#WrestleBelgrade FS Preview: Akmataliev, Harutyunyan and Abakarov Eye 2nd World Medal Since October

By Eric Olanowski

BELGRADE, Serbia (October 26) – Even after stamping their mark on the Senior World Championships, Oslo world medalists Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ), Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) and Abubakr ABAKAROV (AZE) return to the mat after a short rest with a shot to add a U23 world medal to their resume.

In addition to the established senior-level competitors, seven rising prospects who claimed '21 U23 European titles -- Teimuraz VANISHVILI (GEO), Erik ARUSHANIAN (UKR), Chermen VALIEV (RUS), Dzhabrail GADZHIEV (AZE), Ramazan SARI (TUR), Amanula RASULOV (RUS) and Erhan YAYLACI (TUR) – will also lay it on the line in Serbia.

Akmataliev reached the 70kg finals of the Senior World Championships in Norway but lost to Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL), falling short of becoming the first Kyrgyz freestyle wrestler to win a world title.

The other two senior world medalists, Harutyunyan and Abakarov, each dropped one bout in Oslo but fought back and finished with bronze medals.

Akmataliev, fresh off his impressive four-match silver-medal run in Norway, is one of the three headliners at 70kg. He'll have his hands full with Tokyo Olympians Vazgen TEVANYAN (ARM) and Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE).

Turan BAYRAMOVTuran BAYRAMOV (AZE) is a defending U23 world champion. (Photo: UWW / KAdir Caliskan)

Bayramov replaced the injured Khadzhimurad Gadzhiyev (AZE) in Azerbaijan's Tokyo Olympic lineup at 74kg but will return to 70kg in Belgrade. He'll be looking for a second U23 world title and first since '19.

The 20-year-old has been the world's most active wrestler this season. He'll lace up his boots for a sixth time during his '21 campaign. This year, the future of Azeri wrestling has competed at the Tokyo Olympic Games, Junior and Senior World Championships and the Junior and Senior European Championships.

Bayramov has a 13-5 record this season, but all five of his losses came against wrestlers who have World or European titles to their names. His losses came against Frank CHAMIZO (ITA), Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL), Zurabi IAKOBISHVILI (GEO), Keegan OTOOLE (USA) and Israil KASUMOV (RUS).

Armenia's Tevanyan ended '20 on a high note after winning gold at the Individual World Cup with an impressive 9-1 win over '19 world bronze-medal winner Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN). He followed that up by beating three world champions -- Vladimer KHINCHEGASHVILI (GEO), Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL) and Haji ALIYEV (AZE) – to punch Armenia's ticket to the Tokyo Olympic Games.

But since announcing his presence in late '20, Tevanyan has come back down to earth. He's looking to get back to his winning ways after a ninth-place finish in Oslo and a 14th-place finish at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Outside the three big names entered at 70kg, '21 U23 European bronze Nicolai GRAHMEZ (MDA) and cadet world bronze medalist Aliakbar FAZLIKHALILI (IRI) are other guys to pay attention to.

Arsen HARUTYUNYANArsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM), blue, won a bronze medal at the Oslo World Championships. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

At 61kg, Harutyunyan enters Belgrade fresh off a bronze-medal finish in Oslo. The Armenian youngster has fluctuated between 57kg and 61kg but will wrestle at 61kg in back-to-back competitions for the first time since early '19. While at 61kg, Harutyunyan has podium finishes at the '21 World Championships and a pair of European Championships, yet he's looking for his first U23 world medal. He competed in Budapest at the '19 U23 World Championships but dropped his bronze-medal match and finished in fifth place.

Harutyunyan's biggest threat will be Georgia's '21 U23 European champion, Teimuraz Vanishvili.

The favorite at 86kg has to be Abakarov. He put together four wins at the Senior World Championships in Oslo and grabbed a bronze medal. Although Abakarov fell to Olympic champion David TAYLOR (USA) in the semifinals, he scored an early first-period takedown. He led the match for over two minutes but got caught on his back and surrendered the fall.

A second guy to keep an eye on at 86kg is this year's U23 European champion, Amanula RASULOV (RUS).

Seven U23 European Champs in Action

Outside of the aforementioned Vanishvili and Rasulov, five other guys who won '21 continental gold medals will take the mat in Serbia.

Erik ARUSHANIANErik ARUSHANIAN (UKR) is a U23 European champion. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 65kg, Erik ARUSHANIAN (UKR) tops the bracket and comes into Belgrade undefeated in the season. He went 5-0 at the U23 European Championships and capped off his run to continental gold with a crazy 13-10 win over Abdulmazhid KUDIEV (RUS).

Arushanian biggest foes will be Greece's Tokyo Olympic Georgios PILIDIS and U23 European bronze medalists Ziraddin BAYRAMOV (AZE) and Cavit ACAR (TUR).

The road to gold at 74kg will likely weave through two guys, Chermen VALIEV (RUS) and Dzhabrail GADZHIEV (AZE). Earlier this year, both guys won continental titles in Skopje, but Gadzhiev will be moving from his title-winning weight of 70kg to 74kg.

Ramazan SARI (TUR) is the top dog at 79kg. After winning the U23 European title in May, he earned his spot on Turkey's senior-level world team. Unfortunately, he went 1-1 in Oslo and is looking to get back in the winners' circle in Belgrade.

Sari's most significant threats will be Iran's Asian runner-up Ali SAVADKOUHI (IRI) and Azerbaijan's junior world silver medalist Ashraf ASHIROV.

Erhan YAYLACIErhan YAYLACI (TUR) will be looking to add U23 Worlds medal to his continental one. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Erhan YAYLACI (TUR), the reigning U23 European champion, will have the tough task of navigating the 92kg bracket that'll feature reigning junior world champ Amirhossein FIROUZPOURBANDPEI (IRI) and the other three medalists from the continental championships.

Anil KILICSALLAYAN (TUR) will be in a similar position as his fellow Turkish teammate, Yaylaci. He'll share the 125kg bracket with Iranian junior world champion Ali AKBARPOURKHORDOUNI (IRI).

A third guy that should be on wrestling fans' radars is Yaraslau SLAVIKOUSKI (BLR). Earlier this year, the Belarusian wrapped up his U23 European campaign with a bronze medal.

Freestyle action starts on November 5, Friday and closes out the U23 World Championships. Fans can follow all the action live on www.uww.org.


Burroughs, with eyes on 7th title, makes USA team for Worlds

By Vinay Siwach

NEW YORK, USA (June 9) -- Soon after he earned his spot to represent the USA at the World Championships, Jordan BURROUGHS (USA) was asked about his decade-old international career.

Burroughs pulled out one of the many classic responses from his book. "It's difficult, but that's what we do, we do hard things," Burroughs said. "We are presented with a challenge, we prep for the challenge, with wrestling we overcome the challenge."

It's true for Burroughs.

Over the years, the London Olympic champion has been in many challenging situations both on and off the mat. But Burroughs has managed to win most, if not all. Whether it's returning from an injury to win the world title again or recovering from the loss at Rio Olympics, he has beaten domestic stars and upcoming wrestlers alike in the USA and made the world team.

Wednesday was Burroughs' attempt to make his 11th world/Olympic team and the 33-year-old did so by beating Chance MARSTELLER (USA) at 79kg in a best-of-three final in New York, USA.

“No one can beat me in match three,” Burroughs said. "[I have] a ton of respect for Marsteller. But it comes down to a lot of faith in our training, coaching staff and partners. I was prepared for a third match. But I also know that if someone beats me, especially in a series, it's mentally overwhelming for them. They have to re-prepare to do it twice in a row."

After winning the Pan-Am Championships in May, Burroughs had said that he is aware that it would be extremely tough for him to win against any wrestler.

"I am not sure who I am going to compete against," he said in Acapulco. "But I do know that whoever it is, it's going to be extremely tough. I am ready to take on any challenge, new challenge, or familiar challenge. One thing is clear -- it's not going to be easy."

Marsteller had the chance to pull off an upset of his life after forcing a decider as he won the second bout 2-2. But Burroughs used his experience to win the third 5-0 against the younger opponent to make the USA team for the Belgrade World Championships.

Jordan BURROUGHS (USA)Jordan BURROUGHS (USA) defeated Chance MARSTELLER (USA) to make the USA team at 79kg. (Photo: Levi Ventura)

On the cusp of his seventh world title, Burroughs is entering a territory no American wrestler has before. John SMITH (USA) and Adeline GRAY (USA) are tied at six titles each and Belgrade will be a perfect opportunity for Burroughs to go past them.

The 33-year-old knows it as well. It has been his dream since winning the London Olympics. So he wants to stay focused on that goal.

"[I want to] stay focused as much as possible entering this realm of seven-time world champion," he said. "I always talk about being the greatest American wrestler of all time. But now I start to put myself in the class of all-time greats across all styles across the world. I think that's a cool thing to me that I am kind of entering this era where I have to be recognized worldwide as one of the best wrestlers. That's exciting for me. I just want to make a name for myself. Growing up I was not even the best wrestler in my street. It's hard managing to be the best wrestler in the world many times over."

Burroughs has done it six times in 10 years. He was an outsider when he won his first World Championships in 2011. A year later as a 23-year-old, he was at the London Olympics, winning the gold to be regarded as the future of the sport in the USA.

"I didn't know what to expect in Istanbul 11 years ago, wow," Burroughs had said in February. "The blessing was that I was young and naive and knew what I had. Denis TSARGUSH (RWF) was a reigning world champion in the weight class, and I had not wrestled him before. I had him in the second round."

He lost the first period to Tsargush. But in what was the beginning of a career full of comebacks, he won the second and third periods and the quarterfinal. In the final, Sadegh GOUDARZI (IRI), cheered by the loud Iranian fans, was the favorite. But Burroughs stunned him in straight periods. He also trademarked double-leg during that competition.  

"I was a little nervous, to be honest," Burroughs said. "Going to that tournament gave me a lot of confidence going forward because after winning that with very little freestyle experience, I thought about what I can do if I really train full time. The body of work has been something I have been grateful for."

And if anyone thought that the World title in 2011 was a fluke, he went on to beat the same wrestlers, in the semifinals and finals, in London.

Jordan BURROUGHS (USA)Jordan BURROUGHS (USA) after winning the Final X in New York. (Photo: Levi Ventura)

But a lot has changed since then. He is older and has commitments off the mat. He is also the father of four kids and has to devote time to his family. Going by the Twitter of his wife Lauren, he has done that successfully.

Another change Burroughs has noticed is the amount of time his opponents spend studying him as there is a lot of content available.

"The biggest difference now is that I have many obligations outside of wrestling than 2011," he said. "Now I am very familiar, there are a lot of videos on me, guys watching me wrestle. But now they want to knock me off. So I understand the position I am in."

Yet, he has managed to knock off half of the world that tried to take him down.

Burroughs, who was often termed as cocky early in his career, has grown into a wrestler who is intelligent, sharp and someone who takes fitness very seriously. His double-leg still seems to be top-class. It's not easy to remain at the top level for a time Burroughs has been.

"Faith," he said. "Consistency, surrounding yourself with great people. It's a blessing to prevent injuries but also you know just work ethic, nutrition, recovery and a lot of focus. I take care of my body. I do the right things to make sure that I stay and maintain a certain level of fitness. But also I have just been able to avoid injuries and a lot of that is luck."

While a few talk about it, the challenges he faces in the wrestling training room with age has made Burroughs make better choices regarding fitness.

"I am a much better wrestler now," he said. "I am sharper, more intelligent, more savy. Just all-around a better athlete. But again, I am older. I am 10-12 years in. It's different. You start to feel the aches and pain of longevity. I have got a lot of miles in my body in this sport."

He also acknowledged to have not sustained any career-threatening injury.

"I've been blessed to not sustain anything crazy," he said. "I had a broken ankle, torn calf. But other than that I kind of dodged a lot of bullets in the crazy positions I have been in."

While it seems that Burroughs has had much success, he has had his fair set of challenges and heartbreaks on the way.

Like the one in Rio or losing to Zaurbek SIDAKOV (RWF) at back-to-back World Championships in 2018 and 2019. Or when he failed to make the USA team for the Tokyo Olympics.

But every time he has his back against the wall, Burroughs finds a way to bounce back stronger.

Remember the 2017 World final against the then Russia-represent Hetik TSABALOV (SRB)? Burroughs answered his critics with that epic performance which also helped the USA win the team title in 2017. He managed to win back-to-back bronze medals in Budapest and Nur-sultan.

Internationally, he has lost to only two wrestlers since Rio Olympics. Frank CHAMIZO (ITA) and Sidakov have defeated Burroughs twice each in the last six years.

But since moving up to 79kg, he is yet to drop a bout. Last year in Oslo, he managed to capture his fifth world title and first in a new weight class at 79kg. While it is not at the Olympics, the category gave Burroughs a chance to enjoy the process again.

"People don't take it [79kg] seriously because it's not an Olympic weight," he said. "It's given me some rejuvenation late in my career. I'm 33-years-old and will be 34 in four months [now one]. I don't have to cut [too much weight]. I get to eat the things I want and training is more fun for me."

After winning the title in Oslo, Burroughs began 2022 with a gold medal at the Yasar Dogu in Istanbul. It was after winning the title that he confirmed that he is going for another shot at the Olympics. 

"I want another shot at Dake, and then another shot at Sidakov,” Burroughs said. "I am going to be moving down. I cannot promise that I will make the [USA] team, but you know that I am going to give my best."

As he has never backed down from challenges in the past, Burroughs is getting ready to overcome this one as well.

"It's effort, attitude and a warrior-like spirit," he said. "I am going to do my best to make the team. It's going to be a tough cut for me, but I'm committed."