Matteo Pellicone freestyle preview
Tuesday, June 21, 2022 - 09:26 By Vinay Siwach
ROME, Italy (June 20) -- A year ago, Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE) was one of the most active wrestlers in the world. He competed in eight competitions including the Olympic Games, three World Championships and two continental ones. It seemed that Bayramov would be the go-to-wrestler for Azerbaijan at 74kg.
But at the beginning of 2022, Bayramov ran into Dzhabrail GADZHIEV (AZE) at the Dan Kolov tournament in Bulgaria. While the final was not action-packed, Gadzhiev scored two technical points against one of Bayramov to win the gold.
Still, Azerbaijan sent Bayramov to the senior European Championships in which he won bronze while Gadzhiev won the gold at the U23 European Championships.
Khadzhimurad GADZHIYEV (AZE) is returning to competition after one year. (Photo: UWW / Gabor Martin)
Azerbaijan is now entering the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event in Rome with both of them competing at 74kg. The battle is now three-way as Khadzhimurad GADZHIYEV (AZE) returns after being away for a year due to injury.
Gadzhiyev had qualified Azerbaijan for the Tokyo Olympics from the European Olympic Qualifiers but injured his knee in practice and Bayramov took his place on the team. But with Islamic Games in August and the World Championships in September, Azerbaijan is in a dilemma with the three wrestlers trying to make the same weight class.
Winning gold in Rome won't be a guarantee as European champion and world silver medalist Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) will be eyeing his second straight Ranking Series gold. He won the 74kg title at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup in Almaty earlier this month.
The weight class is one of the deepest in the world and Azerbaijan may not want to suffer a slip on its part at the World Championships by not sending its best wrestler to Belgrade.
Horst LEHR (GER) will be competing at 57kg in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)
With the same thought in mind, they have entered two wrestlers in the 57kg weight class as well. U23 world champion and European Championships silver medalist Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE) will be the favorite to win the gold in Rome but compatriot Afgan KHASHALOV (AZE) will be up for the task if he wants to make the team at 57kg.
World bronze medalist Horst LEHR (GER) is returning to competition since becoming Germany's first-ever U23 European champion in February. His experience and unique style of wrestling may upset the flow of the Azerbaijan pair.
Former U17 world champion Andrii YATSENKO (UKR) will also be raging to be competition ready in Rome. He last competed at the European Olympic Qualifiers in March last year.
Ukraine's two big stars, junior European champion Erik ARUSHANIAN (UKR) and Vasyl SHUPTAR (UKR) are entered at 65kg. While the 31-year-old Shuptar participated in the Oslo World Championships, a better result for Arushanian may see him make the cut for the Belgrade event.
But it won't be a cakewalk for him as European champion Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN) is eyeing his first Ranking Series gold medal of the year. The Hungarian defeated Olympic silver medalist Haji ALIYEV (AZE) in the final in Budapest.
Apart from him, former world champion Beka LOMTADZE (GEO), Pan-Am silver medalist Sebastian RIVERA (PUR), U23 European bronze medalist Hamza ALACA (TUR) and Ali RAHIMZADE (AZE), who is competing for the first time since Oslo, are entered at 65kg.
Haji ALIYEV (AZE) will be jumping up to 70kg for the Matteo Pellicone. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)
Aliyev had the opportunity to avenge his Budapest loss against Muszukajev but made a jump to 70kg for the tournament. Aliyev has wrestled in the weight class once before -- at the '21 Poland Open Ranking Series. He ended up winning bronze.
If he wants to win the gold now, he will have to go through two crafty wrestlers in European champion Zurabi IAKOBISHVILI (GEO) and World and Asian silver medalist Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ).
The Georgian has not competed since winning the 70kg title in Budapest after winning bronze at the Yasar Dogu Ranking Series at the start of the year.
Akmataliev failed to win a medal in Istanbul but returned to win silver at the Asian Championships. He suffered a 4-3 loss in the final against Taishi NARIKUNI (JPN). But Akmataliev will now be looking to win his second Ranking Series gold after he won the top medal in Almaty.
For Azerbaijan, world bronze medalists Abubakr ABAKAROV (AZE) and Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE) will be the favorite to win the 86kg and 92kg respectively.
While European silver medalist Abakarov has Boris MAKOEV (SVK) and U23 world champion Mukhmammed ALIIEV (UKR) as his top opponents, Nurmagomedov may face Erhan YAYLACI (TUR).
The two wrestled at the '21 U23 European Championships and Nurmagomedov had all but sealed the gold medal. In the dying second, he resorted to keeping a distance from Yaylaci and on the final attack from the Turkey wrestler, Nurmagomedov committed a single-pull. The penalty point cost him the continental title.
The 97kg field for Rome can be dubbed as a mini European Championships. All the top six wrestlers from Budapest are entered for Rome led by gold medalist Magomedkhan MAGOMEDOV (AZE). Silver to him in Budapest Vladislav BAITSAEV (HUN) will be eyeing revenge if the two meet on the mat.
The two bronze medalists Batyrbek TSAKULOV (SVK) and Zbigniew BARANOWSKI (POL) will also look to reverse the results from Budapest. The Slovakia wrestler had lost to Baitsaev in the opening round while Baranowski suffered a semifinal loss to Magomedov.
In the bronze medal bouts, Tsakulov, who won the gold at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup, defeated Erik THIELE (GER) while Baranowski went past veteran Elizbar ODIKADZE (GEO).
But entering his first Ranking Series event since 2018, Odikadze will hope to extend his perfect record at such tournaments. In 2018, he won gold at both Ranking Series events.
Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) will be the favorite to win the 125kg gold in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)
Another Georgian star and Olympic silver medalist Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) is the favorite to win the gold at 125kg. After losing to Taha AKGUL (TUR) in the European Championships final, Petriashvili would like to return to winning ways before the grand event in September.
But Robert BARAN (POL) may have other ideas. In a thrilling semifinal at the European Championships, Baran managed to hold off Petriashvili for the majority of the time. He ultimately suffered a 2-1 loss but in Rome, he would back himself to reverse the result.
U23 world silver medalist Azamat KHOSONOV (GRE) and former U23 European champion Anil KILICSALLAYAN (TUR) may finish at the podium.
At 79kg, U23 and senior European champion Georgios KOUGIOUMTSIDIS (GRE) will be the one to watch as he tries to prove that his two continental titles in two months were not flukes.
Freestyle action begins Friday and can be watched live at uww.org.