Gwiazdowski healthy, strong, motivated heading into Final X
Gwiazdowski spent the past two weekends watching the first seven world freestyle team spots determined at Final X events in Lincoln and State College.
“We’ve got some really great wrestlers and it was fun to watch,” he said. “It definitely got my competitive juices flowing.”
Now it’s Gwiazdowski’s turn.
The 2017 world bronze medalist will battle long-time rival Adam Coon when the third and final stage of the Final X is contested Saturday night at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
Gwiazdowski and Coon will meet in a best-of-three match series at 125 kilograms. The winner advances to October’s World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
“I’m really excited and motivated to wrestle,” Gwiazdowski said. “I’m healthy and strong — I’m ready to go. I can’t wait to get out there and have my opportunity to compete.”
Gwiazdowski, a two-time NCAA champion, has had a strong season. He placed third at January’s prestigious Ivan Yarygin event in Russia before going 2-1 for the U.S. team that won April’s World Cup.
He dropped a 4-3 decision to 2015 world silver medalist Jamaladdin Magomedov of Azerbaijan in the gold-medal dual at the World Cup.
“I feel like I’ve continued to make progress and I’ve improved a lot over the last 10 months since the World Championships,” he said. “I have tried to build on that performance from last year. A big part of what I’ve worked on is getting stronger and increasing my attack rate with my offense.
“This is the strongest I’ve been in a long time. I have had some really good training and I’ve had really good preparation leading up to this event.”
The 6-foot-1, 258-pound Gwiazdowski will face a familiar foe in the massive 6-foot-5, 285-pound Coon, who is trying to make U.S. world teams in both freestyle and Greco-Roman this year.
Gwiazdowski earned one-point wins over Coon in the 2015 NCAA finals and 2016 NCAA semifinals. He also beat Coon by 12-2 technical superiority in freestyle at the 2015 U.S. World Team Trials.
Coon does have a win over Gwiazdowski, a 3-1 victory in overtime in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
Coon won the U.S. Open and World Team Trials Challenge Tournament this year to earn a shot at Gwiazdowski, who earned a Final X berth by virtue of being a returning world medalist. Coon is a past Cadet world champion and Junior world bronze medalist in freestyle.
“Adam has had a really solid year — he beat a world champion,” Gwiazdowski said. “He is a big, strong guy, but you expect everyone to be strong that you face at this level. I expect guys to be 275 pounds and be physical. I respect Adam and what he does. I’m looking forward to the challenge of facing him. He always brings a fight. He’s in your face and he wrestles hard.”
Gwiazdowski is ready to match Coon’s hard-charging style and approach.
“I’m in great shape,” he said, “and I feel really confident with my conditioning.”
The 25-year-old Gwiazdowski is an athletic heavyweight who has excelled with an array of lethal leg attacks. He’s a tough matchup for most heavyweights who don’t possess his speed and mobility.
“I’m going to be fast and explosive,” he said, “and ready for whatever happens out there.”
Gwiazdowski is looking to join an already loaded 2018 American world team that includes Olympic and world champions Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder, world champion Logan Stieber, world silver medalists Thomas Gilman and James Green, and Hodge Trophy winners Kyle Dake and David Taylor.
Gwiazdowski was a member of the 2017 United States squad that won the world team title in men’s freestyle wrestling last year in Paris. It was the first U.S. team title in that style since 1995.
“This year’s world team is really good already,” he said. “I’ve been around this group the last couple of years and I’ve been able to see what they do. It’s an impressive group of guys who compete and train at a very high level. I’ve learned a lot from being around them.”
Gwiazdowski and coach Pat Popolizio led a resurgence of the wrestling program at North Carolina State. The Wolfpack are coming off their best season in school history after winning a team trophy when they tied for fourth at the 2018 NCAA tournament in Cleveland.
And the best may be yet to come as N.C. State continues to bring in top-level recruits.
“It’s really exciting to see what is going on here,” said Gwiazdowski, who continues to train in Raleigh. “A lot of things have changed since I first got here. The intensity of guys and the skill level they have now is really impressive. Pat’s done a great job and he’s put together a great coaching staff. It’s fun to see them continue to bring in talented wrestlers and see the program having so much success. It’s awesome.”
Popolizio is impressed with what Gwiazdowski has done after a standout collegiate career where he was a three-time NCAA finalist.
“Nick is an extremely motivated individual and he has been working very hard to accomplish his ultimate goal of becoming a world champion,” Popolizio said. “Coach (Obe) Blanc has been leading our RTC’s training and our staff feels very confident about Nick’s preparation heading into this weekend.
“Nick excels on the Senior level because he takes the sport and his training very seriously. He is a true professional, he does everything right and he expects the best.”
So what is the key for Gwiazdowski to achieve his lofty goals?
“Some of it is technical, and some of it is intensity and fight,” he said. “I have to stay focused and believe that I’m good enough to be a world champion. You need to develop that mindset and I feel like I can beat anybody in the world right now.”
Courtesy of Intermatwrestling.com
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