It is good that Willie has stopped calling him Cardini, which sounds like an alcoholic beverage. Now, if they could just spell Zac's name correctly! Justin in on a VERY QUICK shot that goes from a single to a double, a lift, and then the score! 

This is why I think Justin will be an AA. He can get to legs. All he needed to do was to convert. He's starting to convert. 

Long ride. Builds up 1:31 in riding time with multiple high-amplitude mat returns. Ryan Miller from Penn (and Blair Academy before that) finally escapes near the end of the first period. 

During that long ride, Izzy and Willie talk about the bottom half of the ILLINI lineup, saying great things. Izzy knows Dylan Duncan, of course, and he wondered when he would "get up off the couch." Haha! They liked the lineup that runs from Cardani to Byrd to Duncan/Carr. 

A lot of "firepower" there. 

In the second period, Cardani is down. He's built up 1:31 in riding time. The Penn kid is long, so I'm worried about leg rides. But quick escape, no time for legs, riding time down to 1:19. 

Justin with multiple shots, one pretty good, but he doesn't continue with it, and another pretty bad high crotch that leads to a reattack. The reattack reaches the side of the mat, and Miller locks up a cradle, but it is below the knee, so I don't think I should even call it a cradle. Still, I guess it could be used to gain a takedown. Justin gets out of bounds. 

PRODUCTION VALUES NOTE: Multiple camera angles! The camera operators are rotating their cameras to follow the action! The video crew did NOT start off the match with one of those lame "countdowns" until the meet starts. They actually tested the equipment live. Superb job done by Izzy, Willie and ILLINOISMatmen and their camera crews. I was hard on them at the start (perhaps a little rude) but they picked up their game and created a fantastic experience. 

Izzy calls Cardani's three point stance "the Sumo Shuffle." That's a comparison that Jordan Blanton has made in the past--and you'll hear him making in a future interview that will come out in a few days. 

Cardani with another low single shot to hold on until the end of the second period. He's wrestling really ******* well here. 

Miller gets an escape, but not before Justin builds up an insurmountable 2:14 in riding time. That's in the bank. There's only a minute left in regulation. With :44 to go, Cardani shoots in but the ref calls him for stalling. I think Justin has taken about 6 shots in this match to 1 from Penn. Not fair!

Although the ref is wrong, he's also kinda right. What used to kill me--being extended on my belly with locked hands around a single--is actually stalling for Cardani. I don't think it is stalling for any other human. Which reminds me, I've always admired the way ILLINI Legend Brian Glynn would extend on his belly and pull in a leg to get the takedown. He did that as an upper weight against good competition. 

:14 seconds left and the ref calls Cardani for stalling when he kicks out of bounds. Again, the shots taken by both wrestlers equals 6+ to 2. Yet, the guy with six or more shots gets called for stalling twice in thirty seconds. Izzy notes that Coach Poeta is arguing the same thing. Loudly. Haha!

"Justin Cardani is your first Matmen Open Champion." -- Willie. That's after Cardani again shoots into the legs, holds on to a single and rides out the clock. The winning point in a 3-3 match came with the riding time. This is what I love to see! 

The 3-in-1 is playing in my head. That fast part at the end. GO ILLINI!!!

Interesting note: Two of the wrestlers that Cardani beat along the way in this tournament ended up wrestling for third. So, Cardani had by far the hardest path of any 125 at the ILLINOISMatmen Open. 

CONCLUSION: A beautiful takedown in the first period--just what we've been waiting for--followed by a powerful ride for over a minute and a half. Welcome to college, Blair kid! I think Cardani is in incredible shape. He spends more time extended on a shot than anybody else in the NCAAs. Some of it is to take time off the clock. That's fine if you are in shape and have the grip of Iron Man. 

Apparently, Cardani has a grip like Iron Man. 

The improvement in attitude and gumption and technique from the Chattanooga match and this tournament is night and day. Keep improving! 


WOW. This is a rematch of the blood round at the NCAA tournament. That match went into overtime, but in overtime, Lucas Byrd crushed Micky Phillipi. The kid from Pitt is ranked #7 in the country; Byrd is at #6. Phillipi has qualified for the NCAA tournament three times and reached the blood round twice. He was denied in the blood round by Byrd in overtime and by RBY in a one-point match. Phillipi has also been an ACC champ twice. 

A little feeling out to start. Lucas has to fend off a Russian tie from Phillipi. He does so. Then, the ILLINI executes double unders, then throws by Phillipi (see below) to get behind him. 

Lucas used a similar move to this to score the first takedown in his match against Austin DeSanto at the BTT. It's a scary position for the defensive wrestler to be in, and Lucas puts that fear to good use. You don't want to be taken to your back, so you're more likely to give up the takedown. The fact that Byrd has a go-to move that will work on wrestlers like DeSanto and Phillipi is nice to have in your pocket. 

To finish him off, though, the ILLINI had to bring him to the mat. He did that with another spectacular ILLINI mat return:

"That's a great mat return for Lucas Byrd." After a restart, another serious mat return. This time Lucas used his hip rather than the arch you see above. 

Byrd uses a power half to put Phillipi on his back. Coach Poeta wants a review because it took the ref more than two seconds to get there. The broadcasters agree with Poeta. No review because it is an in-season tournament. 

Lucas rides out the period and ends on top. Tough ride! So tough that the Pitt kid only got to his feet once. Lucas built up 1:38 in riding time to go into the second period. 

Byrd escapes to make it 3-0, and there's still 1:15 in riding time. Phillipi immediately goes to his Russian tie. Lucas shrugs it by, almost using it for his own offense. That's when the ILLINI celebrates his freedom with a dance:

Now Willie and Izzy are going into the history of ILLINI lightweights: "Jeremy Hunter has done a heckuva job with ILLINOIS lightweights." Talk of Delgado and OTT. 

End of second period, still 3-0 good guy with 1:15 in riding time. Penn's choice. 

The third period starts with another Byrd exclamatory mat return. "Lucas Byrd might be a little too much here." -- Izzy. Then the ILLINI gets himself in a little trouble but chain wrestles back to top position. Look at this very quiet trip, which must exhaust his opponents to death:

Whoa. Izzy and Willie start talking about Edmond Ruth coming to the room. Is that a thing? I don't know. 

Back to the match: Phillipi finally escapes with 1:10 left to go in the third. The score is 3-1 but riding time is locked up at 2:04. Micky Phillipi must convert two takedowns against Lucas Byrd in 70 seconds. 

Tall order.

Byrd got scratched in the eye, and Phillipi used that to get a takedown. A release and it is 4-3 with riding time and :33 seconds left. The ref calls stalling against the ILLINI because refs wanna be the star! But Lucas holds on to the 5-3 win and becomes THE SECOND CHAMPION IN MATMEN OPEN HISTORY -- ANOTHER ILLINI!!!

CONCLUSION: The field in which Micky Phillipi cultivates his wrestling skills was barren of anything to use against Lucas Byrd. The Pitt wrestler is known for riding legs--but Lucas pushed the leg away--and he's in love with the Russian tie--but Byrd was almost able to use that for his own offense. The only chink in the ILLINI's armor was a scratch to his eye. His natural chain wrestling is beautiful to watch. Lucas looked like a formidable All American this day. 

He is a natural. 



  1. Keep the content coming Chief, thanks for the recap

  2. Hi Huff! Let's hear your thoughts too! People are sick of me but love them some Huff Hall.

    I'm thinking the ILLINI can be a force when the full lineup appears. That is, as long as the injuries aren't as bad as they seemed to Little Brawny, Joe Roberts and both the 174s.

    Can't wait for Rutgers, then Iowa. Cheers!

  3. Looking forward to being at Huff when Iowa rolls into town, I'm hoping we can get a good crowd for that dual. Byrd vs. Desanto should be electric

  4. If you want, I'd love to record your voice and thoughts after the match. I can't be there, although I'll be watching on BTN. Let me know if you want to, and I'll get you my number. Cheers and Happy New Year!


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