Previewing Bellator Prospects at the U.S. Olympic Trials

Bellator President Scott Coker has not been afraid to try anything since signing on with the promotion in 2014. One of his unique ideas was signing a trio of Olympic hopeful wrestlers who would debut upon completion of their wrestling careers. This weekend, the three signees, Aaron Pico, Ed Ruth and Tyrell Fortune will take to the mats to attempt to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic freestyle wrestling team. The two-day tournament which takes place April 9-10 will air live and free on NBCSports.com. The Saturday and Sunday finals will air on NBCSN.

The following is a breakdown of the Bellator signings’ path to making the team and some of the biggest potential roadblocks.

Aaron Pico (65 kg)
After only one season of high school wrestling, Pico signed with the Zinkin Entertainment management team. The move essentially constituted turning professional and thus eliminated the option of wrestling in high school or college. Less than a year later, he signed with Bellator.

So far in his career, Pico has claimed a Cadet World Championship and picked up a pair of Junior World medals.  This past year on the senior level, he has picked up bronze medals at the Alexander Medved International and the Bill Farrell International.

Pico, who is still only 19 years old, earned a spot in the trials with a four place finish at the U.S. Nationals. He reached the semifinals with a 10-3 victory over two-time NCAA champion Kellen Russell. In the next round, Pico was forced to the consolation bracket by four-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber.

The trials bracket will also include a trio of 2015 world team members. Since the Olympics features fewer weight classes than the world championships, Brent Metcalf, Reece Humphrey and world bronze medalist James Green will all compete for the single spot at 65 kg. Metcalf and Humphrey both hold recent victories over Pico.

Qualified Wrestlers:
2015 World Team member – Brent Metcalf
2015 World Team member – Reece Humphrey
2015 World Team member – James Green
2015 Bill Farrell International champion – Jordan Oliver
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier champion – Jimmy Kennedy
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier runner-up – Logan Stieber
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier fourth place – Aaron Pico
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier fifth place – Kellen Russell
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier sixth place – Frank Molinaro
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier seventh place – Jason Chamberlain
2016 Dave Schultz Memorial champion – Jayson Ness
2016 NCAA Div. I champion – Dean Heil
2016 NCAA Div. I champion – Zain Retherford
2016 Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier champion – Bernard Futrell

Aaron Pico vs. Zain Retherford

Ed Ruth (86 kg)
The three-time NCAA champion for Penn State  is looking to get back on the national team at 86 kg after making the world team in 2014 but losing in the trials final to 2009 world silver medalist Jake Herbert in 2015. It will not be an easy task. The dominance of Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs at 74 kg has forced two of the nation’s best, Kyle Dake and Ruth’s collegiate teammate David Taylor to move up to 86 kg. It is suddenly an extremely crowded bracket.

Last November, Ruth won the Bill Farrell International to qualify for the trials. He has since finished second at the Henri Deglane Challenge and eighth at the U.S. Nationals. At Nationals, he dropped a pair of matches Taylor and Clayton Foster who is also competing at the trials.

With recent losses to three trials competitors, Ruth might struggle to win the bracket that now also includes 2016 NCAA champion J’den Cox.

Qualified Wrestlers:
2015 World Team member – Jake Herbert
2015 Bill Farrell International champion – Ed Ruth
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier champion – Kyle Dake
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier runner-up – David Taylor
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier third place – Keith Gavin
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier fourth place – Jon Reader
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier fifth place – Richard Perry
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier sixth place – Clayton Foster
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier seventh place – Tyler Caldwell
2016 Dave Schultz Memorial champion – Austin Trotman
2016 NCAA Div. I champion – Myles Martin
2016 NCAA Div. I champion – Gabe Dean
2016 NCAA Div. I champion – J’den Cox
2016 Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier champion – Deron Winn

Ed Ruth vs. Reineris Salas Perez

Tyrell Fortune (125 kg)
In college, Fortune won a pair of junior college national championships. He then transferred to Grand Canyon where he won an NCAA Division II title. In 2013, he won a bronze medal at the World University Games in Greco-Roman.

Despite his athletic pedigree and accomplishments, Fortune will have a hard time making the Olympic team as he has struggled against several of the competitors in the field. At the 2015 World Team Trials, he dropped matches to Dom Bradley and two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski. At the Bill Farrell International, Anthony Nelson twice defeated Fortune.However, they met again in the semifinals of the U.S. Nationals, and Fortune defeated Nelson 2-1. In the finals, Fortune fell once again to Bradley. 

Qualified Wrestlers:
2015 World Team member – Zach Rey
2014 World medalist – Tervel Dlagnev
2015 Bill Farrell International champion – Nick Gwiazdowski
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier champion – Dom Bradley
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier runner-up – Tyrell Fortune
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier third place – Bobby Telford
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier fourth place – Anthony Nelson
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier fifth place – Eric Thompson
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier sixth place – Connor Medbery
2015 U.S. Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier seventh place – Justin Grant
2016 Dave Schultz Memorial champion – Matt Meuleners

Tyrell Fortune vs. Tony Nelson