Photos by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling
The Junior World Championships in men’s freestyle came down to the final match with Team USA claiming the team title over Russia when Gable Steveson won gold. At the World Championships, the same story unfolded with Team USA claiming another team crown over Russia by winning the final match of the tournament, this time Kyle Snyder topping Abdulrashid Sadulaev at 97 kg. With only the repechage and medal matches remaining at the Cadet World Championships, there is a chance we’ll see yet another dramatic dual between Team USA and Russia come right down to the end. By advancing three to the finals, one to the bronze medal match, and another staying alive in the repechage, Team USA looked strong on day two. That combined with two wrestlers who started their tournaments on Friday earning their way to the bronze medal match and the Americans claiming their second gold of the week, after Cohlton Schultz won a historic title in Greco, brought the US within one point of Russia by day’s end.
Tomorrow’s repechage begins at 8:30 am eastern time with the medal matches set for 10:00 am.
The only American wrestling for gold on Saturday was Will Lewan (69 kg) who had looked cool and composed on his way through the bracket on Friday. His excellent defense and high percentage offense had been a trademark, though for a long time in the gold medal match, Daud Ibragimov (AZE) displayed similar skills. Lewan led on a shot clock point at the break but went on the clock himself with 56 seconds remaining. When it expired, Ibragimov led on criteria with less than 30 seconds on the clock. With 15 to go Lewan launched his attack, with 10 seconds left and both wrestlers on their knees scrambling, Ibragimov dove for a leg, Lewan caught an underhook and went for the ship over. While he didn’t gain exposure, the corkscrew motion took him behind the Azerbaijani’s hips and with just four seconds to spare, Lewan freed his arm to score the winning takedown, becoming a Cadet world champion!
Gavin Hoffman (85 kg), as expected, received a forfeit from the Colombian wrestler that did not take the mat yesterday, then made his second repechage bout look almost as easy, breezing through Bekzat Urkimbay (KAZ), 10-0, to reach the bronze medal match. Asian bronze medalist Sandeep Mann (IND) looked strong in the ties, but Hoffman picked up a single to earn a step-out, then did it again for a 2-0 lead. Mann responded with a shot of his own, driving through to knot the match at two. After the break, Hoffman went on the clock which spurred a shooting barrage from the American, though he struggled to beat Mann’s hips. A peak out near the edge got him another step-out, though, before the clock expired. With a 3-2 lead against a tough competitor, it always seemed that Gavin would need to score again. He did so, finally finishing a single leg to push his advantage to 5-2. India’s desperation attempts late put two more on Hoffman’s side of the board as he claimed the bronze medal, 7-2.
As a returning Cadet world gold medalist, Kurt McHenry (46 kg) was favored to wrestle for gold once again this year. However, there were many wrestlers harboring title aspirations waiting to knock off the champ on Saturday. McHenry opened the tournament looking the part against Fotis Papadopoulos (CAN) as he scored early, made it 4-0 on a gut, then, on his second takedown, rolled up a lace to finish a 10-0 tech in 43 seconds. Taiyrbek Zhumashbek Uulu (KGZ) proved to be a more dangerous opponent for Kurt, falling behind 8-0 before twice following takedowns with guts. McHenry kept scoring, though, and put the Kyrgyzstani away, 18-8 in 2:38. To cap the early session, the American faced Adem Uzun (TUR) in a match with a lot of action, but very few points on the board. An early shot by McHenry staked him to a 2-0 lead that he would hold into the second period when he was put on the clock. With the Turk powering forward, Kurt used a nifty hip-toss to double his advantage, then fought off a late gut attempt by floating his hips over as time expired to preserve his 4-2 victory.
In a rematch of last year’s 42 kg semi-final, McHenry got reacquainted with Magomed Abdurakhmanov (RUS), who was third here a year ago and finished second in Europe in 2017. Twice in the opening period, Kurt came close to takedowns, only to see the Russian scramble out of a quadpod, then have the clock expire just as he appeared to score. He did earn a shot clock point to lead, 1-0. Abdurakhmanov went back on the clock in the second, but this time McHenry attacked and finished. However, the Russian responded with his own takedown to leave the match hanging in the balance. With less than a minute remaining, McHenry was drifting towards the edge, trying to stay in as the Russian drove at his legs. Suddenly, Kurt exploded through an underhook, whipping his opponent into danger for a crucial two points, making it 5-2. Some late acrobatics prevented any chance of giving up four and the clock expired with McHenry still on top, 5-4. McHenry will wrestle for gold for the second time in as many years. He’ll be challenged by Giorgi Gegelashvili (GEO).
Aaron Brooks (76 kg) wasn’t supposed to be the representative for Team USA after falling to Travis Wittlake at the trials, but after an injury to Wittlake, Brooks got the call. Just as Cevion Severado did under similar circumstances at the Junior World Championships, Brooks made the most of his opportunity. With movement reminiscent of a light weight, Brooks ran his first two opponents ragged, leaving Lasha Bairamovi (GEO) looking exhausted despite the fact that Brooks put him down, 12-2, in 1:51. European bronze medalist Alex Hoerner (GER) met a similar fate, succumbing to an 11-0 tech just after the break in 2:07. The quarter-finals would be Brooks’ toughest test of the day, though even Oleksandr Vyshniak (UKR) could not stay too close. After the two exchanged four step-outs, Brooks out scrambled the Ukrainian for the only takedown of the opening frame. Aaron kept attacking, earning another step-out and two takedowns all off of his shots, cruising into the semis with a 9-3 win.
Asian silver medalist Meysam Zaree (IRI) was willing, attacking Brooks often, but the American used a broomstick tilt to open the scoring and let loose with plenty of his own shots. He scored with a double, then picked up a leg again to lead 6-0. Iran got in deep, but could only manage a step-out, chucking Brooks out of bounds in frustration. A pair of ankle picks and a lace after the first put Brooks into the finals, 12-1. His opponent will be European champion Arsamag Khostikoev (RUS).
Greg Kerkvliet (100 kg) had big shoes to fill after Gable Steveson won this class for Team USA the past two years. Making his World Championship debut, it was more of the same from another Minnesota grappler. European bronze medalist Radu Lefter (MDA) was the first victim, falling 10-0 after Kerkvliet used a variety of attacks and a couple of leg laces to open his account. Filip Jirez (CZE) met a similar fate after Greg dumped him to his back off a single, took him down again, tilted him, then whipped him over for a second 10-0 tech. Asian silver medalist Zyyamuhammet Saparov (TKM) did become the only wrestler on the day to score on Kerkvliet, but he couldn’t do so until after Greg had taken him down three times with the third being a four. Kerkvliet shook that off to add two more takedowns after the break, winning 12-2 to become the fourth American finalist in men’s freestyle this year. Kerkvliet will square off with European champion Ismail-Bek Nirov (RUS) in what will almost certainly be the last match of the night. It could be for the team title once again.
Jacori Teemer (63 kg) lived on the edge all day long. In the end, it bit him. His first match, with Giorgi Elbakidze (GEO), goes down as a fall in the brackets, but it was not an easy bout. Teemer was called for fleeing with 18 seconds to go as he tried to protect his lead, making the score 5-4, then found himself in reverse once again before nailing an inside trip to ice the match, securing the fall when the Georgian gave up. Ahmet Yigit (TUR) looked to be out of the match against Jacori in the round of 16, falling behind 10-2 before Teemer went down injured on the edge of the mat. An acrobatic throw for four on the edge and a late takedown eventually brought the Turk within one, but Teemer survived 11-10. The American had to come from behind against Asian champion Ikhtiyor Normurodov (UZB), picking up a pair of takedowns after the break to advance, 5-3.
All that was just a precursor to a wild ending in the semi-finals against Kenshin Ito (JPN). After a less than thrilling first period during which Ito was put on the clock and the two often went extended periods of time faking without actually touching each other, it was 1-0 Teemer. In the second, Ito got to a leg, earning a step-out after Teemer walled him off with a whizzer. Trailing on criteria, Jacori snapped Ito into a quadpod, but the Japanese wrestler escaped and during the scramble that followed, scored on a crotch-lift, putting the American behind, 3-1. That is when things got weird. As the match re-started with 27 seconds remaining, the wrestlers simply stared at each other with Teemer doing nothing more than a single head tap for 12 seconds before he began to advance slowly. When he did, Ito gave ground until he went out of bounds, yielding a step-out that could have been a flee. Now there were just six seconds on the clock and Teemer attacked off the whistle with Ito eventually jumping out of bounds with two seconds left, again avoiding a flee which kept him on top, 3-3, on criteria. Just when it looked bleak, Teemer nearly pulled off a miracle. This time, Ito shot off the whistle and Jacori threw him for what was called a four point move on the mat and surely had to be at least two. However, upon review, the move scored just after 4:00 showed on the clock, meaning Ito had won, 3-3. Teemer will wrestle for a bronze medal tomorrow.
Robert Howard (54 kg) will be looking to join Teemer in the bronze medal matches and give Team USA a leg up in the team race by working back through the repechage. His opener against Asian champion Mehdi Eshghivasoukola (IRI) was a competitive one which the man from New Jersey led, 4-2, at the break. However, twice in the second period, Iran put Howard in a bad position and neither time was Robert able to save himself, despite attempts to throw his opponent through for points. A final takedown from the Iranian sealed an 8-4 win, but Eshghivasoukola worked his way to the finals, giving Howard a second chance. He’ll face Damirbek Maqsudov (TJK) first tomorrow in a battle of the two wrestlers who gave the Iranian his closest matches on Saturday. Howard’s performance may well hold the key to Team USA’s team race hopes. Advancing to the bronze medal match would add six points to the American total, eight with a win. Russia also has a wrestler in the repechage, in the other bracket so they will not meet. If Howard gets through and the Russian does not, Team USA will have a big edge. If Howard falters and the Russian gets through, it will be hard to catch them.
Cole Skinner (42 kg) got just one match yesterday, falling to the eventual champion in their opener. With new life in the repechage, Skinner wasted little time jumping on top, sneaking a leg in the far side to secure his first takedown, then scrambled out of a dangerous position to lead 4-0 at the break. A mostly defensive final frame saw a protracted scramble finished by Kudaibergen Murat (KAZ) five seconds from the end of the bout. No turn was forthcoming as Skinner moved into the bronze medal match, 4-2. Kaisei Tanabe (JPN) was beaten in the semi-finals yesterday, allowing him to wait for the winner of the US and Kazakhstan. Cole opened the scoring with a broomstick tilt, but it was ruled 2-2. A step-out put the American behind just before the break, then the Japanese wrestler stretched the gap to five points in the second with another takedown and a pair of step-outs. That meant that when Skinner did get behind Tanabe late, he needed a pair of exposures to take the lead. He couldn’t get them and gave up a late four to finish fifth, 11-4.
Julian Tagg (50 kg) had a long road in front of him, needing two wins to earn a medal match, but got off to a fast start, notching a trio of takedowns in the first compared to a reversal for African champion Mohamed Lakel (ALG) to lead 6-1 at the break. It was more of the same in the second and Tagg added an exposure to his fifth takedown of the match to win 12-1. His next match, against Asian silver medalist Akbar Kurbanov (KAZ), would be much more difficult. Kurbanov capitalized on a missed shot to jump on top, then hit a solid attack of his own to lead 4-0 after two minutes. The American responded by fighting off a shot by Kurbanov, into a Merkel position then freeing his leg to cut his deficit to two points with a minute remaining. The Kazak’s defenses proved too strong, however, as he held on to win, 4-2.