Kayaalp wins record equaling 12th European gold

By Vinay Siwach

ZAGREB, Croatia (April 22) -- ​It's a monk-like walk for Riza KAYAALP (TUR) you have seen a million times over in the last 18 years. He emerges from the call room and walks slowly to the mat. A determined look on his face, there is no last-minute cracking of the fingers or rubs on his arms. He looks in the zone.

In Zagreb on Saturday, at stake is a European title. But for Kayaalp, a win will tie him with Aleksandr KARELIN (RWF), a 12-time European champion, apart from being a three-time Olympic and nine-time world champion.

The 12 titles are the most for a wrestler in Europe. No one has been able to come close to that record of Karelin. Until Kayaalp, who had 11 golds till Saturday.

As Kayaalp walks to the center of the mat, standing in front of him is Sabah SHARIATI (AZE), a wrestler taller than Kayaalp. But that's it. That's the only advantage Shariati has against Kayaalp.

Kayaalp, battling a hamstring injury, will push around Shariati before defending a one-point lead for more than 90 seconds to claim a record-equaling 12th European gold medal. For a record that many thought will never be broken, Kayaalp has equaled it.

The traditionalist will remind Kayaalp of Karelin's nine world titles. Some fans will call for Kayaalp's losses against four-time Olympic champion Mijain LOPEZ (CUB) and call the Cuban better. 

Kayaalp and Karelin have different wrestling styles. One is built like a giant human, taller than all the average ones you meet. He would pick wrestlers for fun and do the famous reverse left as if it was child's play. He terrorized his opponents.

Kayaalp has none of that. He works on his opponents, sometimes forcing them to take an upper hand. Then he comes back in the second period to secure those criteria wins. He gut-wrenches those massive bodies with ease. And he is the most well-groomed wrestler that steps on the mat. Maybe Yunus BASAR (TUR) comes close.

But it's not Kayaalp's fault that he is compared to Karelin or Lopez. It's not Kayaalp's fault that he was born in an era with a different rule set of wrestling and more countries. It's definitely not Kayaalp's fault that he'll break wrestling records set by some of the best wrestlers in history.

At the Zagreb Arena on April 22, he was the best.

Riza KAYAALP (TUR)Riza KAYAALP (TUR) tries to score over Sabah SHARIATI (AZE) in the 130kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

As the mountain-like bodies of Kayaalp and Shariati collide, Kayaalp's force wakes up Shariati who seemed slow to start. But he quickly springs to action. The only problem is that Kayaalp is too strong to be pushed around.

43 seconds into the bout, Kayaalp has the first point – a stepout after he pushes Shariati out of the zone. Shariati was always in danger of conceding a stepout as he barely came close to the center of the mat.

Shortly after, the referee declares Shariati passive and he is forced into par terre. Kayaalp is up 2-0 and if he can execute a turn here, it could seal the match. He builds up momentum by moving toward the right. No turns for Kayaalp despite getting 30 seconds on the top.

The second period opens with both wrestlers adopting a more aggressive approach. Kayaalp and Shariati are trying hard to push each other. This time, Kayaalp is called passive. Shariati has a chance to win this as the forced par terre gives him one point. An additional point would boost his chances of victory.

A turn from a par terre can be it. Shariati takes forever to get his hands locked around the mammoth Kayaalp. He builds momentum but is unable to budge Kayaalp.

A minute and a half to go before the end, Kayaalp is in visible pain as he clutches on to his hamstring. But he is aware that he needs to defend his lead. He battles on in pain, blocks Shariati, and even gets warned for locking fingers, but he keeps going.

And as the referee sounds the final whistle, Kayaalp falls to the mat. He holds his hamstring and shakes his head, as if to say this wasn't the best idea. It takes him 30 seconds to get back on his feet. The referee raises his hand and Kayaalp becomes the 12-time European champion.

There have been worse days for Kayaalp physically, but he had to wrestle in the final at the European Championships, even if it meant more suffering for his already immobilized body. He had to do it for the fans who consider him a national hero, for the victims of the earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria in February [of which Kayaalp was one of the first to join the rescue operations], and for his daughter back in Ankara, who addressed him as "champion, champion" before he left for Zagreb.

A subdued celebration shows him walking with the Turkish flag. He then calmly steps off the mat before waving toward the stands. A loud cheer erupts in the Zagreb Arena. It may not be a perfect win for five-time world champion, but for his fans, he is on par with Karelin, at least in Europe.

Adem UZUN (TUR)Adem UZUN (TUR) celebrates after beating Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE) in the 55kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Turkiye's other star of the day was Adem UZUN (TUR) who surprised himself and everyone in Zagreb by capping off his dream run with a gold medal over defending European and world champion Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE).

Uzun was definitely the find of the tournament as he defeated European and world silver medalist Nugzari TSURTSUMIA (GEO) in the semifinals and followed that up with a technical superiority, 11-3, victory over Azizli to capture his first European title.

Azizli got the activity point in the first period he managed to score two points from par terre to take a 3-0 lead against Uzun. In the second period, Uzun got the par terre advantage and executed the trap-arm gut to roll Azizli five times and secure the win.

Azizli called for medical attention as soon as the final was finished. He complained of pain in his elbow and chest area, something he has previously experienced as well.

That did not stop Uzun from celebrating a well-deserved gold medal in his debut European Championships and he did it in domination fashion as all three of his wins in Zagreb were via technical superiorities.

Amoyan, Abuladze repeat

Malkhas AMOYAN (ARM) had no business winning the 77kg gold medal as he trailed 4-2 with just 13 seconds left. The defending champion was down two points against Viktor NEMES (SRB) who had his second European title in his hands.

But it was not to be. Amoyan launched an overhead jump and managed to land Nemes on his back, a move popularly known as the Flying Squirrel, to script a comeback that left Zagreb in awe.

"I thought that was four points. I didn’t really see if the leg was there or not," Amoyan said. "At the moment I can’t even describe my feelings. It was very unpredictable. I couldn’t really believe it. But when I saw the points, I was very happy. I really wanted to win. I would say that I came to the European championships to win the gold medal."

Apart from that one moment of brilliance from Amoyan, the final was dominated by Nemes. He scored a turn from par terre to take a 3-0 lead and added a pushout to make it 4-0 at the break. Furthermore, he defended from his par terre position, not conceding a single point.

With 17 seconds left in the match, Amoyan stepped back to gain momentum for the jump and brought down Nemes with a back exposure for four points. Nemes, expectedly, challenged the call, but the original decision stood. A point was added to Amoyan's score for the lost challenge.

"I believed in myself till the very end. And I did it," he said.

The U23 world champion ran to his corner to celebrate the improbable win, hugging his coach Roman AMOYAN (ARM), a two-time European champion and bronze medalist from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Amoyan won his world title at 72kg in 2021 but moved to the Olympic weight class of 77kg last year. He finished with a bronze medal in Belgrade but wants to win the gold this year.

"I don’t like to think ahead, but I will do everything to win the World Championships gold and then start getting ready for the Olympics," he said. "There is no such opponent, who I really want to wrestle against. I am prepared for anyone in any weight class. 77kg weight class is one of the toughest, you never know who is going to win."

Leri ABULADZE (GEO)Leri ABULADZE (GEO) scores the four points on Taleh MAMMADOV (AZE). (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

At 63kg, in a repeat of the 2022 final, Leri ABULADZE (GEO) defeated Taleh MAMMADOV (AZE) for a second straight year to win the gold. Last year, Abuladze got one turn from par terre to win 3-1. In Saturday's final, he got one big throw from par terre to beat Mammadov 5-1.

Mammadov got the first par terre and attempted a turn but Abuladze, perhaps with fresh legs, prevented him from scoring any points. But when Abuladze got the par terre advantage, he lifted Mammadov using the same hand-to-elbow grip to score a four-point throw.

Mammadov got the first par terre and attempted a turn, but Abuladze defended well and prevented him from scoring.

Abuladze now has two European Championships gold medals, a bronze medal, a U23 world title and two silver medals at the World Championships. At the U17 and U20 levels, Abuladze has won silver medals at the World Championships.

Among all of his goals this year, winning the senior world title is at the top of the list.

"I am number one in the ranking," Abuladze said. "The World Championships are in September. I've lost matches in the last two years, and I've lost two finals. Now I'm more motivated, not double but triple, to become the world champion."

Since 63kg is not an Olympic weight class, will Abuladze go down to 60kg or bump up to 67kg in a bid to go to Paris?

"I'm thinking about taking part in the Olympic Games in Paris," he said. "But as I told you, I'm going to rest first and I can't say anything for sure in advance. I will have consultations with the coaches and we will decide all this. I would like to take this moment to wish the entire Muslim world a wonderful Eid-al-Fitr."

Istvan TAKACS (HUN)Istvan TAKACS (HUN) celebrates after winning the 87kg final at the European Championships. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Hungary also got a gold medal from the first set of the Greco-Roman finals as U23 world champion Istvan TAKACS (HUN) won his first European title with a 5-2 win over Ali CENGIZ (TUR).

Takacs' performance in Zagreb was underlined by the fact that he defeated Semen NOVIKOV (BUL) 3-2 in the quarterfinals and Damin VON EUW (SUI) 5-1 in the semifinals.

In the final, however, he was in trouble as he got countered by Cengiz when he was trying to get a throw from par terre. Cengiz managed to put his feet on the mat and Takacs lost momentum, falling onto his back. The referees deemed it a leg foul from Cengiz and awarded two points for Takacs. But after a challenge, the decision was reversed and Cengiz led 2-1 at the break.

Takacs was more attacking in the second period and was awarded when he countered Cengiz's attack for a takedown from the side. Cengiz grabbed Takacs' singlet and was penalized two points. The bout resumed in par terre but no more points were scored, giving Takacs a 5-2 win over Cengiz.

Artur ALEKSANYAN (ARM)Artur ALEKSANYAN (ARM) reached the final at 97kg. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Aleksanyan returns to finals

Out of the seven 2022 European Championships finalists who were in action on Saturday, only two made it to the finals on a thrilling day in Zagreb.

At 60kg, in what promises to be an exciting matchup, Edmond NAZARYAN (BUL) and Victor CIOBANU (MDA) will face off in the final after both dominated their bouts including the semifinals.

Returning silver medalist Nazaryan, son of former Olympic champion Armen NAZARYAN (BUL), defeated Gevorg GHARIBYAN (ARM) 5-1 in the semifinal while Ciobanu, a world champion from 2021, returned to the 60kg category after almost two years at 63kg and overcame Georgii TIBILOV (SRB) 5-2 in the other semifinal.

But the bout of the day was in the quarterfinals when Ciobanu pinned defending champion Kerem KAMAL (TUR) after the score was 17-8.

The only other finalist to make it to the final in Zagreb as well was Kiril MILOV (BUL) who will wrestle world champion Artur ALEKSANYAN (ARM) in the 97kg for the gold medal.

Milov gave no chance to Nikoloz KAKHELASHVILI (ITA) in the semifinal and won 7-0. Aleksanyan is returning to the European Championships for the first time since 2020 when he won gold. He defeated Artur OMAROV (CZE) 9-0 in the semifinal.

Aleksanyan, Olympic champion from 2016 and silver medalist in Tokyo, will be hoping to win his sixth European title.

At 67kg, 20-year-old Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE) stormed to his first European final with a 7-1 win over defending champion Murat FIRAT (TUR) in the semifinals. Already a world bronze medalist, Jafarov will face Joni KHETSURIANI (GEO) in the final. Khetsuriani, who finished fifth at the World Championships, defeated Mihai MIHUT (ROU), 10-1.

Ibrahim GHANEM (FRA) became the first Greco-Roman wrestler from France to reach the European final since 1997. And he made the moment even more memorable as he achieved the feat by beating world champion Ali ARSALAN (SRB) 6-3 in the 72kg semifinal.

He will now aim to become the first European champion from France since 1995 and for that, he will have to overcome Ulvi GANIZADE (AZE). The world silver medalist defeated Selcuk CAN (TUR) 2-1 in the other semifinal.

At 82kg, world champion Burhan AKBUDAK (TUR) pinned defending European champion Rafig HUSEYNOV (AZE) in the semifinal to reach his first final at the event. He will now face Yaroslav FILCHAKOV (UKR) who overcame Mihail BRADU (MDA), 3-1, in the other semifinal.



GOLD: Adem UZUN (TUR) df. Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE), 11-3

BRONZE: Denis MIHAI (ROU) df. Stefan GRIGOROV (BUL), 7-1


BRONZE: Hrachya POGHOSYAN (ARM) df. Jacopo SANDRON (ITA), 1-1
BRONZE: Abu AMAEV (BUL) df. Mehmet CEKER (TUR), 6-2

GOLD: Malkhas AMOYAN (ARM) df. Viktor NEMES (SRB), 6-4

BRONZE: Yunus BASAR (TUR) df. Oliver KRUEGER (DEN), 8-0
BRONZE: Zoltan LEVAI (HUN) df. Alexandrin GUTU (MDA), via inj. def.

GOLD: Istvan TAKACS (HUN) df. Ali CENGIZ (TUR), 5-2

BRONZE: Lasha GOBADZE (GEO) df. Islam ABBASOV (AZE), 3-0
BRONZE: Semen NOVIKOV (BUL) df. Damian VON EUW (SUI), 5-2

GOLD: Riza KAYAALP (TUR) df. Sabah SHARIATI (AZE), 2-1

BRONZE: Oskar MARVIK (NOR) df. Mantas KNYSTAUTAS (LTU), via fall (7-2)

Day 6 Semifinals


SF 2: Edmond NAZARYAN (BUL) df. Gevorg GHARIBYAN (ARM), 5-1
SF 1: Victor CIOBANU (MDA) df. Georgii TIBILOV (SRB), 5-2


SF 1: Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE) df. Murat FIRAT (TUR), 7-1
SF 2: Joni KHETSURIANI (GEO) df. Mihai MIHUT (ROU), 10-1


SF 1: Ulvi GANIZADE (AZE) df. Selcuk CAN (TUR), 2-1
SF 2: Ibrahim GHANEM (FRA) df. Ali ARSALAN (SRB), 6-3


SF 1: Burhan AKBUDAK (TUR) df. Rafig HUSEYNOV (AZE), via fall
SF 2: Yaroslav FILCHAKOV (UKR) df. Mihail BRADU (MDA), 3-1


SF 1: Artur ALEKSANYAN (ARM) df. Artur OMAROV (CZE), 9-0
SF 2: Kiril MILOV (BUL) df. Nikoloz KAKHELASHVILI (ITA), 7-0


Croatia to host 2025 World Championships, non-Olympic Worlds returns

By United World Wrestling Press

CORSIER-SUR-VEVEY, Switzerland (February 15) -- For the first time in wrestling history, Zagreb, Croatia will host the World Championships in 2025. The mega event will take place in Zagreb from September 13-21.

The United World Wrestling Bureau held a meeting Friday to discuss future hosts and the Senior World Championships 2025 was awarded to Zagreb, a regular on the wrestling calendar for a decade now, hosting the European Championships and the Ranking Series regularly. The Zagreb Open has been the season opener for international wrestling on many occasions.

The World Championships will be another historic event in Croatia’s wrestling journey. In August, the country crowned its first-ever world champion when Veronika VILK (CRO) won the U17 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkiye.

Non-Olympic Worlds in Tirana

The Bureau also decided that a World Championships in non-Olympic weight classes will be held in 2024. The World Championships will be held in Tirana, Albania from October 28 to 31, right after the U23 World Championships which will be held in the same venue from October 21 to 27.

Non-Olympic weights World Championships in Tirana this year will be the first time it will be held since 2016 when Budapest became the host. Tirana will see wrestlers in 12 weight classes -- 61kg, 70kg, 79kg and 92kg in Freestyle; 55kg, 59kg, 65kg and 72kg in Women's Wrestling; 55kg, 63kg, 72kg and 82kg in Greco-Roman.

A detailed program of the World Championships will be sent to all National Federations later.