Kayaalp joins 5-time world champions' club; Japan women take 2 golds

By Ken Marantz

BELGRADE, Serbia (September 13) -- Even at less than 100 percent, Riza KAYAALP (TUR) can pack quite a wallop, which is why he has joined the elite list of five-time world champions.

Kayaalp emerged with a 1-1 victory on criteria in an intense tussle with Amin MIRZAZADEH (IRI) to take the 130kg title on Tuesday in the last Greco-Roman final on the program at the World Championships in Belgrade.

"It is a very nice feeling," said Kayaalp, who also has two silvers and two bronzes in his collection of world medals -- not to mention three Olympic medals.

"Hearing the national anthem is our goal. I am proud to represent my country. I think I will lie down for a few minutes because I am so exhausted."

In other action on the fourth day at Stark Arena, Japan's women got off to a good start as Mayu SHIDOCHI (JPN), who won the Tokyo Olympic gold at 53kg under her maiden name of MUKAIDA, captured her third world gold at 55kg, while rising star Nonoka OZAKI (JPN) dominated at 62kg for her first senior world title.

And two days after Kyrgyzstan's first-ever male world champion was crowned, Zholaman SHARSHENBEKOV (KGZ) gave the central Asian nation a second with a dominant victory at Greco 60kg.

Riza KAYAALP (TUR)Riza KAYAALP (TUR) defeated Amin MIRZAZADEH (IRI) 1-1 in the 130kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

In the Greco 130kg final, Kayaalp was unable to score any technical points, as he did when he defeated Mirzazadeh 7-2 in the bronze-medal match at the Tokyo Olympics. But he got the second of the passivity points and was able to preserve the lead he held on criteria for the win.

Mirzazadeh, the 2021 world U23 champion, was presented with a second chance for par terre late in the match but opted to remain on his feet. Unable to score, his defeat left Iran with the rare result of having no Greco golds for the tournament.

Kayaalp's victory helped Turkey capture the team title with 125 points. Azerbaijan finished second with 118, while host Serbia, with an amazing four champions, was third with 110.

Kayaalp, who won the European gold earlier this year, said he had been battling a shoulder injury and other ailments over the past two months during his preparation for Belgrade.

"Preparing for the World Championships with the injuries was very hard for me, especially in the last training camp it is very important to stay injury free," Kayaalp said. "I knew that the injuries will affect me in the final fight, so I changed my tactic a little bit. My defense is very good and we knew that."

Mayu SHIDOCHI (JPN)Mayu SHIDOCHI (JPN) picked up her third world title at 55kg. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

She may have a new name and was in a different weight class, but it was pure Shidochi who stormed to the women's 55kg gold with her fourth technical fall in five matches, without conceding a point.

Shidochi managed to finish up a 10-0 win over Oleksandra KHOMENETS (UKR) just before the end of the first period to add to the world titles at 55kg that she previously won in 2015 and 2018. She also has two silvers at 53kg.

Khomenets appeared to suffer an ankle injury when Shidochi scored her second takedown to go up 4-0, and offered little resistance when the Japanese got a takedown and then immediately executed a roll and an exposure to end the match at 2:59.

Shidochi, whose husband and coach Shota was in her corner in Belgrade -- the two got married after the Olympics -- was competing overseas for the first time since her triumph in Tokyo.

"The Tokyo Olympics was an international event, but it was held in my country, so it didn't have the feel of being international," Shidochi said. "This time, I felt like it was an overseas event for the first time in a long time. I was a bit nervous in the first match, but in that feeling, I wanted to put out everything I had. I feel that I kept moving up to the end."

The tournament is only a prelude to what lies ahead. Shidochi plans to return to 53kg for the Japan championships in December, which is the starting point for qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics. That puts her on a collision course with teen star Akari FUJINAMI (JPN), the 2021 world champion who missed this tournament due to a foot injury.

"After the Tokyo Olympics, heading to the Paris Olympics, I regard myself as the challenger and that's how I approached [this tournament]. I concentrated on each and every match and it's great that I was able to win out."

Nonoka OZAKI (JPN)Nonoka OZAKI (JPN) upgraded her 2021 bronze to gold by beating Kayla MIRACLE (USA) in the 62kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Ozaki also faces domestic competition that arguably exceeds that outside of Japan. She needed to defeat Tokyo Olympic champion Yukako KAWAI (JPN) to make the team to Belgrade and will have to do so again in the year ahead. Should she make the team, a victory at next year's World Championships will automatically secure a place at Paris 2024.

"I'm really happy, but when I was taking the medal podium, I thought if I'm not here again next year, I can't be satisfied," Ozaki said.

Having finished third last year in Oslo, Ozaki for now is content with accomplishing a goal of winning a senior world title, which she did with a 10-0 technical fall over Kayla MIRACLE (USA) in the 62kg final.

"For the final, all I thought was, I really want to win, I want to win," Ozaki said. "I wanted to relax, but my desire to win was so strong that I may have rushed things. But it was big that I was able to string together points. I think I had a good match."

Ozaki, like many Japanese women, likes to go directly to the lace lock and end their match quickly. Against Miracle, she was only able to complete two rolls after her first takedown. But she stayed patient and got two more takedowns to complete the mission.

"After getting a takedown, going right to work on the ground to end the match is the best style for winning for me," said Ozaki, who won the world U20 title last month. "Even if I can't do that, I use the three minutes and win in whatever way I can. After I scored six points, I thought there was still time and it would be alright if it went into the second period."

Ozaki, who is a product of the JOC Elite Academy that also produced Olympic champions Yui SUSAKI (JPN) and Takuto OTOGURO (JPN), is a rarity in Japan in that instead of going to a university that is a wrestling powerhouse, she took the academic route and passed the entrance exam for prestigious Keio University. The demands of being a true scholar-athlete add to her burden.

"I've had tough times," Ozaki said. "Wrestling was most on my mind, but I also had my studies. I was able to accomplish everything I wanted to. That it all came together here, it's the best."

Zholoman SHARSHENBEKOV (KGZ)Zholoman SHARSHENBEKOV (KGZ) became Kyrgyzstan's second Greco-Roman world champ in Belgrade. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

For Sharshenbekov, the victory by compatriot Akzhol MAKHMUDOV (KGZ) at 77kg on Sunday night may have cost him a place in history, but it also served as motivation after he had to settle for the silver medal last year in Oslo.

In the final, Sharshenbekov built up a big lead with a 4-point throw and went on to defeat 20-year-old European silver medalist Edmond NAZARYAN (BUL) by an 11-2 technical fall in 2:30.

"After Akzhol won his final the other day, it gave me a lot of motivation and strength to win my gold medal as well," said Sharshenbekov, this year's Asian champion.

A 2-point penalty, an unsuccessful challenge and the 4-pointer put Sharshenbekov up 7-0 before Nazaryan, whose father Armen was a two-time Olympic champion, came back with a takedown when he slipped out of a throw attempt.

But that only delayed the inevitable as Sharshenbekov scored a takedown and added a throw to end the proceedings.

Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ)World champion Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) returned empty-handed from Belgrade. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Tynybekova leaves empty-handed

Two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) will leave Belgrade empty-handed after a furious comeback in her women's 62kg bronze-medal match fell short against Ilona PROKOPEVNIUK (UKR), who ended the bout in a cradle but an 8-7 victory.

Prokopevniuk, a three-time world U23 medalist, took a 7-2 lead early in the second period with a 4-point leg trip and a spin-behind takedown. Tynybekova cut the gap with an arm-drag takedown and a penalty. With the clock ticking down, Tynybekova secured a cradle and put the Ukrainian on her back for 2 but needing a fall, she ran out of time. An unsuccessful challenge made it 8-7.

Karla GODINEZ (CAN)Karla GODINEZ (CAN) defeated Mariana DRAGUTAN (MDA) 6-2 in the 55kg bronze medal bout. (Photo: UWW / Kostandin Andonov)

In other third-place matches, Karla GODINEZ (CAN) will be taking home one of the women's 55kg bronzes, but sister Ana GODINEZ (CAN) came up just short in a bid for one at 62kg.

Karla scored two takedowns in the first period and went on to defeat Mariana DRAGUTAN (MDA) 6-2, while Ana fell into a 4-point hole against Xiaojuan LUO (CHN), but a comeback still left her on the short end of a 4-3 decision.

"Hasn’t sunk in yet," Karla said. "When I think about this I am like ‘Wow!’ Yes, I wanted the gold, but winning the bronze just shows that I am growing and that is a huge deal."

The sisters, born in Mexico, relocated to Canada with their family while in elementary school under the pretense that they were going to visit Disneyland. They both started wrestling in their late teens and won Pan American titles this year.

"I have only been wrestling for six years, so I have to put triple the time in to catch up to these girls," Karla said. "I am constantly working.”

In the other 55kg match, 2019 Asian champion Mengyu XIE (CHN) snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat by scoring a fall over 2019 world champion Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA) after trailing 12-4.

Winchester had scored a takedown and was attempting to execute a gut wrench that would end the match, but Xie stepped over and caught the American on her back. Xie eventually broke down Winchester's bridge and secured the fall at 4:56.

Kenichiro FUMITA (JPN)Kenichiro FUMITA (JPN) won a bronze medal at 60kg. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

In Greco-Roman, it wasn't the color he wanted, but two-time world champion Kenichiro FUMITA (JPN) will leave Belgrade with a bronze medal at 60kg after defeating Murad MAMMADOV (AZE) 5-1.

Fumita, still feeling the sting of losing the final at the Tokyo Olympics, scored two points with a headlock that stopped a roll from par terre, then had a gut wrench of his own when he was on top.

In the other 60kg match, Aidos SULTANGALI (KAZ) added to the world bronze he won in 2018 with a 7-1 victory over Krisztian KECSKEMETI (HUN). The 2021 Asian champion took the lead for good in the first period with an arm-drag takedown and roll to go ahead 5-1.

At 130kg, Mantas KNYSTAUTAS (LTU) won his first world medal in four appearances with a 3-1 victory over Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Iakobi KAJAIA (GEO). Knystautas got a second chance in par terre and he took advantage, hitting a gut wrench with a half-minute to go for the decisive points.

Alin ALEXUC CIURARIU (ROU) pulled a rabbit out of the hat and stunned four-time Asian medalist Muminjon ABDULLAEV (UZB) 5-3 to take the other 130kg bronze.

Trailing 3-1 late in the second period, Alexuc Ciurariu got a pair of stepouts, then scored a snap-down takedown with :11 left for the victory. It was his first medal in nine trips to the senior World Championships.

Samar HAMZA (EGY)Samar HAMZA (EGY) became the first wrestler to reach the world final in women's wrestling. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Hamza makes history; Susaki powers through

In the semifinals in four women's weight classes held earlier in the night session, Samar HAMZA (EGY) made more history when she became the first from her country to make a women's world final after rallying for a 3-2 victory over veteran Epp MAE (EST) at 76kg.

Hamza, who became Egypt's first-ever female world medalist when she took the bronze last year in Oslo, was trailing 2-0 after surrendering two activity-clock points. With Mae on the clock, Hamza scored a go-behind takedown with :25 left to go up on criteria, then got the activity point for good measure.

In Wednesday's final, the five-time African champion will face Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Yasemin ADAR (TUR), who had to put on a late comeback of her own to defeat Genesis REASCO (ECU) 4-3 in the other semifinal. Down 3-0, Adar scored a takedown and added a lace-lock roll for the win.

Hamza will have her work cut out for her if she wants to take home the gold. The two met at this year's Mediterranean Games, where Adar scored a 10-0 victory.

Yui SUSAKI (JPN)Yui SUSAKI (JPN) secured a fall in her 50kg semifinal. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

In other action, Olympic champion Yui SUSAKI (JPN) found another, equally devastating way to vanquish her opponent when she powered into the women's 50kg final with a victory by fall over Miesinnei GENESIS (NGR).

Susaki, who used her trademark lace-lock roll to such deadly effect in winning her first two matches in a combined 71 seconds, couldn't get that move going. So she switched to a chicken wing after her second takedown of the match and levered the African over for the fall at 2:25.

Susaki, looking to add to the world titles she won in 2017 and 2018, remains undefeated in her career against non-Japanese opponents.

In the final, she will face 2021 world bronze medalist Otgonjargal DOLGORJAV (MGL), who knocked off last year's runner-up and Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA) 6-2.

Hildebrandt struck first with a takedown, but Dolgorajav answered with one of her own, then added a 2-point exposure while stopping a roll attempt. In the second period, she fought out of one single-leg attempt, then spun out of another for a clinching takedown.

At 65kg, 2021 world silver medalist Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN) kept her gold-medal hopes alive with a 3-0 victory over 2020 European champion Mimi HRISTOVA (BUL).

Morikawa, this year's Asian champion, received an activity-clock point in each period and scored with a stepout in the second.

In the other semifinal, Jia LONG (CHN) overcame a five-point deficit against world U23 champion Koumba LARROQUE (FRA), scoring all of her points in the second period to scrape out a 9-7 victory. She notched the deciding takedown with :40 left.

Mongolia will have a second wrestler in Wednesday's finals after Asian silver medalist Khulan BATKHUYAG (MGL) pulled off a miracle comeback to defeat 2021 world junior champion Jonna MALMGREN (SWE) at 53kg.

Malmgren had dominated the match, scoring a takedown and exposure for a 4-0 lead in the first period, then started the second period with another takedown. But Batkhuyag never gave up and managed to get a half-nelson from standing and muscled Malmgren onto her back for a fall at 4:54.

Batkhuyag will face Dominique PARRISH (USA), a 3-1 winner over European silver medalist Maria PREVOLARAKI (GRE), in the gold-medal match to decide who will ascend to the throne left empty when reigning champion Fujinami became a late withdrawal. Japan did not send a replacement.


Day 4 Results


60kg (29 entries)
Gold- Zholaman SHARSHENBEKOV (KGZ) df. Edmond NAZARYAN (BUL) by TF, 11-2, 2:30

Bronze - Aidos SULTANGALI (KAZ) df. Krisztian KECSKEMETI (HUN), 7-1
Bronze - Kenichiro FUMITA (JPN) df. Murad MAMMADOV (AZE), 5-1

130kg (25 entries)
Gold- Riza KAYAALP (TUR) df. Amin MIRZAZADEH (IRI), 1-1

Bronze - Mantas KNYSTAUTAS (LTU) df. Iakobi KAJAIA (GEO), 3-1
Bronze - Alin ALEXUC CIURARIU (ROU) df. Muminjon ABDULLAEV (UZB), 5-3

Women's Wrestling

50kg (22 entries)
Semifinal - Otgonjargal DOLGORJAV (MGL) df. Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA), 6-2
Semifinal - Yui SUSAKI (JPN) df. Miesinnei GENESIS (NGR) by Fall, 2:25 (8-0)

53kg (23 entries)
Semifinal - Khulan BATKHUYAG (MGL) df. Emma MALMGREN (SWE) by Fall, 4:54 (2-6)
Semifinal - Dominique PARRISH (USA) df. Maria PREVOLARAKI (GRE), 3-1

55kg (17 entries)
Gold- Mayu SHIDOCHI (JPN) df. Oleksandra KHOMENETS (UKR) by TF, 10-0, 2:59

Bronze - Mengyu XIE (CHN) df. Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA) by Fall, 4:56 (6-12)
Bronze - Karla GODINEZ (CAN) df. Mariana DRAGUTAN (MDA), 6-2

62kg (24 entries)
Gold- Nonoka OZAKI (JPN) df. Kayla MIRACLE (USA) by TF, 10-0, 2:28

Bronze - Ilona PROKOPEVNIUK (UKR) df. Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ), 8-7
Bronze - Xiaojuan LUO (CHN) df. Ana GODINEZ (CAN), 4-3

65kg (14 entries)
Semifinal - Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN) df. Mimi HRISTOVA (BUL), 3-0
Semifinal - Jia LONG (CHN) df. Koumba LARROQUE (FRA), 9-7

76kg (25 entries)
Semifinal - Yasemin ADAR (TUR) df. Genesis REASCO (ECU), 4-3
Semifinal - Samar HAMZA (EGY) df. Epp MAE (EST), 3-2


Higuchi claims 61kg title in first senior world foray

By Ken Marantz

BELGRADE, Serbia (Sept. 18) -- After quixotic attempts to make Japan's team to the Tokyo Olympics at both 57kg and 65kg ultimately failed, 2016 Rio Olympic silver medalist Rei HIGUCHI (JPN) settled in at 61kg for now.

He now has his first senior world title, although it had never really mattered to him before. Higuchi put on one final, dazzling performance in sweeping past Reza ATRI (IRI) by 10-0 technical fall to win the 61kg gold as the World Championships concluded with the final three freestyle finals on Sunday in Belgrade.

"I was finally able to show my actual strength, and I'm glad I could have a solid win in the final without any incident," Higuchi said.

In other finals, Asian champion Rahman AMOUZAD (IRI) signaled a possible changing of the guard at 65kg when the 20-year-old won the gold in a 21-point thriller, while Kyle SNYDER (USA) was hardly troubled in securing his third career world gold and first since 2017 at 97kg.

Higuchi, who won his first senior Asian title in April, had Atri on his heels from the get-go, working his slick tackles to perfection and transitioning well into exposure situations.

The 26-year-old Japanese opened with a double-leg takedown to a lace-lock roll. He then got 2 with a single-leg tackle, secured an inside-leg hook, and forced Atri over for two exposures to end the match at 2:42.

"Yesterday the Iranian looked very strong, so I closely watched all of the videos of him, like the Poland tournament before the Olympics and various others," Higuchi said. "I watched them all. I think analyzing him was a reason for my victory."

With Higuchi's victory, Japan finished a surprising third in the team standings with 70 points, two ahead of Mongolia and Georgia. The United States, which had clinched the team title after the morning session on Saturday, finished on top with 198 points, followed by Iran with 150.

The bulk of Japan's points came on gold-medal runs by Higuchi and Taishi NARIKUNI (JPN), the champion at 70kg on Friday. It marked the first time that Japan had two gold medalists at the same World Championships since 1979, when Yuji TAKADA (JPN) and Hideaki TOMIYAMA (JPN), the latter currently the president of the Japan federation, won in San Diego.

Such trivia doesn't really interest Higuchi. He was more excited about surpassing his coach Kenichi YUMOTO (JPN), who won Olympic silver in 2008 and world bronze in 2011.

"I don't really think about records," Higuchi said. "I have always aimed at being fundamentally sound like coach Yumoto, and I'm so happy to have been able to top him in one way. From when I was little, I studied videos of him and tried to imitate everything he did, the way he grabs arms, gets a high crotch, his single-leg tackles."

Higuchi's run to the world gold caps the roller coaster ride his career had been on since he took the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics when he was dealt a close 3-3 loss in the final by Vladimir KHINCHEGASHILI (GEO) on a late activity point that still stings for Higuchi.

His obsession with making up for that loss and winning an Olympic gold has been the driving force over the past six years, and it was only until recently that he even regarded winning a world or Asian title as worthwhile.

"The Olympics had always been the only thing that concerned me, but eventually I changed my pessimistic thinking of not entering the World Championships or not entering the Asian Championships," he said. "I've always been thinking of how I can win an Olympic gold medal, so I'm not satisfied with this victory. There are still many issues of things I need to work on and fix."

Higuchi's attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics was marked by perseverance and, ultimately, disappointment.

First, he moved up to 65kg, a tough division for someone standing just 1.63 meters, where he would challenge world champion Takuto OTOGURO (JPN). He actually defeated Otoguro once and won the 2018 world U23 gold at that weight, but eventually lost out to the eventual Olympic gold medalist.

In 2019, he made the drastic decision to drop back down to 57kg, which he had not competed in since Rio. His weight had ballooned up to 68kg, and he had only a few months before the All-Japan Championships, which would determine who would go to the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament in 2020.

Limited exclusively to a vegetable diet, he made the weight, then defeated 2017 world champion Yuki TAKAHASHI (JPN) to earn the spot. But then the Olympics and the qualifying tournaments were postponed for a year, meaning he had to maintain his weight at the height of the pandemic for another year.

When the Asian qualifier was finally held in April 2021 in Almaty, the unthinkable happened. Higuchi failed to make weight.

Takahashi was dispatched to the final World Olympic qualifier, earned Japan a spot at 57kg, then defeated Higuchi in a playoff to fill it himself. At a crossroads, Higuchi looked deep into himself to determine what path he would take.

He decided he would spend this year at 61kg, enter the major tournaments that he had previously shunned, and make preparations for a run at the 2024 Paris Olympics, which he said will be at 57kg.

For the Japanese wrestlers, the qualifying path for Paris begins with the All-Japan Championships this December, the first of two domestic qualifiers for next year's World Championships.

His sojourn at 61kg was a positive experience. "Not once did I feel I was inferior to the 61kg wrestlers in terms of attacking," Higuchi said. "I was able to get in on all of my attacks. In terms of defense, I gained a lot in regard to scrambles and keeping the opponent from scoring off attacks."

Higuchi said that he was motivated on Sunday by a visit from Narikuni, who brought his championship belt back to the room and playfully flaunted it in front of Higuchi.

"He won the gold on the first day [of freestyle] and brought the belt back to the room. I hadn't even had a match yet, and he purposely showed it to me...I thought, damn him. But it fired me up, and as there were times we had practiced together since we were little. Honestly, I was happy. I went into my matches thinking that I, too, will not lose. I'm glad I wasn't beaten by Narikuni."

At 65kg, Amouzad scored seven unanswered points to prevail 13-8 in a wild encounter with first-time finalist Yianni DIAKOMIHALIS (USA), in which an opening scramble produced 14 points that were determined once the dust cleared and the video analyzed.

"Thank god I was able to win the gold medal," Amouzad said. "My opponent was very tough. I hope this gold medal will put a smile on the faces of the people of Iran."

Diakomihalis shot for a double leg and, with Amouzad reaching over to counter, the two got tangled up and rolled this way and that as the mat referee tried to keep up. In the end, they both got credit for three exposures, although one of Diakomihalis' was judged to be a 4-pointer because he took Amouzad off his feet, giving the American an 8-6 lead.

Amouzad, the 2021 world U20 champion at 61kg, decided he was better off going on the attack, and got a single-leg takedown to tie it up at the end of the first period, although he remained behind on criteria.

In the second period, Amouzad remained the aggressor, getting a stepout and two takedowns off his single to win 13-8 and give Iran its second gold medal of the championships.

For now, his victory puts Amouzad at the head of a crowded race for gold in Paris.

"The 65kg is a weight class full of extremely tough opponents," he said. "But I am feeling great that I was able to beat my opponents through training in Iran, including with former European and world champions. My goal is to defend the title next year, but the ultimate goal is to win the gold in Paris."

Snyder, not having to contend with nemesis Abdulrashid SADULAEV (RWF) in the 97kg final, was simply too powerful for Russian-born Batyrbek TSAKULOV (SVK), scoring a takedown and three stepouts in notching a 6-0 victory.

"It was good, [I'm] thankful, good opponent," Snyder said. "I haven't won since 2017, and that's a long time for me. It hurts to lose, but I'm very thankful to get on top of the podium again."

Snyder came out with a high-crotch takedown and received an activity clock point for a 3-0 first-period lead against European bronze medalist Tsakulov, who never came close to piercing Snyder's defense the entire match.

In the second period, Snyder powered ahead for three stepouts to add the world title to the ones he won in 2015 and 2017, along with a 2016 Olympic gold. He also has silver medals from 2018 and 2021 and the Tokyo Olympics -- courtesy of Sadulaev -- and a bronze medal from 2019.

"The matches are always good, opponents are good, they wrestle me hard," he said. "I've got a good team, a good coaching staff. They know what I need to focus on."

Snyder's gold was the fourth of the tournament in freestyle for the U.S., tying the 1993 and 1995 teams for the country's most ever. The team in Belgrade medaled in eight of the 10 weight classes.

Snyder's encounters with Sadulaev have been epic, perhaps none more so than his victory at the 2017 worlds as it also clinched the team title for the United States in the last match of the tournament.

"The match in 2017 was super-exciting and the team title on the line and stuff, and that's a lot of fun," he said. "But it's just cool still being able to wrestle for as long as I've been able to. To be back on top, and thankful for all the coaches and all my training partners. So many people have helped me."

While his teammates in Belgrade saved the coaches from some anxious moments with the early clinching, Snyder said he wouldn't have minded if the team race had been closer.

"It's nice having the team title locked up before I go in the finals, but honestly, I'd like to be the one that decides it," he said. "That's the most fun when everything's on you. But it's all good."

Veteran Punia rallies to 65kg bronze

Olympic bronze medalist Bajrang PUNIA (IND) captured his fourth career world medal, putting on the latest comeback of his storied career to slip past Sebastian RIVERA (PUR) with a late takedown for an 11-9 victory at 65kg.

Punia found himself in a 6-point hole right off the bat, as Rivera scored a pair of takedowns, adding an ankle roll after the second one. An inside trip for 4 by Punia and a takedown tied the score and put him ahead on criteria, but Rivera scored with a low shot with :03 left in the first period for an 8-6 lead.

Rivera, who attended Rutgers University in the U.S. and was looking to become just the second world medalist in Puerto Rican history, returned to the ankle pick that he has used to great effect to score a stepout.

But Punia, who has made a career out of rallying to victory, came back with a takedown, then scored the match-winner by going out the back door and gaining control with :31 left for a 10-9 lead. An unsuccessful challenge added the final point as Punia kept India from a podium shutout in freestyle.

"I gave away six points at the start," Punia said. "And the leg defense that I thought would work, just didn’t come off. I need to sit and analyze why it’s not working. It didn’t work in the match I lost, and it didn’t work today when I won as well."

Punia said he has been having trouble defending against leg attacks since injuring his knee at the Tokyo Olympics.

"It doesn’t eat into my confidence, because otherwise I wouldn’t have recovered points," Punia said. "I always fight till the last second because we work hard as wrestlers. I’ll have to figure out if I need more hard work or smart work on the leg defense.”

In the other match at 65kg, Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN) repeated his victory in the final at this year's European Championships over Olympic silver medalist Haji ALIYEV (AZE), scoring a takedown in each period and hanging on for a 4-2 win for his second career world bronze.

The Russian-born Muszukajev, who began competing for Hungary in 2019, scored a takedown in the first period while on the activity clock, then used an arm drag for a second one to open the second period.

The 31-year-old Aliyev, whose last trip to the medal podium came when he won a third world title in 2017, went into overdrive trying to get back in the match, but all he could manage was a penalty point and a very late stepout.

At 61kg, European champion Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) cruised to his second straight world bronze with a 12-0 technical fall over Seth GROSS (USA), who had no answer for the barrage of attacks launched by the Armenian.

Harutyunyan piled up three takedowns and three stepouts, all off tackle attempts, before putting the match away at 3:57 with an exposure.

Narankhuu NARMANDAKH (MGL) was equally dominant in taking the other 61kg bronze with a 9-0 rout of European bronze medalist Georgi VANGELOV (BUL), finishing it off with an impressive 4-point body lock to the back.

Narmandakh, a world u23 bronze medalist last year, opened the match with a takedown straight to a lace lock roll for a 4-0 lead. In the second period, the Mongolian received an activity point before slamming down Vangelov to put an exclamation point on his victory.

At 97kg, Russian-born European champion Magomedkhan MAGOMEDOV (AZE) was trailing on criteria when he secured a fall off a counter to defeat Asian champion Mohammadhossein MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) for his first senior world medal.

Mohammadian, aiming for a second world bronze, scored a 2-point exposure off a tackle attempt, after which Magomedov got a reversal. The Iranian then limped-arm out of a whizzer for a takedown to go up 4-1 at the break.

Magomedov, a 2018 world U20 champion, secured a takedown, and a lost Iranian challenge made it 4-4, although Mohammadian led on criteria. But when Mohammadian got in on a tackle, Magomedov reached back and used a chin whip and stepover to put the Iranian onto his back, securing the fall at 4:27.

Givi MATCHARASHVILI (GEO) also became a first-time senior world medalist when he won the other 97kg bronze, riding a 4-point counter lift in the second period to a 5-3 victory over European silver medalist Vladislav BAITSAEV (HUN).

Day 9 Results

61kg (24 entries)
Gold - Rei HIGUCHI (JPN) df. Reza ATRI (IRI) by TF, 10-0, 2:42

Bronze - Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) df. Seth GROSS (USA) by TF, 12-0, 3:58
Bronze - Narankhuu NARMANDAKH (MGL) df. Georgi VANGELOV (BUL), 9-0

65kg (27 entries)
Gold - Rahman AMOUZAD (IRI) df. Yianni DIAKOMIHALIS (USA), 13-8

Bronze - Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN) df. Haji ALIYEV (AZE), 4-2
Bronze - Bajrang PUNIA (IND) df. Sebastian RIVERA (PUR), 11-9

97kg (23 entries)
Gold - Kyle SNYDER (USA) df. Batyrbek TSAKULOV (SVK), 6-0

Bronze - Magomedkhan MAGOMEDOV (AZE) df. Mohammadhossein MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) by Fall, 4:27 (6-4)
Bronze - Givi MATCHARASHVILI (GEO) df. Vladislav BAITSAEV (HUN), 5-3