Iowa wrestler Tony Cassioppi wins gold at U23 men's freestyle world championships

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

Tony Cassioppi kicked off his 2021-22 wrestling season with a world title.

Cassioppi won gold at the U23 men’s freestyle world championships in Belgrade, Serbia over the weekend. Iowa’s talented heavyweight went 4-0 and outscored his opponents 36-8 en route to first place at 125 kilograms (275 pounds).

In Sunday’s final, Cassioppi pinned Greece’s Azamat Khosonov in the first period. He stormed out to a 9-0 lead thanks to a pair of takedowns, a step-out point and couple of exposures on a leg lace. Khosonov attempted a lateral-drop to try and fight back into the match, but Cassioppi caught him on his back and settled in for the fall.

That match was a microcosm of Cassioppi’s weekend. He won three times Saturday, all in dominant fashion. He pinned Armenia’s Martin Simonyan after a wild back-and-forth first match, then notched back-to-back shutouts: 7-0 over Albania’s Paris Karepi in the quarterfinals and 5-0 over Russia’s Saipudin Magomedov in the semifinals.

That set up his finals match against Khosonov, and Cassioppi won with the same attack-first style that he’s used against NCAA-level competition. In two seasons with the Hawkeyes, he is 33-6 overall with 20 bonus-point wins, and finished third at last season’s NCAA Championships.

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Cassioppi — along with Myles Wilson, who was Team USA’s rep at 86 kilos (189) this week; he went 1-1 and was eliminated on Saturday — will return to a highly anticipated collegiate season, both for the Hawkeyes, who are the defending national team champions, but also for himself and the rest of the heavyweight division.

As it stands right now, the top five heavyweights in InterMat’s preseason Division I rankings all have sterling international accomplishments on their résumés. Consider who is competing this season:

  1. Minnesota’s Gable Steveson, the 2021 national champion and Olympic gold medalist;
  2. Michigan’s Mason Parris, the 2021 national runner-up, Senior world team trials finalist and Junior world champion;
  3. Cassioppi, the returning third-place finisher and now a U23 world champ;
  4. Arizona State’s Cohlton Schultz, the returning fourth-place finisher, Senior Greco-Roman world team member and past Cadet world champion;
  5. Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet, another returning All-American and past Cadet world champion.

Steveson, Parris, Cassioppi, and Kerkvliet all reside in the Big Ten, which makes the Iowa-Minnesota dual on Jan. 7 and the Iowa-Penn State dual on Jan. 28 even more enticing. It’s easy to see why both of those duals have already sold-out two months in advance.

Plenty of challenges await before then, including Iowa’s home opener against Princeton on Nov. 19. Iowa coach Tom Brands said he expects Cassioppi to compete that night inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

That rowdy Carver crowd always appreciates good, tough wrestling. They'll be on their feet and as loud as ever when their world champion heavyweight takes the mat that night.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.