Kumar hopes for Gilman showdown at Worlds

By Vinay Siwach

NEW DELHI, India (May 17) -- Ravi KUMAR (IND) stepped on the mat after a week's gap having twisted his foot during one of the practice sessions. Yet, he had little trouble winning his two bouts to make the Indian team for the August's Commonwealth Games.

Wrestling for the first time since his third consecutive gold at Asian Championships in April, Kumar got a wake-up call against junior world medalist Vijay PATIL (IND) after trailing 3-1 at the start. But as the match progressed, Kumar got into his groove and broke the Maharashtra wrestler and secured the fall.

In the final against two-time cadet world bronze medalist and national champion Aman SEHRAWAT (IND), Kumar won via technical superiority despite the bout being disrupted by a commotion after the 125kg final.

The Tokyo silver medalist has never won a medal at the Commonwealth Games, a tournament India dominates in freestyle. But Kumar is more focused on a tournament a month after the Birmingham Games -- World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

"I know I can win a medal at the Commonwealth Games," Kumar said. "But World Championships is a bigger tournament and I want to win there."

Ravi KUMARRavi KUMAR (IND) won his first bout via fall against Vijay PATIL (IND). (Photo: UWW / Vinay Siwach)

Kumar is not new to World Championships. He has wrestled at the mega event only once and finished with a bronze medal. His only loss came against eventual champion Zavur UGUEV (RWF) who also won the Olympic gold after beating Kumar in the final.

With ambitions of winning a gold medal in Belgrade, Kumar will probably have to go through defending world champion Thomas GILMAN (USA).

Gilman, who won a bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, is already looking forward to wrestling Kumar. After winning his first Pan-Am title last week, Gilman said that Kumar is one wrestler he would like to wrestle with as both have a similar style which will entertain the fans.

Kumar echoes a similar thought and hopes that the fight can happen in Belgrade in September.

"It will be a good bout," Kumar said. "I also want to wrestle him and hope that it happens in Belgrade because I really want to be a world champion."

Initially, Kumar had decided to go for 61kg at the competition apart from the Games this year. But with September's Asian Games postponed, Kumar is happy to go down to 57kg and become India's only second world champion.

"I will go down to 57kg for World Championships," he said. "There are just two years left for the Olympics so it's good to remain at that weight and keep wrestling there."

In the run-up to the Worlds, Kumar is expected to compete at two Ranking Series events and the Commonwealth Games. He has also planned two training camps after the Games.

"I can't go into the no practice zone after the CWG," he said. "It breaks the rhythm and you take time to return to the mat."

Bajrang PUNIABajrang PUNIA (IND), red, will be eyeing his third Commonwealth Games medal in Birmingham. (Photo: UWW / Vinay Siwach)

Punias make team

Bajrang PUNIA (IND) and Deepak PUNIA (IND), who won silver medals at the Asian Championships in Mongolia, also made it to the Commonwealth Games team after winning the selection trials at 65kg and 86kg respectively.

The 65kg Olympic bronze medalist barely scraped past Vishal KALLIRAMAN (IND) in the 65kg final. He was sitting in the semifinal as others battled to wrestle him in the last four.

Sujeet emerged as his opponent from the upper side of the bracket and got the crowd excited with a few attacks. But Punia defended most of them including one in the dying moments of the bout.

"The wrestlers are sweating so much it's difficult to grip," Punia said referring to the sweltering heat in the capital and the air-conditioning malfunction in the stadium. "The moment I attacked, I would lose the hold. But it's the same for everyone."

Punia has been struggling to get training partners in the country with other wrestlers either training at their own centers or not being part of the camp. This has forced Punia to return to Chhatarsaal stadium, a center which he had left in 2014 after a fallout with fellow wrestlers. He now trains there three times a week.

Incidentally, four out of the six wrestlers selected for the Games train at the Chhatarsaal stadium in Delhi.

Deepak PuniaDeepak PUNIA (IND) will wrestle at 86kg at the Commonwealth Games. (Photo: UWW / Bayrem Ben Mrad)

At 86kg, Sanjeet reached the final against Punia but could not break through the defense of the world silver medalist who now has a chance to win his first Commonwealth Games medal.

But it won't be easy for him as defending champion Muhammad INAM (PAK) has already announced his intentions of winning back-to-back gold medals.

NaveenNAVEEN (IND), right, is a 70kg bronze medalist at the Asian Championships. (Photo: UWW / Bayrem Ben Mrad) 

At 74kg, NAVEEN (IND) emerged as a surprise winner after he posted three back-to-back big wins at the trails. The Asian Championships bronze medalist at 70kg first got the better of Asian silver medalist JITENDER (IND), defeated cadet world champion Sagar JAGLAN (IND) in the semifinal before stunning 79kg Asian silver medalist Gourav BALIYAN (IND) 12-2 in the final.

"I was very confident today," Naveen said. "Once you get your first attack going, you realize how the other wrestler is defending and as the match goes on, you know they are getting tired.

"In the final, after I got four points, I realized Baliyan cannot keep up with me. They are cutting weight while for me it is easier to gain weight and wrestle."

GrewalMohit GREWAL (IND) won the trials at 125kg. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Mohit GREWAL (IND) clinched the spot at 125kg after beating veteran wrestler SATENDER MALIK (IND) in a tense final which saw a long challenge review before a brawl at the end of the bout.

Malik was leading 3-0 with 30 seconds on the clock when Grewal got a single leg attack but was unable to finish it. However, Malik lost balance and fell which gave Grewal two points before he scored another with a stepout. The mat chairman did not score the two points.

Grewal challenged the call and lost before the review for the previous was checked again which made it clear that a takedown was completed. Malik was unhappy with the decision claiming that Grewal had no control during the takedown.

DeepakDEEPAK (IND) defeated Satywart KADIAN (IND) in the 97kg semifinal. (Photo: UWW / Vinay Siwach)

India saw the rise of new stars at 97kg after the domination of Satywart KADIAN (IND) and Mousam KHATRI (IND) for more than a decade. '21 junior world bronze medalist DEEPAK (IND) defeated Kadian in the semifinal while Sahil SEHRAWAT (IND) defeated Khatri in the other semifinal. Deepak humbled Kadian with a 5-2 win thanks to two takedowns while Sehrawat beat Khatri 10-0 using four gut wrenches.

But the final was a little anti-climatic as Deepak went past Sehrawat 10-0 with ease to make the Commonwealth Games team.

The team is scheduled to take part in the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup Ranking Series event next month but the wrestlers can skip it as well. The wrestlers for non-Olympic weight classes for the ranking series will be selected by the Wrestling Federation of India.


Rzazade leads Azerbaijan's dominant performance

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (June 25) -- Among all the stars that Azerbaijan brought to Rome, Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE) was one of the least experienced wrestlers. Before wrestling at this year's European Championships in March, he had only two other championships in a span of five years.

But by the end of the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event on Saturday, Rzazade might be the one of the three wrestlers that have confirmed their spot on the Azerbaijan national team for the World Championships. He did so by winning the 57kg gold medal in Rome.

Overall, Azerbaijan won four gold medals out of the eight contested on Saturday. Turkey, Puerto Rico, Slovakia and Ukraine had one champion each on the final day of the tournament.

Rzazade, one of the most attacking wrestlers on the circuit, switched to solid defense in the final against world bronze medalist Horst LEHR (GER) to claim a 5-3 win.

He opened the scoring with a stepout before Lehr was warned for fleeing during the second stepout which gave Rzazade a 3-0 lead. Lehr put that behind and scored a takedown just before the break to reduce the lead to 3-2.

Lehr, who won the U23 European Championships in March, tried the duck-under quite a few times but Rzazade was solid with his underhook to keep him away. In desperation, Lehr attempted a big double-leg attack but Rzazade threw him off for another takedown. A late stepout did not matter much as the U23 world champion won 5-3.

During the day, he had a wild 17-8 quarterfinal win over Roberti DINGASHVILI (GEO). 21 points were scored in the first period of the bout as both kept going at each other. Rzazade, however, had a four which made the difference. In the second period, he scored an exposure and takedown to win 17-8.

In the semifinal, Kamil KERYMOV (UKR) tried to stop him but his challenge was thwarted by Rzazade who finished the bout 10-0.

While he won the gold, Rzazade's tendency to give up points will be a point of worry for the Azerbaijan coaching staff.

Rzazade won the U23 world title and silver at the senior European Championships in a span of four months. But over the three tournaments (including the Matteo Pellicone), Rzazade gave up 48 points while scoring 105. While he won the title in Belgrade by a point, he lost the European final by the same margin.

The final against Lehr, however, had him sitting tight in defense, a change from his earlier finals. 

The three other gold medalists for Azerbaijan were Joshgun AZIMOV (AZE) at 70kg, Abubakr ABAKAROV (AZE) at 86kg and Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE) at 92kg.

In an all-Azerbaijan final at 70kg, Azimov wrestled youngster Murad EVLOEV (AZE) and came home with the gold with a 6-1 win. While Evloev did try to get on a scoring opportunity, Azimov used his experience and strength to outscore his opponent.

Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Haji ALIYEV (AZE) was also wrestling at 70kg but gave a walkover to Azimov in the semifinals. But that walkover was well-deserved as Azimov had defeated European champion Zurabi IAKOBISHVILI (GEO) in the quarterfinals.

Azimov scored two takedowns before giving up a point for passivity and a late takedown. But with only 15 seconds left in the bout, Azimov was happy to defend the lead.

Abubakr ABAKAROV (AZE)Abubakr ABAKAROV (AZE) clinched the 86kg gold medal with ease in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

At 86kg, world bronze medalist Abakarov made another big statement by winning the gold. Up against Tarzan MAISURADZE (GEO) in the final, Abakarov scraped through for a 3-2 win.

After getting a point for Maisuradze's passivity, he scored a takedown to lead 3-2 at the break. In the second period, Abakarov was warned for passivity and a late stepout but Maisuradze could not score a takedown.

In his semifinal, Abakarov faced former world silver medalist and his close friend Boris MAKOEV (SVK). The Slovakian had Abakarov on the ropes initially, leading the bout 3-3. But Abakarov made the score 5-3 at the break before moving into a defensive mode in the second period.

Another world bronze medalist, Nurmagomedov won the 92kg gold after Miriani MAISURADZE (GEO) injury defaulted in the final.

Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK)Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) defeated Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE) in the 74kg final. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Azerbaijan could have won a fifth gold had Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE) defeated Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK). But he failed to break the defense of the European champion in the 74kg final.

Salkazanov won his second straight Ranking Series gold medal as he defeated Bayramov 4-0 in the final in Rome. A takedown, a point for Bayramov's passivity and stepout were the point-scoring actions in the bout.

Bayramov may have lost the gold but he managed to beat Dzabhail GADZHIEV (AZE) in the semifinal, 5-3, which may have sealed his spot for the World Championships.

Sebastian RIVERA (PUR)Sebastian RIVERA (PUR) won his nation's first-ever Ranking Series gold in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Puerto Rico's first gold

In a historic moment, Sebastian RIVERA (PUR) won his country's first-ever Ranking Series gold medal in an epic 65kg final.

Rivera, who won a silver at the Pan-American Championships in May, produced a stellar performance throughout the day which included wins over former U17 world champion Hamza ALACA (TUR) and Shamil OMAROV (ITA) in the quarterfinal and semifinal, respectively.

Up against former U23 European champion Erik ARUSHANIAN (UKR) in the final, Rivera was on the backfoot after being thrown for four. Arushanian then scored a takedown to make it 6-0. But the bout turned on its head when Rivera managed to put eight points on the board, gut-wrenching his opponent.

With the lead secured, Rivera did slow down a little but never missed an opportunity to score. He managed to confirm another takedown and gut to lead 12-7. In the end, he secured the gold with a score of 14-7.

He had staged a similar comeback against Omarov in the semifinal. Trailing 4-0, he scored two takedowns in the second period to lead 4-4 on criteria. The wrestlers were brought to the center with only five seconds left. While Rivera did give up a takedown, the time had expired, a confirmation only after Rivera challenged the referee's call.

At 61kg, Recep TOPAL (TUR) had to resort to a body lock lift for four to win 6-4 against Andrii DZHELEP (UKR) in the final in which he trailed 4-2 for a significant time.

While Arushanian and Dzhelep failed to win the gold, Ukraine did have a champion in Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR) who defeated Iakub SHIKHDZHAMALOV (ROU) 7-2 in the 79kg with much ease to win the gold medal. He also stunned European champion Georgios KOUGIOUMTSIDIS (GRE) 10-0 in the quarterfinal at 79kg.


GOLD: Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE) df. Horst LEHR (GER), 5-3 

BRONZE: Saban KIZILTAS (TUR) df Beka BUJIASHVILI (GEO), via injury default

GOLD: Recep TOPAL (TUR) df. Andrii DZHELEP (UKR), 6-4

BRONZE: Ahmet TAS (TUR) df. Adam BIBOULATOV (FRA), 9-3

GOLD: Sebastian RIVERA (PUR) df. Erik ARUSHANIAN (UKR), 14-9

BRONZE: Shamil OMAROV (ITA) df. Hamza ALACA (TUR), via injury (4-0)

GOLD: Joshgun AZIMOV (AZE) df. Murad EVLOEV (AZE), 6-1

BRONZE: Haji ALIYEV (AZE) df. Servet COSKUN (TUR), 4-3
BRONZE: Cuneyt BUDAK (TUR) df. Pavel GRAUR (MDA), 4-0

GOLD: Taimuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) df. Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE), 4-0

BRONZE: Khadzhimurad GADZHIYEV (AZE) df. Fazli ERYILMAZ (TUR), via injury default
BRONZE: Mitchell FINESILVER (ISR) df. Dzhabrail GADZHIEV (AZE), 6-4


BRONZE: Akhsarbek GULAEV (SVK) df. Muhammed AKDENİZ (TUR), 11-0

GOLD: Abubakr ABAKAROV (AZE) df. Tarzan MAISURADZE (GEO), 3-2

BRONZE: Zaur BERADZE (GEO) df. Mukhammed ALIIEV (UKR), via injury default
BRONZE: Boris MAKOEV (SVK) df. Ivars SAMUSONOKS (LAT), via injury default

GOLD: Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE) df. Miriani MAISURADZE (GEO), via injury default