Wednesday night's Matteo Pellicone finals set

By Eric Olanowski

ROME, Italy (June 21) --- We've finally reached the opening day of action at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event. Wednesday's action will feature Greco-Roman stars at 55kg, 60kg, 63kg, 67kg, 87kg, 97kg and 130kg. 

Stars in Action on Wednesday:
- Murad MAMMADOV (AZE) - '21 world bronze
- Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE) - '18 world champ 
- Victor CIOBANU (MDA) - '21 world champ
- Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE)- '22 U23 and junior world champ
- Morten THORESEN (NOR) - '20 European champ
- Tamas LEVAI (HUN), Erik SZILVASSY (HUN) and Istvan TAKACS (HUN) - Potential Hungarian wrestle-off for the 87kg world team spot. 
- Alex BJURBERG KESSIDIS (SWE) - '19 world silver
- Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN) - '22 European silver, Olympic fifth place
- Felix BALDAUF (NOR) - '17 European champ
- Oskar MARVIK (NOR) -  '21 world bronze

Biggest Upset of the Day (thus far): At 97kg, Aleksandar Georgije STJEPANETIC (SWE) df. Felix BALDAUF (NOR), 5-2.

55kg: Nordic-style bracket
60kg: Murad MAMMADOV (AZE) vs. Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE)
63kg: Victor CIOBANU (MDA) vs. Taleh MAMMADOV (AZE) 
67kg:  Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE) vs. Furkan YILDIZ (TUR) 
87kg:  Islam ABBASOV (AZE) vs. Erik SZILVASSY (HUN) 
97kg:  David LOSONCZI (HUN) vs.  Nikoloz KAKHELASHVILI (ITA) 
​​​​​​​130kg:  Sabah Saleh SHARIATI (AZE) vs. Riza KAYAALP (TUR) ​​​​​​ 

1:56: I'm not too sure what's going on over on Mat B, but Alex Gergo SZOKE (HUN) is complaining about Nikoloz KAKHELASHVILI (ITA) being slippery while in par terre. I think he's saying there's a foreign substance stopping him from gripping the Italian.

1:51: I won't lie, I was selfishly rooting for a 130kg rematch between Kayaalp and Beka KANDELAKI (AZE)Sabah Saleh SHARIATI (AZE) had different plans, as the Rio Olympic bronze medalist edged Kandelaki on criteria to punch his ticket to the gold-medal match.

1:40: Justas PETRAVICIUS (LTU) leads '21 world champ  Victor CIOBANU (MDA) by four points heading into the second period. That match is underway on Mat B.

1:12: In what is likely the determining competition in the fight for the Belgrade spot, Erik SZILVASSY (HUN) sends Tamas LEVAI (HUN) packing his bags after picking up the 2-1 win.

12:55: We have one or two matches left on each mat then will roll directly into the Day One semifinals.

12:51: Kayaalp, the four-time world champion from Turkey, is up now on Mat B. He trailed Knystautas 1-0 after the first but scored a gut wrench after picking up an inactivity point. It looks like he'll close out the match with a two point win and take on reigning world bronze medalist Oskar MARVIK (NOR).

12:43: How are they going to call this? Cohlton Michael SCHULTZ (USA) was down 7-0 against Sabah Saleh SHARIATI (AZE) when the Azeri gutted him for two more points. But things got interesting when the American put Shariati to his back. The refs stop the match and are now reviewing the call. This should be interesting.

12:32: The scoreboard reads 9-4 in favor of Islam ABBASOV (AZE) over Istvan TAKACS (HUN). After Erik SZILVASSY (HUN) and Tamas LEVAI (HUN) both reached the semifinals on the other side of the bracket, this likely ends Takacs' quest for a world team spot at 87kg for Hungary.

12:25: This Jafarov kid from Azerbaijan is going to be a star. The 2021 junior and U23 world champion has picked up back-to-back technical superiority victories and is awaiting the winner of Mohammad Javad Saadat REZAEI (IRI) and Morten THORESEN (NOR).

12:18:  In a clash of world medalist Alex KESSIDIS (SWE) scored a remarkable comeback against Hossein Ahmad NOURI (IRI). The Swedish wrestler trailed 7-2 but scored seven consecutive points and will take on the winner of Istvan TAKACS (HUN) vs. Islam ABBASOV (AZE).

12:01: Alex Gergo SZOKE (HUN) eeks past Artur OMAROV (CZE), 3-1, in what was a battle of Tokyo Olympians.

11:49: Mohammad Hajiali HOSSEINVAND PANAHISANI (IRI) just erased a 7-0 first-period deficit against Florin TITA (ROU) by scoring 11 unanswered points.

11:41: We still haven't seen Turkish legend Riza KAYAALP (TUR) take the mat yet. He's still a ways out, but will take on Knystautas in eight matches on Mat B (Bout 43).

11:31: Keep an eye out for world champion Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE) on Mat A. He's coming up in three matches and will wrestle Teodor HORATAU (ROU).

11:27: In a battle of Tokyo Olympians Mantas KNYSTAUTAS (LTU) picked up the 2-0 opening-round win over Alin ALEXUC CIURARIU (ROU).

11:07: Reigning world champ Victor CIOBANU (MDA) just made Taleh MAMMADOV'S (AZE) feet touch the ceiling at the Palla Pellicone with a back-arching throw!

10:59: This should be a great one over on Mat B. Youngster Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE) is climbing the ranks at 67kg while Erik TORBA (HUN) is an established vet.

10:55: As the day progresses, we'll be paying close attention to Hungarian 87kg wrestlers Erik SZILVASSY (HUN)Istvan TAKACS (HUN) and Tamas LEVAI (HUN), who are all in contention to hold the world championship spot in Belgrade.

10:52: Norway's second European champ of the day Morten THORESEN (NOR) is now on the middle mat. He's wrestling Italy's Giovanni Paolo ALESSIO (ITA) on Mat B.

10:41: Mammadov looked really impressive in his first-round match, defeating Ozturk, 14-1. I'm not sure where the Turking wrestler goes for the World Championships, but I'm sure there's talk about him moving back down to 55kg. I think that's what give Turkey the best shot at a medal at 55kg and 60kg, with European champion Kerem KAMAL (TUR) taking over the 60kg position.

10:37: It's nice to see European champion Felix BALDAUF (NOR) wrestling over on Mat C. While at the European Championships in Budapest earlier this year, we were shooting out Question of the Day with fans, wrestlers and coaches when someone ran past and said, "Felix just broke his leg on the mat. He's done for a while." Luckily that turned out to be false and it was just a minor injury and he's back to looking like the early 2022 Baldauf.

10:30: We'll kick the day off with hammers Ekrem OZTURK (TUR) and Murad MAMMADOV (AZE) wrestling on Mat A. This is Ozturk's sixth Ranking Series event. He's reached the finals in all five of his previous Ranking Series outings. 


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