Photos by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling
As day two dawned, the final four weights in men’s freestyle took the mats at the 2017 Junior World Championships in Tampere, Finland. Russia and the United States entered the day clear of the pack and they would not relent, putting on a clinic as they dualed for the team title. In the end, it would all come down to the final match of the day.
Match of the Day: Ryan Deakin (USA) vs. Temuulen Enkhtuya (MGL)
Amidst a tense team battle that had seen Team USA and Russia enter the final day tied on points with 30 a piece, then proceed to win every match to this stage of day two competition, Deakin took the mat for his quarterfinal against Mongolia. Enkhtuya was coming off of a pair of tech-fall victories while Deakin had wrestled just once, winning 13-0. As the match opened, it appeared the Northwestern redshirt freshman to be might fall victim to someone with a bit more international experience. He was put on the shot clock, managed to get all the way behind Enkhtuya during the 30 seconds, but the Mongolian kept control of his wrist, working his way out of danger without giving up any points. After gaining the shot clock point, Enkhtuya pounced on a missed shot from Deakin to score his own takedown and rolled through a gut wrench to lead, 5-0. After a step-out made it 6-0, Deakin again snagged an ankle, but could not convert. However, in working to counter, the Mongolian twisted his ankle just before the end of the first period.
Whether it was the twisted ankle, the break between periods, or Deakin’s constant pressure, the second period looked much different. Ryan finally converted a shot early to keep the door open for a comeback, 6-2. Halfway through the second period, he cracked the Mongolian’s defenses again to cut the lead to 6-4. Enkhtuya continued to stay in position and make it difficult for Deakin to get in deep. With less than 30 seconds to go, the American snapped Enkhtuya into a front headlock position, then passed behind for the tieing score which also gave him the lead on criteria. After the restart with 18 seconds to go, Deakin initially held position before dancing away in the final few seconds. Mongolia threw in a desperation challenge hoping to get a fleeing the hold call, but it was not to be. Deakin advanced to the semifinals, 7-6.
With Russia and the United States tied at 30 points a piece entering the day, the team race was set to be decided between the two old rivals. As wrestling got underway, it was clear no one would be catching them. As the semifinal round began, neither country had lost a single match. They met head-to-head for the first time in the 120 kg semifinal, then continued their dual with show downs at the three lighter weights in the gold medal matches. By the finals, Team USA had built a slim lead, thanks to Gable Steveson’s victory in that 120 kg semi, but there was still work to do. By the time, the heavyweight gold medal match closed the men’s freestyle portion of the event, the team title still wasn’t settled. Steveson needed to win or else Russia would win on a tie-breaker. Find out below how it went down.
Daton Fix, 55 kg
One of the few things missing from Fix’s sparkling resume entering Wednesday, which included a Junior World bronze from a year ago, was a trip to the world finals. When the draws came out, his potential clash with defending Junior World champion Afgan Khashalov (AZE) in the second round was circled by wrestling fans. Fix held up his end with a takedown and four guts to handle 2017 Junior African champion Salah Kateb (Algeria), but Khashalov was nearly upset, eventually nipping Mikyay Naim (BUL), 7-6. That may have been a sign of what was to come. When Fix got his hands on the Azerbaijani, he needed just 33 seconds to establish a 6-0 lead thanks to a takedown and a pair of gut wrenches. The American patiently stocked his opponent after that, but two minutes later he found another opening and tacked on one last exposure for a 10-0 victory. Khashalov would rally to earn a bronze medal.
In his longest match of the early session, Fix led just 1-0 at the break of his quarter-final scrap with Gulomjon Abdullaev (UZB), a 2016 Junior World bronze medalist who seemed intent on keeping Fix from getting a chance in par terre. It wouldn’t last as Daton earned a trio of second-period takedowns and had a turn off of the first two, advancing to the semifinals, 11-0. Once there, Fix needed just 32 seconds to execute a takedown and gut wrench series, racing past Junior Asian bronze medalist Nader Nasrisamakoush (IRI), 10-0, to finally book a spot in the finals.
The team race was still hanging in the balance as Fix squared off with Ismail Gadzhiev (RUS), a Junior European champion two years ago, seeking to make his first world finals trip a successful one. The Russian clearly understood the danger presented by Fix in par terre. When Daton earned a quick takedown, Gadzhiev fought Fix’s hands hard in a display often seen in American folkstyle, but typically penalized in freestyle. It worked as no turns ensued and a step-out narrowed Fix’s lead to 2-1. However, the Russian couldn’t stay out from under the soon to be Cowboy as Fix hit a clean duck under for another takedown. This time the whistle offered a caution and two for failing to open twice, but it wasn’t confirmed either time. Fix did finally get his trapped arm gut for an exposure late in the sequence to lead 6-1 at the break. With his par terre arsenal largely blunted, Fix kept his cool and picked off Gadzhiev for three takedowns in the second period to finish the fight, 12-1. His scream of elation punctuated a dominant run to the gold medal that saw Fix outscore his opponents 53-1.
Ryan Deakin, 66 kg
After a 13-0 tech over Oleksandr Rybalko (UKR) and surviving the match of the day described above, Deakin needed just one more win for what many would consider a surprise berth in the Junior World finals. Facing Junior Asian finalist Amirhossein Hosseini (IRI), Deakin continued to use his length to stymy any attacks launched against him. Instead of picking off ankle attacks, this time around Ryan stuffed his opponent and worked through counter-attacks, building an 8-0 lead at the break thanks to three takedowns and an exposure. He kept his cool after giving up a takedown in the second period and iced the match with a late takedown of his own, advancing to the Junior World finals, 10-2.
This tournament is incredibly tough, but every now and then you run into someone that is a cut above even what you expect to see here. Deakin’s opponent in the finals, David Baev (RUS), was one of those. Baev has had Senior-level success at some the best tournaments around, earning bronze at the Yarygin as well as a silver at 70 kg at last year’s Russian Nationals. He had lapped the field on his way four techs on the day entering the final. He proved too much for Deakin as well, slicing through what had been strong defenses the way to a 10-0 win. Deakin’s silver medal was a fantastic accomplishment in his international debut and crucial to keeping Team USA in the mix for the team title.
Zahid Valencia, 84 kg
After his first two trips to the Junior World Championships didn’t yield a medal, Valencia faced down a stern test right out of the blocks on Wednesday. Gadzhimura Magomedsaidov (AZE) took Valencia out in the quarter-finals of this tournament last year and when he fell short of the finals, settling for bronze, it eliminated Zahid from medal contention. As expected, the match opened with neither man giving an inch. Valencia broke on top with a shot clock point, but missed on a shot moments later, giving up a counter takedown. Late in the first, Valencia converted to take a 3-2 lead into the break. Magomedsaidov was put back on the clock in the second as Valencia continued driving all the action. The Arizona State rising sophomore didn’t wait this time, pouncing for another takedown to lead, 5-2. The constant pressure seemed to wear on the Azerbaijani as Zahid accelerated away from there for an 11-2 victory. That early takedown would be the only points Valencia would yield in the early session after he needed just 50 seconds to dispatch Cheolyeon Lee (KOR), 10-0, then handled 2016 Cadet World champion Deepak Punia (IND), 11-0.
With the United States needing one more win to clinch the team title, Valencia took the stage across from Artur Naifonov (RUS) with both in search of a gold medal. Naifonov got to rear standing early, but Valencia fought hands and escaped. Unfortunately, Zahid was penalized with a caution and two for attacking the fingers of his opponent. After a step-out for Zahid, the Russian converted a takedown stretching his advantage to 4-1. The Arizona State rising sophomore countered with a nice body lock after Naifonov tried to stand up out of a quad pod. The four-point move put Zahid ahead at the break. Unfortunately, Valencia’s pressure was turned against him twice in the second period, leading to a counter takedown and step-out for Russia. Trailing by two late, Valencia could find no way through, being forced to settle for silver.
Gable Steveson, 120 kg
After the two-time Cadet World champion opened with three relatively easy shutout wins, over Khasanboy Rakhimov (UZB) in a rematch of the 2015 Cadet World finals, 2016 Junior World silver medalist Umar Isarailov (AZE), and Zuriko Urtashvili (GEO) it looked like the rising high school senior might just run through the Junior field assembled against him. When he kicked off his semifinal against Zaur Kozonov (RUS) with a big four-point double leg, it was starting to look easy. It wouldn’t be. Steveson was giving up a lot of height to the Russian and had a difficult time holding his position on the mat at times. When he received two cautions for fleeing in a 15-second span near the end of the first period, Steveson was one penalty away from disqualification with more than three minutes of wrestling remaining. The four points that came with those cautions narrowed Steveson’s lead to 9-6 and it was 11-7 heading into the break. A wild second period saw Steveson finding attack after attack knowing he couldn’t risk being driven out of bounds. After his lead ballooned to 15-7, Gable drove through another leg attack for what appeared to be four, though the scoring wasn’t clear and wrestling continued as the two men scrambled. When the dust cleared, the scoreboard read 20-10 in favor of the American. That score survived the inevitable challenge and Steveson moved on to the final, 21-10.
After Deakin and Valencia fell in the finals, Steveson and Naeiim Hassanzadeh (IRI), a past Cadet World bronze medalist himself, met in the last men’s freestyle bout of the tournament. If Steveson won, Team USA would claim the team title. If he lost, Russia would go home victorious. Just as he had all day long, Gable opened up a lead, methodically earning a step-out then scoring on a single leg to lead 3-0 at the break. With three minutes standing between him and a Junior World gold, Steveson didn’t blink, building his edge to 5-1 while the clock ticked down. In the end, the Iranian surrendered, allowing Steveson to strike a pose as time expired. He was the champion and, with him, the USA had won. A glorious ending to a spectacular men’s freestyle tournament.
The United States claims the Junior World men’s freestyle team title, 67-66, for the first time since 1984. It was the first time ever they won a title at a fully-attended event. The United States and Russia didn’t drop a match against the rest of the world on Wednesday and split their head-to-head meetings. That Steveson won his match over Russia in the semifinals instead of the finals proved the difference.