NEW YORK - In front of a sold-out crowd at the Hulu Theater in Madison Sqaure Garden, Hayden Zillmer knocked off Nick Gwiazdowski in a Best-of-3 series and will now represent the United States of America at the 2022 World Championships.
Opening session kicked off on Wednesday afternoon, as Zillmer and Gwiazdowski were slated for the fourth match of the day. In Match One, it was Gwiazdowski who would strike first with a snatch single on the edge that he converted to take a 2-0 lead to the break. In the second period, Zillmer again was stymied on his offensive attacks, as Gwiazdowski would take on an extra takedown and a passivity point to walk away with the 5-0 lead.
Needed the next two matches to punch his ticket to the World Championships, Zillmer would need to change up his plan of attack against the former World bronze medalist in the evening session.
As match two got underway, Zillmer was visibly more aggressive in his attacks to start the match, but again it was Gwiazdowski who would jump out to a 3-0 lead at the break. However, as the second period got underway Hayden's pace looked to be a serious factor with Gwiazdowski starting to fade. Still trailing 3-0 with 45 seconds left, Zillmer got in on a double and finished with ease to cut the lead to 3-2. As they came back to the center, Zillmer almost immediately got back in on a shot, but exchange instead led to a cuation and a step out to put Zillmer out in front 4-3. Gwiazdowski attempted one last flurry at the end, but Zillmer would put the match away to tie the series and lead to a final deciding match.
Match three started out with a much more cautious approach from both guys as there wasn't a serious attack from either guy, however Zillmer would be put on the clock first and would trail 1-0 into the break. Heading into period two, Gwiazdowski would fire a swing single off the whistle to push his lead to 3-0, then Gwiazdowski would get two more for exposure off a low single attempt from Hayden to make it 5-0, giving Gwiazdowski the largest lead of the series.
As the match approached the final minute, Hayden continued to use his endurance as a factor, firing off multiple attacks which would eventually lead to a blast double takedown to make it 5-2 with 52 seconds remaining. Both guys would return to the center, and Zillmer would shoot another low single off the whistle to quickly make it 5-4.
Needing another score in the final 30 seconds, Zillmer continued to fire off shots but couldn't get to the legs, forcing Zillmer instead to utilize his mat positioning and look for a step out. WIth 15 seconds left, Zillmer would fake a shot attempt and Gwiazdowski trapped him in a front headlock and was looking for the push out, however instead it was Zillmer who would circle in and blast Gwiazdowski of the mat to give him the 5-5 lead on criteria with nine seconds left. They returned back to center, and Gwiazdowski would fire off a trio of desperate attacks but Zillmer would defend nicely to secure yet another comeback victory and make his first ever World Team. The accomplishment encapsulates a seven-year long journey for Zillmer, as the 29-year old has finally reached the top of the proverbial mountain.
With Zillmer's Final X win, the 125-kilogram weight class for Team USA will be represented by a Gopher Wrestling Club athlete. Gable Steveson made the Olympic team last summer where he won the gold medal in Tokyo and earned his sport on the World Team later that fall before waiving his invitation.
Heading into the summer, Zillmer will now look to compete in the international tour with a few Ranking Series events as he looks to refine his skills before heading to Belgrade, Serbia later this summer.