After third-place finishes at the 2021 Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, Tony Cassioppi spent the offseason ahead of the 2021-22 college wrestling season getting leaner and meaner, but remaining a badass wrestling machine. The transformation of Tony Pins paid its first dividends this weekend, as Cassioppi stormed his way to a gold medal at the U23 World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.
Cassioppi's closest match was his first of the tournament, as he won a frenetic, back-and-forth bout over Armenia's Martin Simonyan with a fall in 5:55. There was plenty of activity prior to that match-ending pin, though. Cassioppi scored an early takedown, locked in a gutwrench, and scored two quick turns to open up an early 6-0 lead. Both guys scored takedowns before the end of the first period and Cassioppi entered the break with an 8-2 lead. Simonyan grabbed a takedown to cut the lead to 8-6, then countered a Cassioppi throw attempt and ended up scoring a takedown himself to make the score 8-8, with Simonyan leading on criteria. Cassioppi responded with another takedown of his own to regain the lead, 10-8, before adding another takedown after another body lock attempt (there was a lot of upper body action in this match) to extend his lead to 12-8. Finally he managed one final takedown near the end of the match and planted Simonyan for the fall with seconds to go in the match. Whew!
The remaining matches for Cassioppi featured more controlled dominance and less frenetic, back-and-forth action. In the quarterfinals, Cassioppi opened up with a takedown over Albania's Paris Karepi about a minute in to take a 2-0 lead. He added two more points on step-out points to take a 4-0 lead into the break. Cassioppi added three more points in the second half of the match on step-out points and a shot clock point against Karepi (who seemed singularly uninterested in engaging with Tony at all) to record an easy 7-0 win and book a spot in the semifinals.
In the semifinals, Cassioppi faced Russia's Saipudin Magomedov, a 2019 Junior European champion. The match that ensued was cagey, but Cassioppi again emerged victorious. Magomodev tried to use hand-fighting and tie-ups to wear down Cassioppi, but never came close to scoring. Tony opened the scoring with a step-out point in the first period, then added another step-out point and a penalty point after Magomodev was put on the shot clock and failed to score. Holding a 3-0 lead, Cassioppi finally secured the match's first (and only) takedown in the final seconds of the bout, scoring a go-behind to complete a 5-0 win and earn a spot in the gold medal match.
Awaiting Cassioppi in the finals was Greece's Azamat Khosonov, but he was no match for Tony Pins. With a chance to add a U23 world championship to his four Junior Pan-Am Championship gold medals, Tony did not miss. He scored a quick takedown to grab a 2-0 lead in the match, then scored another takedown to open up a 4-0 lead and added a few leg lace turns to extend his lead to 9-0. With time winding down in the first period, Tony got to Khosonov's leg and took him down again, this time putting on his back to secure a pin and win a gold medal with full style points.
The final numbers for Cassioppi? Four wins. Two pins. Outscoring his final three opponents 21-0. What an outstanding performance by Tony Pins. He flat-out dominated the competition after a few hiccups in his first round match, winning a gold medal with ease. Obviously freestyle is not folkstyle and some very challenging opponents await Tony in the college ranks this season (his personal nemeses Mason Parris and Gable Steveson are back for another go-round as well), but it's hard not to feel good about Cassioppi entering the 21-22 season. It remains to be seen if he can get by Parris or Steveson, but this looks like the best version of Cassioppi yet and we're damn excited to see how he fares against them -- and what he can do to the rest of the field at heavyweight.
Congratulations on bringing home gold, Tony.