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Las Vegas, Nev. is fight country. The best fighters in the world often frequent the city for one reason: to prove why they are the best in the world.
Last weekend, No. 2 graduate student 149-pounder Anthony Ashnault and No. 3 junior 133-pounder Nick Suriano of the Rutgers wrestling team proved why they are some of, if not the best wrestlers in the country at the Cliff Keen Invitational.
After sitting out all of last season due to injury, Ashnault came to Las Vegas to prove he hasn’t lost a step. He showed the country he’s gained one.
Ashnault went 5-0 at the invitational, including a pin in the round of 32, an 18-2 technical fall in the quarterfinals round and a major decision in the semifinals over the eighth-ranked wrestler in the country. He cruised to a 14-10 win in the finals that wasn’t as close as the score displayed.
The championship bout featured Ashnault against Ohio State’s Micah Jordan, the tournament's No. 2 seed at 149 pounds. The South Plainfield, N.J. native commanded a 10-1 lead at the end of the period, but Jordan was able to fight his way back in the match.
This season, Ashnault has an 11-0 record with six pins and two technical falls. He has earned 35 of the No. 13 Scarlet Knights' (5-1) points in dual meets.
“I’m always trying to score bonus points, I’ve been trying to pin everyone this year, that’s the goal of the sport,” Ashnault said, according to FloWrestling. “It’s just fun for the crowd and for me to score a lot of points.”
Not only was Ashnault out to show everyone he hasn’t lost a step, it was also Suriano’s first major tournament at 133 pounds, having moved up from 125 pounds to start the season.
Ever since moving up a weight class, Suriano has yet to be tested. Last weekend, he faced a stacked 133-pound weight class at the invitational. His bracket featured 7 of the top 10 wrestlers in the nation.
"It's awesome to have them both go deep into tournaments," head coach Scott Goodale said. "I'm not sure if they will admit it, but they're kind of feeding off of each other. When one guy does something special, the other guy wants to do something special. It's a good thing to have right now."
The most anticipated matchup at the 133-pound weight class was supposed to be Suriano and Michigan's No. 3 Stevan Micic, who was last season’s NCAA Championships runner-up.
Micic weighed in at the invitational but was scratched from the tournament for an unknown reason.
“In one particular case, the man was here. I saw him here. He saw me. It’s no callout, it’s just the reality of it,” Suriano said, according to FloWrestling. “You’re here. We flew to Vegas, it’s fight country. People get millions of dollars to fight out here, let's lace them up.”
As a team, Rutgers finished ninth in the standings. Aside from Ashnault and Suriano's individual titles, the team had a fairly disappointing tournament.
The Knights have a few weeks off before a home dual against in-state rival Rider on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 1 p.m.
"Those guys wrestled really well," Goodale said, according to scarletknights.com. "Their preparation was awesome. They were locked in with laser-beam focus the whole weekend with what they wanted to accomplish here. They wrestled extremely well and they deserved to win. Now it's about getting back home and getting some rest as we look at what we did right and what we can work on."
For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.