Susaki storms to third world gold at 50kg

By Ken Marantz

BELGRADE, Serbia (Sept. 14)--Yui SUSAKI (JPN), taking the international stage for the first time since her Olympic triumph last year, picked up right where she left off. Confident, cat-like quick and as dominant as ever.

Susaki stormed to her third world title with a first-period fall over Otgonjargal DOLGORJAV (MGL) in the 50kg final on Wednesday, the first of four women's finals on the fifth day of the World Championships in Belgrade.

"I'm really happy I could be at a tournament again on this stage," said Susaki, who added to the world golds she won in 2017 and 2018. "This is a tournament where I knew I could become the world champion if I went into each and every match looking to have fun and give my all while doing my wrestling. I think I achieved my objective, so I have a good feeling."

Powerhouse Japan got a second gold later in the night when Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN) upgraded the silver medal at 65kg that she won a year ago in Oslo, while Olympic bronze medalist Yasemin ADAR (TUR) won her second world title at 76kg and unheralded Dominique PARRISH (USA) emerged victorious from a wide-open field at 53kg in her senior world debut.

Yui SUSAKI (JPN)Yui SUSAKI (JPN) pinned Otgonjargal DOLGORJAV (MGL) in the 50kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andoonov)

Susaki, who has yet to lose to a non-Japanese opponent in her career, ravaged the field with four wins by either fall or technical fall, naturally without conceding a point. Showing her ability to adjust on the fly, she prevailed in the final despite not being able to secure a tackle or her trademark lace lock.

Susaki gained two points against 2021 bronze medalist Dolgorjav with a front headlock roll, which she then transitioned into an exposure situation that put the Mongolian onto her back. Applying the pressure, the fall came in 1:24.

"I summoned my courage and wanted to go on the offensive, so it was good that I was able to do that," Susaki said.

Susaki takes her most recent triumph with a grain of salt, as some of her fiercest rivals were missing from the competition, most notably four-time Olympic medalist Mariya STADNIK (AZE) and Asian rival Yanan SUN (CHN).

"Stadnik, Sun Yanan, the ones I faced in the Olympics didn't enter, so I definitely wanted to win in a dominant way and take the title," she said. "The fact that I achieved that, it was a good tournament leading to the Paris Olympics."

As much as fans have come to expect Susaki to be dominant, she again claimed that she can achieve an even higher level. "I realized several things here, and I want to get back to Japan soon and start practicing to get stronger," she said.

Asked what part of her game she needs to address, Susaki replied: "Tackling is my strong point. I need to find a way to break through when the opponent ties up, so I can get in on more tackles and that will lead to more points. So I want to work on that."

Having graduated from Waseda University last March, Susaki was presented with an ideal environment that allows her to pursue the sport full-time in her bid for an Olympic repeat in Paris in 2024.

Susaki became an "employee" of Kitz Corporation, a major valve-maker located in her home prefecture of Chiba. That allows her to train full-time, mostly at the National Training Center, where she was a product of the JOC Elite Academy. It has also expanded her already swollen fan base.

"This time, I was supported by my company Kitz," Susaki said. "Since finishing college and joining Kitz, the number of people supporting me has increased. That has given me energy and gives me a reason to work hard. I am even more motivated to get stronger."

For those who can't get enough of the 23-year-old dynamo, they won't have to wait long to see her in action. She plans to enter the World U23 Championships next month in Spain, with the mission of securing a historical victory.

"The U23 title is one I don't have yet," she said. "I'm not sure, but I think I would be the first to win the five titles of world cadet, junior, U23 and senior and the Olympics. I want to do that. Next month, I will prepare earnestly to get stronger and win it."

Susaki has been beaten only three times since junior high school, and all by the same opponent, Yuki IRIE (JPN). One of those losses kept her from defending her world title in 2019, and she, like all of Japan's Olympic medalists, skipped the 2021 tournament.

Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN)Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN) shoots for Jia LONG (CHN) leg in the 65kg final. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Morikawa picked up Japan's fourth women's gold of the tournament by holding on for a 2-0 victory over Jia LONG (CHN) in a 65kg final that left her a mixture of happy and disappointed.

In what could be regarded as a de facto Asian final -- China skipped this year's Asian Championships, where Morikawa won the gold -- the Japanese prevailed by scoring a stepout and an activity point in the first period.

"As far as the way the match went, I’m not very satisfied," Morikawa said. "To win the gold and not give up a point was good. But overall, it was really poor. I feel I'm still lacking ability. I give myself a 50 [out of 100]."

Morikawa will also be in Pontevedra, Spain, for the World U23, where she will bid farewell to the 65kg class as she decides which Olympic weight class to move into, most likely 68kg.

"My goal is to take a lap [on the mat] with the Japanese flag at the Paris Olympics," she said.

Morikawa certainly has a positive support system. She trains at her alma mater of Nippon Sports Science University, from which she graduated in March and often practices with men and one of her coaches is four-time Olympic champion Kaori ICHO (JPN).

Yasemin ADAR (TUR)Yasemin ADAR (TUR) won her second world title at 76kg. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

In the 76kg final, Adar was holding her own against a tough Samar HAMZA (EGY) when she unleashed a 4-point front headlock with :10 left to put an exclamation point on a 6-0 victory.

"I am very, very happy, I can not put it into words," said Adar, who won her fifth European title earlier this year. "I am an idol in women's wrestling in Turkey and that makes me proud, there will be many good wrestlers after me and if I can be an example, it makes me proud. This is my second world title, I had promised my family that I will bring the belt home."

Adar received an activity point in the first period, then scored a stepout in the second. As Hamza went in for a desperate tackle, Adar hit her big move. Hamza, who became Egypt's first-ever female to make a world final, will take home the silver to go with the bronze she won last year in Oslo.

Dominique PARRISH (USA)Dominique PARRISH (USA) celebrates after winning the 53kg world title. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 53kg, Parrish was trailing 2-2 on criteria when she avoided a trip by Asian silver medalist Khulan BATKHUYAG (MGL) and slipped around the back for a takedown and a 4-2 victory.

"I know that nobody is going to outgas me," said Parrish, who was at the Tokyo Olympics as a training partner. "Before the finals, I was telling myself, no fear, fast feet, active hands. Definitely, when I stepped on that mat, I was not scared. I knew it was going to be tough but having the freedom to let myself go."

In the mixed zone, Pan Am champion Parrish addressed the elephant in the room -- the absence of 2021 world champion Akari FUJINAMI (JPN), who was a late withdrawal from the tournament after suffering a foot injury in practice.

"The next two years, she is the target," Parrish said. " They [Japan] are always the target for the women's team. Not that any country is not, but Japan is always disciplined in its stance and techniques. We are going to pick them apart and beat them."

Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA)Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA) wrestles Emilia VUC (ROU) in the 50kg bronze medal bout. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Hildebrandt survives mat scare to take bronze

In the bronze-medal matches, Olympic bronze medalist Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA) had a scary incident that seemed to leave her momentarily unconscious but managed to come back to defeat Emilia VUC (ROU) by a 10-0 technical fall in 5:40.

Hildebrandt, the 2021 silver medalist, scored all of her points with takedowns. It was after the second one that Vuc applied a vicious front headlock and turned Hildebrandt over. But when the American was unresponsive, the referee stopped the match as her coach leaped to the mat to assist her, bringing a hush to the Stark Arena crowd.

After a few tense minutes, Hildebrandt said she was alright to continue. Vuc lost her points for the dangerous hold, and Hildebrandt gained another takedown before the break. She then got two more in the second period to end the match and add to her two world silvers.

The other 50kg bronze went to Anna LUKASIAK (POL), who came up with a 2-point exposure as she was receiving an activity point with :20 left to edge Miesinnei GENESIS (NGR) 3-2.

Ecuador had two chances to win its first-ever world medal, but both Lucia YEPEZ GUZMAN (ECU) at 53kg and Genesis REASCO (ECU) at 76kg were denied.

Maria PREVOLARAKI (GRE) gave up two quick-fire takedowns to Yepez Guzman, but after stopping a roll attempt for two, she locked onto the laces and three rolls one way and two more the other gave her a 14-4 technical fall in 1:44.

Vinesh PHOGAT (IND)Vinesh PHOGAT (IND) defeated European champion Jonna MALMGREN (SWE) to win the 53kg bronze medal. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

The other 53kg bronze went to eight-time Asian medalist Vinesh PHOGAT (IND), who put up a stiff wall of defense and scored on counters against European champion Emma MALMGREN (SWE). Phogat also scored on the two occasions when she went on the offensive to notch an 8-0 victory to add to the world bronze she won in 2019.

Yuka KAGAMI (JPN) spoiled the Ecuadorian party when she scraped out a 4-0 victory over Reasco. Kagami, the 2019 world junior champion making her senior debut, got a stepout, activity point and a defensive takedown in the first period, then held off Reasco to add another medal to the Japanese tally.

The other 76kg bronze went to Epp MAE (EST), who scored a stepout with :27 left to defeat 2018 world champion Justina DI STASIO (CAN) and secure her fifth career world medal.

At 65kg, the United States got another bronze when Mallory VELTE (USA) routed Mimi HRISTOVA (BUL) 11-2 for her second world medal, while Koumba LARROQUE (FRA) edged Elis MANOLOVA (AZE) 3-2 for her third.

Amit ELOR (USA)Amit ELOR (USA) reached the 72kg final in her first senior appearance. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Teen Elor joins elite American compatriots in finals

In the semifinals held earlier in the night session, teenager Amit ELOR (USA) stunned defending champion Masako FURUICHI (JPN) 3-2 to join two of her highly decorated compatriots in the finals held Thursday night.

The 18-year-old Elor, coming off winning a second straight world U20 title a month ago in Sofia, scored a first-period takedown, then added a second-period activity point. Furuichi finally got the takedown she so desperately sought with :05 left but had insufficient time to turn her.

"I was just like, is this real?" Elor said. "I was waiting for this, but it’s not over until tomorrow night."

Elor said she stuck with the game plan that gave her wins in her first two matches by technical fall and fall. "My style is putting a lot of pressure and not giving my opponents any space," she said. "It was close but in the end, it worked out."

In the final, Elor will face last year's runner-up to Furuichi, Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ), who had a pair of 4-point moves in powering to a 12-2 technical fall over Alexandra ANGHEL (ROU) in 3:55.

Elor's victory came after current and former world champions Helen MAROULIS (USA) at 57kg and Tamyra MENSAH STOCK (USA) at 68kg booked their spots in the finals by bringing their bouts to early ends.

"It’s really inspirational, but it’s also very stressful that I am on their level," Elor said.

Japan had wrestlers in all four semifinals, but only prevailed twice -- and those two face the daunting task of taking on Maroulis and Mensah Stock in the finals.

At 57kg, defending champion Maroulis will aim for a fourth world gold when she takes on Tsugumi SAKURAI (JPN), the 55kg champion a year ago in Oslo. She moved up to the Olympic weight class to get an early start on challenging Tokyo champion Risako KAWAI (JPN) for a spot at Paris 2024.

In the semifinals, Maroulis used an ankle pick to send 2021 bronze medalist Davaachimeg ERKHEMBAYAR (MGL) to her back and secure a fall at 5:20. Sakurai, this year's Asian champion, had little trouble in disposing of Zhala ALIYEVA (AZE) by 10-0 technical fall in 4:47.

Maroulis has a long history of facing the Japanese in big matches. She shocked three-time Olympic champion Saori YOSHIDA (JPN) in the final at the 2016 Rio Olympics in what proved to be Yoshida's final match of her career. Five years later at the Tokyo Olympics, she fell to Kawai in the semifinals and had to settle for a bronze medal.

At 68kg, Olympic champion Mensah Stock swept away 2021 world 65kg champion Irina RINGACI (MDA) and will next face teenager Ami ISHII (JPN) in a bid to add to the world title she won in 2019.

Mensah Stock scored three takedowns, getting between the legs on the second one to add a pair of exposures, and cruised to a 10-0 technical fall in 2:29. Ishii, like Elor a gold medalist at the world U20 last month, needed a late takedown to edge Nisha DAHIYA (IND) 5-4.

At 59kg, Sakura MOTOKI (JPN) failed to join Ikuei University teammates Ishii and Sakurai in the finals when she dropped a 7-5 nail-biter to Anastasia NICHITA (MDA), who used her long limbs to her advantage.

Nichita led 4-1 when Motoki, another world U20 champion last month, roared back with a takedown and roll to go ahead. But Nichita managed to reverse Motoki to her back at the end of the roll, putting her ahead 6-4. An unsuccessful challenge of a last-second stepout attempt added the final point.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Nichita suffered a heartbreaking loss in the quarterfinals, when Evelina NIKOLOVA (BUL) hit a last-second 4-point lateral drop for a 6-3 victory.

In the final, Nichita will face Grace BULLEN (NOR), who assured herself a first world medal in four attempts when she forged out a 5-3 win over Jowita WRZESIEN (POL).


Day 5 Results

Women's Wrestling

50kg (22 entries)
Gold - Yui SUSAKI (JPN) df. Otgonjargal DOLGORJAV (MGL) by Fall, 1:24 (4-0)

Bronze - Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA) df. Emilia VUC (ROU) by TF, 10-0, 5:40
Bronze - Anna LUKASIAK (POL) df. Miesinnei GENESIS (NGR), 3-2

53kg (23 entries)
Gold - Dominique PARRISH (USA) df. Khulan BATKHUYAG (MGL), 4-2

Bronze - Vinesh PHOGAT (IND) df. Emma MALMGREN (SWE), 8-0
Bronze - Maria PREVOLARAKI (GRE) df. Lucia YEPEZ GUZMAN (ECU) by TF, 14-4, 1:44

57kg (19 entries)
Semifinal - Helen MAROULIS (USA) df. Davaachimeg ERKHEMBAYAR (MGL) by Fall, 5:20 (7-1)
Semifinal - Tsugumi SAKURAI (JPN) df. Zhala ALIYEVA (AZE) by TF, 10-0, 4:47

59kg (14 entries)
Semifinal - Grace BULLEN (NOR) df. Jowita WRZESIEN (POL), 5-3
Semifinal - Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) df. Sakura MOTOKI (JPN), 7-5

65kg (14 entries)
Gold - Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN) df. Jia LONG (CHN), 2-0

Bronze - Mallory VELTE (USA) df. Mimi HRISTOVA (BUL), 11-2
Bronze - Koumba LARROQUE (FRA) df. Elis MANOLOVA (AZE), 3-2

68kg (23 entries)
Semifinal - Ami ISHII (JPN) df. Nisha DAHIYA (IND), 5-4
Semifinal - Tamyra MENSAH STOCK (USA) df. Irina RINGACI (MDA) by TF, 10-0, 2:29

72kg (14 entries)
Semifinal - Amit ELOR (USA) df. Masako FURUICHI (JPN), 3-2
Semifinal - Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ) df. Alexandra ANGHEL (ROU) by TF, 12-2, 3:55

76kg (25 entries)
Gold - Yasemin ADAR (TUR) df. Samar HAMZA (EGY), 6-0

Bronze - Yuka KAGAMI (JPN) df. Genesis REASCO (ECU), 4-0
Bronze - Epp MAE (EST) df. Justina DI STASIO (CAN), 2-1


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