Taylor wins latest duel against Yazdani; Burroughs claims sixth gold

By Ken Marantz

BELGRADE, Serbia (September 16) -- With military-like precision and power, David TAYLOR (USA) came out on top in the latest edition of the top-gun rivalry that currently has the wrestling world abuzz.

Taylor avenged a loss to Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) at last year's World Championships with a well-earned 7-1 victory in the 86kg final, giving the American his second world title in one of four freestyle finals on Friday in Belgrade.

"This is the first time I've really gone into wrestling Yazdani with super strict intentions," Taylor said. "And I followed that. He's burning that fire for me to continue going. He's that barrier to me and a gold medal in Paris."

Earlier, Jordan BURROUGHS (USA) captured the 79kg title to tie Adeline GRAY (USA) for the most-ever world golds by an American with six, while an unheralded and unorthodox Japanese shed some rain on the American victory parade with a surprisingly one-sided win over Zain RETHERFORD (USA) in the 70kg final.

Taha AKGUL (TUR) captured the final title at stake on the seventh day of competition with a victory at 125kg, giving him a third world title and first since 2015.

David TAYLOR (USA)David TAYLOR (USA) never let off the pressure against Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) in the 86kg final. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Taylor's victory over Yazdani was his fourth in five career meetings between the two superstars, the last three of which have come in global finals. Last year, Taylor came out on top 4-3 in the final of the Tokyo Olympics, an outcome Yazdani reversed three months later with a 6-2 win for the gold in Oslo.

"Going there and losing, it was hard," said Taylor, who said he at one time considered retiring.

In every previous match, Yazdani took the initial lead, and Friday night's clash was no exception. Yazdani received an activity point, but few could have foreseen that that would be the limit to his scoring.

After Yazdani tip-toed out of a takedown attempt, Taylor came right back at him and gained a single-leg takedown to lead 2-1 going into the second period. A sweeping tackle and a stepout off a single-leg attempt put the American up 5-1.

Yazdani looked like he was going to cut the lead to a manageable margin when he very nearly got behind for a takedown in the final minute, but Taylor reached back and prevented the Iranian from completing the move. Yazdani still had a shot when moved to the side for a crotch lift, but Taylor resisted that for a stalemate.

With Yazdani putting the pressure on to score, it was Taylor who came up with a final takedown to put the victory on ice.

Taylor said that for some time, he lost his desire to continue the sport, and only relit the flame through the support of his family and others around him.

"I tell you why this year has been so hard for me," he said. "I contemplated retiring multiple times. I just didn't know if I wanted to do it anymore. I've been at the top of what I want to do since I was a little kid. Olympic champion. I believe if I didn't go the World Championships, eight weeks later, I'd probably be done."

Taylor and Yazdani are both Olympic champions with the latter winning at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but became rivals when Yazdani made the move from 74kg up to Taylor's domain at 86kg.

In their first two encounters, Taylor won by fall at the 2017 World Cup, then 11-6 in the first round at the 2018 World Championships, which he won for his first senior world crown.

"We're the number one rivalry in the world for a reason," Taylor said. "You know, we're putting it on the line for wrestling. We're dog-tired out there. You know, it's just like, listen, that's what we're here for, you know. I mean, you gotta be a little bit showman, you know I am the Magic Man for a reason. I was able to be on top today and it feels pretty good."

Yazdani, a three-time champion, now has six world medals. Combined with his two from the Olympics, the 28-year-old has the most global medals in Iranian's storied history, with certainly more on the way in the years ahead.

"We'll go down to two greatest wrestlers of all time, we'll be battling to push each other the entire time so thankful for him," Taylor said. "But it feels good to be a champ."

Asked what he would tell Yazdani, Taylor replied, "Losing sucks. You're gonna get better, I'm gonna get better. And next year, we're gonna put it on the line again. I know you'll be there. I'll be there. And let's put another show for the fans. Give them something else to remember. That and the record books. I'll be there. I know you will, too. Let's go battle."

Jordan BURROUGHS (USA)Jordan BURROUGHS (USA) is now a six-time world champion, the best record for a male USA wrestler. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

For Burroughs, his hard-fought 4-2 victory over Mohammad NOKHODI (IRI) in the 79kg final -- a repeat of 2021 final which the American won 5-1 -- made him the most decorated wrestler in American history when taking into consideration both world and Olympic golds.

"I feel amazing," Burroughs said. "All I can say is, God is good. My family, my coaches, and my training partners. I just think about all of the people who put so much work into helping me get to this platform. You guys get to see the championships, the hard double-legs, and the commitment here, but you rarely get to see the definition of what makes a champion behind the scenes."

Burroughs now has seven combined golds, breaking a tie with the legendary John SMITH (USA), and 10 medals overall. "I thank John for pushing me indirectly," he said.

While Nokhodi received an activity point for the lone point of the first period, Burroughs was far and away the aggressor in the second, launching a succession of takedown attempts that bore fruit with one stepout and a trademark blast double-leg tackle for a takedown.

"The refs hadn't been giving me favorable calls throughout the week, so I knew I had to do something extra," Burroughs said. "But honestly, I just wanted a takedown. I knew he couldn't get to my legs."

An activity point for Burroughs and a late stepout by Nokhodi completed the scoring.

Burroughs won his first four world golds in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017 at 74kg, the same weight he won his lone Olympic title in London in 2012. He moved up to 79kg in 2021 and won gold No. 5. He also has bronze medals from 2014, 2018 and 2019.

For now, Burroughs said he has no thoughts of retiring, despite the demands of being one of the elites of the sport.

"Before every match, I always remind myself that I chose this," he said. "This is chosen suffering. It's difficult, it's hard, it's scary as heck, but I know that God equipped me with the right tools to be the person to go out there and do this repeatedly. I'm 34 years old, I'm the father of four, been married for almost a decade, and I'm still at the top of my game."

Taishi NARIKUNI (JPN)Taishi NARIKUNI (JPN) won the 70kg gold medal with a quick win over Zain RETHERFORD (USA) in the final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Earlier, Taishi NARIKUNI (JPN) had dealt the U.S. a shock when he powered to a 10-0 technical fall over Retherford in the 70kg final.

"I can't put it into words," the 24-year-old Narikuni said of his stunning win. "I really went through a lot. I finally made it to this point."

Narikuni, who first appeared on the world radar when he won the Asian title in April in his first major senior competition, scored a takedown on a counter, then added two points with an exposure in which he put his head between Retherford's legs, lifted up and rotated. He then transitioned to a lace lock.

"I thought I probably wouldn't get that chance again, so I wanted to end it there in one shot," he said. "If the match continued and gone longer, the match might have gone at his pace and I might have lost."

Reeling off three rolls, Narikuni ended the match in 2:10 for gold that he said he will not be defending next year. And not because he will be moving to an Olympic weight class. In fact, he won't even be wrestling freestyle.

"I'm planning to get away from freestyle for a while," Narikuni said. "Without having doubts, I think I can make it in Greco at 67kg. My thinking is to become a world champion in both styles. I won't concede to anyone. This had been my objective before I came here and I definitely think I can achieve it."

All of his life, Narikuni has felt like he was living in the shadow of a two-time world champion. And literally, he was, as it was his mother who won two world golds under her maiden name of Akiko IIJIMA in the 1990s.

She runs Gold Kids, the Tokyo wrestling club where he, Olympic champion Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) and a number of other top Japanese got their start in the sport, and where he is now a coach (he also works part-time at a karaoke parlor). Growing up, he developed a complex about being compared to his mother, and winning the gold in Belgrade puts him halfway to redeeming himself in his own eyes.

But equaling her with two golds is not enough. He will try to outdo her by winning the second title in Greco-Roman. He is no stranger to the style, having finished seventh at the world juniors 2017.

In fact, he might have already been wrestling that style, but the tournament he was going to enter to qualify in Greco for last year's national championships got canceled due to the pandemic.

"She won two titles, and I've only won one," Narikuni said. "I've closed the gap a little. If I win at Greco, no one can deny what I have done. If I don't win at Greco, I will never feel in my heart that I've caught up to her."

Narikuni is also an anomaly in that he spends little time actually wrestling in his training, preferring to mainly hit the weight room. The techniques that he has been learning as a toddler and the power he has built up have served him well.

Taha AKGUL (TUR)Taha AKGUL (TUR) won the world title for the third time and first since 2015. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

In the last match of the night, Akgul won a clash of 2021 bronze medalists, scoring a single-leg takedown and a gut wrench in the second period to rally to a 6-2 win over Lkhagvagerel MUNKHTUR (MGL).

"It was very difficult," Akgul said. "The exhaustion from yesterday was very noticeable, but it's important that I won, to finally become world champion again after seven years and to show the world that I can still be the best."

Akgul had a stepout and received an activity point in the first period, but Munkhtur went ahead by opening the second with a takedown. Munkhtur was attempting to become Mongolia's first world gold medalist in freestyle since 1975.

Akgul was coming off a grueling 4-2 win in the semifinal over defending champion Amir ZARE (IRI), which he won with a takedown in the last second. He said that victory was about more than avenging a loss to Zare in last year's semifinals.

"I prepared well, my opponent beat me last year, but Zare made a "KING" gesture when he won," Akgul said. "Geno [Petrashvili] or I never did that. Respect is very important in sports. This move of mine was for him."

Asked about the difference between his two titles, Akgul replied, "Nothing has changed. I have lost twice in the final in the past, that was very annoying. I would have been world champion five times if that had not happened. If I stay healthy and train well, I can beat everyone."

Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO)Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) won a bronze medal with by beating Oleg BOLTIN (KAZ). (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Georgia, Kyrgyzstan take 2 bronzes each

Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO), who once dominated the weight class along with Akgul in one of the sport's fiercest rivalries, picked up his seventh world medal when he outclassed Oleg BOLTIN (KAZ) 11-4 to take home one of the bronze medals at 125kg.

Petriashvili, who had a three-peat of world golds from 2017 to 2019, fell behind 4-2 early in the second period, but turned on the jets and reeled off nine unanswered points to give Georgia its second bronze of the night.

Earlier, Zurabi IAKOBISHVILI (GEO), a world champion in 2017, picked up his third world bronze and second in a row with a wild 5-5 victory over Arman ANDREASYAN (ARM) at 70kg in a repeat of this year's European final.

Iakobishvili's 4-point takedown early in the second period proved the difference after Andreasyan tied the score at 5-5 with a takedown, but a 2-point title awarded by the referee was taken away when a challenge showed Iakobishvili's back never broke the 90-degree plane.

Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ)Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ) countered Naveen MALIK (IND) attacks to win the bronze at 70kg. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ), the 2021 silver medalist and runner-up to Narikuni at the Asian Championships in April, won the other 70kg bronze and the first of two for Kyrgyzstan when he scored all of his points on counters in a 4-1 over Naveen MALIK (IND).

Malik opened the scoring with a stepoout, but that would be all that Akmataliev would concede as he continued to fend off the Indian's attacks, going ahead with a counter to exposure for a 2-1 lead. In the second period, he countered a double-leg attack and went behind to pad his lead to 4-1.

Zare took home the other 125kg bronze when he bounced back from a disappointing loss to Akgul in the semifinals by scoring four takedowns in an 8-0 loss to Amarveer DHESI (CAN), an important win for Iran in the team race with the rival U.S.

At 79kg, Arsalan BUDAZHAPOV (KGZ) captured his country's second straight bronze of the night when he scored two takedowns in the second period in a 5-1 victory over Ali UMARPASHAEV (BUL).

The other 79kg bronze when to Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR), who gained a decisive stepout off a scramble with :15 left and edged veteran Olympic bronze medalist Bekzod ABDURAKHMONOV (UZB), with the final score becoming 5-3 following a subsequent unsuccessful challenge.

Taking home the 86kg bronzes were Asian champion Azamat DAULETBEKOV (KAZ) and Boris MAKOEV (SVK).

Dauletbekov, limited to two points in the first period, overwhelmed Ethan RAMOS (PUR) in the second rolling to a 10-0 technical fall in 4:25 for his third career world medal. The loss kept Ramos, now an assistant coach at Duke University in the U.S., from becoming just the second world medalist in Puerto Rican history.

The Russian-born Makoev, a silver medalist in 2017 in his first year competing for Slovakia, was behind on criteria when he scored a takedown with a minute to go to defeat Sebastian JEZIERZANSKI (POL) 3-1.

Thomas GILMAN (USA)Defending world champion Thomas GILMAN (USA) reached the final at 57kg. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor) 

U.S. puts 3 into finals

In the semifinals in three weight classes held earlier in the night session, it was an American trifecta as defending champions Thomas GILMAN (USA) and Kyle DAKE (USA) and 2021 bronze medalist Jden COX (USA) all advanced to Saturday night's finals. For both Dake and Cox, their final will be a rematch from the 2021 World Championships.

Gilman, a bronze medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, got the juggernaut going at 57kg, when he used his snap-down attack to great effect for a comprehensive 8-2 win over 2018 world U23 bronze medalist Wanhao ZOU (CHN).

Keeping the pressure constantly on the Chinese, scored three takedowns from a snap-down setup, which he combined with an activity clock point and a stepout. Defensively, Gilman, who also has a 2017 world bronze, limited Zou to a pair of stepouts.

In the final, he will face Russian-born Zelimkhan ABAKAROV (ALB), who scored a takedown and a counter lift for 2 in defeating American-born and bred Stevan MICIC (SRB) 6-1. Abakarov began competing for Albania this year with limited success, although he did win the Kolov-Petrov tournament in Bulgaria in February at 61kg.

Dake, aiming for his fourth consecutive world title and second straight at 74kg, survived a low-scoring but titanic battle with Asian champion Yones EMAMI (IRI) to eke out a 2-2 win.

Emami controlled the first period, taking a 2-0 lead with an activity point and a stepout from a counter, but it was only Dake's passive defense that prevented the Iranian from scoring more. Twice Dake managed to escape the situation when Emami got in deep on a single.

In the second period, Dake, also an Olympic bronze medalist in Tokyo, drove Emami to the edge and as they went out, then launched a backdrop. The call on the mat was for 4, but the Iranian side challenged. The move was reduced to a stepout, but an additional point was tacked on for fleeing, making it 2-2 with Dake holding the advantage on criteria.

Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK)Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) held off Frank CHAMIZO (ITA) 3-0 in the 74kg semifinal. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Standing between Dake and another world title will be Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK), the same opponent he defeated 7-3 a year ago for the gold in Oslo.

Salkazanov scored a pair of stepouts to defeat two-time former world champion Frank CHAMIZO (ITA) 3-0 in the other semifinal. That was a repeat of this year's European Championships final, which Salkazanov won 7-5 for his second straight crown.

At 92kg, Cox will get a chance to avenge a semifinal loss at the same stage in Oslo that forced him to settle for a bronze medal when he takes on defending champion Kamran GHASEMPOUR (IRI).


Day 7 Results


57kg (31 entries)
Semifinal - Thomas GILMAN (USA) df. Wanhao ZOU (CHN), 8-2
Semifinal - Zelimkhan ABAKAROV (ALB) df. Stevan MICIC (SRB), 6-1

70kg (28 entries)
Gold - Taishi NARIKUNI (JPN) df. Zain RETHERFORD (USA) by TF, 10-0, 2:20

Bronze - Zurabi IAKOBISHVILI (GEO) df. Arman ANDREASYAN (ARM), 5-5
Bronze - Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ) df. Naveen MALIK (IND), 4-1

74kg (34 entries)
Semifinal - Kyle DAKE (USA) df. Yones EMAMI (IRI), 2-2
Semifinal - Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) df. Frank CHAMIZO (ITA), 3-0

79kg (32 entries)
Gold - Jordan BURROUGHS (USA) df. Mohammad NOKHODI (IRI), 4-2

Bronze - Arsalan BUDAZHAPOV (KGZ) df. Ali UMARPASHAEV (BUL), 5-1
Bronze - Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR) df. Bekzod ABDURAKHMONOV (UZB), 5-3

86kg (30 entries)
Gold - David TAYLOR (USA) df. Hassan YAZDANI (IRI), 7-1

Bronze - Azamat DAULETBEKOV (KAZ) df. Ethan RAMOS (PUR) by TF, 10-0, 4:25
Bronze - Boris MAKOEV (SVK) df. Sebastian JEZIERZANSKI (POL), 3-1

92kg (23 entries)
Semifinal - Kamran GHASEMPOUR (IRI) df. Miriani MAISURADZE (GEO), 5-0
Semifinal - Jden COX (USA) df. Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE), 7-0

125kg (24 entries)
Gold - Taha AKGUL (TUR) df. Lkhagvagerel MUNKHTUR (MGL), 6-2

Bronze - Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) df. Oleg BOLTIN (KAZ), 11-4
Bronze - Amir ZARE (IRI) df. Amarveer DHESI (CAN), 8-0


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