Azerbaijan opens Matteo Pellicone with four golds

By Eric Olanowski

ROME, Italy (June 22) -- Despite the absence of superstars Rafiq HUSEYNOV (AZE) and Sanan SULEYMANOV (AZE) in the Matteo Pellicone lineup, Azerbaijan's young core of rising stars showed how poised they are to carry the baton when it's ready to be handed over.

Azerbaijan built a commanding 59-point lead over Hungary in the team title race after the opening day of the third Ranking Series event of the season. Murad MAMMADOV (AZE), Taleh MAMMADOV (AZE) and Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE) moved into at least the top four of the world rankings, while Islam ABBASOV (AZE) leaped into the top ten by winning gold medals on Wednesday night.

Hungary sits in second place with 69 points, but more importantly, they may have locked in their World Championships roster after the in-country battle at 87kg and 97kg.

In the all-Azeri battle at 60kg, Murad Mammadov used his size to overpower the smaller Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE), who was up from his world and European title-winning weight of 55kg.

Mammadov was creative with his lifts from the par terre position, picking up a four-pointer after earning a mid-period inactivity point. The 2021 world bronze medalist carried that momentum into the second period and exposed Azizli for two points before throwing the former world champ for the 9-1 win.

Mammadov will represent Azerbaijan at the World Championships at 60kg. He came into the Matteo Pellicone ranked fifth in the world, but after collecting 8000 first-place Ranking Series points, he leaped Kenichiro FUMITA (JPN) and is now ranked fourth in the world with 48,500 points.

Azizli will now move back to his normal weight of 55kg in preparation for Belgrade.

In the 63kg finals, Taleh Mammadov handed Azerbaijan their second gold medal of the night. The European runner-up upset reigning 60kg world champion Victor CIOBANU (MDA) in a chippy final that featured multiple stoppages due to repeated head butts from both parties.

But in the end, Mammadov picked up the 4-2 win and earned 8000 Ranking Series points. That pushed him ahead of Meysam DALKHANI (IRI) for the No. 2 ranking with 49,200 points. He's now only 800 points shy of stealing the top seed at the World Championships from Georgia's Leri ABULADZE, who has 50,000 points.

The future of Azeri Greco-Roman wrestling, Jafarov cruised to his first Ranking Series gold medal with a blistering 9-0 win over Furkan YILDIZ (TUR). He closed out his Ranking Series debut by outscoring his four opponents, 34-3.

In the final, Jafarov, last year's U20 and U23 world champion, scored four points in the first period after stopping a Yildiz headlock and then transitioned into a correct throw. The up-and-comer only needed 32 seconds in the second period to toss Yildiz to his back for the easy 9-0 win.

Jafarov came into the Matteo Pellicone with 36,500 points and was ranked sixth in the world at 67kg. However, he earned 8,000 points for his gold medal and jumped Nazir ABDULLAEV (RWF), Murat FIRAT (TUR) and Parviz NASIBOV (UKR) to be ranked No. 3 in the world with 44,500 points.

Islam Abbasov was the fourth Azeri wrestler who claimed gold on the first day of wrestling.

In the anticlimactic 87kg gold medal match, Abbasov traded inactivity points with Erik SZILVASSY (HUN), but his second-period inactivity was the difference in the finals.

Abbasov had 22,900 points before the competition, but after collecting 11,000 points on Wednesday, he now has 33,900. That's good enough to push him up to No. 9 in the world rankings.

Riza KAYAALP (TUR) celebrates winning his third career Ranking Series title. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Kayaalp's golden return

With his daughter and wife on hand in Italy, Riza KAYAALP (TUR) returned to the mat after dealing with personal matters and improved on his bronze-medal Ranking Series finish from earlier this year. The Turkish big man picked up a four-point shutout win over Rio Olympic bronze medalist Sabah SHARIATI (AZE).

Kayaalp grabbed up a stepout point after being handed an inactivity point with 40 seconds left in the first period. Then, the four-time world champ tacked on two additional points with a reverse lift and carried the 4-0 lead into the second period.

After a scoreless second frame, Kayaalp hung on to the four-point win and claimed the third Ranking Series title of his career.

Now, the question that begs to be answered: what will Turkey do at 130kg for the Belgrade World Championships? Their first option, most would think, would be Kayaalp. But Osman YILDIRIM (TUR) is undefeated in the season, with a pair of 2022 Ranking Series titles to his name. Not to mention, Yildirim won gold at the Yasar Dogu, where Kayaalp fell in the semifinals and fought back to win a bronze medal.

David LOSONCZI (HUN) celebrates claiming the 97kg Matteo Pellicone gold medal. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Hungary's world spots nearly determined

Coming into the Matteo Pellicone, Hungary entered multiple guys into 87kg and 97kg, hoping it would help the Federation determine their world team roster.

David LOSONCZI (HUN) may have locked himself into the Hungarian lineup at 97kg after winning gold in Rome.

In a reasonably slow 97kg finals match, Losonczi hung on to beat Italy's own Nikoloz KAKHELASHVILI (ITA), 2-1. The determining factor in the gold-medal match was Losonczi's push-out in the first period after trading inactivity points with Kakhelashvili.

Losonczi came to Italy fighting with Alex SZOKE (HUN) for the start spot. 

Szoke lost to Kakhelashvili in the semifinals, and with Losonczi's win against the Italian, he's almost a shoo-in for the World Championships at 97kg.

Another weight Hungary was looking for clarification on was 87kg, where Szilvassy, Istvan TAKACS (HUN) and Tamas LEVAI (HUN) were in a tight race.

Szilvassy proved to be Hungary's top option after finishing in second place and beating Levai en route to the finals. 

Takacs and Levai fought back and won bronze medals despite falling in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

Hosseinvand wins 55kg

In the three-man 55kg Nordic-style bracket, Mohammad HOSSEINVAND (IRI) picked up the gold medal with his 11-7 come-from-behind win over Florin TITA (ROU). 

Panahisani showed his never-say-die Iranian attitude against the Romanian in their opening-round match. He was in jeopardy of giving up the technical superiority after falling behind 7-0 in the first period. But in the second period, the Iranian stormed back to score 11 unanswered points and win his first Ranking Series title.


SILVER -  Florin TITA (ROU) 

GOLD - Murad MAMMADOV (AZE) df. Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE), 9-1

GOLD - Taleh MAMMADOV (AZE) df. Victor CIOBANU (MDA), 4-2
BRONZE -  Razvan ARNAUT (ROU) df. Justas PETRAVICIUS (LTU), via inj. def.

GOLD - Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE) df. Furkan YILDIZ (TUR), 9-0
BRONZE - Mohammad REZAEI (IRI) df. Niklas OEHLEN (SWE), 7-2
BRONZE - Tigran GALUSTYAN (FRA) df. Mihai MIHUT (ROU), 3-1

GOLD - Islam ABBASOV (AZE) df. Erik SZILVASSY (HUN), 1-1
BRONZE - Istvan TAKACS (HUN) df. Alex KESSIDIS (SWE), via inj. def.
BRONZE - Tamas LEVAI (HUN) df. Kristoffer BERG (SWE), 9-1


GOLD - Riza KAYAALP (TUR) df. Sabah SHARIATI (AZE), 4-0
​​​​​​​BRONZE - Mantas KNYSTAUTAS (LTU) df. Oskar MARVIK (NOR), 6-3
BRONZE - Beka KANDELAKI (AZE) df. Cohlton SCHULTZ (USA), 4-2


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