Harutyunyan stuns Abakarov, Akgul reigns again at Euros

By Vinay Siwach

ZAGREB, Croatia (April 19) -- World champion Rei HIGUCHI (JPN) certainly knows a thing or two about wrestling. When United World Wrestling posted about the European Championships final between Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) and Zelimkhan ABAKAROV (ALB) at 61kg, Higuchi said he is very excited to watch it.

Not many would have given Harutyunyan a chance against 57kg world champion Abakarov who has now become one of the top wrestlers in the lower weight classes. But what transpired on the mat Wednesday in Zagreb left everyone stunned as Harutyunyan captured his third European title after upsetting Abakarov 5-2.

Such was his confidence that the 23-year-old put his thumb and two fingers up, symbolizing his third gold medal, well before the clock expired and as he was defending a leg-lace attempt from Abakarov.

He first won the European gold medal in 2019 at 57kg, added the second last year at 61kg and now defended his title, safe to say, with ease.

He was one of the four defending champions to repeat while the fifth fell in the finals. Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) won the 74kg gold, Feyzullah AKTURK (TUR) repeated at 92kg and Taha AKGUL (TUR) became a 10-time European champion at 125kg. The only returning champ to fall was Myles AMINE (SMR) as he lost the 86kg final to Dauren KURGULIEV (GRE) 3-1.

Overall, Azerbaijan defended its team title with 150 points followed by Georgia with 137 points. Turkiye finished third with 115 points.

Harutyunyan's victory was a masterclass about keeping position and hand-fighting a world champion out of the bout. And because he has an unusual stance with no dominant front foot, Harutyunyan combined his speed and defense to deny Abakarov any attacks on the legs. Abakarov's only options were upper-body attacks which Harutyunyan defended with ease.

Abakarov got on an arm drag early in the final but Harutyunyan was quick to get out of it and forced Abakarov to step out and get the 1-0 lead. Harutyunyan then scored a single-leg takedown to lead 3-0 at the break.

After a back-and-forth but scoreless one minute in the second period, Harutyunyan scored a double leg on Abakarov to lead 5-0 with just over a minute left. Abakarov finally caught Harutyunyan in a takedown, but it was too late, as time ran out, even as Abakarov was trying to get a lace.

"I was in a positive mood, he is not an ordinary athlete, he is a world champion," Harutyunyan said. "It was a little exciting, but as soon as I stepped on the mat, all the excitement was gone. It doesn't matter to me who my opponent is when I step on the mat, I want to beat him. I saw myself as a champion, so I confidently climbed onto the mat and won."

In 2021, Harutyunyan became Armenia's first U23 world champion and defended that title in 2022. He also became the first wrestler from Armenia to win two freestyle European titles last year and has now extended that record to three. This is also the first time Armenia has had two champions in the same event as Vazgen TEVANYAN (ARM) won the gold medal at 65kg in Zagreb.

"When I won the first time, I experienced completely different emotions than now," he said. "When I won the second time and was very happy, I was really looking forward to the third time, because this year I had to prove to myself that I had not been training day and night in vain. I did my best to train, to be ready for the European Championship."

While the gold at 61kg in Zagreb works as a confidence booster for Harutyunyan, he will be moving down to 57kg in his quest to become a world champion and qualify for the Paris Olympics which doesn't feature the 61kg weight class. He even sounded a warning to his opponents.

"I will change weight and I will become the world champion at 57kg," he said. "This year I will do my best and not miss my chance to become world champion. In the weight category of 57kg, I will be the first and go to the Olympic Games. Now I say very confidently - let all the opponents get ready."

The start of the medals session was reciprocated by the end with yet another battle between Akgul and Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) at 125kg and once again it was the former who won the battle of Europe.

Akgul now holds a 6-1 head-to-head record against Petriashvili at European Championships. His only loss came back in 2016 in Riga, Latvia as Petriashvili won the qualification round bout 8-8. Since then he has dominated Petriashvili four times in the final, one time in the quarterfinal and once in the qualification round.

The latest win was even more one-sided as Petriashvili was down 9-0 at one point before Akgul decided not to take any more risks and stepped back in the final minute in which Petriashvili scored two harmless takedowns as Akgul won 9-4.

At the start, Petriashvili was put on the activity clock, forcing him to take a shot and Akgul scored a takedown on the counter. He added a roll to lead 5-0 at the break. Petriashvili tried his fake attacks but Akgul stood still and never committed to any strange position. Petriashvili did get on a single-leg attack but was once again countered and Akgul scored another takedown and a roll to lead 9-0.

Akgul did give up two takedowns but nothing seemed to stop him from the early celebration as he won his 10 European titles in freestyle.

"I told you that this match will be beautiful," Akgul said. "My performance was good. I won 10 European titles. This is so big for me. I win against Geno again that is why I am happy.

"I told myself that I will give everything to this match. At 9-0, I was tired but I finished the bout."

Akgul will now be focusing on the World Championships where he has not beaten Petraishvili and will have to deal with Olympic champion Gable STEVESON (USA) qualifies to wrestle in Belgrade.

"We will have a rematch with him [Steveson]. I will be waiting at the World Championships and I will wrestle differently," Akgul said.

Feyzullah AKTURK (TUR)Feyzullah AKTURK (TUR) defended his 92kg gold medal at the European Championships. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Feyzullah AKTURK (TUR) also successfully defended his 92kg title and secured Turkiye's second gold medal of the night. He wrestled world bronze medalist Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE) in what was expected to be a close final, but Akturk dominated from start to finish.

Akturk capitalized on Nurmagomedov's weak gas tank and started aggressively from the first whistle. Although Nurmagomedov scored the first takedown with a double leg, Akturk quickly responded with a stepout of his own. In the second period, Nurmagomedov attempted another double leg, but Akturk impressively avoided it and scored a takedown of his own to take the lead 3-2.

As Nurmagomedov began to show signs of fatigue, Akturk took advantage and executed a single-leg takedown to extend his lead to 5-2. Despite a late leg attack from Nurmagomedov, Akturk did not give him any more opportunities to make a comeback and secured the win.

Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK)Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) fends off an attack from Frank CHAMIZO (ITA) in the 74kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Salkazanov sinks Chamizo again

Salkazanov secured his third consecutive European championship title, defeating Frank CHAMIZO (ITA) 3-1 in the 74kg final, for the second year in a row.

Just two months prior, Salkazanov had experienced a setback at the Zagreb Open Ranking Series, suffering two losses in one day and receiving heavy criticism as a result. This made Chamizo the favorite to win the title, particularly after his impressive performances leading up to the final.

However, Chamizo had previously expressed that he was not a fan of Salkazanov's style of wrestling, which involves "a lot of pushing." In response, Salkazanov defended his approach, stating that his offensive style can be challenging for many wrestlers.

"I think that my wrestling style is inconvenient not only for Chamizo but also for many other wrestlers as well because I have a very offensive style," Salkazanov said. "Many can not deal with the pressure and that’s why it is inconvenient."

Despite Chamizo's attempts at snaps and low singles, Salkazanov relied on his strengths to score points throughout the final. He led 1-0 at the break after a pushout, and maintained his crotched stance throughout the second period, making it difficult for Chamizo to make a move. Salkazanov received an activity point and another stepout to secure his victory, winning 3-1 after conceding one point for fleeing.

"I wasn’t surprised that Frank didn’t try to score more, and was wrestling defensively," he said. "Many of my opponents follow the same way."

Salkazanov recounted his visit to Zagreb in February and acknowledged the criticism he had received and credited his coaches for their support and guidance.

"I really wanted to win because two months ago I was in Zagreb and lost two matches," he said. "Many people criticized me for participating and some said I was not well prepared. I actually had a minor injury. I believe in my coaches. As he always says, in order to win you have to lose. It worked this way here. I am a champion again."

Despite his impressive three-year European championship winning streak, Salkazanov still faces a significant challenge at the World Championships, having lost in the final to Kyle DAKE (USA) in consecutive years.

"I have to keep working, there is no other way," he said about beating Dake. "I hope for God’s help. I think I will make it. Now I need to recover and talk to my coach, maybe I’ll wrestle at one more tournament and then go for the World Championships."

Dauren KURUGLIEV (GRE)Dauren KURUGLIEV (GRE) defeated Myles AMINE (SMR) to win the 86kg gold medal. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Kurugliev emerged as the 86kg gold medalist, defeating defending champion Amine 3-1 in a closely contested final. This victory marks his second European Championship title, six years after his first win in 2017 when he was a Russian Wrestling Federation athlete.

Although Kurugliev dominated his opponents, outscoring them 35-0 in the three previous bouts, the final against Amine was a tougher challenge. Despite experiencing leg pain, Kurugliev managed to secure a takedown in the first period and controlled the rest of the match.

"I had leg pain, so I had to be careful, that’s why I tried to defend more," Kurugliev said. "Even though there was a risky score of 3-1, everything was under control. I was controlling the situation."

Since has been out of the international for more than two years, Kurugliev was asked if it mattered who he faced in the finals.

"I was ready to wrestle anybody, it didn’t matter to me if I wrestled him before or not," Kurugliev said. "I had to prove that I am number one. I hadn’t wrestled internationally at the European or World Championships for quite a long time, so I had to prove it."

Kurugliev last competed in the European or World Championships in 2018, where he finished fifth at 86kg. He lost to David TAYLOR (USA) in the semifinals and Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) in the bronze medal bout.

"We keep working on our mistakes together with my coach Gaidar Gaidarov," he said. "After 2018, I have been waiting to wrestle both Hassan Yazdani and David Taylor and take revenge for my loss. I hope I’ll do it."



GOLD: Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) df. Zelimkhan ABAKAROV (ALB), 5-2


GOLD: Taimuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) df. Frank CHAMIZO (ITA), 3-1

BRONZE: Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR) df. Ali UMARPASHAEV (BUL), via injury default

GOLD: Dauren KURUGLIEV (GRE) df. Myles AMINE (SMR), 3-1

BRONZE: Sebastian JEZIERZANSKI (POL) df. Georgii RUBAEV (MDA), 1-1
BRONZE: Abubakr ABAKAROV (AZE) df. Boris MAKOEV (SVK), 7-4

GOLD: Feyzullah AKTURK (TUR) df. Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE), 5-2



BRONZE: Daniel LIGETI (HUN) df. Azamat KHOSONOV (GRE), 6-2


GOLD: Mariya STADNIK (AZE) vs. Oksana LIVACH (UKR)

SF 1: Mariya STADNIK (AZE) df. Anna LUKASIAK (POL), 9-0
SF 2: Oksana LIVACH (UKR) df. Miglena SELISHKA (BUL), 3-2

GOLD: Erika BOGNAR (HUN) vs. Andreea ANA (ROU)

SF 1: Andreea ANA (ROU) df. Katarzyna KRAWCZYK (POL), 10-4
SF 2: Erika BOGNAR (HUN) df. Annika WENDLE (GER), 6-2

GOLD: Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) vs. Yuliia TKACH (UKR)

SF 1: Yuliia TKACH (UKR) df. Alyona KOLESNIK (AZE), 10-0
SF 2: Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) df. Eda TEKIN (TUR), 10-0


SF 1: Alla BELINSKA (UKR) df. Koumba LARROQUE (FRA), via fall
SF 2: Yuliana YANEVA (BUL) df. Adela HANZLICKOVA (CZE), via inj. def.

GOLD: Yasemin ADAR (TUR) vs. Martina KUENZ (AUT)

SF 1: Martina KUENZ (AUT) df. Cynthia VESCAN (FRA), 2-1
SF 2: Yasemin ADAR (TUR) df. Anastasiia OSNIACH (UKR), 14-4


WATCH: 10 freestyle finals from European Championships

By Vinay Siwach

ZAGREB, Croatia (May 11) -- The European Championships in Zagreb gave wrestling fans epic bouts from day one. The continent's freestyle stars fought for the top honors and it was a neck-to-beck battle for supremacy.

Azerbaijan, Turkiye and Armenia won two gold medals each in the competition and Ukraine, Greece, Georgia, and Slovakia took home a gold medal each.

Relive the action from the 10 gold medal bouts of the freestyle competition at the European Championships

GOLD: 57kg - Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE) vs. Suleyman ATLI (TUR)