In Rome, mini battles highlight Greco-Roman field

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (June 18) -- Out of the seven Greco-Roman weight categories in which Azerbaijan wrestlers are entered for the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event, all but two would see the country's wrestler receive a seed at the World Championships.

Azerbaijan is bringing a strong squad to the Ranking Series event, looking to select their team for the Islamic Games in August and later for the World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

For that reason, Murad MAMMADOV (AZE), Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE) and Nihat MAMMADLI (AZE) are all entered at 60kg weight class in Rome. But for the World Championships, they will be returning to their original weight classes. World silver medalist Sanan SULEYMANOV (AZE) and world champion Rafiq HUSEYNOV (AZE) are the only two wrestlers who get an automatic selection to the national team.

U23 and U20 world champion Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE) will be returning to the mat since winning a bronze medal at the European Championships and will be looking for his first Ranking Series medal at 67kg. But with Erik TORBA (HUN), Morten THORESEN (NOR) and Niklas OEHLEN (SWE) also entered in the same weight class, he will have to do better than the performance in Budapest.

Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN)Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN) will be eyeing his second Ranking Series medal this year. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Apart from 60kg, an all-Azerbaijan battle will be at 97kg as Arif NIFTULLAYEV (AZE) and Murat LOKIAYEV (AZE) look to earn a spot on the national team. But the weight class some of the top wrestlers entered. Tokyo fifth-place Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN) will be eyeing his second Ranking Series medal of the year after winning silver in Istanbul. He also won a silver at the European Championships.

However, the second fifth-placer in Tokyo and World silver medalist Alex SZOKE (HUN) will be the favorite to win the weight class in Rome. Asian champion Mehdi BALIHAMZEHDEH (IRI) will also be put to test against a strong European field. Two other strong medal contenders are Felix BALDAUF (NOR) and Mihail KAJAIA (SRB).

Going back to Istanbul, Beka KANDELAKI (AZE) had stunned Riza KAYAALP (TUR) with a fall at the first Ranking Series and the two can clash again at 130kg in Rome. But Kayaalp has since won the European Championships title and is looking to return to prime form as the World Championships approach.

Oslo bronze medalist Oskar MARVIK (NOR) and former U17 world champion Cohlton SCHULTZ (USA) are also entered.

Islam ABBASOV (AZE)Islam ABBASOV (AZE) won the gold at the first Ranking Series event in Istanbul. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 87kg, Islam ABBASOV (AZE) has now notched up two straight victories over world champion Zurabi DATUNASHVILI (SRB). His first win came in Istanbul in the final while the second was in the European Championships semifinal. While Datunashvili is not entered for Rome, Abbasov will have to wrestle at the top of his potential if he wants to win the gold.

U23 world champion at 77kg Tamas LEVAI (HUN) will be a strong opponent along with U23 European champion Istvan TAKACS (HUN). Hungary has also entered 
Erik SZILVASSY (HUN) in the field at 87kg. Alex KESSIDIS (SWE) is also moving up to 87kg after finishing fifth at the World Championships at 82kg.

60kg world champion Victor CIOBANU (MDA) will once again try to win a gold medal at 63kg after failing to do so at his first two tournaments of the year. He lost in the final to Isomjon BAKHRAMOV (UZB) in Istanbul before Etienne KINSINGER (GER) ended his quest for a European title Victor CIOBANU (MDA) with a 3-1 loss in the quarterfinals in Budapest.

Kristupas SLEIVA (LTU)Kristupas SLEIVA (LTU) is the top ranked wrestler at 72kg. (Photo: UWW / Tony Rotundo)

Lituania's history maker Kristupas SLEIVA (LTU) will be eyeing revenge against Ulvu GANIZADE (AZE) as the Azerbaijan wrestler defeated him in the bronze medal bout at the European Championships. Apart from the two, European silver medalist Krisztian VANCZA (HUN) and gold medalist in Istanbul Selcuk CAN (TUR) will be threats to the gold medal.

At 77kg, U23 world silver medalist Amin KAVIYANINEJAD (IRI) will be involved in a battle against compatriot Ali Mohammad GHOLAMI (IRI) for a spot on the Iran national team. A similar battle will be for Hungary as defending champion Zoltan LEVAI (HUN) and European champion Robert FRITSCH (HUN) are entered.

Returning to international competition after a two-year gap, Kamal BEY (USA) will try to win a medal on his return. His last competition in 2020 was also the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series where he finished fifth. But after securing his spot on the USA team for the World Championships, Bey will be eyeing a winning start to the year internationally.

The Matteo Pellicone will begin Wednesday with seven Greco-Roman weight classes. Thursday will the remaining three Greco-Roman weight classes along with four women's wrestling categories. The remaining six along with two freestyle weight categories will be in action Friday before eight freestyle weight categories close out the action Saturday.

Live action and highlights from the Matteo Pellicone can be available on uww.org.


WATCH: Matteo Pellicone 10 freestyle finals

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (June) -- Freestyle at Matteo Pellicone saw Azerbaijan claim most of the gold medals at the Ranking Series event. Azerbaijan won four gold medals and Slovakia being the second-best with two gold. Turkey, Puerto Rico, Ukraine and Georgia managed to win a gold each in Rome.

Here are the 10 gold-medal bouts from the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event.

GOLD: 57kg - Horst LEHR (GER) vs. Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE)


GOLD: 61kg - Andrii DZHELEP (UKR) vs. Recep TOPAL (TUR)


GOLD: 70kg - Joshgun AZIMOV (AZE) vs. Murad EVLOEV (AZE)