In Rome, mini battles highlight Greco-Roman field

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (June 18) -- Out of the seven Greco-Roman weight categories in which Azerbaijan wrestlers are entered for the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event, all but two would see the country's wrestler receive a seed at the World Championships.

Azerbaijan is bringing a strong squad to the Ranking Series event, looking to select their team for the Islamic Games in August and later for the World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

For that reason, Murad MAMMADOV (AZE), Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE) and Nihat MAMMADLI (AZE) are all entered at 60kg weight class in Rome. But for the World Championships, they will be returning to their original weight classes. World silver medalist Sanan SULEYMANOV (AZE) and world champion Rafiq HUSEYNOV (AZE) are the only two wrestlers who get an automatic selection to the national team.

U23 and U20 world champion Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE) will be returning to the mat since winning a bronze medal at the European Championships and will be looking for his first Ranking Series medal at 67kg. But with Erik TORBA (HUN), Morten THORESEN (NOR) and Niklas OEHLEN (SWE) also entered in the same weight class, he will have to do better than the performance in Budapest.

Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN)Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN) will be eyeing his second Ranking Series medal this year. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Apart from 60kg, an all-Azerbaijan battle will be at 97kg as Arif NIFTULLAYEV (AZE) and Murat LOKIAYEV (AZE) look to earn a spot on the national team. But the weight class some of the top wrestlers entered. Tokyo fifth-place Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN) will be eyeing his second Ranking Series medal of the year after winning silver in Istanbul. He also won a silver at the European Championships.

However, the second fifth-placer in Tokyo and World silver medalist Alex SZOKE (HUN) will be the favorite to win the weight class in Rome. Asian champion Mehdi BALIHAMZEHDEH (IRI) will also be put to test against a strong European field. Two other strong medal contenders are Felix BALDAUF (NOR) and Mihail KAJAIA (SRB).

Going back to Istanbul, Beka KANDELAKI (AZE) had stunned Riza KAYAALP (TUR) with a fall at the first Ranking Series and the two can clash again at 130kg in Rome. But Kayaalp has since won the European Championships title and is looking to return to prime form as the World Championships approach.

Oslo bronze medalist Oskar MARVIK (NOR) and former U17 world champion Cohlton SCHULTZ (USA) are also entered.

Islam ABBASOV (AZE)Islam ABBASOV (AZE) won the gold at the first Ranking Series event in Istanbul. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 87kg, Islam ABBASOV (AZE) has now notched up two straight victories over world champion Zurabi DATUNASHVILI (SRB). His first win came in Istanbul in the final while the second was in the European Championships semifinal. While Datunashvili is not entered for Rome, Abbasov will have to wrestle at the top of his potential if he wants to win the gold.

U23 world champion at 77kg Tamas LEVAI (HUN) will be a strong opponent along with U23 European champion Istvan TAKACS (HUN). Hungary has also entered 
Erik SZILVASSY (HUN) in the field at 87kg. Alex KESSIDIS (SWE) is also moving up to 87kg after finishing fifth at the World Championships at 82kg.

60kg world champion Victor CIOBANU (MDA) will once again try to win a gold medal at 63kg after failing to do so at his first two tournaments of the year. He lost in the final to Isomjon BAKHRAMOV (UZB) in Istanbul before Etienne KINSINGER (GER) ended his quest for a European title Victor CIOBANU (MDA) with a 3-1 loss in the quarterfinals in Budapest.

Kristupas SLEIVA (LTU)Kristupas SLEIVA (LTU) is the top ranked wrestler at 72kg. (Photo: UWW / Tony Rotundo)

Lituania's history maker Kristupas SLEIVA (LTU) will be eyeing revenge against Ulvu GANIZADE (AZE) as the Azerbaijan wrestler defeated him in the bronze medal bout at the European Championships. Apart from the two, European silver medalist Krisztian VANCZA (HUN) and gold medalist in Istanbul Selcuk CAN (TUR) will be threats to the gold medal.

At 77kg, U23 world silver medalist Amin KAVIYANINEJAD (IRI) will be involved in a battle against compatriot Ali Mohammad GHOLAMI (IRI) for a spot on the Iran national team. A similar battle will be for Hungary as defending champion Zoltan LEVAI (HUN) and European champion Robert FRITSCH (HUN) are entered.

Returning to international competition after a two-year gap, Kamal BEY (USA) will try to win a medal on his return. His last competition in 2020 was also the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series where he finished fifth. But after securing his spot on the USA team for the World Championships, Bey will be eyeing a winning start to the year internationally.

The Matteo Pellicone will begin Wednesday with seven Greco-Roman weight classes. Thursday will the remaining three Greco-Roman weight classes along with four women's wrestling categories. The remaining six along with two freestyle weight categories will be in action Friday before eight freestyle weight categories close out the action Saturday.

Live action and highlights from the Matteo Pellicone can be available 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