16 Reigning Champs Entered into #WrestleWarsaw Euro C'ships

By Eric Olanowski

WARSAW, Poland (April 16) -- The European Championships start next week in Poland with more than half of 2020's champions returning to the mat for wrestling's premier continental event. 

A total of seven champions will return in women's wrestling, joined by five in freestyle and four in Greco-Roman. The 2020 European Championships were held in Rome just prior to the worldwide shutdown of sports in March of that year.

Grace BULLEN (NOR) and Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) won titles at 57kg and 59kg respectively in 2020, but both opting for 59kg in '21. The Norwegian two-time European champion traditionally wrestles at the Olympic weight of 57kg, but she's moving up to conserve energy for the final Olympic Qualification event of the year, the World Olympic Qualifier (May 5-9) in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Two-time world gold medalist and reigning Euro champ Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA (BLR) is the favorite at 53kg, but last year's 55kg top-two finishers, respectively, Olga KHOROSHAVTSEVA (RUS) Mariia VYNNYK (UKR), are looking to take out the Belarusian.

Miglena SELISHKA enters the European Championships fresh off winning the European Olympic Qualifier event, where she punched Bulgaria's ticket to the Olympic Games at 50kg. For her to win a second consecutive European title, Selishka will have to navigate a 50kg bracket that'll feature Mariya STADNIK (AZE), Emilia Alina VUC (ROU) and Ekaterina POLESHCHUK (RUS). Stadnik was the '19 world champion, while Vuc and Poleshchuk finished with silver and bronze, respectively. Other threats include world bronze medalists Evin DEMIRHAN (TUR) and Oksana LIVACH (UKR).

The final pair of women's wrestling '20 champions are the Russian one-two-punch of Khanum VELIEVA (RUS) and Natalia VOROBEVA (RUS).

Velieva, who qualified Russia for the Olympic Games with a second-place finish at the European Olympic Qualifier, is entered at 68kg. She'll share the bracket with European Olympic Qualifier champion and fellow Tokyo Olympian Koumba LARROQUE (FRA).

Vorobeva, the London Olympic champion, replaced defending champion Ekaterina BUKINA (RUS) at 76kg. Other returning medalist entered at 76kg include bronze medalists Aline ROTTER FOCKEN (GER) and Iselin SOLHEIM (NOR).

Freestyle will feature five men with aspirations to defend their European golds.

Reigning three-time heavyweight champion of the world Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) highlights the long list of star-studded freestyle entries. The 27-year-old Georgian's likely path to a third European title will go through his long-time rival and seven-time continental champion Taha AKGUL (TUR).

At 74kg, Frank CHAMIZO MARQUEZ (ITA) is looking to win a third straight European title and fifth overall. Standing in the Italian's way will be the man who defeated him in the finals at the Individual World Cup Razambek ZHAMALOV (RUS). Avtandil KENTCHADZE (GEO), the '21 European Olympic Qualifier champion and '18 world runner-up, is also entered at 74kg.

Russia's '19 86kg world bronze medalist Artur NAIFONOV (RUS) will be making his third appearance at the European Championships. He's undefeated in those past two trips and won golds in '18 and '20. Fellow Tokyo Olympians Myles AMINE (SMR), Osman GOCEN (TUR), Stefan REICHMUTH (SUI) and Ali SHABANAU (BLR) will also compete at 86kg.

Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL) and Suleyman KARADENIZ (TUR) claimed gold in Rome last year at the none Olympic weights of 70kg and 92kg, respectively. Gadzhiev, who is coming off a 65kg fifth-place finish at the Olympic Qualifier event, will move back up to the non-Olympic weight of 70kg. Karadeniz, who qualified Turkey for the Olympic Games at 97kg, is staying put at the Olympic weight.

Three-time world champion Frank STAEBLER (GER) is on a quest to win a third European title. He's entered at 72kg. (Photo: Kadir Caliskan)

In Greco-Roman, there will be a quartet of returning champions.

It's no secret that Germany's three-time world champion Frank STAEBLER (GER) struggles to make 67kg. So, for a second year, the "Mele Machine" will try to win European gold at 72kg. If he wins, he'll match his continental gold tally with his world gold total.

But, to win that third continental gold, Staebler will have to get through '20 European bronze medalist Selcuk CAN (TUR) and Individual World Cup finalist Malkhas AMOYAN (ARM).

At 130kg, Alin ALEXUC CIURARIU (ROU) was the first wrestler not named Riza KAYAALP (TUR) to win a 130kg European title since '12. Kayaalp, who fell to an uncharacteristic seventh-place finish last year, is heading into Warsaw with a tenth continental gold on his mind.

Gevorg GHARIBYAN (ARM) and Sanan SULEYMANOV (AZE) are the final pair of returning gold medalists. They'll compete at 60kg and 77kg, respectively.

The European Championships start on April 19-25 in Warsaw, Poland, and can be followed live on www.uww.org.


Saravi Dominates #WrestleWarsaw to Claim Spot on Iran Olympic Team

By Vinay Siwach

WARSAW, Poland (June 13) --- After the 97kg Greco-Roman final, Mehdi BALIHAMZEHDEH (IRI) went up to the judge to seek answers. His actions were justified as he had not only lost the gold medal to compatriot Mohammadhadi SARAVI (IRI) but also the opportunity to represent Iran at the Tokyo Olympics.

Iran, treating the Poland Open as the selection trial for Tokyo Games, had entered the two and on Sunday, they dominated the field and reached the final. This was the last category that was undecided for Iran after three freestyle and one Greco-Roman class finalized in Warsaw.


Poland Open

They had to wait till the end of the day as it was the final bout and then more as both Iran wrestlers had mistakenly wore opposite singlets. 50 seconds into the bout they changed the singlets and resumed the bout. Saravi got the advantage of Balihamzehdeh being passive in the first period and he got an exposure to lead 3-0.

Balihamzehdeh was hoping that Saravi will be warned for inactivity as well but that did not happen as the latter kept on the pressure throughout the period. It ended 3-0 in favour of Saravi, completing the Iran team for the upcoming Games.

His gold medal also pushes him to third position in the Tokyo seeding as he collected 16 points. His total of 52 points takes him ahead of Cenk ILDEM (TUR) who is now out of the seeding.

Tadeusz MICHALIK (POL) finished fifth in Warsaw and collected 10 points for a total of 42 to edge past Ildem by a point.

There was no other major shuffle in the Olympic seedings for the weight classes that were in action on Sunday.

At 87kg, veteran Uzbek wrestler Rustam ASSAKALOV (UZB) won a bronze medal to collect 12 points but that doesn't change his third position in the seedings.


The gold medal was captured but he upcoming star and two-time U23 world champion Semen NAVIKOV (UKR). In the final, he defeated Istvan TAKACS (HUN) 2-1 with all points scored on referees call.

Takacs had earlier stopped Rio Olympic bronze medalist Assakalov's run in the tournament with a 2-1 win in the semifinal. The Uzbek then came back in the bronze medal bout against Arkadiusz KULYNYCZ (POL) with a big fall.

The next big thing in Ukrainian wrestling Navikov will not be at the Olympics as another star wrestler Zhan BELENIUK (UKR) is scheduled to wrestle in the Japanese capital city.

In the remaining three weight categories, hosts Poland captured two gold medals while the third went to Uzbekistan.

Michal TRACZ (POL) wrestled Ekrem OZTURK (TUR) in the 60kg final and held on for 3-2 win for his home country. In the nordic style bracket, he won two bouts to reach the semifinal in which he came out on top against Mukhammadkodir YUSUPOV (UZB) 3-2.

Ozturk had a back-and-forth semifinal against Olivier SKRZYPCZAK (POL) as the two scored 26 points in the stipulated six minutes. In the end, Ozturk won 15-11 to reach the final.

Gevorg SAHAKYAN (POL) won the second gold medal for Poland as he defeated Mirzobek RAKHMATOV (UZB) 4-3 in the 72kg final.

The Pole had some tough bouts throughout the day as he began with a 3-1 win against Krisztian VANCZA (HUN) 3-1 before pulling through a 1-1 win against compatriot Roman PACURKOWSKI (POL).

From the other side, Rakhmatov defeated Juan AAK (NOR) 9-0 in the qualification before clinching a 7-0 win over Mateusz BERNATEK (POL) in the quarterfinal. He had a tough one against Cengiz ARSLAN (TUR) in the semifinal but managed to pull off 5-4.

Uzbekistan did get it's gold medal on Sunday as five-time ranking series finalist Islomjon BAKHRAMOV (UZB) managed to hang on and defeat Ayata SUZUKI (JPN) 5-3 in the 63kg final. Suzuki was awarded a point for Bakhramov's passivity and he later got an exposure from par terre to lead 3-0. But Bakhramov reversed it and completed a head-pinch to make it 3-2.

In the second period, he got the point for Suzuki's inactivity and then exposed him from the par terre position to lead 5-3. The Japanese did try quite a few arm throws but failed to get any points.

From Japan, world champion Kenichiro FUMITA (JPN) was also scheduled to make the Poland trip but pulled out at the last moment due to unforeseen circumstances. Fumita has now not competed internationally since winning the gold medal at the Asian Championships in New Delhi in February, 2020.

Poland Open 63kg


GOLD: Michal TRACZ (POL) df Ekrem OZTURK (TUR), 3-2
BRONZE: Mukhammadkodir YUSUPOV (UZB) df Olivier SKRZYPCZAK (POL), 10-2

GOLD: Islomjon BAKHRAMOV (UZB) df. Ayata SUZUKI (JPN), 5-3
BRONZE: Christopher KRAEMER (GER) df. Artor HAGERUP (NOR), via fall
BRONZE: Krisztian KECSKEMETI (HUN) df. Mairbek SALIMOV (POL), 4-0

GOLD: Gevorg SAHAKYAN (POL) df. Mirzobek RAKHMATOV (UZB), 4-3
BRONZE: Cengiz ARSLAN (TUR) df. Juan AAK (NOR), 2-1
BRONZE: Krisztian VANCZA (HUN) df. Roman PACURKOWSKI (POL), 3-1

GOLD: Semen NOVIKOV (UKR) df. Istvan TAKACS (HUN), 2-1
BRONZE: Rustam ASSAKALOV (UZB) df. Arkadiusz KULYNYCZ (POL), via fall
BRONZE: Metehan BASAR (TUR) df. Bachir SID AZARA (ALG), 1-1

GOLD: Mohammadhadi SARAVI (IRI) df. Mehdi BALIHAMZEHDEH (IRI), 3-0
BRONZE: Islam ABBASOV (AZE) df. Gerard Cyprian KURNICZAK (POL), 4-0