World Championships day five semis set

By Ken Marantz & Vinay Siwach

BELGRADE, Serbia (September 14) -- An all women's wrestling day at the World Championships in Belgrade. The final four weight classes will be in action with world champion Helen MAROULIS (USA) taking the mat at 57kg. The 68kg is also guaranteed fireworks.


The semifinals for the evening session are set

Helen MAROULIS (USA) vs. Davaachimeg ERKHEMBAYAR (MGL)
Zhala ALIYEVA (AZE) vs. Tsugumi SAKURAI (JPN)

Jowita WRZESIEN (POL) vs. Grace BULLEN (NOR)
Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) vs. Sakura MOTOKI (JPN)

Ami ISHII (JPN) vs. Nisha DAHIYA (IND) 

Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ) vs. Alexandra ANGHEL (ROU)
Masako FURUICHI (JPN) vs. Amit ELOR (USA) 

13:02: Zhala ALIYEVA (AZE) and Esther KOLAWOLE (NGR) going back and forth on Mat C. The scrambles have resulted in a 9-7 lead for Kolawole. Challenge from Kolawole against a four-point move. She loses the challenge. They trade four-pointers with Kolawale leading 13-12. A go behind with just 8 seconds remaining as Aliyeva wins 14-13

13:01: Asian bronze medalist Davaachimeg ERKHEMBAYAR (MGL) clinches a 4-0 victory with a 2-point takedown to the back in defeating Laylokhon SOBIROVA (UZB) to make the 57kg semifinals.

12:57: Helen MAROULIS (USA), pursuing a fourth career world gold, advances to the 57kg semifinals Anhelina LYSAK (POL) with a 10-0 technical fall. Maroulis scores four takedowns, capping the final one with a lack lock roll to end the match at 3:22.

12:55: Tsugumi SAKURAI (JPN) and Alina HRUSHYNA (UKR) in the 57kg quarterfinals with the Ukraine wrestler leading 2-0 at the break. Excellent defense from Hrushyna so far but Sakurai gets a takedown. She gets on the leg again but Hrushyna is trying to expose her. No points. A 2-2 win for Sakurai as she joins her Ikuei University teammates Ami ISHII (JPN) and Sakura MOTOKI (JPN) in the semifinals for the evening session.

12:50: 2021 world U23 bronze medalist Nisha DAHIYA (IND) proves too much for Sofiya GEORGIEVA (BUL), charging to an 11-0 technical fall to secure a spot in the 68kg semifinals.

12:50: Taymara MENSAH STOCK faces a familiar opponent in Feng ZHOU (CHN) in the 68kg quarterfinals on Mat D. She was looking for the fall but Zhou manages to come out of it. She leads 6-0. No comebacks from Zhou this time as Mensah wins 10-0

12:48: Big 68kg quarterfinal as Irina RINGACI (MDA) is up against Delgermaa ENKHSAIKHAN (MGL). Both wrestlers get four points but it's Ringaci leading 7-4 after a takedown. In the second period, Ringaci hits a five before winning the match 14-4

12:46: Ami ISHII (JPN) fights off her back and comes back to score a fall over former world champion Linda MORAIS (CAN) and advance to the 68kg semifinals. Morais uses a barrel roll to put Ishii onto her back, then adds exposure for a 6-2 lead. Ishii shoots in on a double, and Morais uses a counter lift for 2 more. But Ishii keeps the legs, charges ahead and uses a half-nelson to put Morais directly to her back. The fall comes at 2:38.

12:40: Defending world champion Masako FURUICHI (JPN) gives up a takedown against Kendra DACHER (FRA) but answers with a takedown and lace to lead 4-2 at the break. A double from Dacher in the second period to lead 4-4. Furuichi struggling with her defense here. A double leg with 20 seconds remaining and she gets four while looking for the pin. Time runs out but she wins 8-4 at 72kg.

12:36: Alexandra ANGHEL (ROU) makes the semifinals for the first time in her third appearance at senior worlds with an 11-0 technical fall at 72kg over Shauna KUEBECK (CAN).

12:34: Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ), the silver medalist at 72kg a year ago in Oslo, simply overpowers  Svetlana OKNAZAROVA (UZB) to make the semifinals with a 10-0 technical fall at 2:50.

12:30: A 40-second fall for U20 world champion Amit ELOR (USA) over Bose TOSUN (TUR) in the 72kg quarterfinals. That got the USA camp excited.

12:27: European silver medalist Jowita WRZESIEN (POL) scores a takedown and exposure in the final minute to rally into the 57kg semifinals with a 5-3 victory over Mansi AHLAWAT (IND).

12:22: On Mat D, Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) and Qi ZHANG (CHN) are involved in a battle on Mat D. Nichita leads 4-2 at the break. Zhang shoots for the leg but is defended by Nichita. Zhange tries to defend against an attack by Nichita but fails. Nichita with another single leg and she is now looking for the fall and it's confirmed.

12:21: Grace BULLEN (NOR), looking for her first world medal in her sixth appearance, gets one step closer by capping a 12-0 technical fall in the 59kg quarterfinals over Erdenesuvd BAT ERDENE (MGL) with a spectacular 5-point throw.

12:20: 59kg quarterfinals with Sakura MOTOKI (JPN) picking up a fall over Alyona KOLESNIK (AZE) on Mat C.

12:15: U23 world champion Alina HRUSHYNA (UKR) with a fall over Yongxin FENG (CHN) and making her way to the 57kg quarterfinals.

12:11: 2021 world U23 bronze medalist Esther KOLAWOLE, trailing 2-2 on criteria, scores a stepout with :28 left against European bronze medalist Sandra PARUSZEWSKI (GER) to book a place in the 57kg quarterfinals.

12:03: 55kg world champion Tsugumi SAKURAI (JPN) and Olympic bronze medalist Evelina NIKOLOVA (BUL) wrestling on Mat C at 57kg. 1-0 lead for Sakurai at the break for a passivity. A takedown for Sakurai to start the second period, extending her lead to 3-0. Another takedown for her and it's 5-0. Nikolova is in danger of a pin but she lets go of the hold to give up two. 7-0 for Sakurai with one minute remaining. A big four confirmed for Sakurai as she wins 11-0 but Bulgaria challenges the call. Challenge lost and Nikolova will wait if Sakurai can reach the final

12:01: Anhelina LYSAK (POL), the 2021 world U23 champion at 59kg, advanced to the 57kg quarterfinals and a clash with top seed Helen MAROULIS (USA) with a victory by fall over Sarita MOR (IND).

11:56: Olympic champion Taymara MENSAH STOCK (USA) takes the lead against Alla BELINSKA (UKR) with a takedown. She went for another but looks like Bellinska has injured her shoulder. After some medical attention, she will continue but Mensah has the par terre advantage. A fall in the second period for Mensah.

11:54: Two-time European champion Irina RINGACI (MDA), yet another world champion in the stacked 68kg field, rolls to a 10-0 technical fall over Noemi SZABADOS (HUN) to advance to the quarterfinals. Ringaci won the 65kg title in Oslo last year.

11:51: Feng ZHOU (CHN) on Mat C against Ambar GARNICA (MEX) and she takes a 3-0 lead with a takedown and an inactivity point. Garnica on the shot and tries to expose Zhou but exceptional defense from the China wrestler. Zhou gives up two but scores a reversal before hitting a four to lead 8-2. But she hangs on for a 10-4 win.

11:48: Ami ISHII (JPN) sets up an intriguing quarterfinal clash at 68kg with Linda MORAIS (CAN) when the Japanese collegian chalks up a 3-0 win over European silver medalist Pauline LECARPENTIER (FRA).

11:47: Defending champion Helen MAROULIS (USA) needs less than 20 seconds to score a fall over Emma TISSINA (KAZ) and advance to the quarterfinals at 57kg.

11:45: Olympic silver medalist Blessing OBORUDUDU (NGR), a 10-time African champion chasing a first world medal, loses a 2-2 heartbreaker at 68kg to Asian bronze medalist Delgermaa ENKHSAIKHAN (MGL). Oborududu leads 2-0 from a pair of stepouts, but Enkhsaikhan scores a takedown with 1:15 left to win by criteria.

11:34: In a clash of current and former world champions, 2019 titlist Linda MORAIS (CAN) assures that Meerim ZHUMANAZAROVA (KGZ) will not be repeating her title run at 68kg in a nail-biter on Mat A. Morais, trailing 3-0 in the second period, goes ahead 4-3 with a takedown and exposure. When Zhumanazarova gets in on a single, Morais executes a lift for exposure for 2, but the Kyzgyz wrestler reverses her to her back to cut the lead to 6-5 with :20 left. Morais then resists a vicious gut wrench attempt to secure the win.

11:30:  Sarita MOR (IND), a 2021 world bronze medalist at 59kg, wins her opening match at 57kg, scoring the decisive takedown midway through the second period for a 4-2 win over world U23 bronze medalist Hannah TAYLOR (CAN).

11:30: Alla BELINSKA (UKR) and Asian champion Madina BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ) have been involved in a very close bout. The Kazakhstan wrestler was cautioned twice for grabbing the fingers before Belinska was warned for negative wrestling. But she gets a takedown to lead 5-1. Bakbergenova gets on the leg but Belinska is cautioned again. 5-2 win for the Ukraine wrestler.

11:25: Yongxin FENG (CHN) looks like a contender at 57kg. She gut wrenches her way to a technical superiority win over Bediha GUN (TUR). After not being able to participate in the World Championships last year, the China team has done well this year.

11:20: Ami ISHII (JPN), coming off a victory at the world U20, gets her first senior world campaign off to a good start with a 10-0 technical fall over Grabriela PEDRO (BRA), scoring the 10th point with a stepout at the first-period buzzer to advance to the 68kg quarterfinals. Ishii defeated 2021 world silver medalist Rin MIYAJI (JPN) en route to making the Japan team to Belgrade.

11:13: Defending champion Masako FURUICHI (JPN) survives a first-round scare at 72kg, holding on for a 4-3 victory over QIANDEGENCHAGAN (CHN), a 2016 Asian bronze medalist. Furuichi scores two first-period takedowns, only for the Chinese to come back with a takedown and activity clock point early in the second. Furuichi is one of only two wrestlers to have completed the “grand slam” of world senior, U23, junior and cadet titles.

11:10: Another U20 world champion Amit ELOR (USA) showing her class in her senior-level tournament. She has U23 world champion Anastasiya ALPYEYEVA (UKR) but that doesn't matter as she completes a 10-0 win

11:00: U20 world champion Sakura MOTOKI (JPN) with a quick fall over Ebru DAGBASI (TUR) at 59kg. She moves into the quarterfinals against Alyona KOLESNIK (AZE).

10:55: Qi ZHANG (CHN), a 2019 Asian bronze medalist who returned to international action in Bucharest in July and won the gold, moves into the 59kg quarterfinals with a 10-0 technical fall over Elena BRUGGER (GER).

10:50: Grace BULLEN (NOR) looks to be on a mission. She works on Abigail NETTE (USA) to secure a 13-2 win at 59kg.

10:54: European champion Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) records the fall in the first period against Laurence BEAUREGARD (CAN) to advance to the quarterfinals at 59kg. 

10:29: Hello to all from sunny Belgrade for Day 5 and another morning session of high drama. Today, the last four women's weights will be up, with competition through the quarterfinals at 57kg, 59kg, 68kg and 72kg.


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