Wednesday night's Matteo Pellicone finals set

By Eric Olanowski

ROME, Italy (June 21) --- We've finally reached the opening day of action at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event. Wednesday's action will feature Greco-Roman stars at 55kg, 60kg, 63kg, 67kg, 87kg, 97kg and 130kg. 

Stars in Action on Wednesday:
- Murad MAMMADOV (AZE) - '21 world bronze
- Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE) - '18 world champ 
- Victor CIOBANU (MDA) - '21 world champ
- Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE)- '22 U23 and junior world champ
- Morten THORESEN (NOR) - '20 European champ
- Tamas LEVAI (HUN), Erik SZILVASSY (HUN) and Istvan TAKACS (HUN) - Potential Hungarian wrestle-off for the 87kg world team spot. 
- Alex BJURBERG KESSIDIS (SWE) - '19 world silver
- Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN) - '22 European silver, Olympic fifth place
- Felix BALDAUF (NOR) - '17 European champ
- Oskar MARVIK (NOR) -  '21 world bronze

Biggest Upset of the Day (thus far): At 97kg, Aleksandar Georgije STJEPANETIC (SWE) df. Felix BALDAUF (NOR), 5-2.

55kg: Nordic-style bracket
60kg: Murad MAMMADOV (AZE) vs. Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE)
63kg: Victor CIOBANU (MDA) vs. Taleh MAMMADOV (AZE) 
67kg:  Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE) vs. Furkan YILDIZ (TUR) 
87kg:  Islam ABBASOV (AZE) vs. Erik SZILVASSY (HUN) 
97kg:  David LOSONCZI (HUN) vs.  Nikoloz KAKHELASHVILI (ITA) 
​​​​​​​130kg:  Sabah Saleh SHARIATI (AZE) vs. Riza KAYAALP (TUR) ​​​​​​ 

1:56: I'm not too sure what's going on over on Mat B, but Alex Gergo SZOKE (HUN) is complaining about Nikoloz KAKHELASHVILI (ITA) being slippery while in par terre. I think he's saying there's a foreign substance stopping him from gripping the Italian.

1:51: I won't lie, I was selfishly rooting for a 130kg rematch between Kayaalp and Beka KANDELAKI (AZE)Sabah Saleh SHARIATI (AZE) had different plans, as the Rio Olympic bronze medalist edged Kandelaki on criteria to punch his ticket to the gold-medal match.

1:40: Justas PETRAVICIUS (LTU) leads '21 world champ  Victor CIOBANU (MDA) by four points heading into the second period. That match is underway on Mat B.

1:12: In what is likely the determining competition in the fight for the Belgrade spot, Erik SZILVASSY (HUN) sends Tamas LEVAI (HUN) packing his bags after picking up the 2-1 win.

12:55: We have one or two matches left on each mat then will roll directly into the Day One semifinals.

12:51: Kayaalp, the four-time world champion from Turkey, is up now on Mat B. He trailed Knystautas 1-0 after the first but scored a gut wrench after picking up an inactivity point. It looks like he'll close out the match with a two point win and take on reigning world bronze medalist Oskar MARVIK (NOR).

12:43: How are they going to call this? Cohlton Michael SCHULTZ (USA) was down 7-0 against Sabah Saleh SHARIATI (AZE) when the Azeri gutted him for two more points. But things got interesting when the American put Shariati to his back. The refs stop the match and are now reviewing the call. This should be interesting.

12:32: The scoreboard reads 9-4 in favor of Islam ABBASOV (AZE) over Istvan TAKACS (HUN). After Erik SZILVASSY (HUN) and Tamas LEVAI (HUN) both reached the semifinals on the other side of the bracket, this likely ends Takacs' quest for a world team spot at 87kg for Hungary.

12:25: This Jafarov kid from Azerbaijan is going to be a star. The 2021 junior and U23 world champion has picked up back-to-back technical superiority victories and is awaiting the winner of Mohammad Javad Saadat REZAEI (IRI) and Morten THORESEN (NOR).

12:18:  In a clash of world medalist Alex KESSIDIS (SWE) scored a remarkable comeback against Hossein Ahmad NOURI (IRI). The Swedish wrestler trailed 7-2 but scored seven consecutive points and will take on the winner of Istvan TAKACS (HUN) vs. Islam ABBASOV (AZE).

12:01: Alex Gergo SZOKE (HUN) eeks past Artur OMAROV (CZE), 3-1, in what was a battle of Tokyo Olympians.

11:49: Mohammad Hajiali HOSSEINVAND PANAHISANI (IRI) just erased a 7-0 first-period deficit against Florin TITA (ROU) by scoring 11 unanswered points.

11:41: We still haven't seen Turkish legend Riza KAYAALP (TUR) take the mat yet. He's still a ways out, but will take on Knystautas in eight matches on Mat B (Bout 43).

11:31: Keep an eye out for world champion Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE) on Mat A. He's coming up in three matches and will wrestle Teodor HORATAU (ROU).

11:27: In a battle of Tokyo Olympians Mantas KNYSTAUTAS (LTU) picked up the 2-0 opening-round win over Alin ALEXUC CIURARIU (ROU).

11:07: Reigning world champ Victor CIOBANU (MDA) just made Taleh MAMMADOV'S (AZE) feet touch the ceiling at the Palla Pellicone with a back-arching throw!

10:59: This should be a great one over on Mat B. Youngster Hasrat JAFAROV (AZE) is climbing the ranks at 67kg while Erik TORBA (HUN) is an established vet.

10:55: As the day progresses, we'll be paying close attention to Hungarian 87kg wrestlers Erik SZILVASSY (HUN)Istvan TAKACS (HUN) and Tamas LEVAI (HUN), who are all in contention to hold the world championship spot in Belgrade.

10:52: Norway's second European champ of the day Morten THORESEN (NOR) is now on the middle mat. He's wrestling Italy's Giovanni Paolo ALESSIO (ITA) on Mat B.

10:41: Mammadov looked really impressive in his first-round match, defeating Ozturk, 14-1. I'm not sure where the Turking wrestler goes for the World Championships, but I'm sure there's talk about him moving back down to 55kg. I think that's what give Turkey the best shot at a medal at 55kg and 60kg, with European champion Kerem KAMAL (TUR) taking over the 60kg position.

10:37: It's nice to see European champion Felix BALDAUF (NOR) wrestling over on Mat C. While at the European Championships in Budapest earlier this year, we were shooting out Question of the Day with fans, wrestlers and coaches when someone ran past and said, "Felix just broke his leg on the mat. He's done for a while." Luckily that turned out to be false and it was just a minor injury and he's back to looking like the early 2022 Baldauf.

10:30: We'll kick the day off with hammers Ekrem OZTURK (TUR) and Murad MAMMADOV (AZE) wrestling on Mat A. This is Ozturk's sixth Ranking Series event. He's reached the finals in all five of his previous Ranking Series outings. 


Crafty Bullen returns to top of podium in Rome

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (June 24) -- Grace BULLEN (NOR) won her first senior European title in 2017, and since then, she reached the medal bouts at 16 out of 22 competitions she competed in till 2020. She won another continental gold in Rome that year. A medal at Tokyo Olympics and at the home World Championships in Oslo felt like reality.

But as luck would have it, Bullen failed to qualify for Tokyo. Actually, she did not finish on the podium at five different tournaments including two shocking losses at the Olympic Qualifying tournaments in Budapest and Sofia. She returned empty-handed in Oslo as well.

Just when it seemed that the prodigy from Norway was fading away, Bullen came up with a performance from the ages at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series in Rome. Bullen captured the gold at 59kg on Friday, outscoring her opponents 25-2, including a 12-2 win in the final against Jowita WRZESIEN (POL).

Bullen's gold might have come at the right time as she prepares for the World Championships and ultimately for the Paris Olympics. The confidence-boosting win will also serve as a great catalyst to help her return to the top form that she once was known for.

The former U17 world champ displayed high-quality wrestling, not only in the final but throughout the day.

Nikolett SZABO (HUN) was the first to get a taste of Bullen's crafty wrestling, as she got launched for five with a clean pick and throw. That gave Bullen a 13-0 start to the day. Abigail NETTE (USA) kept her quiet for a few moments but Bullen won the semifinal 10-0.

A final against Odunayo ADEKUOROYE (NGR) would have given her a chance to assess herself better but Wrzesien defeated the former world silver medalist 9-3 in the other semifinal.

Against Wrzsien, Bullen launched double leg attacks and transitioned to leg lace on one of them to lead 8-0. She went for a winning takedown but in the sequence, ended up giving up an exposure as well which was two points for each wrestler. But she got that final takedown with 3:43 left in the final.

This was Bullen's first major international gold since that European title which she won, incidentally in Rome.

Tetiana RIZHKOTetiana RIZHKO (UKR) won the gold at 65kg. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

After winning three gold medals on Thursday, Ukraine added two more through Liliia MALANCHUK (UKR) and European champion Tetiana RIZHKO (UKR) at 53kg and 65kg, respectively.

Rizhko was the star performer of the day as she dismantled her opponents en route to the gold. In the four bouts, she won via fall in two, one by technical superiority and another 6-1.

She faced Emma BRUNTIL (USA) in Round 1 of the Nordic bracket and secured a fall inside the first period. Up against her teammate Kateryna ZELENYKH (UKR) in the next round, Rizhko scored two quick takedowns to open the scoring. Zelenykh kept trying to attack her senior opponent's legs but ended up giving points and eventually a fall.

In Round 4, she faced a familiar opponent in Kriszta INCZE (ROU). The bout was a virtual gold medal bout. Rizhko did not wait much and got an early exposure to lead 2-0. Incze's eyes lit up when she got behind Rizhko in a standing position and tried working a takedown but the Ukrainian tossed her for four. With a 6-1 lead, Rizhko played it safe and does not engage much in the second period.

Liliia MALANCHUK (UKR)Liliia MALANCHUK (UKR) defeated Mariana DRAGUTAN (MDA) twice on Friday at 53kg. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

At 53kg, Malanchuk scored two wins over U23 European champion Mariana DRAGUTAN (MDA) to win the gold medal. The two first met in Round 2 in the morning session which Malanchuk won 3-2. Dragutan tried avenging that loss but a solid defensive performance from Malanchuk got her the gold with a 6-2 score.

In the final, the score was tied 2-2 when Malanchuk worked on a cradle to secure the fall. Dragutan survived the fall but gave up two exposures in the process and trailed 6-2.

The rest of the bout saw Dragutan trying to find an opening against Malanchuk who would not budge despite several attacks from the Moldova wrestler.

Ukraine could have won a third gold of the day but Mariia VYNNYK (UKR) came up short against Katarzyna KRAWCZYK (POL) at 55kg.

Krawczyk won the gold after finishing second at the Ranking Series event in Istanbul at the beginning of the year. She turned that into gold with a 7-2 win over Vynnyk.

It was Vynnyk who got the first attack going and as she dragged Krawczyk towards the zone, the Poland wrestler used that momentum to hit a well-timed arm throw for four. Vynnyk seemed a little shocked after the throw but composed herself quickly.

She scored a takedown before the break to cut the lead to 4-2 but despite her several attempts to score more, she suffered a 7-2 loss in the final.

At 50kg, Madison PARKS (CAN) and Agata WALERZAK (POL) left everything on the mat in the gold medal bout.

Parks led 4-2 at the break before Walerzak made it 4-4 with a takedown at the restart. The lead went back to Parks with a stepout. But Walerzak scored a takedown and added two more to lead 8-5 with two minutes left. Parks, desperate to get on an attack, managed to score a takedown late in the match.

With the score reading 8-7 with just 20 seconds left, Walerzak kept her distance from Parks but in the final second of the bout, the Canadian used her strength to put down the Poland wrestler.

Walerzak was trying to escape a body lock from behind but Parks kept her hands locked and just before time expired, she managed to bring down Walerzak on her knee for a brief moment. But that was enough for her to get a takedown and the win.

Skylar GROTE (USA)Skylar GROTE (USA) won four bouts on Friday to capture the 72kg gold. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

A day after Yelena MAKOYED (USA) made a surprising run to the 76kg gold, another USA wrestler capture the gold on her debut in Ranking Series.

Pan-American champion Skylar GROTE (USA) dominated the field at 72kg to capture the gold a month after winning the continental title in Mexico.

After getting past teammate Marilyn GARCIA (USA) 11-0, Grote faced tough competition from former U23 world silver medalist Alexandra ANGHEL (ROU). But a good attack and defense combination gave a 6-3 win.

Two-time world medalist Anna SCHELL (GER) was dominating the field in a similar fashion. She had only conceded only against Anghel in three of her bouts.

Grote won her third bout against Aysegul OZBEGE (TUR) to set up a Round 5 bout against Schell. With the two wrestling being the only ones to remain undefeated at that point, it became a gold-medal match.

Schell tried getting on the scoreboard quickly but it was Grote who took the 2-0 lead. She then added another takedown and make it 4-0 at the break. In the second period, Grote kept her shots going and extended her lead to 6-0 despite Schell's repeated attempt to score from double-leg.

She managed to score one with 41 seconds left but Grote gave no other openings, winning 6-2.

"She [Schell] was the toughest opponent I faced," Grote said. "I don't have much experience internationally so the girls were new to me as I have never wrestled them before. But I began dominantly and then said to myself 'let's go.'"

Grote made her first national team ever after reaching the final at World Team Trials. She lost to U17 and U20 world champ Amir ELOR (USA) but did not let that disappointment come in the way of her future tournaments.

"I was disappointed after the loss but I told myself that I wrestle in two weeks," she said. "I need to be more calculated with my attacks, I could not win the hand fights. But I had spent a lot of time preparing so I came to Italy."

The learnings from that bout held Grote in Rome as she controlled her bouts with precision.

"I changed my mindset this year," she said. "Win or lose I am still Skylar and now I am more progressive in attacks than being a counter wrestler. I try to control the bout rather than wrestling as per my opponent."

Petriashvili wins gold

World and Olympic silver medalist Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) added a second Ranking Series title of his career, four years after he won the first with a clinical display of wrestling in Rome.

In the final, he faced his semifinal opponent from European Championships Robert BARAN (POL). While the bout in Budapest ran close, Petriashvili made sure it wasn't the case Friday.

After a slow start for which Petriashvili was awarded two points for Baran's passivity on either side of the break, Petraishvili successfully got one of his attacks to work and score a takedown and lead 4-0.

In the final few moments of the bout, Petriashvili scored another to win 6-0.

In the other freestyle weight that was in action Friday, Batyrbek TCAKULOV (SVK) collected a second straight Ranking Series gold at 97kg.

Earlier this month, he had won the gold at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup in Almaty and came up with a similar performance in Rome. He defeated Givi MATCHARASHVILI (GEO) 10-4 in a final which he controlled throughout.

The European bronze medalist led the bout 2-1 before adding a takedown late in the first period. He began with another takedown out-of-bounds to extend it to 6-1. Switching to defense, he countered a duck under attempt from Matcharashvili and scored. While the Georgian managed to score one, he lost the bout.

En route to the final, Tcakulov had defeated fellow European bronze medalist Zbigniew BARANOWSKI using a leg lace while Matcharashvili upset the European champion Magomedkhan MAGOMEDOV (AZE) in a minute and 10 seconds. He had earlier defeated silver medalist Vladislav BAITCAEV (HUN) 14-9 despite trailing 7-2 at the start.


Women's wrestling

GOLD: Madison PARKS (CAN) df. Agata WALERZAK (POL), 10-8


GOLD: Liliia MALANCHUK (UKR) df. Mariana DRAGUTAN (MDA), 6-2

BRONZE: Samantha STEWART (CAN) df. Szimonetta SZEKER (HUN), 10-0

GOLD: Katarzyna KRAWCZYK (POL) df. Mariia VYNNYK (UKR), 7-2 

BRONZE: Andreea ANA (ROU) df. Nina HEMMER (GER), 4-3

GOLD: Grace BULLEN (NOR) df. Jowita WRZESIEN (POL), 12-2

BRONZE: Odunayo ADEKUOROYE (NGR) df. Elena BRUGGER (GER), 5-1 
BRONZE: Abigail NETTE (USA) df. Nikolett SZABO (HUN), 13-2





BRONZE: Elizbar ODIKADZE (GEO) df. Zbigniew BARANOWSKI (POL), 9-3
BRONZE: Vladislav BAITCAEV (HUN) df. Erik THIELE (GER), 4-0


BRONZE: Kamil KOSCIOLEK (POL) df. Anil KILICSALLAYAN (TUR), via inj. def.