#WrestleTokyo Olympic Games Preview: 65kg
Thursday, July 29, 2021 - 15:57 By Eric Olanowski
TOKYO, Japan (July 21) – Top-seeded Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS) headlines the loaded 65kg bracket that'll feature fellow world champions Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) and Haji ALIYEV (AZE) and six other world-medal holders.
Rashidov, who captured a world title in '19 after falling in the gold-medal match in back-to-back years, is seeded No. 1. The other trio of seeded wrestlers included '19 world-medal winners Bajrang BAJRANG (IND), Daulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ) and Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN).
Punia, a three-time world medalist -- including an '18 world finalist -- is seeded No. 2 at 65kg. He heads into the Tokyo Olympic Games looking to become the fourth Indian freestyle wrestler to win an Olympic medal. He'd join Kha-Shaba JADAV (IND), Sushil KUMAR (IND) and Yogeshwar DUTT (IND).
Following his 13th place at the '17 World Championships, Punia finished on the podium in 19 consecutive events. The high-paced Indian superstar won a pair of world medals during that span, a quartet of Asian championships medals -- including a gold in '19 -- and four Ranking Series titles.
Niyazbekov is seeded third at 65kg. The 32-year-old Zhanakorgan, Kazakhstan native, is a two-time world medalist. He claimed bronze at the '11 World Championships, then reached the world finals in '19 with a thrilling 9-9 criteria win over Bajrang. However, Niyazbekov ultimately fell to Rashidov in the gold-medal match and settled for a runner-up finish in his home country.
But Niyazbekov will be on the same side of the bracket as second-seeded Punia. The pair have split their last two meetings. The Kazakh won in Nur-Sultan, but most recently, Punia evened up the rivalry with a 10-0 win at the Ali Aliev Tournament in Kaspiisk, Dagestan.
Hungary's Muszukajev is seeded fourth at the weight. The former Russian-turned-Hungarian had a breakout performance at the '19 World Championships. The 28-year-old grabbed five victories -- including wins over world champion Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) and Olympic champion Vladimir KHINCHEGASHVILI (GEO) -- en route to winning a world bronze medal. He'll sit on the top side of the bracket with Rashidov, who beat him in the world semifinals, 3-2.
Other world-title holding threats outside of Rashidov to pay attention to are Ototguro and Aliyev. Fans should also keep an eye on multiple-time world medalists and outside threats Alejandro Enrique VALDES TOBIER (CUB) Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL).
A year after becoming Japan's youngest-ever freestyle world champion, Takuto Otoguro went 3-2 at the '19 World Championships and finished fifth. But since that upsetting finish in Nur-Sultan, the 22-year-old who hails from Fuefuki, Japan, has won three consecutive competitions. He won the '19 Japan Championships and downed Bajrang in the finals at back-to-back Asian Championships to claim gold.
Aliyev, Azerbaijan's first-ever three-time world champion, seems to be finding his stride up at 65kg. After winning a bronze medal in Rio at 57kg, the 30-year-old ascended from 61kg to 65kg. He succeeded early at 65kg on the European level -- winning golds at the '18 European Championships and '19 European Games -- but failed to finish inside the top-10 at the '18 and '19 World Championships. But since his 12th-place finish at the '19 World Championships, Aliyev strung together podium finished at the Individual World Cup, World Olympic Qualifier and the Poland Open.
Gadzhiev, the now two-time Olympian, is a 70kg silver and bronze-medal finisher, respectively, at the '17 and '19 World Championships. After winning '20 titles at the European Championships, Poland Open and Individual World Cup, the 33-year-old, originally from Gurubki, Karabudakhkentsky, Dagestan, appeared at 65kg for the European Olympic Qualifier. He reached the semifinals but lost to eventual champion Vazgen TEVANYAN (ARM) before injuring defaulting out to a fifth-place finish.
Less than two months later, at the World Olympic Qualifier, Gadzhiev bounced back and scored five wins en route to earning a 65kg berth to Tokyo.
Valdes Tobier will return to competition for the first time in 17 months. Due to the pandemic, the '17 and '18 world bronze medalist hasn't competed since punching his ticket to Tokyo with a first-place finish at the '19 Pan-American Olympic Qualifier.
Tokyo will be the 32-year-old Cuban's second Olympic Games. He finished in seventh-place at the '16 Rio Olympic Games.
Meanwhile, despite being enrobed with world champs and medalists across the bracket, one of the biggest favorites to contend for 65kg gold is Armenia's red-hot Vazgen Tevanyan.
Since falling to Otoguro in the second round at the '19 World Championships, Tevanayan has transformed himself into a completely different wrestler -- and it all started with his magical Individual World Cup performance. In Belgrade, 21-year-old won five matches and capped off his run with a 9-1 thumping of then-reigning world bronze medalist Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN).
He extended his win streak to nine consecutive matches after punching his ticket to his first Olympic Games with wins over Olympic champion Vladimir KHINCHEGASHVILI (GEO), three-time world champ Aliyev and two-time world medalist Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL) at the European Olympic Qualifier.
Wrestling at the Tokyo Olympic Games kicks off August 1-7 at the Makuhari Messe with 65kg action beginning on August 6.
No. 1 Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS)
No. 2 Bajrang BAJRANG (IND)
No. 3 Daulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ)
No. 4 Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN)
Takuto OTOGURO (JPN)
Tulga TUMUR OCHIR (MGL)
Adama DIATTA (SEN)
Haithem DAKHLAOUI (TUN)
Alejandro Enrique VALDES TOBIER (CUB)
Agustin Alejandro DESTRIBATS (ARG)
Vazgen TEVANYAN (ARM)
Haji ALIYEV (AZE)
Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ)
Morteza Hassanali GHIASI CHEKA (IRI)
Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL)
Georgios PILIDIS (GRE)