Asian Championships Freestyle Preview

By Mark Pickering

ASTANA, Kazakhstan ( March 30) -- The 2023 Asian Championships will mark the launch of this year's continental chanmpionsips season in Astana from April 9 to April 14 in the Zhaksylyk Ushkempirov Martial Arts Palace. Kazakhstan's capital city, which hosted the 2019 World Championships, will welcome Asia's best wrestlers for the 36th edition of the six-day event.

As always, the last two days of the tournament are reserved for freestyle wrestling with 10 gold medals on offer. Undoubtedly the biggest star of the tournament is the World champion Ramham AMOUZAD (IRI) who will enter Astana as the defending champion in 65kg.

Amouzad earned his first continental title last year after beating Bajrang PUNIA (IND) and would like to repeat the same in a field that includes world bronze medalist TUMUR OCHIR (MGL), who has been in terrific form this year, winning the Zagreb Open, Ryoma ANRAKU (JPN), Ulukbek ZHOLDOSHBEKOV (KGZ) and Umidjon JALOLOV (UZB).

Both Amouzad and Tumur Ochir are aware of the threat their opponents possess. Jalolov won the U20 World Championships and also has a win over Tumur Ochir from last year. He will be Uzbekistan's biggest bet going into the Paris Olympics.

Zholdoshbekov is once again jumping to 65kg after doing so at last year's Bolat Turlykhanov Cup. He has enjoyed a lot of success at 61kg but with the Olympics coming up, making a place for himself at 65kg would be the right move.

Ryoma ANRAKU (JPN) finished second Olympic champion Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) at the Emperor's Cup but will be at the Asian Championships after the latter decided to sit out. Anraku won a bronze medal at U23 World Championships last year.


At 57kg, returning silver medalist Rakhat KALZHAN (KAZ), 25, won bronze at the Ibrahim Moustafa Ranking Series event in February to start his season. He suffered a loss to Ravi KUMAR (IND) in the final last year but the three-time Asian champion is not registered this year due to a leg injury.

Kalzhan will back himself to make the run to the final again this year. However, 2021 world silver medalist Alireza SARLAK (IRI), world bronze medalist Zanabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL), Asian bronze Rikuto ARAI (JPN) and U23 world champion AMAN (IND) have the capabilities to be in the final.

Zandanbud graced the Asian showcase’s podium in 2017. The 27-year-old, who has won medals at his continental championships at the U17, U20 and senior levels, finished second at the event six years ago. His title aspirations this year have been boosted by his victory at the Mongolian National Championships in March.

Arai will be a significant medal threat in the men’s lightest weight category. Nippon Sport Science University graduate Arai, who turned 25 in January, finished 11th at the season-opening Zagreb Open but has a continental pedigree.

Aman has shown his ability to make comeback in the second period and can upset any wrestler on a given day as we saw at the U23 World Championships in which he won gold at 57kg.

After his two outings at 57kg, Tokyo Olympian Minghu LIU (CHN) returns to the 61kg in which he has enjoyed his sole continental championships podium appearance in 2019. The 25-year-old has work to do to return to form after stuttering displays at the Zagreb Open and Ibrahim Moustafa Ranking Series events this year. 

Ibrahim Moustafa gold medallist Taiyrbek ZHUMASHBEK UULU (KGZ) and All Japan Championships winner Kodai OGAWA (JPN) could also come to the fore in the 61kg category in Kazakhstan.

Zhumashbek Uulu won the U23 World Championships over Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) last year and is also a U23 Asian champion.

The 70kg weight class is the one with the most entries and also the most open category in Astana. Tokyo Olympian at 65kg Morteza GHIASI CHEKA (IRI) can be favored over other wrestlers but is not an outright favorite. U20 world bronze medalist Mulaym YADAV (IND) is known for his surprising runs at tournaments and can cause an upset.

U23 Asian champion Orozobek TOKTOMAMBETOV (KGZ) will fancy his chances as well along with U20 world bronze medalist in 65kg Yoshinosuke AOYAGI (JPN). If Kazakhstan decides to put Syrbaz TALGAT (KAZ) as the first choice, he will be the favorite to win the weigh class.

At 74kg, Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ) undoubtedly has the best chance to win gold after reaching the final in the previous two editions. He won the gold in 2021 but was second in 2022. Kazakhstan is yet to send him or Darkhan YESSENGALI (KAZ)w who has the experience of the senior level and will be riding on home support in Astana to claim his first Asian Championships medal.

He won the Asian Championships at 79kg in 2021 but Byungmin GONG (KOR) is still waiting for the big break at 74kg. That edition in '21 was the only competition in his career that Gong wrestled at 79kg and has been a regular at 74kg. However, he has only an Asian Games bronze medal to show for it. But with many top wrestlers not entered at 74kg, this could be his chance to get his first breakthrough at 74kg.

YASH (IND) and Hossein ABOUZARIPASHKOLAEI (IRI) can be his biggest challenges as both will come into the tournament with hopes of their own. Yash, a U20 world bronze medalist from 2021, finished ninth in the last year's edition.

Bekzod ABDURAKHMONOV (UZB)Bekzod ABDURAKHMONOV (UZB) will be wrestling at 79kg at the Asian Championships. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Bekzod ABDURAKHMONOV (UZB) is chasing a third Asian Championships gold medal. The 33-year-old ruled his continent in 2015 and 2017 either side of winning Asian Games titles in 2014 and 2018. But he will be at 79kg in Astana instead of 74kg. He tried dabbling with the idea of moving to 86kg but after suffering losses, he has moved down to 79kg.

Abdurakhmonov will make the short trip from Uzbekistan to neighboring Kazakhstan with an appetite for hardware in the 79kg field, just as he achieved in Egypt in February with a bronze medal at the Ibrahim Moustafa tournament.

Former U20 Asian Championships gold medalist Amirhossein KAVOUSI (IRI) has made a bright start to his year by clinching silver at the Ibrahim Moustafa in Egypt. The 24-year-old could make a strong impression in Astana.

Byambadorj BAT ERDENE (MGL), a former U23 world bronze medalist, saw his medal tilt fall away at the Asian Championships in the bronze medal bout in 2022 as the 27-year-old narrowly lost out to Daichi TAKATANI (JPN) to match his 2018 fifth-place finish at 74kg. He finished with a silver medal at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup in June at 74kg but it is yet to be seen how he will fair at 79kg.

Reigning Asian Championships winner Azamat DAULETBEKOV (KAZ) will be the man to watch in the 86kg category. The 29-year-old struck world bronze in 2022 and could prove to be unstoppable in front of a partisan crowd. Three-time world medalist Alireza KARIMI (IRI) will be aiming to spoil the host nation’s 86kg gold medal plans.

The 29-year-old is a big-event performer and has won three Asian Championships titles -- 2015, 2017 and 2019 -- in addition to Asian Games glory in Indonesia in 2018. The two wrestled at the World Cup tie between the All-World team and Iran in Round 3 and the Iran wrestler walked away with a 4-0 win.

The category also has Hayato ISHIGURO (JPN), a former U20 world champion, looking for his first Asian Championships medal. If his Zagreb Open performance is any indication, Ishiguro should end the medal drought in Astana.

Veteran Gwanuk KIM (KOR) will be looking for his second Asian medal after winning a bronze in 2021. He has finished fifth on three different occasions.

Four-time Asian Championships medalist Deepak PUNIA (IND) will be crucial to his country’s fortunes in Kazakhstan as part of a new-look team. Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games gold medalist Punia, 22, missed the World Championships last year with a hand injury. Wrestling is in the DNA of the Indian hotshot, who followed his father into the sport, and he could top the Asian Championships podium (92kg) for the first time at the senior level.

The category will also house Arashk MOHEBI (IRI) who won the Dan Kolov tournament in March and will have his spirits high. U23 Asian champion Rizabek AITMUKHAN (KAZ) will also present a strong challenge to the field.

Not to forget Gankhuyag GANBAATAR (MGL) and Ajiniyaz SAPARNIYAZOV (UZB) who possess the ability to defeat any wrestler on a given day.

World medalist and former Asian champion Mojtaba GOLEIJ (IRI) will be the favorite to win his second continental title. The former U23 world champion faces little to no competition at 97kg. Awusayiman HABILA (CHN) and Takashi ISHIGURO (JPN) are the only two wrestlers who can force Goleij onto the backfoot.

Lkhagvagerel MUNKHTUR (MGL)World silver medalist Lkhagvagerel MUNKHTUR (MGL) is looking for his first Asian title at 125kg. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

World silver medalist Lkhagvagerel MUNKHTUR (MGL) is returning to the mat after four months, a forced break due to an injury. He will be in an interesting battle with the young star and U20 world champion Amirreza MASOUMI (IRI). While Munkhtur has the experience, Masoumi will use his conditioning to put Munkhtur under pressure.

Tokyo Olympian Zhiwei DENG (CHN), 35, is also in the mix as he returns to the continental championships after four years. In 2019, he lost the 125kg final to Yadollah MOHEBI (IRI) in Xian, China. An elusive gold medal at a major event would be the crowning achievement of his long and fruitful career.

Former Asian Championships winner Yusup BATIRMURZAEV (KAZ) finished 12th at the Tokyo Olympics but has an equal chance to finish on the top of the podium like others. The 27-year-old began this season with a bronze medal at the Ibrahim Moustafa Ranking Series event.

To follow the Asian Championships action, download the UWW app -- The Home of Wrestling.


WATCH: 10 freestyle finals from Asian Championships

By Vinay Siwach

ASTANA, Kazakhstan (May 9) -- Kazakhstan gave its best-ever performance at the Asian Championships in freestyle, winning the team title with ease. It won four gold medals out of 10. Six other nations -- Japan, Iran, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, India and Bahrain -- won a gold medal each at the competition.

Watch the 10 gold medal bouts from the Asian Championships.

GOLD: 57kg - AMAN (IND) vs. Almaz SMANBEKOV (KGZ)