Kumar becomes India's 1st 3-time Asian champ

By Ken Marantz

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (April 23) -- About a half-hour after Ravi KUMAR (IND) became India's first-ever three-time Asian champion, fellow star Bajrang PUNIA (IND) came up short in a bid to match the feat.

Kumar, the silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, put on a takedown clinic in storming to a 12-2 technical fall over Rakhat KALZHAN (KAZ) in the freestyle 57kg final Saturday, the fifth day of the Asian Championships.

Punia was dealt a 3-1 loss by Rahman AMOUZADKHALILI (IRI) in the 65kg final as Iran captured three of the five gold medals at stake, with 2021 silver medalist Ali SAVADKOUHI (IRI) triumphing at 79kg and Mohammadhossein MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) at 97kg for his second Asian title.

The remaining gold went to Taishi NARIKUNI (JPN), who was appearing at his first international tournament in five years and came away with the 70kg title, which he hopes will lead to emulating his mother, a two-time world champion, later this year.

Ravi KUMARRavi KUMAR (IND) won the 57kg final with a score of 12-2. (Photo: UWW / Bayrem Ben Mrad)

Kumar completed a three-peat that started in 2020, and Saturday's victory came with a quirk --  in all three of his matches, he gave up the first points. But that hardly fazed him, as he became a whirlwind of motion and ended up averaging 13 points over the three bouts.

"The tournament was very good and I had planned to win the gold for India," Kumar said. "Every opponent was very strong. It went according to my plan. But at the start, it was a little difficult, but as I moved forward towards the final, I did what I planned and thankfully I won the gold for India for the third time."

One surprise for Kumar was his opponent in the final. He had expected to see Gulomjon ABDULLAEV (UZB), whom he had faced and beaten 11-10 in the 61kg final at the Yasar Dogu Ranking Series tournament in February.

Instead, Kalzhan, whose lone major medal had been an Asian cadet bronze in 2015, knocked off Abdullaev in the quarterfinals before advancing to the final.

"57kg is such a weight class in which you can have a new wrestler every day," Kumar said. "When I came on the scene I was also new to everyone.

"I really thought that I will wrestle Abdullaev in the final. I did not even see how he lost. When I reached the final, I saw that he had lost. Sometimes your body does not work accordingly and I think that is what happened. But the final now was also good because [Kalzhan] was good."

In the final, Kalzhan used an arm drag trip to score the initial takedown. But that would be his only highlight, as Kumar came back with three takedowns and an exposure to take an 8-2 lead into the break.

The 2019 world bronze medalist needed just 39 seconds of the second period to finish off Kalzhan, using a cradle for a takedown and exposure to win 12-2.

Kumar said that for the near future, he will switch between competing at either 57kg or 61kg, depending on the competition.

"It is difficult to maintain the weight at 57kg," he said. "The Asian Championships were very important and I had not wrestled at 57kg for a long time so I decided to drop down. I will try to wrestle one or two ranking series events at 61kg, but for [the] Commonwealth and Asian [Games], I have to drop down to 57kg."

Asked what differentiates Kumar from the rest of the field, bronze medalist Rikuto ARAI (JPN), who lost to the Indian 15-4 in the quarterfinals, said, "His physical fitness. If I get to that level, I can get points off him and win. It was a good experience [for me]."

Rahman AMOUZADKHALILIThe duck under to single-leg attack gave Rahman AMOUZADKHALILI (IRI) the win over Bajrang PUNIA (IND) in the 65kg final. (Photo: Bayrem Ben Mrad)

Punia was looking to add to the Asian titles he won in 2017 and 2019 but had no answer to the underhook strategy employed by Amouzadkhalili, the 2021 world junior champion at 61kg. The two spent much of the match locked up like Greco wrestlers.

Both had received an activity point -- Punia in the first period and Amouzadkhalili in the second -- when the Iranian finally broke the stalemate with a single-leg takedown with 1:40 left in the match. Punia never got close to scoring as he had to settle for the silver as his eighth career Asian medal.

"Bajrang is very famous in the world and he has World and Olympic medals," Amouzadkhalili said. "So I had trained accordingly for him. I now hope to win the Asian Games and World Championships."

Coming into Ulaanbaatar, Kumar and Punia were tied with Yogeshwar DUTT (IND), a champion in 2008 and 2012, for most Asian titles by an Indian.

Ali SAVADKOUHIAli SAVADKOUHI (IRI) managed to hold on for a 9-9 win against Gourav BALIYAN (IND) in the 79kg final. (Photo: Bayrem Ben Mrad)

At 79kg, Savadkouhi finally progressed to the top of the podium following a third-place finish in 2020 and runner-up in 2021, but only after barely squeezing out a 9-9 victory in the final over 2020 silver medalist Gourav BALIYAN (IND).

Savadkouhi looked well on his way to an easy victory when he put together a pair of takedown-gut wrench combinations to take an 8-0 lead. But Baliyan never gave up and cut the gap to 8-4  before the break.

In the second period, Savadkouhi gained an early stepout, and that proved critical as he clearly began running out of gas, enough that he gave up two points for fleeing. Baliyan scored a takedown with :22 left to tie it at 9-all, but the winded Iranian emerged victorious on criteria.

"It was the first time I wrestled the Indian and before the bout, I thought I will win 10-0 but I couldn't," Savadkouhi said. "When I was up 8-0 in the match, I thought I will finish it but it became complicated. But I was still happy to win 9-9."

MohammadianMohammadhossien MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) won the 97kg gold outscoring his opponents 31-0. (Photo: Bayrem Ben Mrad)

In the 97kg final, 2015 champion Mohammadian easily handled both Batzul ULZIISAIKHAN (MGL) and the pressure from a partisan crowd at the Buyant Ukhaa Sports Palace that was looking for a victory after seeing four Mongolians in succession lose in bronze-medal matches.

Taking a 5-0 lead into the second period, Mohammadian scored a takedown and two quick gut wrenches to end the proceeding with an 11-0 technical fall at 4:25.

"I knew my opponent from before," Mohammadian said. "The Mongolian was fifth at the Oslo Worlds and I had analyzed his bouts. I was 100 percent sure I would win, but it was hard. I just wanted to finish the bout in the minimum time."

Mohammadian dominated the match from the outset and even benefited from an odd incident in which a Mongolian challenge against a 1-point move by the Iranian was instead changed to 2 points, with an additional point for the "lost" challenge tacked on.

For Mohammadian, the title helps relieve some of the sting from a first-round loss at the Tokyo Olympics. "It was important to forget the Olympics and forget quickly because I wanted to come back to the mat soon," he said.

Taishi NARIKUNITaishi NARIKUNI (JPN) won the 70kg gold after beating Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ) in the final. (Photo: Bayrem Ben Mrad)

Intriguing win for quirky Narikuni

Japan's Narikuni earned his first senior-level international gold medal with a 4-3 victory in the 70kg final over world silver medalist Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ) that was as unique as the Tokyo native.

A one-time collegiate star in Japan whose career was sidetracked by a doping ban involving a mislabeled cold medicine, the 24-year-old Narikuni all but shuns live sparring, preferring to prepare for matches mostly with weight training. And his ultimate dream is to become a world champion in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.

And then there is his pedigree. His mother was a world champion in 1990 and 1991 under her maiden name Akiko IIJIMA, and runs the Tokyo-based kids wrestling club called Gold Kids where Narikuni got his start and he now coaches.

Among others produced by the club are Olympic champion Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) and world bronze medalist Toshihiro HASEGAWA (JPN).

Asked if his mother had any words of advice for him before heading to Mongolia, he replied that she said, "Just go have fun."

If having a nerve-wracking final at a major tournament that includes giving your opponent a piggy-back ride is regarded as fun, then Narikuni had a blast.

Narikuni, who knocked off defending champion Syrbaz TALGAT (KAZ) in the semifinals, trailed 3-1 after the first period after Akmataliev hit a 2-point arm throw with Narikuni on the activity clock.

"I thought I wouldn't be able to win with a big difference in points," Narikuni said. "Losing 3-1, I thought I could get 2 points with a tackle and from there hold on for the victory. That was the plan. And it's good that it went just that way."

Taishi NARIKUNIThe four medalists at 70kg with Taishi NARIKUNI (JPN) winning the gold medal. (Photo: Bayrem Ben Mrad)

Early in the second period, Narikuni tied it up with a driving double-leg takedown that put him ahead on criteria. It was what transpired towards the end that will be making the highlight reels.

Getting in on a single, Narikuni found Akmataliev directly on top of him. The Japanese then suddenly stood up, lifting the Kyrgyz onto his shoulder with his right foot draped in front of him like a scarf. There was :21 left in the match.

"It was the last 20 seconds," Narikuni said. "The worst thing I could do was to try and force it and then lose by getting reversed. I tried to use the time as best as I could. Somehow he ended up in the air."

The question was, what was Narikuni going to do in that position? He walked to the center of the mat but made no move to dump Akmataliev and, with 10 seconds left, the referee halted the action. Narikuni then whizzered out of a last-ditch takedown attempt by Akmataliev which the Kyrgyz side challenged and lost, giving Narikuni his final point.

Despite winning the gold, Narikuni said he still has some kinks to work out ahead of the All-Japan Invitational Championships in June, where he is aiming to clinch a spot on the team for this year's World Championships in Belgrade.

"Winning the title today was reassuring," he said before adding, "but how I won it wasn't very good. Of course, not only for the next World Championships but before that at the All-Japan [Invitational] Championships, I'm not sure I will be able to win with a performance like this.

"Good young wrestlers are always coming up in Japan, and if I keep going like this, I can't win. I have to raise [my game] to another level."

Narikuni said that he did spend some time sparring in practice during a recent national team training camp, but will return to his usual regimen of weight training.

"There's a weight training room in the hotel, tomorrow I'll take off, but the day after I'll get in there," Narikuni said.

In the bronze medal matches, Japan and Mongolia had three direct clashes, and much to the consternation of the home crowd, the visitors won all three.

In a thriller that opened the night session, Japan's Arai overcame a 4-point deficit to defeat 2017 silver medalist Zanabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL) 9-8 and take home a 57kg bronze in his Asian debut.

Arai muscled Zandanbud over with a front headlock roll with :07 left to go ahead 8-8, as a 4-point throw in the first period gave him the advantage on criteria. An unsuccessful challenge accounted for the final point.

Arai was a late substitute for injured Toshiya ABE (JPN) and was only named to the team about three weeks ago. "These chances don't come your way very frequently, so I was determined to take a medal home," Arai said.

The other bronze-medal match at 57kg was an equally wild affair, with Almaz SMANBEKOV (KGZ) coming back from a 4-0 deficit to defeat Abdullaev 13-7, finishing off the win with a 4-point counter at the buzzer.

In the second Japan-Mongolia clash, 2019 world 61kg junior champion Kaiki YAMAGUCHI (JPN) dominated Tsogbadrakh TSEVEENSUREN (MGL) for an 8-1 win at 65kg.

Yamaguchi, a two-time world team member, combined four stepouts with two takedowns to capture his first medal on the senior level.

Yudai TAKAHASHI (JPN) made it a clean sweep for Japan against Mongolia, overpowering Byambadorj ENKHBAYAR (MGL) by 12-1 technical fall, which he finished with a driving double-leg tackle.

Talgat assured he wouldn't be going home empty-handed when he defeated Mohammademehdi YEGANEHJAFARI (IRI) 4-0 to take bronze at 70kg.

The other Mongolian to fall was Temuulen ENKHTUYA (MGL), who was pinned in the second period by Naveen MALIK (IND) at 70kg.

At 97kg, Mamed IBRAGIMOV (KAZ) scored a takedown with :59 to go to edge Mukhammadrasul RAKHIMOV (UZB) 3-2, and Satywart KADIAN (IND) rolled to a 10-0 technical fall over Zyyamuhammet SAPAROV (TKM), who had been aiming to become Turkmenistan's first-ever Asian medalist in freestyle.

Abbos RAKHMONOV (UZB) won the other bronze at 65kg when Haji ALI (BRN) defaulted in the final minute due to a shoulder injury with Rakhmonov leading 9-0.

Arsalan BUDAZHAPOV (KGZ) gained a 79kg bronze without a fight as Gurbanmyrat OVEZBERDIYEV (TKM) defaulted for an unspecified reason.

PHOTOS: Asian Championships Day 5

Day 5 Results


57kg (11 entries)
GOLD: Ravi KUMAR (IND) df. Rakhat KALZHAN (KAZ) by TF, 12-2, 3:38

BRONZE: Rikuto ARAI (JPN) df. Zanabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL), 9-8
BRONZE: Almaz SMANBEKOV (KGZ) df. Gulomjon ABDULLAEV (UZB), 13-7.

65kg (11 entries)
GOLD: Rahman AMOUZADKHALILI (IRI) df. Bajrang PUNIA (IND), 3-1

BRONZE: Abbos RAKHMONOV (UZB) df. Haji ALI (BRN) by Inj. Def., 5:11 (9-0)

70kg (10 entries)
GOLD: Taishi NARIKUNI (JPN) df. Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ), 4-3

BRONZE: Naveen MALIK (IND) df. Temuulen ENKHTUYA (MGL) by Fall, 2:36 (8-0)
BRONZE: Syrbaz TALGAT (KAZ) df. Mohammademehdi YEGANEHJAFARI (IRI), 4-0

79kg (11 entries)

BRONZE: Arsalan BUDAZHAPOV (KGZ) df. Gurbanmyrat OVEZBERDIYEV (TKM) by Def.
BRONZE: Yudai TAKAHASHI (JPN) df. Byambadorj ENKHBAYAR (MGL) by TF, 12-1, 4:42

97kg (8 entries)
GOLD: Mohammadhossein MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) df. Batzul ULZIISAIKHAN (MGL) by TF, 11-0, 4:25

BRONZE: Mamed IBRAGIMOV (KAZ) df. Mukhammadrasul RAKHIMOV (UZB), 3-2
BRONZE: Satywart KADIAN (IND) df. Zyyamuhammet SAPAROV (TKM) by TF, 10-0, 3:30


WATCH: 10 women's wrestling final from Asian Championships

By Vinay Siwach

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (April 29) -- Japan came out all guns blazing at the Asian Championships after missing the previous edition due to travel restrictions. The women's team won the team title comfortably.

Its medal haul included seven gold medals, two silver and one fourth-place finish. Host nation Mongolia finished second in the race while Kazakhstan went home with the third spot.

Here are the 10 finals from the women's wrestling at the Asian Championships.

GOLD - 50kg: Remina YOSHIMOTO (JPN) vs Namuuntsetseg TSOGTOCHIR (MGL)


Round 5 - 55kg: Umi IMAI (JPN) vs. Sarbinaz JIENBAEVA (UZB)


Round 5 - 57kg: Diana KAYUMOVA (KAZ) vs. Sara NATAMI (JPN)


GOLD - 62kg:  Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) vs. Nonoka OZAKI (JPN)


Round 5 - 65kg: Dariga ABEN (KAZ) vs. Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN)