U17 Worlds: Young stars set to battle for supremacy in Rome

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (June 21) -- Last year at the U17 World Championships, the USA and India were involved in a fierce team title race in two styles. While India won the freestyle title, the USA clinched the women's trophy. In Greco-Roman, Georgia had a comfortable lead to win the first spot after the initial battle with Ukraine and Russia which finished second and third respectively.

But the three nations will be under pressure to repeat their performance in Rome where the U17 World Championships begin Monday at the Pala Pellicone.

The biggest change from the previous edition will be the return of Japan to the competition after giving it a skip last year due to COVID-19.

U17 Asia silver medalist Mona EZAKA (JPN) will lead the team Japan team along with former U15 Asian champion Sakura ONISHI (JPN). The two will be competing in 40kg and 53kg respectively.

Historically, Japan has done well in lifting the trophy in women's wrestling since 2012. It should be the case in Rome unless one of India or the USA comes with a similar performance as last year.

India will also take heart from the fact that it won six gold medals at the recent U17 Asian Championships. The team will be led by defending champion at 73kg Priya MALIK (IND) as she tries to join KOMAL (IND) and Sonam MALIK (IND) as the country's only multiple U17 world champions.

Since she won the title in Budapest, Malik has lost only one bout -- a 3-3 criteria decision to Nodoka YAMAMOTO (JPN) at the U20 Asian Championships in Bahrain last month.

In Rome, she will face quite a challenge as U17 European Championships gold medalist Ambre CHEVREAU (FRA) and silver Gabriela MAEVA (BUL) are both entered. Pan-Am champion Rupinder JOHAL (CAN) will also hope to medal on the global stage.

Apart from Malik, MUSKAN (IND), RITIKA (IND), SHRUTI (IND), REENA (IND) and SAVITA (IND) are also part of the team. All six won the U17 Asia title. HARSHITA (IND), who finished fifth last year, would like to be on the podium this year.

The USA will have '21 champion Erica PASTORIZA (USA) leading the charge. She won the title at 40kg in Budapest but will be competing at 43kg this year. Bronze medalist at 49kg Audrey JIMENEZ (USA) is returning to change the color of her medal in the same weight class.

A lot of interest will be in Shelby MOORE (USA) who has dominated the 57kg weight class at this level in the USA. Also in action will be the U17 Pan-Am silver medalist at 65kg Sydney PERRY (USA).

Mariia YEFREMOVA (UKR)Mariia YEFREMOVA (UKR) won the European title at 51kg in Bucharest. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

A European challenge in the form of Ukraine will also be waiting for the three nations. Upcoming star and world champion at 49kg Mariia YEFREMOVA (UKR) along with teammates and fellow European champions Yevheniia DRUZENKO (UKR) at 40kg, Anastasiia POLSKA (UKR) at 43kg and Nadiia SOKOLOVSKA (UKR) at 69kg, are all entered for the Worlds.

Alexandra VOICULESCU (ROU) finished second to Pastoriza at 40kg last year but she is moving up to 46kg for the Rome event. A rematch of the U17 European Championships against Korneila LASZLO (HUN) is also on the cards. Laszlo won the final in Bucharest.

At 49kg, while Jiminez will be the favorite, she is up against a tough European field. Fabiana RINELLA (ITA), who won silver in Bucharest, will be in the field along with both bronze medalists Sevval CAYIR (TUR) and Anastasiia ZADVORNA (UKR). Laura FATH (HUN), Ana ROTARU (ROU), Anja EPP (SUI), Reka HEGEDUS (SVK) are also entered.

Turkey is also bringing a solid team to Rome with all seven European Championships medalists on the team including gold medalist Tuba DEMIR (TUR) at 57kg. Demir missed out on a medal last year finishing fifth at 53kg.

In a historic moment, Anya HATCH (TGA) will become the first woman from Tonga to represent her country at a World Championships.

Vasif BAGHIROV (AZE)Vasif BAGHIROV (AZE) can be the breakout performer in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)


Defending champions India will be banking on a new group of wrestlers after the medalists from the previous edition failed to make the team. 

U17 Asian champions Ningappa GENANNAVAR (IND) and Vaibhav PATIL (IND) will be carrying the team with Patil also having experience from the Budapest edition in which he finished fifth.

But Iran, Azerbaijan and the USA will be its biggest challenge to the team title defense. Azerbaijan can have a breakout Worlds as it did at the U17 European Championships, easily winning the team title.

At 48kg, Vasif BAGHIROV (AZE) will be the favorite to win the title. Baghirov had three victories via fall in his four outs in Bucharest. He will be joined by silver medalist Rassoul GALBOURAEV (FRA) and Asian bronze medalist Ramil RASSIM (KAZ) at the same weight.

It may turn out to be a battle at 51kg as the silver medalist from Budapest Luke LILLEDAHL (USA) will go up against continental champions Elman AGHAYEV (AZE) and Nurdanat AITANOV (KAZ). The silver medalists from both Asia and Europe -- Mohammad Reza ASADI (IRI) and Narek HAKOBYAN (ARM) -- are also in the field.

Patil, who lost to Abdinur NURLANBEK (KAZ) in the semifinal and later to Javid JADADOV (AZE) in the bronze bout last year, will look to make amends at 55kg. But he will have his task cut out as five other continental medalists are wrestling.

At the U17 Asians, he defeated Husanboy USMONOV (UZB) and Daryn ASKERBEK (KAZ) in the semifinal and final respectively and both wrestlers will be eyeing to avenge their losses to Patil in Rome.

European champion Jamal ABBASOV (AZE) and silver to him Illia SHKETYK (UKR) are also entered the field. Abbasov put on a show at the Euros, winning three bouts via superiority and two, semifinal and final, via falls.

Azerbaijan will have favorites at 60kg in Agha GASIMOV (AZE), Ilyas ISAYEV (AZE) at 65kg and Yusif DURSUNOV (AZE) at 110kg. However, 60kg will have Asian finalists Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ) and Javokhir CHULIBOYEV (UZB) as well as Abdullah TOPRAK (TUR), who won the gold over Gasimov in Bucharest.

Zan FUGGIT (USA) will also hope to make an impression after winning the Pan-Am title with ease.

Iran, which dominates the heavyweights, will be a big challenge for Dursunov, a bronze medalist at 92kg from last year, as he will be facing Mohammadreza LOTFI (IRI) who won the Asian title without giving up a single point.

At 92kg, the bronze medalist from Budapest and now U17 Asian champion Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ), a cousin of world medalist Dauren KURUGLIEV (RWF), will hope to win the title this year. His biggest threat will be European champion Ibrahim BENEKLI (TUR) and silver medalist Musza ARSUNKAEV (HUN) along with bronze medalists Nika PANTSULAIA (GEO) and Yaroslav LISNIAK (UKR).

In his run to Asian gold, he defeated Sahil JAGLAN (IND) in the semifinals and Erfan ALIZADEH (IRI) in the final. Both Jaglan and Alizadeh are wrestling in Rome.

Mohammad JAHANGIRI (IRI)Mohammad JAHANGIRI (IRI) is one of the favorites to win the 110kg GR title. (Photo: UWW / Assem Shalgumbayeva)


Georgia emerged as the world champions last year and a repeat cannot be ruled out with a strong squad present in Budapest.

European champions Vakhtang LOLUA (GEO), 48kg, and Anri KHOZREVANIDZE (GEO), 51kg, lead the unit with silver and bronze medalists from Bucharest.

Khozrevanidze will be keen on winning the world title after he finished with a bronze medal at the last edition at 45kg. He is jumping up to 51kg for this year.

At 48kg, world champion Nikita DEMENTIEV (UKR), who won the title at 45kg, will like to repeat despite his loss to Lolua at the Europeans.

Dementiev is leading a solid Ukraine team as it hopes to build on the second-place finish from Budapest. Yevhen POKOVBA (UKR) at 45kg became the European champion and will start as the favorite.

Ukraine finished third at the U17 Europeans with 109 points, equal as Georgia. The title was won by Azerbaijan convincingly with 175 points and it will be gunning to win the title in Rome as well.

Azerbaijan has two European champions in Faraim MUSTAFAYEV (AZE), also a bronze medalist from Budapest, at 55kg and Mahammad GASIMZADE (AZE) at 60kg along with four silver medalists from Bucharest wrestling in Rome.

Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan may spoil the party for Azerbaijan and Georgia. Kyrgyzstan won the Asian title after winning four of the 10 golds on offer. The other three nations won two each in the same competition.

One of the most intriguing battles may be seen at 110kg as Asian Mohammad JAHANGIRI (IRI) and European champion Laszlo DARABOS (HUN) are expected to clash in Budapest. Both had dominant runs to gold in their respective competition and will now like to win the gold at Worlds.

With close to 600 wrestlers entered, it may turn out to be an eye-opening World Championships, the first of the season. The action will be live on uww.org from Monday.


USA closes out U17 Worlds with 3 golds, historic FS title

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (July 31) -- James GREEN (USA) was part of the USA team which won the freestyle team title for the first time in 22 years at the 2017 World Championships. The two-time world medalist won a silver medal in that edition.

Five years later, Green got another chance to hold the team trophy, this time as the chief coach of the USA team at the U17 World Championships in Rome on Sunday.

USA won a historic first U17 freestyle world title in Rome with nine out of their 10 wrestlers winning medals including four golds. It finished with 190 points which was more than enough to exchange places with defending champions India which finished with 126 points.

Azerbaijan, a nation that won the European team title, finished third with 122 points.

USA became the fourth nation to win the U17 world freestyle title after Russia, Iran and India since the U17 Worlds were reinstated in 2011. Russia won the title every year until 2018 when Iran broke that streak.

Russia won again in 2019 before India became only the third country to win the title in 2021.

USAUSA coach James GREEN, center, with the team title trophy. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

"It feels like it's straight out of a movie," he said. "It's like a reminiscent of 2017 when I was part of the world team that won the title for the USA after 22 years."

After finishing with a gold, three silver and a bronze medal on day six, the USA rocked again on the final day with three gold and a bronze to close out the tournament.

"I know how these guys are feeling," he said. "I am so excited to win this on my first trip and looking forward to more coaching."

Since 2011, the USA finished in the second spot five times in nine U17 Worlds with the latest being to India at the previous edition. But this year, all the USA wrestlers won their head-to-heads against India which ultimately proved to be the difference between who became the champions.

"The draw kind of worked in our favor," Green said. "We definitely had a gameplan not just for India but for everyone else including the Europeans as well.  But I can tell you one thing that our wrestlers wanted to get a hand on Indian wrestlers because we lost to them last time."

Luke LILLEDAHL (USA)Luke LILLEDAHL (USA), blue, upgraded his '21 silver to gold. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Luke LILLEDAHL (USA) finished with a silver medal in 2021 after suffering a loss against Aman GULIA (IND) but there was no stopping Lilledahl this year as he upgraded to gold with a dominating 10-1 win over Mohammad Reza ASADI (IRI).

The 51kg final, pretty much controlled by Lilledahl, began with two exchanging stepout but then the USA wrestler switched levels after the break and scored takedowns whenever he found Asadi going for a half shot. He countered two of Asadi's attacks while he scored a takedown and added a leg lace in his 12-1 victory for the gold medal.

"Luke wrestlers at a hard pace," Green said. "He keeps a low head but is always moving and engaging. He takes the points as they come and doesn't rush into attacks."

Two other gold medalists for the USA on Sunday, Domenic MUNARETTO (USA) and Joseph SEALEY (USA), also impressed Green.

Munaretto won the 45kg gold medal by beating Bashir VERDIYEV (AZE), 2-0 in the final. Overall, the champion outscored his opponents 30-2 in the tournament.

Joseph SEALEY (USA)Joseph SEALEY (USA) outscored his opponents 55-1 in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

At 71kg, Sealey dashed local hopes to see a home champion by decimating Raul CASO (ITA), 12-0, in the gold medal bout.

Sealey, like his all other bouts, was wrestling at a completely different level and pace which Caso had no answer to. When Caso tried to engage in underhooks, he would get tripped by Sealey and when he tried to score a takedown, Sealey would easily stop any such attempts.

His two inside trips and two takedowns were enough to help Sealey win the crown and get some praise from coach Green.

"Sealey was very impressive," he said. "He wrestles like a senior athlete and can wrestle someone from that level. He conceded the least points in the whole tournament."

Sealey wrestled five bouts to win the gold and in an impressive record, scored 55 points and conceded only one.

Drawing experience from the title-winning run in 2017, Green had communicated to his team to 'have fun' during the tournament.

"I just told them that you are capable of being world champs and future Olympic champions," he said. "But more importantly I told them to have fun at this tournament. Most of these guys are wrestling for the first time and they can be hard on themselves so I didn't want that. And once we all met, they had the team chemistry and it clicked right away."

Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI)Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI), blue, pulled off a 5-4 win against Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ) in the 60kg final. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

The other gold medals of the night were shared between Iran and Kazakhstan.

At 60kg, Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI) defeated U17 Asian champion Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ), 5-4 to win the gold after trailing 3-1 at one point. Sharip Uulu scored the first points with a duck-under during the activity period against Elahi. It was initially awarded as four but Iran challenged the call and it was reversed to two points only.

But Elahi's constant moves towards Sharip Uulu's legs paid dividends as he leveled the score 3-3 and led on criteria. He then added a takedown against the tiring Kyrgyzstan wrestler to extend his lead to 5-3. He was warned for fleeing during the final 10 seconds which made the score 5-4 but did not change the result.

Elahi's gold was Iran's first of the tournament as it finished fifth in the team rankings.

Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ)Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ) won the 92kg gold, the second of the tournament for Kazakhstan. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Returning bronze medalist Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ) went all the way this year and captured his maiden world title, a month after he had won the U17 Asian title.

Musza ARSUNKAEV (HUN) had no answers to Kurugliyev's style of wrestling, inspired by his former world bronze medalist father and cousin-brother, European champion Duaren KURUGLIEV (RWF).

After a 3-0 lead in the first period, Kurugliyev began the second with a huge double-leg for four and then added two takedowns to close out a statement win in Rome.

The World Championships season will now move to Sofia, Bulgaria with the U20 Worlds beginning August 15.




GOLD: Domenic MUNARETTO (USA) df. Bashir VERDIYEV (AZE), 2-0

BRONZE: Arman HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) df. Amirmohammad NAVAZI (IRI), via fall
BRONZE: Nikoloz BOTCHORISHVILI (GEO) df. Constantin RUSU (MDA), 5-4

GOLD: Luke LILLEDAHL (USA) df. Mohammad Reza ASADI (IRI), 10-1

BRONZE: Nurdanat AITANOV (KAZ) df. Ben TARIK (MAR), 1-1

GOLD: Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI) df. Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ), 5-4

BRONZE: Taiga OGINO (JPN) df. Alessandro NINI (ITA), 3-1

GOLD: Joseph SEALEY (USA) df. Raul CASO (ITA), 12-0



BRONZE: Maxwell MCENELLY (USA) df. Sahil JAGLAN (IND), 2-1