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.


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