The 2016 UWW Cadet World Championships in Tblisi, Georgia, concluded Sunday with the final five weight categories in men’s freestyle (46 kg, 54 kg, 63 kg, 76 kg, 100 kg).
Yianni Diakomihalis, 63 kg
Diakomihalis looked the part of a returning Cadet world gold medalist in the morning session, rolling through his first three matches, 15-3, 10-0 and 10-0. That setup a rematch of last year’s 58 kg gold medal match against Jintaro Motoyama (JPN) in the semi-finals. As expected, this was a high level, well wrestled match and Motoyama was able to attack Diakomihalis, putting him under pressure several times in the first period. Yianni trailed 2-1 at the break, but scored on a duck-under 40 seconds into the final period. He trapped Motoyama’s arm off the takedown, leading to three exposures, a 9-2 win and another trip to the world finals for Diakomihalis.
The gold medal match was a master class from Diakomihalis. Facing Stefan Tonu of Moldova, Yianni was patient, looking for an opening against a cautious opponent. Tonu went on the clock just under a minute into the match and it expired to give the American a 1-0 lead. Diakomihalis found his opening on a re-shot, moments later, and ran through it, nearly scoring four, but settling for two. The lead ballooned just before the end of the first as Yianni scored another takedown and added a gut to lead 7-0 at the break. When the wrestlers came back out, it was clear Tonu did not have the offense to mount a comeback unless Diakomihalis made a big mistake. That would not happen as Yianni stayed in the center of the mat and kept the Moldovan off balance, adding a step-out point to win another gold medal, 8-0! Yianni Diakomihalis becomes the first ever back-to-back Cadet world champion in United States history!
Gable Steveson, 100 kg
The defending heavyweight champion, Steveson was in total control in the morning session, rolling to a pair of tech-falls, over Armenia and Turkey, before dispatching Viky Viky (IND), 5-1, in the semi-finals. In fact, the most drama in any of Steveson’s early matches was some questionable scoring in that semi-final. Three step-outs were given on action that could well have been scored takedowns, keeping the score closer than the match really was and, eventually, leading to a yellow card for Coach Brandon Slay. In the end, all of that didn’t matter as Gable Steveson squared off against Adam Beterbiev (RUS) in the final gold medal match of the tournament. Coming on the heals of the wild and contentious 76 kg final, which we will get to later, there was tension in the air as the match got underway. Luckily, this one was relatively uneventful, other than getting a little chippy late in the first period. By that point Steveson had built a 4-1 lead and Beterbiev would never get back in it. Gable Steveson becomes the second back-to-back Cadet world champion in U.S. history, by the final score of 5-1!
Travis Wittlake, 76 kg
Facing a brutal draw, Wittlake won his crucial first bout, over Ali Shakouri (IRI), 8-1. That put him into the round of 16 against gold medal favorite Kamil Abdulzhamalov (RUS). That match was 1-0, in favor of the Russian, late in the first period when Wittlake, trying to finish a shot, was put to his back and pinned. Abdulzhamalov beat the Azerbaijani in the quarters and survived a 7-7 thriller against Shutaro Yamada (JPN) to keep Wittlake alive for bronze. Travis still needed two wins just to reach a medal match, but he got them, rolling over Moldova, 10-0, and hanging on to nip Rashad Yusifli (AZE), 6-5. With Yamada waiting in the bronze medal bout, there was still work to do. It looked, at first, like Travis would control the medal match, scoring a pair of takedowns to build a 4-1 lead at the break. However, he shut down the offense a bit too early and had to hang on late, eventually winning 5-4, after a failed Japanese challenge, to secure the bronze medal.
Team USA finishes second
With seven medalists and nine wrestlers scoring team points overall, the United States put up an impressive 67 points and finished just two points behind team champions Russia. They were 20 points clear of third-place, which was a tie between Azerbaijan and Georgia. While they could not hold onto their slim day one lead, it is still the most points an American men’s freestyle team has ever scored at the Cadet world championships.
Russia at the center of another shameful episode
Russia won another team title, but, once again, they will be remembered for a shameful episode more than their on the mat performance. It came in the 76 kg final between Miriani Maisuradze (GEO) and Kamil Abdulzhamalov (RUS). Anytime these two countries get together, especially wrestling in Georgia, its going to be explosive. There were several close calls and the officials had to clear people out of the area on the side of the mat more than once during the bout. As the Georgian appeared to be just about to wrap up the gold medal, there was another controversial sequence and the challenge pillow came in from the Russian corner. This time, however, the pillow was followed by an angry Russian coach who approached the mat official in a menacing manner, forcing the official to give ground as they approached the edge of the mat area.
What I saw was the Russian coach threaten to strike the official before being red carded. However, multiple people in the arena reported that, after the threat, the Russian coach did in fact strike the official before being escorted away by security. Coming on the heals of the Mongolian protests at the Olympics, and subsequent indefinite ban from all international events, the Russian doping scandal, the Russian wrestling President being accused of striking a women’s freestyle wrestler, this is just another crazy incident for UWW to deal with. Unfortunately, if past history is any indication, there will be little to no action because UWW needs to continue to have Russia’s support. I would hope, at the very least, the coach involved will be punished, but even that is not a given.