Matteo Pellicone women's wrestling preview

By Olivia Lichti

ROME, Italy (June 20) -- After an unfortunate COVID-induced postponement from its original date in February, the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series will finally be contested in Rome this week. Women wrestlers from five different continents will be in the Italian capital and several up-and-coming will have the opportunity to prove themselves against the top wrestlers in the world.

The 68kg weight class provides a prime example of such a matchup. After winning U20 and senior world titles at 65kg last year, Irina RINGACI (MDA) made the jump to the Olympic weight of 68kg with her eyes on Paris 2024.

Her debut in February saw her win the gold medals at the Dan Kolov and U23 European Championships and later the senior European title, but her first big test will come here against Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Blessing OBORODUDU (NGR).

Oborodudu will be equally hungry for victory in Rome as a solid finish here will slot her as the number two ranked athlete at 68kg, bumping her up past Tamyra MENSAH STOCK (USA).

Another young star to keep an eye on is Alina AKOBIIA (UKR). Akobiia has collected gold medals at the '21 U23 World Championships and European Championships this year and will look to cement herself as one of the top women in the world at 57kg with a win in Rome.

Inarguably the most credentialed weight class at this event will be 62kg, which includes the likes of U23 world champion Ana GODINEZ (CAN), two-time Olympian Lais NUNES (BRA), and Olympic medallists Sakshi MALIK (IND) and Iryna KOLIADENKO (UKR).

Despite a 10-month hiatus following the Tokyo Games, Koliadenko will enter this tournament as the favorite. However, Malik and Godinez are both coming off of impressive gold-winning runs at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup and Pan-Am Championships respectively. The young Canadian will certainly be hungry for wins over her more seasoned foes, but whether she has the skills to truly challenge either at this point remains to be seen.

Wrestling fans must also keep their eyes on the 53kg division. By way of her 2021 world silver medal, Iulia LEORDA (MDA) is the most heralded wrestler at this weight.

However, 2021 world bronze medallist Samantha STEWART (CAN) will indubitably be hungry for revenge after falling to the Moldovan in the quarterfinals in Oslo. Also present will be the European champion Emma MALMGREN (SWE), who is one of wrestling’s most talented rising stars. She’ll look to notch victories over the world medallists in her bracket and continue to establish herself as a real threat at the upcoming World Championships.

As always, 76kg will feature a multitude of talented women. Justina DI STASIO (CAN) headlines this weight class and will look to prove that she can contend in the toughest division and not just 72kg, where she won a world title in 2018. She’ll be challenged by fellow world medallists Epp MAE (EST) and Martina KUENZ (AUT). Matchups between these three heavyweight hammers are not to be missed.

Though the American contingent is small at this event, it is mighty. Emma BRUNTIL (USA) will look to earn her fourth international medal of 2022 at 65kg, adding to gold medals at the Dan Kolov and Ivan Yarygin and bronze at the Yasar Dogu Ranking Series. She’ll face tough tests in two of Ukraine’s top athletes -- Tetiana RIZHKO (UKR) and Kateryna ZELENYKH (UKR).

Joining Bruntil is Skylar GROTE (USA) at 72kg. Grote is coming off a dominant Pan-Am title run in Acapulco, Mexico, and will look to advance her current world ranking of 17. Her primary challenger will be two-time world bronze medallist Anna SCHELL (GER).

At 55kg, 2021 world silver medallist Nina HEMMER (GER) will look to slide past Oleksandra KHOMENETS (UKR) and Tsugumi SAKURAI (JPN), neither of whom will be present at this event, into the top ranking spot.

However, she’ll have to contend with fifth-ranked Andreea ANA (ROU) and 2019 world bronze medallist Vinesh PHOGAT (IND) to do so. Hemmer defeated the Romanian by a slim 3-2 margin at the 2021 World Championships, but was teched by Phogat in their last encounter.

The deepest non-Olympic weight class, by far, is 59kg. Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) will look to further her remarkable 2022 season, which already includes titles from the Yasar Dogu and the European Championships.

To continue her golden streak, she’ll have to outplace young star Solomiia VYNNYK (UKR) who defeated her in an astounding upset at the 2021 U23 World Championships.

Vynnyk will have a huge opportunity to test herself against Nichita as well as other senior-level threats like world bronze medallist Sarita MOR (IND), who is just coming off of a title at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup, and former U23 world champion Grace BULLEN (NOR).

Up and down the weight classes, the Matteo Pellicone will serve as a fantastic preview for the future of women’s wrestling and will display who can be primed as medal contenders at the World Championships in September. Enjoy watching accomplished veterans and the next generation alike as the world congregates in Italy for what might just be the most exciting wrestling event so far in 2022.

The Matteo Pellicone kicks off Wednesday and can be streamed live on 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