Matteo Pellicone freestyle preview

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (June 20) -- A year ago, Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE) was one of the most active wrestlers in the world. He competed in eight competitions including the Olympic Games, three World Championships and two continental ones. It seemed that Bayramov would be the go-to-wrestler for Azerbaijan at 74kg.

But at the beginning of 2022, Bayramov ran into Dzhabrail GADZHIEV (AZE) at the Dan Kolov tournament in Bulgaria. While the final was not action-packed, Gadzhiev scored two technical points against one of Bayramov to win the gold.

Still, Azerbaijan sent Bayramov to the senior European Championships in which he won bronze while Gadzhiev won the gold at the U23 European Championships.

Khadzhimurad GADZHIYEV (AZE)Khadzhimurad GADZHIYEV (AZE) is returning to competition after one year. (Photo: UWW / Gabor Martin)

Azerbaijan is now entering the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event in Rome with both of them competing at 74kg. The battle is now three-way as Khadzhimurad GADZHIYEV (AZE) returns after being away for a year due to injury.

Gadzhiyev had qualified Azerbaijan for the Tokyo Olympics from the European Olympic Qualifiers but injured his knee in practice and Bayramov took his place on the team. But with Islamic Games in August and the World Championships in September, Azerbaijan is in a dilemma with the three wrestlers trying to make the same weight class.

Winning gold in Rome won't be a guarantee as European champion and world silver medalist Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) will be eyeing his second straight Ranking Series gold. He won the 74kg title at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup in Almaty earlier this month.

The weight class is one of the deepest in the world and Azerbaijan may not want to suffer a slip on its part at the World Championships by not sending its best wrestler to Belgrade.

Horst LEHRHorst LEHR (GER) will be competing at 57kg in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

With the same thought in mind, they have entered two wrestlers in the 57kg weight class as well. U23 world champion and European Championships silver medalist Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE) will be the favorite to win the gold in Rome but compatriot Afgan KHASHALOV (AZE) will be up for the task if he wants to make the team at 57kg.

World bronze medalist Horst LEHR (GER) is returning to competition since becoming Germany's first-ever U23 European champion in February. His experience and unique style of wrestling may upset the flow of the Azerbaijan pair.

Former U17 world champion Andrii YATSENKO (UKR) will also be raging to be competition ready in Rome. He last competed at the European Olympic Qualifiers in March last year.

Ukraine's two big stars, junior European champion Erik ARUSHANIAN (UKR) and Vasyl SHUPTAR (UKR) are entered at 65kg. While the 31-year-old Shuptar participated in the Oslo World Championships, a better result for Arushanian may see him make the cut for the Belgrade event.

But it won't be a cakewalk for him as European champion Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN) is eyeing his first Ranking Series gold medal of the year. The Hungarian defeated Olympic silver medalist Haji ALIYEV (AZE) in the final in Budapest.

Apart from him, former world champion Beka LOMTADZE (GEO), Pan-Am silver medalist Sebastian RIVERA (PUR), U23 European bronze medalist Hamza ALACA (TUR) and Ali RAHIMZADE (AZE), who is competing for the first time since Oslo, are entered at 65kg.

Haji ALIYEV (AZE)Haji ALIYEV (AZE) will be jumping up to 70kg for the Matteo Pellicone. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Aliyev had the opportunity to avenge his Budapest loss against Muszukajev but made a jump to 70kg for the tournament. Aliyev has wrestled in the weight class once before -- at the '21 Poland Open Ranking Series. He ended up winning bronze.

If he wants to win the gold now, he will have to go through two crafty wrestlers in European champion Zurabi IAKOBISHVILI (GEO) and World and Asian silver medalist Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ).

The Georgian has not competed since winning the 70kg title in Budapest after winning bronze at the Yasar Dogu Ranking Series at the start of the year.

Akmataliev failed to win a medal in Istanbul but returned to win silver at the Asian Championships. He suffered a 4-3 loss in the final against Taishi NARIKUNI (JPN). But Akmataliev will now be looking to win his second Ranking Series gold after he won the top medal in Almaty.

For Azerbaijan, world bronze medalists Abubakr ABAKAROV (AZE) and Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE) will be the favorite to win the 86kg and 92kg respectively.

While European silver medalist Abakarov has Boris MAKOEV (SVK) and U23 world champion Mukhmammed ALIIEV (UKR) as his top opponents, Nurmagomedov may face Erhan YAYLACI (TUR).

The two wrestled at the '21 U23 European Championships and Nurmagomedov had all but sealed the gold medal. In the dying second, he resorted to keeping a distance from Yaylaci and on the final attack from the Turkey wrestler, Nurmagomedov committed a single-pull. The penalty point cost him the continental title.

The 97kg field for Rome can be dubbed as a mini European Championships. All the top six wrestlers from Budapest are entered for Rome led by gold medalist Magomedkhan MAGOMEDOV (AZE). Silver to him in Budapest Vladislav BAITSAEV (HUN) will be eyeing revenge if the two meet on the mat.

The two bronze medalists Batyrbek TSAKULOV (SVK) and Zbigniew BARANOWSKI (POL) will also look to reverse the results from Budapest. The Slovakia wrestler had lost to Baitsaev in the opening round while Baranowski suffered a semifinal loss to Magomedov.

In the bronze medal bouts, Tsakulov, who won the gold at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup, defeated Erik THIELE (GER) while Baranowski went past veteran Elizbar ODIKADZE (GEO).

But entering his first Ranking Series event since 2018, Odikadze will hope to extend his perfect record at such tournaments. In 2018, he won gold at both Ranking Series events.

Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO)Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) will be the favorite to win the 125kg gold in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Another Georgian star and Olympic silver medalist Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) is the favorite to win the gold at 125kg. After losing to Taha AKGUL (TUR) in the European Championships final, Petriashvili would like to return to winning ways before the grand event in September.

But Robert BARAN (POL) may have other ideas. In a thrilling semifinal at the European Championships, Baran managed to hold off Petriashvili for the majority of the time. He ultimately suffered a 2-1 loss but in Rome, he would back himself to reverse the result.

U23 world silver medalist Azamat KHOSONOV (GRE) and former U23 European champion Anil KILICSALLAYAN (TUR) may finish at the podium.

At 79kg, U23 and senior European champion Georgios KOUGIOUMTSIDIS (GRE) will be the one to watch as he tries to prove that his two continental titles in two months were not flukes.

Freestyle action begins Friday and can be watched live at uww.org.


USA closes out U17 Worlds with 3 golds, historic FS title

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (July 31) -- James GREEN (USA) was part of the USA team which won the freestyle team title for the first time in 22 years at the 2017 World Championships. The two-time world medalist won a silver medal in that edition.

Five years later, Green got another chance to hold the team trophy, this time as the chief coach of the USA team at the U17 World Championships in Rome on Sunday.

USA won a historic first U17 freestyle world title in Rome with nine out of their 10 wrestlers winning medals including four golds. It finished with 190 points which was more than enough to exchange places with defending champions India which finished with 126 points.

Azerbaijan, a nation that won the European team title, finished third with 122 points.

USA became the fourth nation to win the U17 world freestyle title after Russia, Iran and India since the U17 Worlds were reinstated in 2011. Russia won the title every year until 2018 when Iran broke that streak.

Russia won again in 2019 before India became only the third country to win the title in 2021.

USAUSA coach James GREEN, center, with the team title trophy. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

"It feels like it's straight out of a movie," he said. "It's like a reminiscent of 2017 when I was part of the world team that won the title for the USA after 22 years."

After finishing with a gold, three silver and a bronze medal on day six, the USA rocked again on the final day with three gold and a bronze to close out the tournament.

"I know how these guys are feeling," he said. "I am so excited to win this on my first trip and looking forward to more coaching."

Since 2011, the USA finished in the second spot five times in nine U17 Worlds with the latest being to India at the previous edition. But this year, all the USA wrestlers won their head-to-heads against India which ultimately proved to be the difference between who became the champions.

"The draw kind of worked in our favor," Green said. "We definitely had a gameplan not just for India but for everyone else including the Europeans as well.  But I can tell you one thing that our wrestlers wanted to get a hand on Indian wrestlers because we lost to them last time."

Luke LILLEDAHL (USA)Luke LILLEDAHL (USA), blue, upgraded his '21 silver to gold. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Luke LILLEDAHL (USA) finished with a silver medal in 2021 after suffering a loss against Aman GULIA (IND) but there was no stopping Lilledahl this year as he upgraded to gold with a dominating 10-1 win over Mohammad Reza ASADI (IRI).

The 51kg final, pretty much controlled by Lilledahl, began with two exchanging stepout but then the USA wrestler switched levels after the break and scored takedowns whenever he found Asadi going for a half shot. He countered two of Asadi's attacks while he scored a takedown and added a leg lace in his 12-1 victory for the gold medal.

"Luke wrestlers at a hard pace," Green said. "He keeps a low head but is always moving and engaging. He takes the points as they come and doesn't rush into attacks."

Two other gold medalists for the USA on Sunday, Domenic MUNARETTO (USA) and Joseph SEALEY (USA), also impressed Green.

Munaretto won the 45kg gold medal by beating Bashir VERDIYEV (AZE), 2-0 in the final. Overall, the champion outscored his opponents 30-2 in the tournament.

Joseph SEALEY (USA)Joseph SEALEY (USA) outscored his opponents 55-1 in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

At 71kg, Sealey dashed local hopes to see a home champion by decimating Raul CASO (ITA), 12-0, in the gold medal bout.

Sealey, like his all other bouts, was wrestling at a completely different level and pace which Caso had no answer to. When Caso tried to engage in underhooks, he would get tripped by Sealey and when he tried to score a takedown, Sealey would easily stop any such attempts.

His two inside trips and two takedowns were enough to help Sealey win the crown and get some praise from coach Green.

"Sealey was very impressive," he said. "He wrestles like a senior athlete and can wrestle someone from that level. He conceded the least points in the whole tournament."

Sealey wrestled five bouts to win the gold and in an impressive record, scored 55 points and conceded only one.

Drawing experience from the title-winning run in 2017, Green had communicated to his team to 'have fun' during the tournament.

"I just told them that you are capable of being world champs and future Olympic champions," he said. "But more importantly I told them to have fun at this tournament. Most of these guys are wrestling for the first time and they can be hard on themselves so I didn't want that. And once we all met, they had the team chemistry and it clicked right away."

Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI)Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI), blue, pulled off a 5-4 win against Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ) in the 60kg final. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

The other gold medals of the night were shared between Iran and Kazakhstan.

At 60kg, Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI) defeated U17 Asian champion Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ), 5-4 to win the gold after trailing 3-1 at one point. Sharip Uulu scored the first points with a duck-under during the activity period against Elahi. It was initially awarded as four but Iran challenged the call and it was reversed to two points only.

But Elahi's constant moves towards Sharip Uulu's legs paid dividends as he leveled the score 3-3 and led on criteria. He then added a takedown against the tiring Kyrgyzstan wrestler to extend his lead to 5-3. He was warned for fleeing during the final 10 seconds which made the score 5-4 but did not change the result.

Elahi's gold was Iran's first of the tournament as it finished fifth in the team rankings.

Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ)Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ) won the 92kg gold, the second of the tournament for Kazakhstan. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Returning bronze medalist Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ) went all the way this year and captured his maiden world title, a month after he had won the U17 Asian title.

Musza ARSUNKAEV (HUN) had no answers to Kurugliyev's style of wrestling, inspired by his former world bronze medalist father and cousin-brother, European champion Duaren KURUGLIEV (RWF).

After a 3-0 lead in the first period, Kurugliyev began the second with a huge double-leg for four and then added two takedowns to close out a statement win in Rome.

The World Championships season will now move to Sofia, Bulgaria with the U20 Worlds beginning August 15.




GOLD: Domenic MUNARETTO (USA) df. Bashir VERDIYEV (AZE), 2-0

BRONZE: Arman HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) df. Amirmohammad NAVAZI (IRI), via fall
BRONZE: Nikoloz BOTCHORISHVILI (GEO) df. Constantin RUSU (MDA), 5-4

GOLD: Luke LILLEDAHL (USA) df. Mohammad Reza ASADI (IRI), 10-1

BRONZE: Nurdanat AITANOV (KAZ) df. Ben TARIK (MAR), 1-1

GOLD: Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI) df. Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ), 5-4

BRONZE: Taiga OGINO (JPN) df. Alessandro NINI (ITA), 3-1

GOLD: Joseph SEALEY (USA) df. Raul CASO (ITA), 12-0



BRONZE: Maxwell MCENELLY (USA) df. Sahil JAGLAN (IND), 2-1