Blades the latest star at 76kg with Alexandria gold

By Vinay Siwach

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (February 24) -- Yelena MAKOYED (USA) had just won the Zagreb Open Ranking Series gold medal two weeks ago and talked about the competition she has to navigate in the USA to be a national team member at 76kg

Apart from the well-established name of Adeline GRAY (USA), Makoyed mentioned wrestlers who will be jumping from 72kg to 76kg, calling them "very good."

One of the wrestlers from that bunch is Kennedy BLADES (USA).

After wrestling at 68kg before Tokyo Olympics, Baldes has been at 72kg, winning the U20 World Championships in 2021, her last international competition for a long time.

With just over a year left for the Paris Olympics, Blades has decided to move up to 76kg and made her senior-level debut at a United World Wrestling event on Friday.

And to prove Makoyed right, she won the gold medal at 76kg at the Ibrahim Moustafa Ranking Series event in Alexandria, Egypt in dominating fashion.

In the previous three Ranking Series events, Makoyed had dominated the 76kg weight class, winning all three gold medals. But her sitting out of this one meant that a new champion would be crowned. Few would have thought that it would be Blades.

The 19-year-old, who did not give up a single point in the U20 World Championships in 2021, was unfazed by the number of stars in her weight class and went on with her wrestling as if she was a seasoned campaigner, evident in her win over World bronze medalist Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) in the semifinal.

Blades brought varied attacks with her to Egypt. If she used ankle picks to score points at the beginning of the day, she used the double-leg to great effect later in the evening.

In the final against Juan WANG (CHN), Blades displayed signs of maturity but also some inexperience. Like when Wang was not ready to engage and Blades found it difficult to score, she waited patiently. Once Wang got a little comfortable, Blades used a fake and switched to a leg attack, scoring four points.

From there, Baldes never let Wang wrestle her style. Blades' active wrestling proved to be too much for the Chinese as she gave up another takedown. Blades extended her lead to 6-5. With a five-point lead, she maintained her distance from Wang, eliminating the risk of getting countered. Blades wanted Wang to attack.

It was the last anxious moments when Blades slipped. She took her eyes off Wang who managed to score a takedown and add a gut wrench with three seconds left. Blades managed to navigate those and win 6-5 for her first senior-level gold medal.

Her performance in the morning session was far more dominant and assuring. In the semifinal against Medet Kyzy, which Blades won 12-1, she attacked with purpose and completed those low attacks to score quickly. She managed to square up Medet Kyzy on various occasions, scoring takedowns using double-leg attacks. Her quick feet made her extremely superior to the Kyrgyz wrestler.

Blades shut off attacks in the second period which worked well in Alexandria but she will have to be cautious of that approach while facing a more aggressive wrestler in the future.

Kennedy BLADES (USA)Kennedy BLADES (USA) kept off a spirited Genesis REASCO (ECU) in the quarterfinal. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

The first bout of the morning saw Blades run through Qian ZHOU (CHN) with a mix of double-leg attacks and ankle picks. But her quarterfinal against Genesis REASCO (ECU) was an extremely close affair.

Blades used defense as her attack and never let Reasco go behind even in the last moments of the bout. She ended up winning 5-4, thanks to a big double-leg attack she used to score four points.

The gold will also give Blades a lot of confidence after a forgetful outing in the Henri Deglane Grand Priz in January in which she finished fifth. But in less than a month's time, she has managed to turn it around.

With the World Championships in September offering quota places for the Paris Olympics, a USA wrestler winning one of the five available sports is a no-brainer. But who will actually be on the flight to Paris will depend on the outcome of the Olympic trials in the USA with Adeline GRAY (USA), Amit ELOR (USA), Makoyed, Blades, Kylie WELKER (USA), Dymond GUILFORD (USA), Precious BELL (USA) and Skylar GROTE (USA) being some of the names eyeing that coveted ticket.

Forrest MOLINARI (USA)Forrest MOLINARI (USA) scores four points on Koumba LARROQUE (FRA) in a heated 68kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Another USA wrestler who made a switch to an Olympic weight class and won gold was Forrest MOLINARI (USA). Wrestling against three-time world medalist Koumba LARROQUE (FRA), who won the Zagreb Open gold recently, in the final, Molinari dictated proceedings and won 13-2.

The aggression which Molinari brought to the mat complimented her snap and counter style of wrestling. Larroque could never find a way to get out of the ties and kept running out of time.

That turned the final into a heated one but Molinari wrestled with continuous pressure and kept scoring. At one point, she countered Larroque's attempt to score a takedown with a four-pointer which made the score 7-2. She added a roll in the same sequence to lead 9-2.

Larroque was cautioned for fleeing when Molinari scored a stepout and she then gave up a takedown before time to give up the gold.

Molinari's performance on Friday also included a 6-3 win over 2021 world champion Meerim ZHUMANAZAROV (KGZ). Her first two wins of the day were both via fall.

Both Blades and Molinari will take home 1500 Swiss Francs while Wang and Larroque will pocket 750 Swiss Francs each. The four bronze medalists in the two weight classes will get 500 Swiss Francs each as well.

Beginning this year, the Ranking Series awards medal winners with prize money and also a two-kilogram weight tolerance to help wrestlers remain in their preferred weight class.

Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ)Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) won the 62kg final to end her gold medal drought. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

In two other women's wrestling finals, Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) ended her gold medal drought by winning the 62kg weight class while Alexandria TOWN (CAN) was rewarded for her exceptional run Friday with the 57kg gold after Alina AKOBIIA (UKR) injury defaulted.

Tynybekova last won a gold medal at the 2021 World Championships and has since suffered surprising losses to younger wrestlers with the latest being a first-round loss to Xiaojuan LUO (CHN) at the Zagreb Open.

But Tynybekova rolled back the years and avenged that loss to Luo in a low-scoring but tough final in Alexandria, winning 3-2 for the gold.

Her day began with a solid 7-0 win against Ameline DOUARRE (FRA) and then a 10-0 technical superiority win over Kayla MIRACLE (USA). Tynybekova had beaten Miracle in the final of the 2021 World Championships but the American secured a 9-3 win over Tynybekova at the recent World Cup in Iowa.

The semifinal against Tokyo bronze medalist Iryna KOLIADENKO (UKR) tested Tynybekova, who won silver in Tokyo. However, her strong defense kept in the bout after Koliadenko's passivity, eventually winning 2-0.

Luo reached the final from the other side of the bracket by beating Ariukhan JUMABAEVA (UZB) via fall, Kriszta INCZE (ROU) 5-1, Luisa NIEMESCH (GER) 6-3 and Johanna LINDBORG (SWE) 6-4 with a last-second takedown in the semifinal.

Luo led 1-1 late into the bout but Tynybekova got a single leg for a takedown to take the lead 3-1. Luo managed to duck and get behind Tynybekova but failed to bring her down, scoring only a stepout.

Alexandria TOWN (CAN)It is a mere coincidence that Alexandria TOWN (CAN), center, won the gold in the town of Alexandria. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 57kg, Town's run included a big victory via fall over Tokyo bronze medalist Evelina NIKOLOVA (BUL) in the semifinals after she had defeated Luisa VALVERDE (ECU) 14-2 and Elena BRUGGER (GER) 12-4.

Akobiia did not wrestle in the final but looked good throughout the day, winning via fall against Sandra PARUSZEWSKI (GER), 11-0 against Giullia OLIVEIRA (BRA) and 7-1 against Qi ZHANG (CHN) in the semifinals.

Despite the silver, it would have been an emotional day for Akobiia as exactly a year ago she had to abandon the plan of reaching the Kyiv airport and fly to Istanbul for the Ranking Series event last year after Ukraine came under attack.

Ramaz ZOIDZE (GEO)Ramaz ZOIDZE (GEO) throws Otar ABULADZE (GEO) for four points in the 72kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Georgia wins two GR golds

Three Greco-Roman gold medals were also decided as Ramaz ZOIDZE (GEO) captured the 72kg gold medal by beating fellow countryman Otar ABULADZE (GEO) in the final.

Abuladze had knocked out Olympic champion Mohammadreza GERAEI (IRI) 8-0 in the final. Gereaei was wrestling a weight up than his preferred 67kg in which he won an Olympic and world title.

At 77kg, Aik MNATSAKANIAN (BUL) won the gold medal by beating Demeu ZHADRAYEV (KAZ) 1-1 after the two wrestlers exchanged passivity points in the final. Mnatsakanian defeated Yunus BASAR (TUR) 3-1 in the quarterfinal and Rui LIU (CHN) 1-1 in the semifinal.

The final gold medal in Greco-Roman went to Gela BOLKVADZE (GEO) who breezed past Akylbek TALANTBEKOV (KGZ) 10-0 in the final using a strong gut wrench.



Women's Wrestling

GOLD - Alexandria TOWN (CAN) df. Alina AKOBIIA (UKR), via inj. def.

BRONZE - Luisa VALVERDE (ECU) df. Evelina NIKOLOVA (BUL), 10-5
BRONZE - Qi ZHANG (CHN) df. Giullia OLIVEIRA (BRA), 9-1

GOLD - Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) df. Xiaojuan LUO (CHN), 3-2

BRONZE - Luisa NIEMESCH (GER) df. Johanna LINDBORG (SWE), 9-0
BRONZE - Iryna KOLIADENKO (UKR) df. Kayla MIRACLE (USA), via fall

GOLD - Forrest MOLINARI (USA) df. Koumba LARROQUE (FRA), 13-2

BRONZE - Meerim ZHUMANAZAROVA (KGZ) df. Alexandria GLAUDE (USA), via fall

GOLD - Kennedy BLADES (USA) df. Juan WANG (CHN), 6-5

BRONZE - Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) df. Qian ZHOU (CHN), 3-0


GOLD - Ramaz ZOIDZE (GEO) df. Otar ABULADZE (GEO), 6-0

BRONZE - Daniyar KALENOV (KAZ) df. Mahmoud ABDELRAHMAN (EGY), 4-1
BRONZE - Ankit GULIA (IND) df. Mohammadreza GERAEI (IRI), via inj. def.


BRONZE - Yunus BASAR (TUR) df. Rui LIU (CHN), 8-0
BRONZE - Alexandrin GUTU (MDA) df. Per OLOFSSON (SWE), 6-4


BRONZE - Kristoffer BERG (SWE) df. Michael WAGNER (AUT), 1-1
BRONZE - Abd OUAKALI (ALG) df. Roland SCHWARZ (GER), 4-4


Shikhdzhamalov explains the mystery move in Alexandria

By Vinay Siwach

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (March 5) -- Iakub SHIKHDZHAMALOV (ROU) is looking for a name for his move that broke the internet.

At the Ibrahim Moustafa Ranking Series tournament in Alexandria, Egypt last week, Shikhdzhamalpv won his 74kg semifinal against Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR) after trailing 3-0. Nothing was working for him until he hit a "scoop", an unofficial name for the same in the wrestling lingo.

However, Shikhdzhamalov says that he does not know what to call the move which has been shared and viewed by millions on social media.

"There is no name for this move," Shikhdzhamalov said. "I am now thinking of a name for this move. I guess it will be my personal move."

It is not the first time Shikhdzhamalov has performed the move, a mix of cut-back and outside trip. Over the years, he has used it in various competitions and even during training but Shikhdzhamalov says one cannot prepare to execute it.

"I’ve been using this move for quite a long time," he said. "Nobody showed it to me. I managed to do it once at the training around 7-8 years ago. My coach noticed that I was good at doing it, and we tried to practice it together, but it was not even possible to do it during the training bout. It only works during the real match when you are concentrated."

Shikhdzhamalov explained the setup and execution of the same. He stressed that a wrestler should perform it at a very high speed to catch his opponent by surprise.

"When the opponent is pushing you and putting his hand underhook, that’s the right moment to do it," he said. "It’s very difficult to explain the technical part of it and also difficult to show how to do it, but it really works well. The most important is the high speed while making the move." 

After the tournament, Shikhdzhamalov opened his social media and to his surprise, he received praise and feedback about the skill which he is proud of.

"Since I performed it at this tournament, there were so many comments and feedback about it," he said. It wasn’t just an occasional move. Yet, no one can do it. Even in my wrestling gym, the guys know that I can make this move, but no one can repeat it. If someone learns to do it, I would be really glad."

Training in Dagestan has helped Shikhdzhamalov improve his skills with the guidance of Gamid GAMIDOV and his personal coach Anvar MAGOMEDGADZHIEV.

After struggling at 79kg weight class last year where he failed to win a gold medal, Shikhdzhamalov has emerged as a contender for the gold at the European Championships.

"The 74kg weight class is preferable for my body," he said. "Last year I wrestled at 79kg because I had some health issues, I had to figure out what the problem was. The doctors advised me not to cut my weight at all. Last year my weight was about 77-78kg, although I wrestled at 79kg. This year I’ve solved all the problems and I went down to my weight class, since it’s more comfortable for me.

"I will wrestle for gold at the Europeans and the World Championships. I know most of the leaders in this weight class."

The European Championships in Zagreb, Croatia next month will be the first big test that Shikhdzhamalov will face before the World Championships. But after the gold medal in Alexandria, he hopes he can create more upsets in the weight class as the Olympics approach.

"Next tournament for me is the European championships," he said. "I don’t want to mention specific names that I would like to wrestle at 74kg, but for later tournaments, I am getting ready for the American, Iranian, Italian and all other leaders. I am getting ready to wrestle anybody and win. It's certainly interesting to wrestle against the top guys."