#WrestleSofia: 22 continental champs headed to U20 Worlds

By Eric Olanowski

SOFIA, Bulgaria (August 11) -- Future stars of freestyle wrestling will head to Bulgaria’s capital in troves, as 22 reigning continental champions will be in action next week at the U20 World Championships.

That means there will be at least two continental champions vying for world supremacy in nine of the ten weight classes.

At 57kg, continental gold medalists Simone PIRODDU (ITA) and Merey BAZARBAYEV (KAZ) are the favorites to reach the finals of the 22-man bracket that features a total of four continental medalists.

Simone PIRODDU (ITA)Simone PIRODDU (ITA) won the U20 European Championships with a 26-5 scoring run. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Italy’s Piroddu won five matches at the U20 European Championships earlier this year and dominated in all matches but one -- his opening round bout -- where he eked out a 4-4 win over Seyfulla ITAEV (FRA). Outside of that match, the 2018 U17 world bronze medalist outscored his four remaining opponents 26-5 to win his second career age group European title. He also won the 2019 U17 European title.

His biggest test will likely be Kazakhstan’s 19-year-old Bazarbayev.

Bazarbayev has an impressive 6-2 record during his 2022 campaign, highlighted by his U20 Asian gold medal and bronze-medal finished at the senior-level Bolat Turlykhanov Cup Ranking Series event.

Other wrestlers to pay attention to are Harutyun HOVHANNISYAN (ARM) and Luka GVINJILIA (GEO) who won European silver and bronze medals respectively.

Nicholas BOUZAKIS (USA)Nicholas BOUZAKIS (USA) is the 61kg Pan-Am champion. (Photo: UWW / Osvaldo Aguilar)

Reigning continental champs Daviti ABDALADZE (GEO), Armin HABIBZADEH (IRI) and Nicholas BOUZAKIS (USA) are all looking to navigate the loaded 61kg bracket and win their first world titles.

There will be six U20 continental medalists wrestling on the 21-man 61kg chart.

Georgia’s U20 European gold medalist Abdaladze will be wrestling in his third age-group World Championships. He fell one match short of medaling at the ’18 and ’19 U17 World Championships, finishing in fifth place in both Championships.

Habibzadeh will be competing on the international scene for the second time in his career. The first came in Manama, Bahrain, where he won three matches and claimed the U20 Asian title.

Bouzakis, this year’s U20 Pan-American champion, will be looking to improve his 8th-place finish from last year’s U20 World Championships. But in Ufa, the 19-year-old American competed in Greco-Roman but will switch styles and try his hand at freestyle.

Outside of the trio of champs, other 2022 continental medalists to be on the lookout for are Khamzat ARSAMERZOUEV (FRA), Maiis ALIYEV (KAZ), Mohit KUMAR (IND) and Hayk ABRAHAMYAN (ARM).

Arsamerzouev and Aliyev were continental silver medalists while Abrahamyan was a European bronze medalist.

SUJEET (IND)SUJEET (IND) is unbeaten in three international tournaments. (Photo: UWW / Bayrem Ben Mrad)

At 65kg, Mykyta ZUBAL (UKR) and SUJEET (IND) are the favorites to tussle for gold.

Zubal is one of the most offensive guys entered in the competition. The 19-year-old Ukrainian scored 42 points in his four matches en route to winning the U20 European title earlier this year.

His biggest test will likely be India’s Sujeet who dominated his way to the U20 Asian title last month. He picked up four wins – including three shutout wins totaling 28-0. He also won the senior-level Ranking Series event in Tunis and claimed the gold medal at the U23 Asian Championships.

Other guys looking to disrupt the party will be continental silver medalists Ayub MUSAEV (BEL) and former U17 world champion Umidjon JALOLOV (UZB) and bronze medalist Olzhas OLZHAKANOV (KAZ).

Hayk PAPIKYAN (ARM)Hayk PAPIKYAN (ARM) is the 70kg U20 European Championships. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Another weight class that’ll house a trio of continental champs will be 70kg. Hayk PAPIKYAN (ARM), Hossein MOHAMMAD (IRI) and Mitchell MESENBRINK (USA) are champions in Europe, Asia and the Americas respectively. Each guy will be competing on the world stage for the first time in their career.

Other guys who have set the bar high for themselves are Asian silver medalist Mulaym YADAV (IND) and European bronze medalists Muhammad ABDURACHMANOV (BEL) and Pavel ANDRUSCA (MDA).

The most intriguing weight in Sofia will undoubtedly be 74kg as it has three top contenders, with the front runners being returning world champion Erfan ELAHI (IRI), Dzhabrail GADZHIEV (AZE) and Alexander FACUNDO (USA).

Depending on how the bracket plays out, there’s the potential to see a rematch from last year’s U20 world finals at 70kg between Elahi and Gadzhiev, where the Iranian snuck out the 6-5 victory over the four-time age-group European champion to win his first world title.

But Facundo will look to stop either guy if they step in his path of winning a third age-group world medal. He won U17 world bronze medals in 2018 and 2019 but has his sights set on reaching the world finals and claiming gold for the first time in his career.

Sagar JAGLAN (IND), the U17 world champion from 2021, will also look to finish among the medalists.

Mushegh MKRTCHYAN (ARM) and Sobhan YARI (IRI), the pair of 2022 continental champs, are the betting favorites to vie for the 79kg gold medal.

Mkrtchyan will be making his first appearance on the world stage, while Yari is undoubtedly heading to Bulgaria with a chip on his shoulder. He lost his only match to Stambul ZHANYBEK UULU (KGZ) and finished in a disappointing 11th place at last year’s U20 World Championships.

Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA)Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA) is a returning silver medalist. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 86kg, Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA) will look to become the second-ever French freestyle wrestler to win a U20 world title. The defending U20 European champion fell one match short at last year’s U20 World Championships after dropping his finals bout to Amirhossein FIROUZPOUR (IRI).

His biggest test will be reigning Asian champion Aref RANJBARI (IRI). This will be the Iranian’s first-ever trip to the World Championships.

A few guys who could disrupt the bracket are continental runner-ups Daviti KOGUASHVILI (GEO) and Batbilguun NAADAMBAT (MGL), and continental bronze medalists Nazar DOD (UKR), Jointy KUMAR (IND) and Cesar ESTRADA (GUA).

At 92kg, outside of betting-odds favorite and reigning U23 world champion Amirhossein FIROUZPOUR (IRI), there are six guys with continental podium finishes in 2022, with the biggest star being European champion Ion DEMIAN (MDA). There are nine weights with at least a pair of continental winners, with Demian having the luxury of being the lone ranger in the weight.

His biggest competition will likely come from Europe, as the other three guys who shared the U20 European podium -- Andro MARGISHVILI (GEO), Adlan VISKHANOV (FRA) and Denys SAHALIUK (UKR) – are all looking to put an end to Demian’s hot-streak.

Amirali AZARPIRA (IRI)Amirali AZARPIRA (IRI) is the U20 Asian champion. (Photo: UWW / Bayrem Ben Mrad)

The favorites to clash for world supremacy at 97kg are Amirali AZARPIRA (IRI) and Benjamin KUETER (USA).

Azarpira heads into Bulgaria with an unblemished 8-0 international record and is looking to add a second world title to his resume. Last year, he claimed gold in Belgrade at the U23 World Championships.

This will be Pan-American champion Kueter's first showing at the World Championships.

Other hammers with a shot at winning a world medal are continental bronze medalists
Georgian TRIPON (ROU) and Zelimkhan MUSSIKHANOV (KAZ).

Nicholas FELDMAN (USA)Nicholas FELDMAN (USA) is the U20 Pan-Am champions. (Photo: UWW / Osvaldo Aguilar)

In addition to reigning U17 world champion Amirreza MASOUMI (IRI), Lyova GEVORGYAN (ARM) and Nicholas FELDMAN (USA) are the pair of guys with the most significant upside at 125kg.

Gevorgyan, the reigning three-time age-group European champion, is looking for his third world medal. He finished with a bronze and silver, respectively, at the 2019 and 2021 age-group world championships.

This will be Feldman, the reigning Pan-Am heavyweight champion’s first appearance at the World Championships.

Other continental medalists to keep an eye on are: Merab SULEIMANASHVILI (GEO), Adil MISIRCI (TUR), Georgi IVANOV (BUL), Mahendra GAIKWAD (IND), Bekzat TAZHI (KAZ) and Roger LI (CAN).

Freestyle action gets underway in Bulgaria on Monday (August 15). You can watch all the action live on uww.org.


Iran crowns trio of U20 world champs, wins team title

By Vinay Siwach

SOFIA, Bulgaria (August 21) -- When Alireza MOHMADIPIANI (IRI) was in Bulgaria last time, he was wrestling at his first senior tournament at the Dan Kolov in Sofia. Mohmadipiani finished with a bronze medal after losing the semifinal to European silver medalist Gela BOLKVADZE (GEO) in the semifinal.

Despite the loss, Mohmadipiani took home a lesson from the loss of being on the attack from the word go in a bout.

He used a similar strategy in the 82kg final against '21 U17 world champion Achiko BOLKVADZE (GEO) to win the gold medal at the U20 World Championships in Sofia.

Mohmadipiani was one of the three gold medalists for Iran on Sunday as the latest edition of the U20 World Championships came to an end with Iran winning the Greco-Roman title with 174 points. Azerbaijan finished second with 119 points while Ukraine managed to jump to third with 93 points.

The two other gold medals on Sunday were captured by wrestlers from Azerbaijan. A historic bronze medal was also won by Richard KARELSON (EST), becoming the first-ever medalist from the country at U20 Worlds.

For Iran, Mohmadipiani had the most convincing victory even though he faced one of the most accomplished wrestlers entered in the competition.

18-year-old Bolkvadze began aggressively against Mohmadipiani but lost some steam as the bout went on. He was called passive and Mohmadipiani failed to get a turn. But 20 seconds later, Mohmadipiani got him into a body lock and pushed him to the mat to get four points.

In the second period, Bolkvadze got the opportunity to level scores but he failed to get any points from par terre.

Bolkvadze struggled to keep up with the pace of the bout and the referee warned him for blocking. On the second warning, he was cautioned with two points. Mohmadipiani got the win when Bolkvadze received his second caution and two points.

"Bolkvadze is a good wrestler and he won a gold medal last year [at U17," Mohmadipiani said. "I won the Asian Championships. So great bout but I won against him at the end."

With the U20 title in the bag, the Iran youngster is hoping to quickly move to seniors from next year onwards. But he knows the challenge that comes with it.

"The weight class has many good wrestlers," he said. "We have Azerbaijan [Rafig HUSEYNOV] and Turkey [Burhan AKBUDAK] but I'm well trained and I think I can win.”

Saeid ESMAEILI (IRI)Saeid ESMAEILI (IRI) defeated Suren AGHAJANYAN (ARM) in the 60kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

At 60kg, Saeid ESMAEILI (IRI) had all but lost the gold to Suren AGHAJANYAN (ARM) as he trailed 6-2 with 22 seconds left in the final. But Esmaeili got his hands around Aghajanyan’s waist before moving into a bearhug and he secured a four-point throw to win 6-6.

Aghajanyan scored exposure from par terre to lead 3-2 before Esmaeili scored a takedown on the edge just before the break.

In the second period, Esmaeili worked more but there was no passivity call as Aghajanyan scored two stepouts to lead 5-2.

Esmaeili tried going for a takedown but his hands moved below the Aghajanyan’s waist and the move was illegal. Iran challenged the call but lost. It seemed that the final was all locked up when the U20 Asian champion stunned Aghajanyan, and the crowd with the throw to take the criteria lead.

Ali ABEDIDARZI (IRI)Ali ABEDIDARZI (IRI) scored six stepout points against Iussuf MATSIYEV (KAZ) in the 97kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

The third gold medal for Iran came in emphatic fashion as Ali ABEDIDARZI (IRI) won the 97kg weight class over Iussuf MATSIYEV (KAZ).

Matsiyev took a 4-0 lead with a stepout and turn from par terre and Abedidarzi was struggling to get going with his attacks. But just before the break, he scored two stepouts and Matsiyev was hit with caution for fleeing.

Abedidarzi scored three more stepouts in the second period to claim the lead 5-4. When Matsiyev was called passive, Abedidarzi continued the bout from standing and scored three points to win 9-4.

Kanan ABDULLAZADE (AZE)Kanan ABDULLAZADE (AZE) won the gold at 67kg after beating Nika BROLADZE (GEO). (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Azerbaijan won the remaining two gold medals as Kanan ABDULLAZADE (AZE) won the 67kg weight class while Gurban GURBANOV (AZE) won at 72kg.

Abdullazade wrestled Nika BROLADZE (GEO) in the final and fell when the latter took the 1-1 criteria lead. Broladze planned to keep the lead until the end of the six minutes but Abdullazade scored a stepout with a minute and 13 seconds left.

Broladze, with time running out, tried to throw Abdullazade but both wrestlers fell with no control. But in the same sequence, Abdulladze managed to run around and score a go-behind to extend his lead to 4-1 for the win.

Gurban GURBANOV (AZE)Gurban GURBANOV (AZE) celebrates after emerging as the champion at 72kg. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Gurbanov had a similar script for his final as he defeated Alexandru SOLOVEI (MDA), 4-0, in the 72kg final. Perhaps he did not plan to get the first passivity point but Solovei was called passive and forced into par terre.

The former U17 world champion got the turn using a gut wrench to lead 3-0 at the break. He then continued to wrestle aggressively in the second period and Solovei was again called passive. This time Gurbanov did not get the turn but the score read 4-0.

Solovei got his chance to score when the third passivity was called against Gurbanov but Solovei had nothing left in him to turn the Azerbaijan wrestler.

Richard KARELSON (EST)Richard KARELSON (EST), blue, won Estonia's first-ever medal at U20 World Championships. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Estonia’s historic medal

No Estonia Greco-Roman wrestler even won a medal at the U20 Worlds but Richard KARELSON (EST) changed that on Sunday as he won a bronze medal in the 97kg weight class after beating Roman BALCHIVSCHII (MDA), 8-0, in the bronze medal bout.

In June, Karelson had become the first U20 European champion from Estonia in Greco-Roman. He was the second ever Estonian Greco-Roman wrestler to enter the final.

Incidentally, his father is also named Richard.

“It’s a great feeling,” Karelson said. “I hope I can work on this and win at the U23 Worlds as well. I know that the competition will be harder than this.

Karelson's father was the one who forced his son into wrestling after he was growing too fast.

In the previous two U20 Worlds, Karelson had finished 15th in Ufa and 12th in Tallin, his hometown. But with the bronze medal in Sofia, Karelson hopes he can lift his performance moving forward.

"The U20 European gold and this bronze medal will help me get some funds," he said. "Now I hope to continue this performance and train more."

With the U17 and U20 behind, the action now moves on to the World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia in two weeks. 

IranIran won the Greco-Roman team title at the U20 World Championships. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)



BRONZE: Nihat MAMMADLI (AZE) df. Koto GOMI (JPN), 3-3 


BRONZE: Seyed SOHRABI (IRI) df. Nestori MANNILA (FIN), 11-2

GOLD: Gurban GURBANOV (AZE) df. Alexandru SOLOVEI (MDA), 4-0

BRONZE: Irfan MIRZOIEV (UKR) df. Igor BOTEZ (ROU), 7-6




BRONZE: Rohit DAHIYA (IND) df. Ruslan ABDIIEV (UKR), 8-7 (via cautions)
BRONZE: Alperen BERBER (TUR) df. Fares GHALY (EGY), 9-1


BRONZE: Nurmanbet RAIMALY UULU (KGZ) df. Luka KATIC (SRB), 9-0