Toms River’s Richie Lewis Wins U23 Freestyle World Wrestling Championship
Richie Lewis exudes confidence, believing he has the skill set to beat anyone on the planet. On Sunday he did exactly that.
Lewis, a current redshirt senior for Rutgers University and a Toms River East graduate, defeated India’s Kumar Vinod, 3-1, to capture the 70kg freestyle gold medal at the U23 Freestyle World Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
“It’s a great feeling. I’m just grateful more than anything,” Lewis said during a post-match interview scrum.
Vinod led Lewis, 1-0, after one period but Lewis took the lead for good with a single-leg takedown with two minutes left in the final period. Lewis added another point with 25 seconds remaining to complete the incredible run to a world title.
“It was a tight one. He engaged me with the underhook but he wasn’t doing nothing with it, so I knew even if he pushed me out twice I could still win it with a takedown,” Lewis said. “I wanted to choose my spot because wrestling these foreigners they’re scrappy and loose, so I just chose my opportunity. Would have liked to beat him by more, but I did it.”
Lewis advanced to the championship bout with a 7-2 decision over Kazakhstan’s Zulfikar Makhamatov in the semifinals. He trailed 2-1 midway through the final period before securing a takedown to go up 3-2 and adding four more points to stretch his advantage to 7-2. Lewis was dominant in his five tournament bouts Sunday, outscoring his opponents 45-11 with two technical falls.
Lewis began his tournament with a 10-0 technical fall over Canada’s Caleb Rutner and followed that victory with an 11-1 technical fall against Belarus’s Surkho Rashytkhanau. In the quarterfinals, Lewis defeated 2016 U23 European bronze medalist Muhammet Akdeniz (Turkey) via a 14-7 decision.
Lewis qualified for the U23 World Championships by winning the U23 World Team Trials on Oct. 8, sweeping 2017 NCAA All-American Tyler Berger (Nebraska) in their best-of-three championship series to earn a roster spot. Lewis had a fantastic team trials tournament with wins over three 2017 NCAA qualifiers, two All-Americans and 149-pound NCAA runner-up Lavion Mayes.
Lewis is currently ranked No. 8 at 157 pounds by Intermat and is 1-0 this season for the Scarlet Knights. Lewis was an NCAA qualifier as a junior, going 27-7 overall and 16-1 in dual meets. He was injured early last season and missed the rest of the season. Before coming to Rutgers, Lewis was a two-time National Junior College Athletic Association All-American at Iowa Central, finishing second and third.
“Growing up I was always a tail-end guy, top-20 in the country, 16, 17, never top 10, never won a state title, didn’t win a Juco title,” Lewis said. “Technique was always there, it was (my) size. I really got in the weight room when I want to Iowa Central and I stay in the weight room now. We have one of the best strength coaches in Zach Even-Esh at Rutgers.
A 2014 graduate of Toms River High School East, Lewis went 120-22 in his career with the Raiders, earning three all-state finishes at the NJSIAA Championships, winning three NJSIAA Region VI titles and two NJSIAA District 24 championships. Lewis finished seventh in the state at 119 pounds as a sophomore, placed fifth at 132 as a junior and took third place at 138 pounds his senior season.
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