An All-Marine wrestler is headed to the World Championships after winning a best-of-three series at Final X, one of United States wrestling’s most prestigious events. U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. John Stefanowicz defeated U.S. Open champion Kendrick Sanders in two straight rounds at Final X: Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey on June 8 to capture the 82 kg/180.2 lbs. Men’s Greco-Roman division title and a coveted spot on the World Team.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Stefanowicz said. “I’ve been working a long time for this and it wasn’t a matter of if it was going to happen, it was just a matter of when.”
Stefanowicz made it to Final X by winning the World Team Trials (WTT) Challenge in Raleigh, North Carolina on May 17-19. Thanks to his win at Final X, Stefanowicz will represent the United States and the Marine Corps at the World Wrestling Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan Sept. 14-22, 2019.
“It’s an experience that is bar none,” Stefanowicz said. “It’s something I only really dreamed of doing as a kid and as a Marine I wasn’t quite sure that I’d see the day that something like this would happen to me.”
In order to make it to Final X, a wrestler must either return as a world medalist, win the U.S. Open or win the WTT. Stefanowicz has made the national team for three straight years, but this is his first time making the World Team.
Stefanowicz faced Sanders earlier in the year at the U.S. Open where Sanders won 7-3 on his way to take the title. At Final X, Stefanowicz got revenge and credits his coach Jason Loukides for getting him ready for the rematch.
“The key was the way that Coach Loukides had me prepare and in the scouting and the different training regimens we did going in,” Stefanowicz said. “It was all geared towards the opponent.”
Stefanowicz wasn’t the only Marine competing at Final X: Rutgers. 1st Lt. Jamel Johnson earned a Final X: Rutgers berth by defeating the Army’s Pvt. Hayden Tuma in the final of the WTT. Lt. Johnson won this year’s Dave Shultz Memorial International tournament and placed third at the U.S. Open for the second year in a row.
At Final X, Johnson faced U.S. Open champion Ellis Coleman of the Army in the Greco-Roman 67 kg/147.5 lbs. matchup where Coleman, a 2012 Olympian, downed Johnson in two rounds.
All-Marine wrestlers Sgt. Xavier Johnson and Sgt. Raymond Bunker will compete at the second of two Final X’s on June 15, 2019 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Bunker solidified his spot in Final X by defeating 2018 World Team member RaVaughn Perkins 4-3 in the finals of the U.S. Open in April at 72 kg/158.7 lbs. Bunker will take on WTT champion Alex Mossing of the Air Force on Saturday.
Sgt. Johnson punched his ticket to Final X by beating No. 15 world ranked Travis Rice in the World Team Trials semi-finals before knocking off Sam Jones in the final at 63 kg/138.7 lbs. Johnson will face U.S. Open champion Ryan Mango of the Army.
This year, the All-Marine Wrestling Team had four men qualify for Final X, six make the U.S. National Team and three make the Puerto Rican National Team. The top three finishers at the World Team Trials Series, including Final X, are considered USA National Team members, but the Final X winners are the World Team members. The Greco-Roman World Team consists of 10 weight classes ranging from 121.3 pounds to 286.6 pounds. In an Olympic year, the World Team members are the U.S. Olympians; however, there are only six weight classes in the Olympics.
In the Greco-Roman style of wrestling, wrestlers use just their arms and upper bodies to attack their opponent and are not allowed to hold onto their opponent’s lower body. The Greco-Roman style contrasts the freestyle form where wrestlers also use their legs and can hold opponents above or below the waist.
U.S. National Team members from the All-Marine team not mentioned in this article are 1st. Lt. Peyton Walsh and Capt. Daniel Miller. The All-Marine wrestlers who made the Puerto Rican National Team are Sgt. Joshua Medina, Cpl. German Diaz and LCpl. Marciano Ali.
Final X: Rutgers (Piscataway, New Jersey, June 8) Greco-Roman Results:
67 kg/147.5 lbs.
Rd 1: Ellis Coleman (U.S. Army WCAP) VFA Jamel Johnson (U.S. Marine Corps), 9-1
Rd 2: Coleman VPO Johnson, 6-0
82 kg/180.2 lbs.
Rd. 1: John Stefanowicz (U.S. Marine Corps) VPO1 Kendrick Sanders (New York Athletic Club), 8-5
Rd 2: Stefanowicz VPO1 Sanders, 3-2
Final X: Lincoln (Lincoln, Nebraska, June 15) Greco-Roman Bouts:
72 kg/158.7 lbs.
U.S. Open champion Raymond Bunker (U.S. Marine Corps) vs. World Team Trials Challenge Tournament champion Alex Mossing (Air Force RTC)
63 kg/138.7 lbs.
U.S. Open champion Ryan Mango (U.S. Army WCAP) vs. World Team Trials Challenge Tournament champion Xavier Johnson (U.S. Marine Corps)