Pan-American Olympic qualifier: Wrestling breakdown – Retherford pinned, Tobier shines

I sincerely apologize for taking all this time to build interest in Olympic wrestling, only to have it (justifiably) snatched away. However, there will…

By: Ed Gallo | 3 years ago
Pan-American Olympic qualifier: Wrestling breakdown – Retherford pinned, Tobier shines
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

I sincerely apologize for taking all this time to build interest in Olympic wrestling, only to have it (justifiably) snatched away. However, there will still likely be a World championship to look forward to within a year, and recent results still matter!

In the midst of this crisis, potential North and South American delegates in all three styles traveled to Canada’s capital to qualify their weights for the 2020 Olympic Games.

As a whole, in terms of continental championships, the Pan-American Championship, Games, and Olympic Qualifier are looked down upon compared to Euros or Asians. These continental competitions host a number of competitive nations at the world level, however, Pan-Ams are almost always assumed to be about two key players: the United States and Cuba. More often than not, that assumption holds up.

Only the top two placers at the qualifier in Ottawa would earn their country a spot at their given weight for Tokyo.

From the United States: Greco-Roman wrestlers Ildar Hafizov, Alejandro Sancho, Joe Rau and Tracy G’Angelo Hancock qualified their weights. And at the same time, each of the entered women’s freestyle wrestlers, Sarah Hildebrandt, Jacarra Winchester, Helen Maroulis and Kayla Miracle, made it to the finals to qualify.

The top five returning placers at each weight from the 2019 World Championship have already qualified. That list includes men’s freestyle stars like Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Dake, J’den Cox and Kyle Snyder.

Pan-American Olympic Qualifier: 65 KG

The quarterfinal round at 65 appeared to be a bit of a formality. Four contenders emerged in short order: Zain Retherford, Alejandro Valdes Tobier, Dillon Williams, and Agustin Alejandro Destribats.

Also wrestling in a qualification bout beforehand, USA’s Zain Retherford picked up his second technical fall of the day over Cuero Munoz of Colombia.


Cadet World Championship NCAA Championship Matteo Pellicone USA World Team Trials USA Olympic Trials
Cadet World Championship NCAA Championship Matteo Pellicone USA World Team Trials USA Olympic Trials
2012 Gold 2014 5th 2020 Bronze 2017 Gold 2016 Bronze
2016 1st 2019 Gold (Final X Gold)
2017 1st
2018 1st

Munoz had earned two bronze twice and one silver medal at the Pan-Am Championship over the years. However, the Colombian had not yet earned any hardware in his few trips overseas. His biggest threat moving forward, and the favorite at the weight, was undeniably the Cuban, Alejandro Valdes Tobier. The last time he and Retherford met, this past summer, Munoz effectively countered the American to edge a competitive match in the first round of the World Championship in Kazakhstan.

#14 Alejandro VALDES TOBIER (CUB)

Waclaw Ziolkowski Memorial Golden Grand Prix Pan-American Championship Pan-American Games World Championship
Waclaw Ziolkowski Memorial Golden Grand Prix Pan-American Championship Pan-American Games World Championship
2016 Gold 2016 Silver 2010 Gold 2019 Gold 2017 Bronze
2013 Gold 2018 Bronze
2014 Gold
2016 Silver
2018 Bronze

Tobier’s impressive medal-based accolades are backed up by signature wins over competitors like three-time World champion and Olympic bronze medalist Haji Aliyev. Considered a top five contender at 65 prior to Worlds, a curious loss to Haji Mohamed Ali of Bahrain (formerly Russia) dropped Tobier considerably in the rankings. The Cuban took care of Brandon Dias Ramirez of Mexico, a wrestler of similar accolades to Munoz.

After making the bronze match at the 2012 Cadet World Championship, Canada’s Dillon Williams has consistently medaled at North and Pan-American freestyle competitions, but his only success beyond continental tournaments was a bronze finish at the 2018 Grand Prix of Spain. He dusted Ecuador’s Mauricio Sanchez Saltos in this year’s quarter-finals, a five-time Pan-American medalist.

With the “major” nations accounted for, that left the Argentinian, Agustin Alejandro Destribats to take on Albaro Camacho from the Dominican Republic for the last semifinal spot. After falling to Yianni Diakomihalis, Destribats earned bronze at the 2020 Pan-American Championship just one week prior. In his career he has medaled at and won age-group and senior-level Pan-American competitions in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.

While he didn’t buzzsaw Camacho as Retherford, Tobier and Williams did to their opposition, he controlled the match with solid positioning, physical leg attacks and reliable upper-body setups to win 7-2.

Semifinal: Alejandro Enrique VALDES TOBIER (CUB) def. Dillon Emmanuel WILLIAMS (CAN)

Tobier’s sustained success at the highest level is largely due to how he leverages his athleticism and physicality by using a few reliable tools. As bull-strong as he is mobile, the Cuban can mix up his levels and create flurries from the outside, but he does his best work when hitting arm-drags, underhook throw-bys and other ‘short offense’ setups coming from upper-body ties.

He has his flashy, signature techniques like double overhook throws and the three-quarter nelson from front headlock.

But, what makes him especially deadly is the trap-arm and high gut wrench series he routinely hits off his go-behinds. Because he often attacks and finishes high on his shots, he’s able to quickly transition to a strong gut position—sometimes locking over the arm to take away the post on the gut side. Tobier’s quick technical falls in this manner are numerous.

Tobier has threatening chest-wrap and head-pinch counters he makes great use of against opponents who take low leg attacks from the outside, as he did against Retherford, but his best strategy is usually to tie up and create his own action.

Before Williams even had the opportunity to get into the match, Tobier hit a short drag off the reaching arm of Williams, swinging back through with his upper body to attack the near leg of the Canadian with his rear dragging arm. Tobier had essentially thrown Williams past him without moving his feet, meaning all the Cuban had to do to secure the go-behind was swim his near-arm behind the back and pivot.

Locking his hands over William’s right arm and across the chest, Tobier kicked through to begin the match-ending trap-arm gut wrench series. Tobier used an inside hook as a lever to tilt Williams over to break the plane, then arched and turned violently in the other direction to capitalize on Williams fighting the gut to that side.

Up 8-0, Tobier’s second drag attempt drew a single leg shot out of Williams, but the distance wasn’t right. Tobier was able to underhook what would be the connecting arm to halt his momentum—all while back-stepping and pivoting to ensure the shot would be shallow. Tobier proceeded to break his base with a crotch-lock, then crossfaced to flatten him for the final two points.

Semifinal: Agustin Alejandro DESTRIBATS (ARG) df. Zain Allen RETHERFORD (USA)

You read that right.

The legendary Hodge Trophy-winner for Penn State University was pinned early in his match with Argentina’s Destribats.

In his third match of the day, Retherford was feeling strong about his process and acclimation to freestyle wrestler. As detailed in my Zain Retherford breakdown, the former Nittany Lion loves to wear down and beat on his opponents with aggressive snapping and posting—eventually feinting another tie-up just to drop to an explosive low leg attack.

Two matches in, Retherford looked confident in converting those low shots into leg laces, thus picking up crucial points in those transitions.

Against Destribats, it appeared to be business as usual in the first 30 seconds. His physical handfighting was already putting the Argentinian on the backfoot. Retherford circled, then timed a double as Destribats attempted to turn and face.

He collapsed the legs and drove straight through to put Destribats on his butt with his legs bundled, Retherford was in great position to begin a potentially match-ending lace.

Retherford was reaching under both legs and controlling the far ankle with his left hand, while gripping under the knee on the same leg with his right. He would have to crunch the legs together to effectively manipulate Destribats and prevent him from escaping, but overall position seemed promising.

Retherford can control both legs with his left hand by looping under them and locking onto that far ankle.

Retherford began to roll it through to his right, while Destribats used that left hand post to retain height and turn his chest down to avoid exposing. Soon after Retherford broke the plain and earned his first exposure, Destribats’ left leg came loose.

As soon as Retherford began the lace, Destribats had turned in to attack the grip with his free hand. He had given up those two points, but he was keyed in on something much more valuable.

Zain had rushed the lace. Instead of making sure the legs were bundled tight before turning, Retherford looked to lock it up in the transition by pulling the legs into his abdomen during the exposure.

While Greco-Roman wrestling doesn’t involve leg laces, its competitors are put in par terre situations in almost every match. It’s necessary to have excellent hip positioning and opportunistic awareness for any athlete that wants to effectively game that system. Destribats’ experience in Greco may have been the X factor that blew this match open.

Retherford lost that grip while he was flat on his back, Destribats turned to cover and latched under Retherford’s right arm, while using his right leg to hook that left arm. All the while, he was bearing his hips down on Retherford’s face and neck. Zain Retherford was trapped.

That’s worst-case scenario when you’re attempting a lace.

Once he felt secure, Destribats quickly extended his legs to free them up and get his hips flat to the mat, re-pinned Retherford’s right arm with his knee, pulled the left wrist back through to prevent Retherford from bellying down, then caught a grip behind the head to work on the inevitable pin. Destribats capitalized on Retherford’s miscalculation with an incredible mix of urgency and detail. While I don’t study mat wrestling in freestyle as often as I should, this is genuinely masterful work upon closer examination.

It was without a doubt the biggest moment of Destribats’ career, and a landmark achievement for South American freestyle this quarter.

With the weight qualified, Destribats defaulted to Tobier in the finals.

Now that the Olympics are postponed, it’s hard to say when (or if) these qualifiers will hold any significance. Stay tuned.

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