BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (April 11) -- Last year, Akhmed TAZHUDINOV (BRN) burst into the spotlight by knocking off a couple of Olympic champions en route to a world gold. Now he has to deal with the constant glare of attention and having a target on his back.

Tazhudinov may not have been at his dominant best, but he got the job done in defeating Rizabek AITMUKHAN (KAZ) 4-2 in the freestyle 97kg final at the Asian Championships in Bishkek on Thursday to defend his title and continue a streak of tournament triumphs.

"The difference is that back then no one knew who I was," the 21-year-old Tazhudinov said of winning the Asian title in 2023. "Some would not take me seriously, some would think that I am a weak opponent, unlike now, everyone prepares to wrestle me and wants to win. So, now it’s tough."

Iran won three of the five freestyle golds at stake on the opening day at Bishkek Arena, with former world champion Rahman AMOUZAD (IRI) completing a three-peat at 65kg, and world medalists Amirmohammad YAZDANI (IRI) and Mohammad NOKHODI (IRI) picking up their first Asian titles at 70kg and 79kg, respectively.

The other title went to Kento YUMIYA (JPN), who pulled off a dramatic last-second victory in the 57kg final to win the gold in just his second international tournament on the senior level. It also gave Japan its first title in the lightest weight class since 2017.

Akhmed TAZHUDINOV (BRN)Akhmed TAZHUDINOV (BRN) defends an attack from Rizabek AITMUKHAN (KAZ) during the 97kg final at the Asian Championships final in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

Tazhudinov has firmly established himself as a wrestler to watch heading into the Paris Olympics, with his victory Thursday giving him six straight tournament titles dating back to last year's Asian Championships in Astana.

That streak of course includes his gold-medal run at the World Championships in September in Belgrade, where he pulled off shockingly one-sided victories in succession over superstars Kyle SNYDER (USA) and Abdulrashid SADULAEV (AIN) en route to the gold.

At the same time, Aitmukhan all but went unnoticed as he captured the gold in the non-Olympic weight of 92kg as a teenager. Moving up to 97kg this year, he faced Tazhudinov for the first time last month at the Yasar Dogu tournament in Antalya, Turkey, and while he lost that encounter by fall while trailing 9-3, he gave a better accounting of himself in Bishkek.

In the final, Aitmukhan gave up an activity point but used a nice counter to score a stepout and take a 1-1 lead into the second period. Tazhunidov came back with a takedown and a stepout, although he seemed to reaggravate an elbow injury in the process.

"After Turkey I had my elbow injured," Tazhunidov said. "And till now I haven’t fully recovered. Every time I hit it or touch it, it hurts."

Aitmukhan scored a late stepout, but was unable to get through Tazhunidov's defenses to cut the gap any further.

"I can say that the match was tough," Tazhudinov said. "We know each other’s wrestling style now. No one wanted to take a risk. That’s why it wasn’t such a high-scoring match."

Tazhunidov was last defeated in February 2023 at the Alexandria Ranking Series tournament. After that, he triumphed at the Asian Championships, Bishkek Ranking Series, World Championships and Asian Games in 2023, and at Yasar Dogu this year.

"I am glad that I could make all the people close to me happy, all those who support me all the time," Tazhudinov said.

Looking ahead, he said, "There isn’t any specific plan for the Olympics yet. We are going to sit and talk with the coach, and he will tell us what to do."

Rahman AMOUZAD (IRI)Rahman AMOUZAD (IRI) won his third consecutive Asian Championships gold at 65kg after beating Tulga TUMUR OCHIR (MGL) in the final on Thursday. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Amirreza Aliasgari)

At 65kg, Amouzad repeated his victory from last year's final over Tulga TUMUR OCHIR (MGL), while also avenging a loss to the Mongolian for the gold at the Asian Games last October.

Amouzad scored a first-period takedown off an underhook, then gave up an activity point in the second period to account for all of the scoring in a 2-1 victory. The combatants spent the majority of the match locked up in a mutual over-underhook position.

Amirmohammad YAZDANI (IRI)Amirmohammad YAZDANI (IRI) won his first Asian Championships after a thrilling win in the 70kg final against Yoshinosuke AOYAGI (JPN). (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kostadin Andonov)

Yazdani, a two-time world silver medalist, followed by rallying to a wild 13-9 victory in the 70kg final over world U23 silver medalist Yoshinosuke AOYAGI (JPN), who added the silver to the bronze he won a year ago.

Both wrestlers had 4-point moves in the first period, with Yazdani scoring his late to take a 6-5 lead into the second. Aoyagi went ahead 9-6 with a backdoor takedown and a head-between-the-thighs roll, only to see the Iranian take the lead on criteria with 20 seconds left with a stepout and takedown. Yazdani countered a last-ditch, body lock lift attempt by Aoyagi for a final 4-pointer.

"It was a close match," Yazdani said. "The Japanese wrestler was very good, and I wish him all the best. He was leading 9-7, but I tried to be focused on the match and tried to go for a comeback because I didn’t want to lose."

While Yazdani already has two world silver medals, it marked his first appearance at a senior Asian Championships, which made the victory more special.

"It was my first gold medal, and I am very happy about it," he said. "At the outset, I was behind... and I was thinking that it would be another silver medal for me. But suddenly, everything changed. I said to myself that I should try more."

Mohammad NOKHODI (IRI)Mohammad NOKHODI (IRI) won the 79kg gold medal after a technical superiority win over Byambadorj ENKHBAYAR (MGL) in the final. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kostadin Andonov)

In the only match of the medal round that did not go the distance, Nokhodi cruised to a 12-2 technical fall over Byambadorj ENKHBAYAR (MGL) in the 79kg final, giving him a gold to go with a bronze from his only previous appearance in 2019.

Nokhodi, winner of the Zagreb Open in January, chalked up three takedowns in succession, following the third one with a 2-point exposure. But as he went for a gut wrench that would have ended the match, Enkhbayar stopped it to gain two points himself to make it 8-2 and keep his hopes alive.

It all ended 27 seconds into the second period when Nokhodi caught the Mongolian in a cradle for a takedown and exposure.

"It is the first time that I have achieved the gold medal at the senior Asian Championships, but I will try my best to obtain the gold medal in the World Championships this year," said Nokhodi, the world bronze medalist last year after taking silvers in 2021 and 2022.

Nokhodi had to survive a close call in his opening match, when he squandered a five-point lead against Khidir SAIPUDINOV (BRN) before holding on for a 5-4 victory.

"My first match was against a Bahraini wrestler, and I was leading 5-0," Nokhodi recalled. "With just one minute remaining, I suddenly looked at the scoreboard and noticed that the time had been stopped for a while.

"It caused me to lose concentration and give up two points. The match continued, but my attention was again on the scoreboard, so I lost two more points in par terre position but finally won the match 5-4."

Asked why he continues to compete in the non-Olympic weight, Nokhodi replied, "The situation of my body weight caused me not to try my luck for the Olympics this year. Because it was not easy to go back to 74 kilos and my weight was not enough to wrestle at 86 kilos. Therefore, I prefer to stay at 79 kilos this year."

Kento YUMIYA (JPN)Kento YUMIYA (JPN) celebrates after scoring a stepout to win 5-4 in the 57kg final against UDIT (IND). (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kostadin Andonov)

At 57kg, Yumiya scored a stepout in the final second to defeat UDIT (IND) 5-4 in a clash of young, up-and-coming wrestlers.

"I don't remember the last 10 seconds," Yumiya said with a laugh. "I was too desperate and so excited, I had no choice but to just do it and I gave it everything I had."

Yumiya was trailing 4-4 on criteria with the clock ticking down when he shot in on a single leg, got the leg in the air and bulled his way out of the ring with :01 left to cap an entertaining, non-stop final.

In the first period, Yumiya received an activity point, but Udit scored two with an inner leg counter roll just before the buzzer for a 2-1 lead. Udit added a point with a steoput off a scramble, but Yumiya replied with a 2-point exposure during a spin behind. An unsuccessful challenge to that call put the Japanese up 4-3.

But Udit, who made a habit of coming from behind to win during the day, tied the match to go ahead on criteria with a stepout that Yumiya did a good job of preventing from being a takedown. That set up the last-second heroics by the Japanese.

"It was a very tight match and at the end, it was tough, but the desire to not lose and never give up led to the victory," said Yumiya, who made his international senior debut this year in Antalya, where he placed eighth.

As a member of the powerhouse Nippon Sports Science University team, the 20-year-old Yumiya trains with Rei HIGUCHI (JPN), the 2016 Olympic silver medalist whose silver medal at the World Championships clinched his place at the Paris Olympics. Higuchi, as a NSSU alumnus, practices with the group.

"I train with him regularly and I'm in an environment with a very high level," Yumiya said. "Every day I try to challenge him and I think [gold medal] was the result."

Ulukbek ZHOLDOSHBEKOV (KGZ)Ulukbek ZHOLDOSHBEKOV (KGZ) was one of the two Kyrgyzstan wrestler to win bronze medal on the first day of the Asian Championships. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kostadin Anodnov)

Host country lands 2 bronzes

In bronze-medal matches, Ulukbek ZHOLDOSHBEKOV (KGZ) and Alibek OSMONOV (KGZ) won the first medals of the tournament for the host country, while Kum Hyok KIM (PRK) gave the DPR Korea its first freestyle medal since 2018 in its return after a five-year absence.

Zholdoshbekov picked up his fifth career Asian medal -- four bronzes and a 2020 gold -- when he scored two takedowns in the final minute to edge Abbos RAKHMONOV (UZB) 6-4 at 65kg.

Osmonov, who already has a world bronze from 2021, added a continental one with a 3-3 victory on criteria over Mustafo AKHMEDOV (TJK) at 70kg. Akhmedov scored a stepout and takedown in the first period, and Osmonov repeated the process in the second, making him the winner on the last-point criteria.

Kim put the DPR Korea onto the medal table by defeating Ebrahim KHARI (IRI) 7-4 at 57kg, which denied Iran a medal in all five weight classes.

Leading 3-2, Kim caught Khari napping on a restart and easily scored a takedown with a quick shot on the whistle. He added an exposure but found himself in some danger when Khari stuffed a roll attempt for two points of his own and a chance for a fall. But Kim quickly scrambled off his back and held on for the win.

Two-time former champion Mohammadhossein MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) added a bronze when he rolled to a 7-0 victory over Hibiki ITO (JPN) at 97kg. Mohammadian scored a 4-point takedown and a stepout in the first period, then added a takedown in the second.

India came away with two bronzes, as VICKY (IND) scored four takedowns in a 10-1 rout of Andrey ARONOV (KGZ) at 97kg to deny Kyrgyzstan a third medal, while ABHIMANYOU (IND) scored all of his points in the second period to pull out a 6-5 victory over Begijon KULDASHEV (UZB) at 70kg.

Masanosuke ONO (JPN) will take home the other bronze at 65kg, after riding the five points he scored in the first minute of his bout with ROHIT (IND) to a 5-3 victory.

Meirambek KARTBAY (KAZ) captured the other 57kg bronze, scoring three takedowns in a 7-2 win over Weiyu LI (CHN).

At 79kg, Asomiddin KHASANOV (UZB) spotted Azamat OMURZHANOV (KAZ) a six-point lead before storming back for a 9-6 victory, while Saipudinov crushed Magomet EVLOEV (TJK) 10-2.



Day 1 Results


57kg (15 entries)
GOLD: Kento YUMIYA (JPN) df. UDIT (IND), 5-4

BRONZE: Meirambek KARTBAY (KAZ) df. Weiyu LI (CHN), 7-2
BRONZE: Kum Hyok KIM (PRK) df. Ebrahim KHARI (IRI), 7-4

65kg (16 entries)
GOLD: Rahman AMOUZAD (IRI) df. Tulga TUMUR OCHIR (MGL), 2-1

BRONZE: Masanosuke ONO (JPN) df. ROHIT (IND), 5-3

70kg (12 entries)
GOLD: Amirmohammad YAZDANI (IRI) df. Yoshinosuke AOYAGI (JPN), 13-9

BRONZE: Alibek OSMONOV (KGZ) df. Mustafo AKHMEDOV (TJK), 3-3

79kg (13 entries)
GOLD: Mohammad NOKHODI (IRI) df. Byambadorj ENKHBAYAR (MGL) by TF, 12-2, 3:27

BRONZE: Khidir SAIPUDINOV (BRN) df. Magomet EVLOEV (TJK), 10-2
BRONZE: Asomiddin KHASANOV (UZB) df. Azamat OMURZHANOV (KAZ), 9-6

97kg (11 entries)
GOLD: Akhmed TAZHUDINOV (BRN) df. Rizabek AITMUKHAN (KAZ), 4-2

BRONZE: Mohammadhossein MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) df. Hibiki ITO (JPN), 7-0
BRONZE: VICKY (IND) df. Andrey ARONOV (KGZ), 10-1