Sadulaev back, Freestyle stars assemble for European Championships

By Vinay Siwach

BUCHAREST, Romania (February 2) -- Four months after a neck surgery and four years since his last European Championships, Abdulrashid SADULAEV (AIN) will return to the mat, hoping to win his sixth European title.

In September, Sadulaev pulled out of his semifinal against eventual champion Akhmed TAZHUDINOV (BRN) and underwent surgery. This will be his first international competition as he won the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix in the last week of January. 

The European Championships will kick off on February 12 in Bucharest, making the countries participating in the tournament eligible to participate in the European Olympic Qualifier in Baku. The tournament will be available on UWW+ on uww.org and the UWW app.

Apart from Sadulaev, Tokyo Olympic champion  Zavur UGUEV (AIN), world champion Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN), world champion Akhmed USMANOV (AIN) and arch-rivals Taha AKGUL (TUR) and Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) will be in action.

Sadulaev, who is yet to qualify for the Paris Olympics, will be checked by world silver medalist in Belgrade Magomedkhan MAGOMEDOV (AZE), bronze medalist Givi MATCHARASHVILI (GEO), Vlagyiszlav BAJCAJEV (HUN) and former world silver medalist Batyrbek TSAKULOV (SVK).

Soon after winning the Yarygin tournament, Sadulaev posted on his Instagram that "he is back on track." A fully fit Sadulaev is expected in Bucharest which will mean that his opponents will have a tough time.

Dauren KURUGLIEV (GRE)Dauren KURUGLIEV (GRE) is the defending champion at 86kg. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Among other Olympic weight classes, 86kg defending champion Dauren KURUGLIEV (GRE) will be returning since his injury in the Ranking Series in Budapest last year. In all likelihood, he is set to face Tokyo bronze medalist Artur NAIFONOV (AIN) as the two revive their rivalry. The two used to dominate the national scene in Russia.

Another transfer and winner of the season-opening Zagreb Open Ranking Series, Magomed RAMAZANOV (BUL) will also be in action, making it a tough bracket. Ramazanov will be keen on continuing his good form and challenging the established stars at 86kg in Europe.

World bronze medalist Myles AMINE (SMR) is entered and making it to his third straight final at the European Championships will be his top priority. U20 world champion Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA), 79kg world silver medalist Vladimeri GAMKRELIDZE (GEO) and Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR) are also in the bracket.

Taha AKGUL (TUR)Taha AKGUL (TUR) and Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) are expexted to meet in the 125kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Akgul and Petriashvili, ranking second and fourth in the world, can only meet in the final, setting up another gold-medal bout if both make it to the final.

The two have long dominated the weight classes with the former winning it 10 times since 2012 and Petriasvili winning it twice with the last coming in 2020. Akgul defeated Petriashvili in the final in Zagreb last year.

At the Ranking Series in Zagreb, Petriashvili pulled out of his bout against world champion Amirhossein ZARE (IRI) citing injury. It will be interesting to see if he will return fully fit.

At 57kg, Zavur UGUEV (AIN) will look to put behind the disappointment of finishing without a medal at the World Championships and return to winning ways. Uguev has a lot to fight for as a win in Bucharest will make him the favorite for the gold medal in Paris as well if he goes to the Olympics.

But world bronze medalist Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) will look to win the European title at 57kg as well. The 61kg champion last year has moved down to the Olympic weight and possesses the skills to upset any star wrestler. At the World Championships, he dropped a 16-13 semifinal against Rei HIGUCHI (JPN) before winning a bronze medal.

With many wrestlers deciding not to go through the rigorous process of reducing their weight, the 65kg weight class will see world bronze medalists Shamil MAMEDOV (AIN) and Vazgen TEVANYAN (ARM) as the top stars.

The two will be drawn on the same side of the bracket given Tevanyan is ranked third in the world and Mammedov is fifth. Mikyay NAIM (BUL) and Erik ARUSHANIAN (UKR) will also be in the fray to reach the final.

Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN)65kg world champion Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN) will be at 70kg in Bucharest. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

The 65kg world champion Muszukajev has moved up to 70kg and will be the favorite to win the gold medal. A definite crowd-puller, Muszukajev will once again be tested for his conditioning. But if his performance at the World Championships is anything to go by, Muszukajev should put on a show of explosive wrestling.

U23 world champions Inalbek SHERIEV (AIN) and Kanan HEYBATOV (AZE) will look to upset the world champ if they meet in the bracket. At the U23 World Championships, Sheriev defeated Heybatov 13-3 and the Azerbaijan wrestler will be keen on avenging that loss as well.

At 74kg, three-time champion Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) will start as the favorite but will be tested by Timur BIZHOEV (AIN), a former world bronze medalist. The field also includes Dzhabrail GADZHIEV (AZE) and veteran Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR).

Akhmed USMANOV (AIN)World champion Akhmed USMANOV (AIN) will be up against a strong field at 79kg. (Photo: UWW / Amirreza Aliasgari)

Most of the regular stars of 74kg have moved up to 79kg, a weight class which will be a tightly-contested category. Multiple world and Olympic medalists are entered in the weight class for the Bucharest tournament. World champion Akhmed USMANOV (AIN), Tokyo silver medalist at 74kg Mahamedkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (AIN), former world medalist Avtandil KENTCHADZE (GEO), young star and defending champion Georgios KOUGIOUMTSIDIS (GRE), multiple-time world medalist Frank CHAMIZO (ITA), veteran Hetik CABOLOV (SRB), Iakub SHIKHDZHAMALOV (ROU) and Ramazan SARI (TUR) are a few names who will be vying for the European title.

A face-off between Abasgadzhi MAGOMEDOV (AIN) and Zelimkhan ABAKAROV (ALB) is expected at 61kg. MAgomedov lost the 61kg final at the World Championships while Abakarov finished with a bronze medal at 57kg after suffering a loss to Stevan MICIC (SRB). Micic was registered for the European Championships but pulled out.

Boris MAKOEV (SVK) is moving up to 92kg for the European Championships but the weight class already has a few hammers. Magomed KURBANOV (AIN) will have a chance to win the title but world silver medalist Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE), bronze medalist Miriani MAISURADZE (GEO) and former European champion Feyzullah AKTURK (TUR) are also in the mix.


Akgul adds 11th Euro gold to help Turkiye wins team title

By Vinay Siwach

BUCHAREST, Romania (February 18) -- The final ended like all the previous ones between Taha AKGUL (TUR) and Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO). Akgul built a lead and Petriashvili tried making a comeback. However, Akgul was strong enough to hold off his Georgian rival and won yet another European title.

Petriashvili came close this year to beating Akgul but fell short. Akgul extended his record of European gold medals to 11 after the 5-4 win in the 125kg weight class. Akgul has won 11 European gold medals in 12 years and is already the most successful Freestyle wrestler in European history.

The record for most European titles is jointly held by Aleksandar KARELIN and Riza KAYAALP (TUR) as both have 12 titles. Akgul's Turkish teammate in Greco-Roman Kayaalp had the opportunity to break that record in Bucharest but suffered a loss in the 130kg final to Sergei SEMENOV (AIN).

There was no such heartbreak for Akgul as he paced his final to perfection against his arch-rival. Petriashvili was warned for open fingers on the face and was penalized for it with one point. Akgul scored a stepout and then got another point for Petriasvili's passivity, leading 3-0.

Akgul remained cautious of Petriashvili's attacks and countered one of them to score a takedown for two points and extended his lead to 5-0. With a minute remaining, Petriashvili did get two takedowns but he could not get the winning point needed as the clock expired.

"I am so happy. I had a final with Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) and it is always hard," Akgul said. "This is my 11th European gold which is a record. I prepared well for this tournament. This is like practice because we are preparing for the Paris Olympics."

Before the final, Akgul won his three bouts via superiority and he was so dominant that two of his bouts finished before the break while the semifinal ended before time. Akgul wishes to repeat the performance in coming tournaments, especially the Olympics.

"I will now prepare for the Olympics," he said. "I am 34 years old. Of course, my energy is not like the young wrestlers. I am doing more conditioning and weightlifting. I am a technical wrestler but I am working hard."

The final against Petriashvili was even more significant as the Freestyle team title depended on it. Turkiye had 115 points going into the final while Georgia had 110 points. An Akgul win would clinch the title for Turkiye with 140 points to Georgia's 130 while a win for Petriashvili will hand Georgia the title despite both countries being tied at 135 points as Georgia has more gold medals.

"Our team won the team title in Freestyle after 31 years," Akgul said. "That is also a big success because Freestyle is so difficult and so many teams are coming. I am the captain so I am happy. My last match against Georgia was also important because if I won, Turkiye would win the title, and if Petriashvili won, Georgia would win the team title."

Another big contribution to Turkiye's historic team title win was Feyzullah AKTURK (TUR) defending his 92kg European title. He gold gave Turkiye 25 points which pushed it over Georgia in the race.

In Bucharest, Akturk pulled off two top wins, beating Mariani MAISURADZE (GEO) in the semifinal and Boris MAKOEV (SVK) in the final. Makoev could never find an opening in the whole match which Akturk won 8-0, thus becoming a three-time European champion.

Kurugliev, Salkazanov repeat

Daruen KURGULIEV (GRE) added another European gold medal to his resume after he defeated Myles AMINE (SMR) for a second straight year. Kurguliev scored a stepout and later got another point for Amine's inactivity, giving him a 2-0 lead. Amine kept attacking Kurugliev's legs but could not score a takedown. The referee cautioned Kurugliev for fleeing late in the match which gave Amine a point.

But as Amine made his last attempt to score in the final 15 seconds, Kurugliev grabbed Amine's leg and bent it more than 90 degrees forcing the referee to stop the bout with three seconds on the clock left. Kurugliev got the breather he needed and defended the last three seconds with ease.

Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) extended his European title run to four gold medals, winning the 74kg final against Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR).

Salkazanov hit a double-leg 10 seconds into the final and scored two points. He went into a shell for the remaining first period and was put on the clock in the second period. However, he scored a stepout within the activity period to avoid any trouble and lead 3-0.

Demirtas made a desperate attempt to get a takedown in the final seconds but Salkazanov kept his distance and even scored a takedown on the counter to win 5-0.

At 61kg, Abasgadzhi MAGOMEDOV (AIN) won his second European title after beating Zelimkhan ABAKAROV (ALB), his second straight silver medal at the European Championships.


Magomedov, a world silver medalist, was the first to get the activity period against his name but he scored a stepout during that to lead 1-0. Abakarov responded with a big throw that Magomedov did well to not land in danger and give up only two points.

The lead exchanged hands when Magomedov scored a takedown. But in one sequence, Abakarov scored two points via exposure while Magomedov was given only one for reversal. However, on challenge, Magomedov got two points to lead 5-4.

Abakarov tried the same exposure lift again but Magomedov defended well before elevating Abakarov and scoring a takedown to win 7-4 and denying Albania its second European champion in two days.



Abasgadzhi MAGOMEDOV (AIN) df. Zelimkhan ABAKAROV (ALB), 7-4

BRONZE: Nuraddin NOVRUZOV (AZE) df. Georgi VANGELOV (BUL), 7-3

GOLD: Taimuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) df. Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR), 5-0


GOLD: Dauren KURUGLIEV (GRE) df. Myles AMINE (SMR), 2-1

BRONZE: Arsenii DZHIOEV (AZE) df. Arslan BAGAEV (AIN), 6-4
BRONZE: Osman GOCEN (TUR) df. Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR), 8-0

GOLD: Feyzullah AKTURK (TUR) df. Boris MAKOEV (SVK), 8-0

BRONZE: Miriani MAISURADZE (GEO) df. Andrian GROSUL (MDA), 7-0
BRONZE: Magomed KURBANOV (AIN) df. Denys SAHALIUK (UKR), via fall (8-0)