Zain Retherford vs. Yianni Diakomihalis Final X Analysis

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I am here to eat my words. Not only did Yianni Diakomihalis not widen the gap on Zain Retherford, it was Retherford who improved upon his successes in their last meeting to sweep their best two out of three series. Despite being horribly wrong, it still may be beneficial to revisit my looks at their US Open match, Diakomihalis at Beat the Streets, and Zain Retherford at the World Team Trials.

Of course, there is controversy surrounding the final sequence of match two. That will not be the focal point of this article, but before we begin, here are my thoughts. While I think there is a high degree of subjectivity in the scoring of the initial exposure with one minute left in the match, I feel the nature of Penn State’s challenge is what should be in question.

Please correct me if I am interpreting this incorrectly, but it seems black and white that Penn State challenging a score that went on the board nearly one minute beforehand is not permissible according to the rules laid out by UWW. I don’t see any language (in this section) about a clause for the score being part of continuous action that continues for an extended period. It simply says five seconds from when the score is posted. If that section does exist, I apologize, the challenge is legitimate.

With that being said, Kyle Dake and I are extremely biased in Diakomihalis’ favor, despite being a Pennsylvania homer myself.

On to the matches.

Zain Retherford (NLWC) vs. Yianni Diakomihalis (FLWC)

Match One

One dynamic that changed immediately was Retherford’s patience. Against elite opponents, Retherford tended to take minutes at a time breaking down his opponent with clubs and drags, all while posting on the head to keep his preferred distance. But after already wrestling a full, action-packed match with Diakomihalis, and multiple matches with his teammate Jordan Oliver, Retherford’s groundwork had already been laid.

Retherford’s coaches must also have known that he can be susceptible to attacks early, before he gets a chance to learn his opponent’s entries. Diakomihalis scored on him quickly off the over tie in their first encounter. Naturally, Retherford sought to disrupt this pattern and shot straight in, almost off the whistle.

Yianni Diakomihalis counters Zain Retherford's attack

If you don’t attack low or don’t have an angle, Yianni will get you.

However, straight-on attacks at or above the knee are not a great idea against Yianni Diakomihalis. Diakomihalis caught the whizzer early and got to his trusty over tie on the left, opening up his entry.

The new rules of engagement for Retherford were clear. He did not want to tie up with Diakomihalis, and there was still some risk in his usual handfighting tactics. In matches with both Oliver and Diakomihalis, Retherford was opened up for attacks after having his wrist caught when posting on the head. While Retherford did not abandon the head post altogether at Final X, he did start to post on the shoulder much more often than we’re used to seeing.

The question became, how will Retherford score? He was consistently outscrambled by Diakomihalis in their last meeting, and clean shots had been hard to come by.

This is the area where Retherford made the most improvement, and as he remarked in his post-match interview, that change was mostly mental.

Avoiding scrambles is a near-impossible task against Yianni Diakomihalis. But Retherford focused on situations where he could control both ankles, preventing Diakomihalis from stepping around and getting to a crotch-lock, one of his better freestyle positions.

To set up most of his entries, Retherford faked his typical handfighting tactics, drawing up Diakomihalis’ hands. Low attacks from space gave Retherford the opportunity he needed to get to both legs.

Zain Retherford exposes Yianni Diakomihalis

I saw someone refer to this as “the seal defense” from Yianni.

While it may be worth it to examine the dynamics of each scramble on another day, the most significant factor is the type of scramble they engaged in from the jump. Retherford determined what type of action would play out from his entry.

Meanwhile, issues from their first match showed up for Yianni Diakomihalis. But this time, not only did Retherford clear ties, he also consistently circled his feet and made it difficult for Diakomihalis to line up an optimal angle for his shots.

Yianni Diakomihalis takes down Zain Retherford

Yianni simply didn’t have the luxury of wining on one or two scores.

It wasn’t until after several failed shots from Diakomihalis that he was able to predict Retherford sprawling straight back and pop his head out, turning the corner for two.

Retherford, on the other hand, was seeing his work in their first match pay off. In the matches with Oliver, Retherford found his best entries via faking the head post or the club. Because he knew Diakomihalis was looking to catch the wrist on the post, it was the perfect feint for a low shot.

Zain Retherford takes down Yianni Diakomihalis

Retherford looked sharp athletically, not just tactically.

Retherford remarked after the match that ‘circling his feet’ was a huge key to his success. You can see Retherford strafing to his right, and shooting the double off the post fake as Diakomihalis’ stance narrows to follow.

Ultimately, Retherford controlled the match by playing off Diakomihalis’ preoccupation with the head post and taking shots that limited scrambling possibilities.

Match Two

Retherford opened the first match basically off the whistle, but in match two, it was instantaneous.

If I had to guess what Diakomihalis’ corner told him between matches, I would assume it involved taking risks to score off Retherford’s shots, even when he didn’t have a leg free. This meant more chest wraps, less locking through the crotch.

We saw that right away.

Yianni Diakomihalis counters Retherford's shot.

4-4 off the whistle isn’t the worst way to start a match.

You may notice that Diakomihalis used the momentum of Retherford’s shot to get his chest wrap going. That same dynamic is what made the final sequence controversial, sometimes it really is about selling yourself as the aggressor in a situation.

It wasn’t as if Diakomihalis never got to the crotch lock. Off a beautiful reshot by Retherford, Diakomihalis was finally able to get back to a whizzer position off a single leg, his most successful scrambling situation in their US Open match. Just as he did before, Diakomihalis turned in and latched on to a leg.

What adjustment did Retherford make to keep from getting exposed here? It’s hard to tell because the camera angle changes at the worst possible moment, but at the very least we can observe that Retherford posted on his own head when his far arm was unavailable.

Diakomihalis made his own adjustment, for what could have been the match-winning takedown. After shooting swing singles to his left the entire day, Diakomihalis fakes left off the wrist and hits the angle perfectly to his right, breaking Retherford’s base with the change in direction.

Yianni Diakomihalis hits a misdirection swing single on Zain Retherford

What a beauty.

Perhaps it was Diakomihalis adjusting to Retherford’s timing, or Retherford slowing down after a hectic pair of matches, but the shots from space weren’t penetrating nearly as deep for Retherford in the second period.

Yianni Diakomihalis stuffs Zain Retherford

I was so sure Yianni was going to win from that point on. Then I was sad and wrong.

The effects of Retherford’s US Open handfighting may well have worn off. Retherford had given him very little reason to continue to fear his hands in this series. At that point, Diakomihalis would much rather get tied up and work it out from there than give Retherford a clean entry.

The Final Scramble

Unfortunately, this is what many of you are here for.

It appears that Diakomihalis and Retherford moved to level change at the same time, but Retherford’s quick low ankle shot beat whatever setup Diakomihalis was about to work for.

In a very risky adjustment, Retherford hid his right leg and turned his back to Diakomihalis when he felt the hand coming for the crotch lock. It is not an overstatement to say that Diakomihalis could have iced the match with an exposure there.

Zain Retherford wins the final scramble against Yianni Diakomihalis

No comment.

This is the same adjustment that forced Diakomihalis to attack the chest wrap, instead of the crotch lock.

On one hand, it is pretty clear that Retherford pushes off his left leg to begin that controversial sequence. On the other hand, it does not seem intentional on Retherford’s part to roll all the way through, and Diakomihalis is clearly guiding that motion with the chest wrap.

I am absolutely not an expert on freestyle scoring, and will offer no further opinion.

Match Three?

We can dream.

Some may support this match in an effort to get #JusticeForYianni, while others just want to be entertained once more.

If they don’t meet again this summer, you’ll have to settle for the archived matches on FloWrestling.org, or USA Wrestling’s YouTube page.

Huge thank you to Tony Rotundo, who consistently provides amazing photos of wrestling matches all over the country. Check out his gallery!

Self plug: I wrote a similar article breaking down J’den Cox’s performance against Bo Nickal from Final X. Check it out! 

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Ed is a fan of the finer things in combat sports. Low kicks, inside trips and chokes from front headlock are a few of the techniques near and dear to his heart.

When interviewing fighters, Ed is most interested in learning their philosophies and the thoughts behind their in-competition processes.


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