In Rome, mini battles highlight Greco-Roman field

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (June 18) -- Out of the seven Greco-Roman weight categories in which Azerbaijan wrestlers are entered for the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event, all but two would see the country's wrestler receive a seed at the World Championships.

Azerbaijan is bringing a strong squad to the Ranking Series event, looking to select their team for the Islamic Games in August and later for the World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

For that reason, Murad MAMMADOV (AZE), Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE) and Nihat MAMMADLI (AZE) are all entered at 60kg weight class in Rome. But for the World Championships, they will be returning to their original weight classes. World silver medalist Sanan SULEYMANOV (AZE) and world champion Rafiq HUSEYNOV (AZE) are the only two wrestlers who get an automatic selection to the national team.

U23 and U20 world champion Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE) will be returning to the mat since winning a bronze medal at the European Championships and will be looking for his first Ranking Series medal at 67kg. But with Erik TORBA (HUN), Morten THORESEN (NOR) and Niklas OEHLEN (SWE) also entered in the same weight class, he will have to do better than the performance in Budapest.

Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN)Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN) will be eyeing his second Ranking Series medal this year. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Apart from 60kg, an all-Azerbaijan battle will be at 97kg as Arif NIFTULLAYEV (AZE) and Murat LOKIAYEV (AZE) look to earn a spot on the national team. But the weight class some of the top wrestlers entered. Tokyo fifth-place Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN) will be eyeing his second Ranking Series medal of the year after winning silver in Istanbul. He also won a silver at the European Championships.

However, the second fifth-placer in Tokyo and World silver medalist Alex SZOKE (HUN) will be the favorite to win the weight class in Rome. Asian champion Mehdi BALIHAMZEHDEH (IRI) will also be put to test against a strong European field. Two other strong medal contenders are Felix BALDAUF (NOR) and Mihail KAJAIA (SRB).

Going back to Istanbul, Beka KANDELAKI (AZE) had stunned Riza KAYAALP (TUR) with a fall at the first Ranking Series and the two can clash again at 130kg in Rome. But Kayaalp has since won the European Championships title and is looking to return to prime form as the World Championships approach.

Oslo bronze medalist Oskar MARVIK (NOR) and former U17 world champion Cohlton SCHULTZ (USA) are also entered.

Islam ABBASOV (AZE)Islam ABBASOV (AZE) won the gold at the first Ranking Series event in Istanbul. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 87kg, Islam ABBASOV (AZE) has now notched up two straight victories over world champion Zurabi DATUNASHVILI (SRB). His first win came in Istanbul in the final while the second was in the European Championships semifinal. While Datunashvili is not entered for Rome, Abbasov will have to wrestle at the top of his potential if he wants to win the gold.

U23 world champion at 77kg Tamas LEVAI (HUN) will be a strong opponent along with U23 European champion Istvan TAKACS (HUN). Hungary has also entered 
Erik SZILVASSY (HUN) in the field at 87kg. Alex KESSIDIS (SWE) is also moving up to 87kg after finishing fifth at the World Championships at 82kg.

60kg world champion Victor CIOBANU (MDA) will once again try to win a gold medal at 63kg after failing to do so at his first two tournaments of the year. He lost in the final to Isomjon BAKHRAMOV (UZB) in Istanbul before Etienne KINSINGER (GER) ended his quest for a European title Victor CIOBANU (MDA) with a 3-1 loss in the quarterfinals in Budapest.

Kristupas SLEIVA (LTU)Kristupas SLEIVA (LTU) is the top ranked wrestler at 72kg. (Photo: UWW / Tony Rotundo)

Lituania's history maker Kristupas SLEIVA (LTU) will be eyeing revenge against Ulvu GANIZADE (AZE) as the Azerbaijan wrestler defeated him in the bronze medal bout at the European Championships. Apart from the two, European silver medalist Krisztian VANCZA (HUN) and gold medalist in Istanbul Selcuk CAN (TUR) will be threats to the gold medal.

At 77kg, U23 world silver medalist Amin KAVIYANINEJAD (IRI) will be involved in a battle against compatriot Ali Mohammad GHOLAMI (IRI) for a spot on the Iran national team. A similar battle will be for Hungary as defending champion Zoltan LEVAI (HUN) and European champion Robert FRITSCH (HUN) are entered.

Returning to international competition after a two-year gap, Kamal BEY (USA) will try to win a medal on his return. His last competition in 2020 was also the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series where he finished fifth. But after securing his spot on the USA team for the World Championships, Bey will be eyeing a winning start to the year internationally.

The Matteo Pellicone will begin Wednesday with seven Greco-Roman weight classes. Thursday will the remaining three Greco-Roman weight classes along with four women's wrestling categories. The remaining six along with two freestyle weight categories will be in action Friday before eight freestyle weight categories close out the action Saturday.

Live action and highlights from the Matteo Pellicone can be available on 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