Eight Returning World Medalists Headline Loaded Zagreb Open Field

By Eric Olanowski

ZAGREB, Croatia (February 7) – The Dom Sportova Arena, located in Croatia’s largest city, Zagreb, is the host site for the Zagreb Open, which is arguably the deepest Ranking Series event that United World Wrestling has ever hosted.

This weekend’s event is stockpiled with talent, boasting an Olympic champion, an Olympic bronze medalist, eight 2018 world medal winners, and nearly 40 past age-level or senior-level world medalists. 

Eight Budapest World Medalists Registered 
Metehan BASAR (TUR), last year’s 87kg world champion, leads a group of eight Budapest world medalists into Zagreb. He’s the lone returning world gold medalist, but the field features two runner-ups and five bronze medalists. 

Furthermore, there will be at least one world medalist in seven of the ten weight classes. 

Budapest World Medalists 
55kg - Ekrem OZTURK (TUR) – bronze medalist 
63kg - Rahman BILICI (TUR) – bronze medalist 
72kg - Aik MNATSAKANIAN (BUL) – bronze medalist
72kg - Gevorg SAHAKYAN (POL) – bronze medalist
82kg - Emrah KUS (TUR) – runner-up 
87kg - Metehan BASAR (TUR) – world champion 
97kg - Kiril MILOV (BUL) – runner-up 
130kg - KIM Minseok (KOR) – bronze medalist 

Korea's two-time Olympic medalist KIM Hyeonwoo is one of two Olympic medalists wrestling at the first Ranking Series event of the year, the Zagreb Open. (Photo: Gabor Martin) 

Duo of Olympic Medalists Who Will Compete This Weekend 
KIM Hyeonwoo (KOR) and Elmurat TASMURADOV (UZB) are the two past Olympic medalists that are traveling to Croatia’s capital city to compete for the eight first-place Ranking Series points. 

Kim, the 2012 Olympic champion and Rio Olympic bronze medalists, will compete in one of the deepest weight classes, 77kg, and Uzbekistan’s Rio bronze medalist Elmurat Tasmuradov is shooting for gold at 67kg. 

Rio bronze medalist Elmurat TASMURADOV (UZB) is one of two Olympic medalists who will wrestle at the Zagreb Open (Photo: Gabor Martin)  

Weight Class to Watch: 67kg 
Other weight classes have a higher number of world medalists, but in my opinion,  67kg is the most compelling weight class to watch. 

The reason being, it houses Elmurat Tasmuradov, RYU Hansu (KOR), and Radu MIHUT (ROU). These are three of most electrifying Greco-Roman wrestlers entered into this weekend's competition. 

Keeping recent results in mind, the favorite coming into the first Greco-Roman Ranking Series event is Elmurat Tasmuradov. The Uzbek tallied five wins in Budapest before falling to Stepan MARYANYAN (RUS), 6-3 in the 63kg finals and finished with a silver medal. 

It’s no secret that Tasmuradov’s weight has fluctuated over the past three seasons and he's still looking for a consistent home. Since his bronze medal finish at the Rio Olympics, he’s competed at four different weights. This weekend, he’ll be making yet another weight change, when he returns to 67kg for the first time since the 2018 Asian Games where he left with a disappointing seventh-place finish.

Korea's two-time world champion Ryu Hansu and one of the sports brightest rising stars Radu Mihut will join Tasmuradov at 67kg.  

Though Ryu won that 67kg Asian Games bracket where Tasmuradov finished in seventh-place, the multiple-time world champion is trying to rebound after a lackluster 26th-place finish at the 2018 world championships, when he was knocked out after dropping his first match to Ukraine’s Denys DEMYANKOV, 4-2. 

Romania's Radu Mihut rounds out the potential title-contenders at 67kg. The U23 and senior European champion is also looking to rebound after an uninspiring world championship performance. Muhut, one of the favorites coming into Budapest, finished in 13th place after losing to Hungary’s Krisztian VANCZA (HUN) in his first match. 

For Mihut to begin his quest to get back to the top, there's no other place he'd rather do it than Zagreb. 

Mihut joins Viktor LORINCZ (HUN) as the only two returning Zagreb Open champions entered in this year's first Greco-Roman Ranking Series event. Last season, Mihut used the Zagreb Open to kick-start his 2018 hot streak which ultimately helped him reach the top of the podium at two European championships, the Thor Masters, Kristjan Palusalu Memorial, and Ion Corneanu & Ladislau Simon Memorial.

Six Title Contenders at 77kg 
The deepest weight class in terms of world medalists is 77kg. It includes at least three world champions and six world medalists from the cadet through the senior level.

Without a doubt, the two 77kg favorites are Olympic champion Kim Hyeonwoo and 2017 world champion Viktor NEMES (SRB). Both wrestlers are coming off bronze-medal finishes at the 2018 world championships. 

Kim capped off his run to a third overall world medal with a 3-1 win in the bronze-medal bout against Uzbekistan’s Bilan NALGIEV, while Nemes completed his bronze-medal run with a 6-2 win over Sweden’s Michel BJURBERG KESSIDIS. 

If Kim and Nemes were to meet this weekend, it would be their second overall career meeting. They also met at the 2015 world championships, where Kim knocked off Nemes 3-2 in the second round. 

There are also be four age-level world medalists entered at 77kg. They are Kamal BEY (USA), Fatih CENGIZ (TUR), Ilie COJOCARI (ROU), and Per KURE (NOR). 

Two dark horses to pay close attention to out of the age-level world medal winners are Cengiz and Bey.

Cengiz won the U23 world title two years ago, and also finished with a bronze medal at the Paris World Championships.

Bey, the United States' 2017 world champion and worldwide fan favorite, is coming off a title-winning performance at the Dave Schultz Memorial International where he defeated fellow American Carter NIELSEN (USA) to win his first gold medal since last January's Cerro Pelado International

Gevorg SAHAKYAN (POL) will move up to 72kg from his world bronze medal weight of 67kg. (Photo: Max Rose-Fyne) 

World Bronze Medal Duo Entered at 72kg 
The two championship prospects at 72kg are the pair of returning world bronze medalist, Aik MNATSAKANIAN (BUL) and Gevorg SAHAKYAN (POL).

Mnatsakanian rallied off four wins and capped off his 72kg bronze-medal run with a 9-0 routing of Algeria’s Tarek Aziz BENAISSA, while Sahakyan, who was down at 67kg, shutout Danijel JANECIC (CRO) 7-0 and claimed his first world medal. 

The former Armenian Sahakyan is competing at 72kg for only the second time in his career. He competed at 72kg at last year's European Championship and finished in fifth place. His two losses in Dagestan came to eventual world champion Adam KURAK (RUS) and 2018 world runner-up Balint KORPASI (HUN). 

Turkey's two-time junior world champion Kerem KAMAL is trying to win his first senior-level tournament. (Photo: Gabor Martin) 

Can Young Trio at 60kg Take That Next Step?
The 60kg weight class features a trio of young wrestlers who are looking to jump levels and grab their first senior titles. They are Islomjon BAKHRAMOV (UZB), Ilkhom BAKHROMOV, and Kerem KAMAL (TUR). 

Of the three, Islomjon Bakhramov, the 2018 Asian Championship bronze medalist, is the most experienced and has the most success in the senior level. Though he reached the finals of the G. Kartozia & V. Balavadze Price and Islamic Solidarity Games, he fell short in each of his two previous finals appearances.

Uzbekistan’s 2018 world team representative Ilkhom Bakhramov is making his third senior appearance. In his two previous tournaments, he’s finished inside the top-10 but has yet to make a final. He finished in fourth place at the G. Kartozia & V. Balavadze Price and ninth place at the 2018 world championships. 

Turkey’s two-time junior world champion Kerem Kamal has seen loads of success at the age-group level, but that success has not transitioned to the senior-level. In his three senior tournaments, Kamal has only medaled once. That medal, a bronze, came at last year’s Dan Kolov - Nikola Petrov Tournament. 

Heavy Hitters Entered at 130kg
The gold-medal favorites at 130kg are the pair of world bronze medalists, Yasmani ACOSTA FERNANDEZ (CHI) and KIM Minseok (KOR). 

Minseok won a bronze at the Budapest world championships, and Acosta Fernandez claimed his bronze at the Paris world championships. 

If Minseok and Acosta Fernandez meet this weekend, it’ll be their second career meeting. The pairs first meeting came at the 2017 world championships where Acosta Fernandez demolished Kim 9-0 in the opening round en route to his history-making bronze-medal finish.

Turkish big man and three-time world champion Riza KAYAALP was on the early entry list but has since pulled out and confirmed that he'd make his season debut at the second Ranking Series event, the Hungarian Grand Prix. 

Turkey will instead be sending U23 world silver medalist Osman YILDIRIM (TUR).

Basar Heavily Favored at 87kg
Turkey's Metehan BASAR (TUR) was one of four non-Russian wrestlers to win a world title in Budapest.  Basar defeated 2015 world champion Zhan BELENIUK (UKR) 2-1 to claim back-to-back world titles. He comes into the Zagreb Open heavily favored to win the 87kg title.

His two biggest competitors will be a pair of Hungarian wrestlers, Viktor LORINCZ (HUN) and Erik SZILVASSY (HUN). 

Lorincz is a two-time world bronze medalist. Lorincz is a Rio Olympian and has represented Hungary at every world championship since 2011. 

His fellow countryman Erik Szilvassy, the 2017 U23 world champion, will use this weekend as an opportunity to try to overthrow the six-time world team representative and take country supremacy before the selection process begins for Hungary's Astana World Championship team.

Mohsen MADHANI is one of ten Iranian's making their senior international debut at the Zagreb Open. (Photo: Gabor Martin) 

Can the Iranian Youth Prevail? 
Iran will be sending a full team to the Zagreb Open, but it surely won’t be the same team they'll be sending to Astana, Kazakhstan for the 2019 World Championships. 

Every wrestler Iran registered for the first Ranking Series event of the year will be making their senior-level international debuts, and only Abolfazl SEYEDMAHDAVI, who finished in eighth place at the 2019 Takhti Cup in Tehran, Iran, has wrestled domestically on the senior-level. 

Iran’s Zagreb Open Lineup 
55kg - Poya DAD MARZ – 2017 junior world champion 
60kg - Milad REZANEZHAD HOSSEINVAND – 2017 cadet world championships - 17th place 
63kg-  Mohsen MADHANI – 2017 cadet world champion 
67kg - Mohammad Reza Hojatollah MOKHTARI – 2016 cadet world runner-up 
72kg - Yousef Hajiali HOSSEINVAND FATHI – 2016 cadet world champion, 2018 junior world bronze
77kg - Mohammad Aziz NAGHOUSI – 2018 cadet world bronze medalist
82kg - Hosein FOROUZANDEH GHOJEHBEIGLOU – 2018 junior world championships - 8th place 
97kg - Abolfazl Naser SEYEDMAHDAVI – 2019 Takhti Cup -  8th place 
130kg - Aliakbar Hossein YOUSOFIAHMADCHALI – 2018 U23 world bronze

Saturday (February 9) 
8:00 - 1st-day Medical examination & Weigh-in, all weight categories (No weight tolerance!) Sport Hall
10:30 - Qualification and elimination rounds, all weight categories (on 3 wrestling mats)

Sunday (February 10)
8:00 - 2nd-day weigh-in, all weight categories (No weight tolerance!) Sport Hall
10:30 - Repechage bouts and bronze medal matches (all categories)
17:30 - Opening ceremony and Final matches (all categories)


Five "Must Watch" Matches from the Zagreb Open

By Eric Olanowski

There were countless great matches that took place over the two days of wrestling at the first Greco-Roman Ranking Series event of the year, the Zageb Open, and we took the time to compile a list of the ten best matches with the most action and biggest storylines. 

82kg FINALS - Bulgaria's Daniel ALEKSANDROV erased a 7-0 opening-period deficit and scored eight unanswered points in the final period to upend returning world runner-up Emrah KUS (TUR), 8-7 in the 82kg Zagreb Open gold-medal bout. 

Aleksandrov trailed 7-0 after the first two minutes of action. He was dinged for passivity and thrown in the par terre position, where Kus grabbed four-points from a reverse lift and controlled the 5-0 advantage. Aleksandrov found himself down 7-0 after Kus grabbed another two for exposure, but got on the board with a step out point and trailed 7-1 heading into the second period. 

The Bulgarian exploded for seven unanswered points in the closing three minutes and hung on to the one-point lead, knocking off the noticeably deflated returning world runner-up, 8-7.

97kg FINALS - Ilia BORISOV (RUS) knocked off returning Budapest world runner-up Kiril MILOV (BUL) to win the 97kg Zagreb Open title. Borisov, the lone Russian finalist, tossed around the returning world finalist with ease and scored the 9-0 technical superiority victory in the opening period. 

Borisov grabbed the 1-0 lead after Milov was hit for passivity, then went to work in par terre, throwing Milov for four points and used a pair of gut wrenches to close out the 97kg gold-medal match with a 9-0 technical superiority victory. 

77kg QUARTERFINALS - Croatia's Bozo STARCEVIC stunned Olympic champion KIM Hyeonwoo (KOR), 8-2, in the quarterfinals, before ultimately winning his fifth consecutive Zagreb Open title. 

Starcevic avenged his 6-4 2016 Olympic bronze-medal bout loss to Kim, where the Korean wrestler claimed his second overall Olympic medal.

In their quarterfinals meeting on Saturday, Starcevic built a commanding 6-0 lead before Kim used an arm-spin to pick up his lone takedown, closing the deficit to 6-2. Starcevic somehow came away from Kim's arm-spin attempt with an exposure of his own and locked up his semifinals win with an 8-2 victory. 

130kg SEMIFINALS - Muminjon ABDULLAEV (UZB) blasted U23 world silver medalist Osman YILDIRIM (TUR), 9-0, in the semifinals, picking up his second consecutive victory over a world medalist. Abdullaev's first win over a world medalist came in the quarterfinals when he knocked off 2017 world bronze medalist Yasmani ACOSTA FERNANDEZ (CHI), 2-2.

The Uzbek nearly finished the job off and captured the 130kg gold medal but lost to Norway's Oskar MARVIK in the finals, 1-0. 

87kg SEMIFINALS - This all-Hungary semifinals bout was one of the Zagreb Open's most important matches. The reason being, Viktor LORINCZ and Erik SZILVASSY are battling for Hungary's 2019 Astana World Championship spot.

In their Zagreb Open semifinal's meeting, Lorincz scored the critical 3-0 win over the U23 world champion and grabbed a leg up on his fellow Hungarian heading into the second Greco-Roman Ranking Series event, the Hungarian Grand Prix.  

Lorincz went on to beat Sweden's Kristoffer BERG, 3-1 in the 87kg finals.