Otoguro Dominates in Rematch With Punia for 65kg Asian Gold

By Ken Marantz

New Delhi (Feb. 22)—Former world champion Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) came out on top quite convincingly in the rematch on his rival’s home soil. Whether he can repeat it back in his own country—when it would matter most---is a matter for another time.

Otoguro effectively used a low-single attack to grind out a 10-2 victory over Bajrang PUNIA (IND) in the freestyle 65kg final at the Asian Championships on Saturday night in New Delhi.

The victory in the highly anticipated rematch of the final at the 2018 World Championships, in which Otoguro rambled to with a wild 16-9 win, gives the young Japanese a confidence boost heading toward the Tokyo Olympics—particularly taking into consideration his disappointing fifth-place finish at last year’s worlds in Nur-Sultan.

“Last year, I feel like I was only losing and I went through various experiences,” Otoguro said. “From now, this is an Olympic year, and I feel I’ve gained some momentum. But I still have room to improve. How strong I can get from here, I’m also looking forward to finding out.”

Punia, a bronze medalist in Nur-Sultan, was looking to defend the Asian title he won last year in Xi’an, China. But he had no answer for Otoguro’s attacks and counters, as the Japanese put the match away with seven unanswered points in the second period.

Asked about his low-single approach, Otoguro replied, “When I shot for the low single, his leg was sweaty, so I went for his shoe so I wouldn’t slip off.”

Punia was not immediately available for comment, but his personal coach, Shako Bentinidis, said people should not read into the loss too much.

“I am happy with the silver medal today,” Bentinidis said. “Sometimes it is possible for him to lose, but not at Olympics. I think this is no problem. Better to lose now before Olympics.”

Bentinidis issued a warning to the Indian media, saying, “We must stay relaxed, and not so much ‘Bajrang, Bajrang.’”

For the 21-year-old Otoguro, it was his first continental championship since winning the Asian cadet crown in 2014. He said that heading into the Tokyo Olympics, he is undecided if he will enter an overseas tournament, and is leaning toward attending a training camp abroad.

One thing he knows is that since winning the 2018 world title, which made him Japan’s youngest-ever world freestyle champion, his rivals are looking for holes in his game to exploit. 

“Of course, I feel that others have been studying me,” he said. “I really felt it over the last year. Since then, I have been making adjustments looking ahead to the Olympics.”

Kumar RAVI (IND) cruised to the 57kg title with a 10-0 win over Hikmatullo VOHIDOV (TJK) in the gold-medal match. (Photo: Kadir Caliskan)

Ravi rolls to 57kg gold before home crowd
Host India had three wrestlers in the five finals on the opening day of freestyle, and Kumar RAVI (IND) gave the home crowd a thrill with a one-sided win in the 57kg final that capped a day of dominance.

With the order of bouts reversed for the night session, Ravi concluded the festivities with a 10-0 technical fall over Hikmatullo VOHIDOV (TJK), who was aiming to become only Tajikistan’s second Asian champion in history.

“I just thought I had to win the gold medal for India because it is my home country and I was wrestling in front of my family,” said Ravi, a world bronze medalist in Nur-Sultan who captured his first senior Asian title. “It was a perfect day for me.”

Ravi said he knows he has raised national hopes for his success at Tokyo 2020. “Because of this gold medal, there are more expectations on me from my country,” he said. “Going into the Tokyo Olympics, the gold medal means a lot to me in my Olympic journey.”

Ilyas BEKBULATOV (UZB) back-tripped Amirhossein HOSSEINI (IRI) for four points en route to 10-6 win in the 70kg finals. (Photo: Kadir Caliskan)

Russia ostensibly provided two champions when transplants Arsalan BUDAZHAPOV (KGZ) and Ilyas BEKBULATOV (UZB) won gold medals at 79kg and 70kg, respectively.

In a frenetic 79kg final that saw the lead change hands five times, Budazhapov notched the winning takedown with 15 seconds left to upend Baliyan GOURAV (IND) 7-5.

Budazhapov, a three-time winner of the Mongolian Open while competing for Russia, took a 2-1 lead into the second period when Gourav started a string of alternating takedowns. On the final one, Budazhapov came out the back door to secure the points, then gained another on a lost challenge. 

“I don’t know how it happened, but I was very tired and a bit groggy,” Budazhapov said of the back-and-forth exchanges. 

As for reaching the top of the Asian medal podium for the country of his grandmother, Budazhapov said, “It’s very good for me. I am happy. In the future I have to work harder.”

Budazhapov is also making his mark off the mats. A businessman, he owns a chain of four wrestling shops in Russia, called Olimpic Shop, that also sells globally online and has received endorsements from the likes of Abdulrashid SADULAEV (RUS), Kyle SNYDER (USA) and Zaur UGUEV (RUS).

Bekbulatov pulled off the move of the day in his 10-6 victory in the 70kg final over Amirhossein HOSSEINI (IRI) as the 29-year-old added an Asian gold to his collection of three European medals that includes a 2017 gold.

With a 4-2 lead in the second period, Hosseini got in on a single leg and lifted it into the air. But before he knew what hit him, Bekbulatov leaped up and back-tripped for a 4-point move. 

“When I wrestle, I never plan what I’m going to do, because I wrestle by the situation,” Bekbulatov said. “You take my leg, I do this trick. If I don’t do this trick, I will try another.”

Bekbulatov, who twice participated in the Pro Wrestling League in India, said he was happy to wrestle in the Asian Championships.

“I’m very happy for every competition,” he said. “To participate for the Uzbek national team is good for me, because my main goal is to wrestle in the Olympic Games. “

Bekbulatov said he will drop down to 65kg for next month’s Asian Olympic qualifying tournament, which would only deepen an already stacked weight class. 

Mojtaba GOLEIJ (IRI) upgraded his silver medal from last year with a win over Salywart KADIAN (IND) in the 97kg finals. (Photo: Kadir Caliskan)

World U-23 champion Mojtaba GOLEIJ (IRI) improved on his silver medal from 2018 when he outmuscled Salywart KADIAN (IND) to take the 97kg gold with a 10-0 technical fall.

After gaining a point on the activity clock, Goleij bulled Kadian out for three stepouts, then faced little resistance in scoring three takedowns, the last one on a snap down that ended the match at 5:30.

In the bronze-medal matches, 2018 world champion Yuki TAKAHASHI (JPN) bounced back from his loss earlier in the day to Ravi by overwhelming 2019 world bronze medalist Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ) 14-5 at 57kg for his second straight Asian bronze.

World 65kg silver medalist Daulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ) had a little harder time with Nyamdorj BATTULGA (MGL), but forged out a 4-1 win to add the bronze to his 2018 gold.

Shinkichi OKUI (JPN), making his international debut, scored a takedown and a stepout in the last half-minute, then deftly walked a tightrope to avoid being forced out himself in the final seconds as he held on for a 4-3 victory over Batzul DAMJIN (MGL) at 79kg.

Kazakhstan came away with three bronzes, including a second straight for Alisher YERGALI (KAZ) at 97kg, while Japan, Iran and Kyrgyzstan claimed two each and Tajikistan one.  

Day 4 Results


57kg (11 entries)
GOLD – Kumar RAVI (IND) df. Hikmatullo VOHIDOV (TJK) by TF, 10-0, 3:27 
BRONZE – Bekbolot MYRZANAZAR UULU (KGZ) df. Sardor RUZIMOV (UZB) by Fall, 4:53 (7-0)
BRONZE – Yuki TAKAHASHI (JPN) df. Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ), 14-5 

65kg (14 entries)
GOLD – Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) df. Bajrang PUNIA (IND), 10-2
BRONZE – Daulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ) df. Nyamdorj BATTULGA (MGL), 4-1
BRONZE – Amirhossein MAGHSOUDI (IRI) df. Abbos RAKHMONOV (UZB), 2-0

70kg (9 entries)
GOLD – Ilyas BEKBULATOV (UZB) df. Amirhossein HOSSEINI (IRI), 10-6 
BRONZE – Meirzhan ASHIROV (KAZ) df. Naveen NAVEEN (IND) by TF, 12-1, 3:53 
BRONZE – Islambek OROZBEKOV (KGZ) df. Temuulen ENKHTUYA (MGL) by Default

79kg (8 entries) 
GOLD – Arsalan BUDAZHAPOV (KGZ) df. Baliyan GOURAV (IND), 7-5 
BRONZE – Shinkichi OKUI (JPN) df. Batzul DAMJIN (MGL), 4-3

97kg (11 entries)
GOLD – Mojtaba GOLEIJ (IRI) df. Salywart KADIAN (IND) by TF, 10-0, 5:30
BRONZE – Rustam ISKANDARI (TJK) df. Zaid SHISHANI (JOR) by Fall, 1:33 (6-0)
BRONZE – Alisher YERGALI (KAZ) df. Magomed MUSAEV (KGZ), 11-5 


Kaisanov Caps Eventful Week by Repeating as Asian 74kg Champ

By Ken Marantz

NEW DELHI (Feb. 23)—It’s been a good week for Daniyar KAISANOV (KAZ). Five days after he was upgraded to the world bronze medal that he felt should have been his all along, he clinched a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics by successfully defending his freestyle 74kg title at the Asian Championships.

Kaisanov edged local favorite Jitender JITENDER (IND) 3-1 in the final as Kazakhstan captured two of the remaining five gold medals at stake on the final day of action at New Delhi’s K.D. Jadhav Wrestling Stadium.

“I believed I could win the Asian championship a second time,” Kaisanov said. “This gold medal was very important to me.”

It’s value was enhanced because the Kazakhstan federation informed him that a gold medal in New Delhi would automatically clinch the Olympic spot that he earned at the World Championships in Nur-Sultan, where he lost a contentious bronze-medal match to Zelimkhan KHADJIEV (FRA). 

A loss and he would have had to enter a playoff for the ticket to the Tokyo Olympics. Even though he recently suffered a knee injury, the incentive of sewing up the place in New Delhi led him to make the decision to participate. 

“I participated because it was part of the Kazakhstan process for qualifying for the Olympic Games,” he said. “I had to win.”

Kaisanov had faced Jitender last month at the Matteo Pellicone ranking series event in Rome, handily winning 9-2 in a repechage match before winning a bronze.

“One month ago I beat him with a big score [in Rome],” Naisanov said. “But this match was different because he was at home in front of his fans. It was mentally different, that’s why it was difficult.”

In the final, Kaisanov was on the clock when he scored with an exposure off a counter, before Jitender gained a stepout point. In the second period, Naisanov gained an insurance point with a stepout and held on for the win.

The victory came after UWW announced that Khadiev had failed a doping test, which moved Naisanov up to the world bronze. Khadiev had won their third-place match 4-3, but there was contention whether a late stepout by Naisanov should have been scored a takedown.

“I am very happy because after the World Championships I was so sad because I thought I won that match,” Naisanov said. “The referees made some mistakes. When I first heard the news of the doping by the French wrestler, I waited for the official news. I am so very happy. “

In other finals, world U-23 champion Ulubek ZHOLDOSHBEKOV (KGZ) picked up his first senior Asia gold after winning bronzes in 2016 and 2018 when he decked Muhammad IKROMOV (TJK) in 2:44.

Zholdoshbekov, who had an eye poked in his opening match by an Iranian foe that bothered him throughout the day, scored a stepout while on the activity clock, then stuffed an arm drag attempt to put Ikromov into a headlock and secure the fall.

“All of the wrestlers want to take the gold in tournaments,” Zholdoshbekov said of gaining the elusive gold. “I worked very hard and I’m very happy.”

Ikromov was denied in his bid to become just the second Tajikstan wrestler in history to win an Asian gold. The only other came in 2003.

Zholdoshbekov said he will drop down to 57kg for the Asian Olympic qualifier to be held in his home country next month.

Shutaro YAMADA (JPN) defeated Ahmad BAZRIGHALEH (IRI), 10-10 in the 86kg finals. (Photo: Kadir Caliskan)

The biggest surprise of the evening came in the 86kg final, in which unheralded Shutaro YAMADA (JPN) uncorked a pair of 4-point throws and held on to defeat 2019 Asian U-23 champion Ahmad BAZRIGHALEH (IRI) 10-10 on big-point criteria.

Yamada was third at the Japan Championships, but got the chance to make his international senior debut as national champ Sosuke TAKATANI (JPN) will enter the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament. 

“The chance came to me and to be honest, I thought I wouldn’t win a medal, much less the championship,” said Yamada, who knocked off world silver medalist Deepak PUNIA (IND) in the semifinals. “To get the gold, I’m extremely happy.

“After the semifinal, I went back to the hotel and looked at videos of my opponent in the final. He had high finishes in various tournaments. He’s a strong wrestler. This time, more than skills, I won with guts and patience.”

Bazrighaleh took a 3-0 lead on a takedown and stepout, before Yamada cut the lead with a nifty back trip for a takedown. But the Iranian added another stepout and a takedown to go ahead 6-2 heading into the second period.

That’s when Yamada put to good use his occasional training in Greco, as he locked up Bazrighaleh and executed a picture-perfect lateral drop, not once but twice. That put him up 10-6, and a takedown and 2-point counter were not enough to give Bazrighaleh the win.

“When I was in high school and sometimes in college, I entered Greco competitions,” said Yamada, a second-year student at powerhouse Yamanashi Gakuin University. “We often practice Greco style. Even though the styles are different, I’m glad I didn’t just limit myself to freestyle. 

“I used it in situations where I was both winning and losing. I just had to give it a shot and see what happens.”

Mohammadjavad EBRAHIMIZIVLAEI (IRI) crushed Takuma OTSU (JPN),11-0, and claimed the 92kg gold medal. (Photo: Kadir Caliskan)

Another final that featured a clash between Iran and Japan went the Middle East nation’s way, as Mohammadjavad EBRAHIMIZIVLAEI (IRI) stormed to an 11-0 technical fall of Takuma OTSU (JPN) for the 92kg gold. 

That helped Iran capture the team title with 168 points, just 9 ahead of host India in second. Kazakhstan finished third with 146 points, 6 ahead of Japan.

Ironically, had Yamanashi Gakuin University entered the team competition on its own, it would have placed sixth with 100 points. The school located 120 kilometers west of Tokyo in Kofu city got gold medals from Yamada and Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) at 65kg, a silver from Otsu, and bronzes from Ryuto SAKAKI (JPN) at 61kg and alumnus Yuki TAKAHASHI (JPN) at 57kg.

“We expected at least third places from the lower weights,” Yamanashi coach Kunihiko OBATA said. “The guys in the upper weights far exceeded our expectations. It’s a good experience and gives them confidence.”

The final gold of the night went to world U-23 bronze medalist Yusup BATIRMURZAEV (KAZ), who executed three gut wreches in dominating Khuderbulga DORJKHAND (MGL) for a 10-0 technical fall in 1:32.

In the bronze-medal matches, host India’s two world medalists came away with hardware, as Rahul AWARE (IND) topped Majid DASTAN (IRI) 5-2 at 57kg and Punia rolled to a 10-0 technical fall of Issa AL OBAIDI (IRQ) at 86kg.

Japan and Iran had two bronze medalists each, while Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Korea had one each.

Daichi TAKATANI (JPN), a silver medalist at both the Asian Championships and Asian Games in 2018 at 65kg, picked up a bronze medal in his debut at the next Olympic weight of 74kg with a 15-4 technical fall of Karam MAHMOOD (IRQ).

Takatani had unsuccessfully tried to dislodge 2018 world champion Otoguro at 65kg in the battle to make Japan’s Olympic team, then made the drastic jump up two weight classes to 74kg. He came up short of grabbing the Tokyo 2020 spot, but his second place at the Japan Championships earned him a ticket to New Delhi.

While conceding little in terms of technique, Takatani still feels the gap in size, and allowed Mahmood to pull off a 4-point counter to start their bronze-medal match. But his superior skills came to the forefront and he piled up the points before finishing the match in 5:28.

Day 6 Results


61kg (13 entries)
GOLD – Ulubek ZHOLDOSHBEKOV (KGZ) df. Muhammad IKROMOV (TJK) by Fall, 2:44 (3-0)
BRONZE – Ryuto SAKAKI (JPN) df. YUN Jihoon (KOR), 4-2
BRONZE – Rahul AWARE (IND) df. Majid DASTAN (IRI), 5-2

74kg (12 entries)
GOLD – Daniyar KAISANOV (KAZ) df. Jitender JITENDER (IND), 3-1
BRONZE – Daichi TAKATANI (JPN) df. Karam MAHMOOD (IRQ) by TF, 15-4, 5:28
BRONZE – Mostafa HOSSEINKHANI (IRI) df. Sumiyabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL), 5-0 

86kg (9 entries)
GOLD – Shutaro YAMADA (JPN) df. Ahmad BAZRIGHALEH (IRI), 10-10 
BRONZE – Deepak PUNIA (IND) df. Issa AL OBAIDI (IRQ) by TF, 10-0, 2:43

92kg (8 entries)
GOLD – Mohammadjavad EBRAHIMIZIVLAEI (IRI) df. Takuma OTSU (JPN) by TF, 11-0, 5:31 
BRONZE – Tsogtgerel MUNKHBAATAR (MGL) df. Chyngyz KERIMULOV (KGZ) by TF, 11-1, 4:30
BRONZE – Iliskhan CHILAYEV (KAZ) df. Ajiniyaz SAPARNIYAZOV (UZB), 4-4

125kg (12 entries)
GOLD – Yusup BATIRMURZAEV (KAZ) df. Khuderbulga DORJKHAND (MGL) by TF, 10-0, 1:32
BRONZE – NAM Koungjin (KOR) df. Zaman ANWAR (PAK) by TF, 10-0, 3:23
BRONZE – Parviz HADIBASMANJ (IRI) df. Farkhod ANAKULOV (TJK) by TF, 10-0, 2:04