on the mat, I believe Retherford can take advantage of it and lace up Oliver. Retherford also has other ways to get turns as well.