Japan banks on youngsters to win sixth straight World Cup

By Vinay Siwach

CORALVILLE, Iowa (December 5) -- Of all the World Cups, the 2022 one may see the most depleted Japan women's squad. However, it is still the favorite to win the title next week.

The 10-member team is without a senior world champion and U23 world champion Moe KIYOOKA (JPN) is leading the squad which aims to win the sixth straight title for Japan dating back to 2014.

The 2022 World Cup will be held at the Xtreme Center in Coralville, Iowa with the five best teams from the Belgrade World Championships joined by an All-World Team. The six teams are divided into two groups each with Japan paired with Ukraine and Mongolia while the host US is clubbed with China and the All-World team.

China will also be hoping to win the title but has a tough road to the final with both the USA and All-World team placed in the same group. Ukraine is bringing a full-strength squad to the World Cup to challenge Japan while Mongolia will be the underdog.

Historically, China and Japan have dominated the World Cup but with the former's absence from the global competition due to various reasons, the USA has emerged as a strong team in women's wrestling.

Bolortuya BAT-OCHIR (MGL)Bolortuya BAT-OCHIR (MGL) will wrestle at 55kg at the World Cup. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Group A match-ups

In the opening round at 50kg, Hanano SAKURAI (JPN) will be up against world silver medalist Otgonjargal DOLGORJAV (MGL) who finished second to Yui SUSAKI (JPN) in Belgrade. Sakurai is the younger sister of 57kg world champion Tsugumi and has two U17 world titles.

Another world silver medalist Khulan BATKHUYAG (MGL) will be the favorite against Rino KATAOKA (JPN) who has experience but last competed internationally at the Klippan Lady Open, winning the gold at 53kg.

Olympic bronze medalist Bolortuya BAT OCHIR (MGL) will be the wrestler to beat if Japan wants an early advantage and it will be up to Kiyooka. Riding on the confidence after winning the two age-group world titles, Kiyooka should be able to match with Bat Ochir.

With Japan's dominance in the lower weight classes, U20 world champion Ruka NATAMI (JPN) will have the upper hand against Erdenesuvd BAT ERDENE (MGL) who finished fifth in Belgrade at 57kg.

U23 world champion Himeka TOKUHARA (JPN) will have to challenge Oslo bronze medalist Davaachimeg ERKHEMBAYAR (MGL) and give Japan a chance for an outright win and ease some pressure on Yui SAKANO (JPN) who has tons of experience and was the U23 world champion in 2017. She will face 2014 world champion Tserenchimed SUKHEE (MGL) who has an exceptional 2022.

In the upper weight classes, Japan has two U20 Asian champions at 72kg and 76kg. Yuka FUJIKURA (JPN) will look to upset Davaanasan ENKH AMAR (MGL) while  Nodoka YAMAMOTO (JPN) will face Ariunjargal GANBAT (MGL) at 76kg.

At 65kg, Miyu IMAI (JPN), a U20 world champion in 2018, has the experience to beat Purevsuren ULZIISAIKHAN (MGL). Mongolia can capitalize at 68kg Delgermaa ENKHSAIKHAN (MGL) favored beating Kumi KOBAYASHI (JPN).

Ukraine will be waiting for Mongolia in the afternoon session and if it does win, it will have to raise its level to fight Japan later in the day.

Ruka NATAMI (JPN)U20 world champion Ruka NATAMI (JPN) will challenge at 57kg. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Oksana LIVACH (UKR) and Sakurai bout has the potential to be a humdinger before Kataoka takes on Albina RILLIA (UKR) at 53kg. At 55kg, Kiyooka will face a stern test against Alina HRUSHYNA (UKR) at 55kg and Natami faces Tkach. Even if the two nations are tied at two wins each after four bouts, Iryna BONDAR (UKR) will find it tough to beat Tokuhara. But Ukraine will hope Tokyo medalist Iryna KOLIADENKO (UKR) wins her bout against Sakano at 62kg.

A real battle at the remaining four weight classes will ensue with Kateryna ZELENYKH (UKR) taking on Imai at 65kg and Tetiana RIZHKO (UKR) expected to beat Kobayashi. Alla BELINSKA (UKR) and Anastasiia SHUSTOVA (UKR) will be expected to clear the Fujikura and Yamamoto hurdles at 72kg and 76kg respectively.

The match-ups make it clear that Japan will have to win five out of the first seven bouts, an achievable feat, if they need to win against Mongolia and stand any chance of advancing to the final.

Jia LONG (CHN)Jia LONG (CHN) will lead a strong Chinese squad at the World Cup. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Group B match-ups

In Group B, the USA will bank on a bunch of senior world medalists to deal with China and the All-World Team. China is bringing a strong team that can challenge the USA on its home turf.

Opening the show will be Jiang ZHU (CHN) against former U23 world champion Emily SHILSON (USA). In an even match-up, both teams will be looking for the opening win before home wrestler Felicity TAYLOR (USA) faces Li DENG (CHN) at 53kg.

A huge bout will be at 55kg when former world champion Winchester faces Olympic silver medalist Qianyu PANG (CHN) who will be returning to competition after 17 months. Pang will be a huge favorite but it is yet to be seen how rusty Pang is after the break.

Yongxin FENG (CHN) finished ninth in Belgrade but she will be keen on getting the against Alexandra HEDRICK (USA) at 57kg to help her team towards the win before Qi ZHANG (CHN), who finished fifth at the World Championships, faces Lexie BASHAM (USA) at 59kg.

Xiaojuan LUO (CHN) will look to avenge her Belgrade loss to Kayla MIRACLE (USA). Luo suffered a 4-1 defeat in Belgrade but will get a good chance to upset Miracle and seal the deal for China.

World silver medalist Jia LONG (CHN) will have her task cut out against bronze medalist Mallory VELTE (USA) at 65kg with a cracking bout expected. The 68kg bout between Feng ZHOU (CHN) and Sienna RAMIREZ (USA) should give China a big boost for a win.

The USA would hope that world champion Amit ELOR (USA) pulls one back against  QIANDEGENCHAGAN (CHN) at 72kg before U23 world silver medalist Dymond GUILFORD (USA) ends on a high note against Juan WANG (CHN).

Anastasia NICHITA (MDA)Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) had defeated Qi ZHANG (CHN) at the World Championships. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

The winner of the USA-China match will not have an easier path ahead as the All-World team has the capability of beating any team.

China will be the first one against the All-World team with Zhu taking on Anna LUKASIAK (UWW). A win will give China an advantage as Deng faces world bronze medalist Maria PREVOLARAKI (UWW) at 53kg in an exciting battle.

Pang, who is coming after a long break, has her task cut out against Karla GODINEZ (UWW) at 55kg and cannot take the Canadian lightly. Zhala ALIYEVA (UWW) may fall short on experience against Feng but world champion Anastasia NICHITA (UWW) is the favorite against Zhang at 59kg and so is Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (UWW) against Luo at 62kg. Long has the chance to take the lead for China as she faces Mimi HRISTOVA (UWW) at 65kg but the real twist in the match can come at 68kg Irina RINGACI (UWW) faces Zhou who has revenge on her mind from the World Championships.

Two-time world silver medalist Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (UWW) and world champion Yasemin ADAR (UWW) winning at 72kg and 76kg should steer the team clear.


The USA and All-World team then clash in the final match on Saturday and it may all come down to the final bout at 76kg between Adar and Guilford. Barring any surprises, Prevolaraki, Nichita, Tynybekova, Ringaci should win their bouts and Adar will have to win to give a chance to her team to advance.

For the USA, Shilson, Winchester, Hedrick, Velte and Elor should be winners.

But Winchester will face Godinez who defeated the American in the Pan-Am final in May. If Godinez wins that bout, it will put extra pressure on Guilford to beat Adar. But if it's the other way, the USA will have a better chance as Adar will have to beat Guilford by a big margin.

While the group stages are expected to be real fireworks, the final of the World Cup will be even more tense. While Japan is the favorite to win from Group A, all three teams in Group B stand a chance to make it to the final.