Photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
The opening day of the 2017 Junior World Championships saw an electric start for Team USA, all four wrestlers finish in the top 10, three stood on the podium at day’s end, and one accomplished something only four other wrestlers in American history have done. With the team race there for the taking, the stage is set for an incredible day two beginning at 3 am eastern Wednesday morning. You can follow the action at TrackWrestling where you can also watch archived matches for a fee if you missed anything.
Match of the Day: Mitch McKee (USA) vs. Edemi Bolkvadze (GEO), 60 kg
McKee provided match of the day candidates throughout his run on Tuesday, but it was his opener against Bolkvadze, a Junior European bronze medalist, that made it all possible. After a tight, competitive first period ended 4-4, the Georgian opened the second period with a pair of arm-spins that didn’t threaten exposure but earned him takedowns. After a step-out during a scramble, McKee’s deficit was five points, 9-4, as the clock ticked under one minute remaining. However, McKee is no stranger to dramatics and he managed to work his way behind Bolkvadze for a takedown. A gut wrench followed, cutting the gap to a single point. When the wrestlers were brought back to their feet, there was little doubt a scramble would ensue. It did and after just missing sinking the legs in for a winning takedown, McKee found himself in his favorite position, scoring a head pinch with 10 seconds to go to take a 10-9 lead. After holding on to prevent any further scoring, the Minnesota sophomore to be also had to wait out a challenge. When it was denied, he took the 11-9 victory.
With half of men’s freestyle in the books after day one, the United States and Russia have separated themselves a bit from the rest of the world. With Azerbaijan stumbling early and often, it was left to those two and Iran to decide who would sit in the best position entering the back half of the tournament. When Iran failed to push anyone into the finals and did not score at 96 kg, they were relegated to third place with 20 points. Team USA and Russia both pushed a pair of competitors into the finals and ended the day deadlocked at 30 points a piece, though Russia does own the tiebreaker on the strength of having two gold medalists to one for the US. For some perspective, Russia won this event a year ago with 66 points while Azerbaijan took silver with 49. Team USA was fifth with 36 points. With a strong contingent of Americans set to take the mat tomorrow, expect the team race to go back and forth all day long.
Malik Heinselman, 50 kg
Just after McKee’s first thrilling victory of the day, Heinselman provided another jolt to keep the home fans, who were powering through the 3 am start on the east coast, awake. The traditional American style of pressure, pace, and plenty of leg attacks was on full display. Unfortunately, Heinselman was only able to convert one takedown and a step-out to lead Horst Lehr (GER), another Junior European bronze medalist, 3-0 at the break. When the German exploded through a shot for four, one of his few attacks all match, Malik trailed. While there was plenty of match left, Lehr’s defense continued to prove difficult to crack. Another step-out tied the score at four, but Heinselman needed another point, trailing on criteria. Off a restart with 15 seconds to go, Heinselman timed the whistle perfectly, shooting and driving Lehr towards the edge to earn the vital step-out and win his opener, 5-4. Despite opening the scoring with a takedown in his next match, Rakhat Kalzhan (KAZ) would prove too much. Heinselman was nearly pinned to end the first period and the match broke wide open when Kalzhan got his gut wrench working. The final was 8-2. When Karen Zurabyan (ARM) took down Kalzhan in the semi-finals, Heinselman was eliminated.
Mitch McKee, 60 kg
It appeared, for one bout anyway, that McKee would settle in after his wild opener described in the match of the day above. His extraordinary head pinch was on full display as he rolled past Hiromu Sakaki (JPN), last year’s Cadet Asain gold medalist who would wind up winning bronze here, 10-0. However, the cardiac kid was right back at it in the quarter-finals. The opening frame was fairly innocuous as McKee built a 3-2 lead, but a scramble filled second period saw Utku Dogan (TUR) briefly take the lead before a successful challenge put the American back on top. After some additional madness and a successful challenge from Turkey, Dogan tied the score at nine with a late exposure, but McKee held criteria. Desperation attempts were unsuccessful as the Minnesota man tacked on a takedown in the closing seconds to take an 11-9 victory. If that weren’t enough, McKee and Ravinder Ravinder (IND), a 2016 Cadet World bronze medalist, would combine to put 30 points on the scoreboard in the semi-finals. McKee found himself trailing 8-2 and 10-4. It was 10-6 with less than two minutes remaining when McKee hit a superb duck under and followed it with three gut wrench exposures to steal a 14-10 lead. True to form, there would be more drama as Mitch again went behind on the scoreboard only to see his challenge sustained. A wild, 16-14 victory put McKee in the Junior World finals.
In the finals, McKee faced 2017 Junior European bronze medalist Abdula Akhmedov (RUS). Perhaps the magic ran out, maybe it was a bad match or the Russian was just that good, but McKee had no answer for Akhmedov. After an early takedown for the Russian, he got back in, dumping Mitch for four, eventually tieing up the legs and ending proceedings with a fall. Mitch McKee finished second in his first trip to the Junior World Championships.
Mark Hall, 74 kg
The defending Junior World champion at 74 kg was the first American to take the mat Tuesday morning, working a front headlock roll for four, then scoring a takedown and lace series to end the 10-0 technical superiority. Thanks to random draw, Hall met what many expected to be his toughest opponent in the round of 16, squaring off with Radik Valiev (RUS), a 2017 Yarygin bronze medalist and 2016 Russian Nationals silver medalist at the Senior-level. There would not be much drama as Hall’s scrambling ability largely kept him out of trouble. He scored one takedown in the first and nearly added a second, but couldn’t free the leg despite getting behind the hips, taking a 2-0 lead into the break. After a questionable decision by Hall led to a tie match, the Penn State sophomore to be scrambled away from his Russian opponent and lifted Valiev’s leg over the top to regain his edge. A late counter exposure made the final 6-2 as Hall staked his claim to the title. That would be by far the most competitive match Hall would face in the early session as he sprinted past reigning Junior Asian champion Mohammad Mottaghinia (IRI), 10-0, and bounced back from a missed shot turning into the opening takedown for Muhammet Kucukyildirim (TUR), a Junior European bronze medalist, to control a 10-3 semifinal victory. Hall was headed back to the Junior World finals.
Coming to the mat in his blue singlet, Hall looked across to see the Junior Asian silver medalist Isa Shapiev (UZB), who lost to Mottaghinia in that tournament. This one didn’t take long as Hall saw an opening early, hit a highlight reel cement mixer and never let Shapiev off his back. In just 42 seconds, Mark Hall became the fifth American in history, across all styles, to win two Junior World Championship gold medals joining Spencer Lee, Tim Timok, Victoria Anthony, and Ali Bernard.
Kollin Moore, 96 kg
Being in the highest weight-class and getting a pass to the round of 16 meant Moore had to sit around watching as each of his teammates took the mat, with McKee claiming two wins before the Ohio State rising sophomore got his turn. When he did, Moore raced out to a 4-0 lead with a pair of takedowns against 2017 Junior Asian gold medalist Danyal Mah Shariatinia (IRI). While there is much to be excited about surrounding Moore’s future freestyle prospects, he made a bit of a rookie mistake, diving in after the official talked to him about needing to engage, leading to an Iranian takedown and a gut to tie the match. Moore wouldn’t stay down long, though, running off three straight takedowns after giving up a step-out to claim victory, 10-5. He would make much quicker work of Alisher Yergali (KAZ), who won a silver medal at the Cadet Asian Championships a year ago, in the quarters, needing just about three minutes to earn the 10-0 tech. Unfortunately, that would be the end of Moore’s run at gold as Givi Matcharashvili (GEO), the Junior and Under 23 European champion, had all the answers in a 16-4 semi-final.
The medal match was all one-way traffic as Moore continued his relentless leg attacks, harrying Ilja Matuhin (GER) throughout their encounter. A pair of takedowns and a step-out in the first made the lead 5-0 at the break before Moore hit a nice double leg and turned it into a gut wrench to get within a point of the bronze medal. That point and one extra would come by way of yet another takedown, ending his tournament in style with an 11-0 technical superiority. Moore claims the bronze medal in his second trip to the Junior World Championships.