Photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
The 2018 Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix begins late tonight (Friday, January 25th) and runs through early Sunday morning. It promises to be a historic event as it will be the first to award seeding points in men’s freestyle. Along with the Takhti Cup in Greco, the Yarygin will be among the first ever non-championship events to aid in seeding the World Championships. Team USA is sending 23 competitors, two of which are defending champions. TrackWrestling is providing a free stream and you can follow all the action there as well. As we prepare for what should be an exciting weekend of wrestling, here are five things to keep an eye on.
1) Captain America looking to make more history
In addition to being the defending NCAA, world, and Olympic champion, Kyle Snyder is also in the rare position, for an American, of being the defending Yarygin champion. Only 10 other American men have won the event and none of those have been able to win a second-time, much less go back-to-back. This is Snyder’s third trip to the legendary Russian tournament. He finished third in 2016 despite entering the competition as the reigning world champion. While it appeared for a while that we might get to see a rematch of the 2017 World Championship final between Snyder and three-time world-level champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev (Russia) here. However, when the Russian team was announced, Sadulaev was listed at the new 92 kg weight class. There are still some rumblings that he could move to 97 kg, but it seems unlikely at this stage. Both 92 kg and 97 kg are scheduled for the final day of competition, Sunday, January 28th, so we may not know for sure until the brackets come out the day before. Even if Sadulaev stays down, Vladislav Baitsaev, the 2017 runner-up to Sadulaev at Russian Nationals and 2017 Junior world champion Shamil Musaev will be on hand for the hosts.
2) More history possible for Team USA
Tamyra Stock, formerly Tamyra Mensah, also heads to Krasnoyarsk as the defending champion after becoming just the sixth American woman to win the event when she did so in 2017. Stock will look to join Sally Roberts, who prevailed in 2005 and 2008, as the only two-time women’s freestyle Yarygin champions for Team USA. Stock has been the top 69 kg, now 68 kg, in the US for two years now, winning the Olympic Trials in 2016, but missing Rio when she came up just short of qualifying the weight, then making her World Championship debut last year. Her trajectory suggests a world medal lies in her future and another strong performance here would help as she builds towards Budapest. Tamyra will be in action on Saturday, January 27th.
3) Seeding points available for men’s freestyle
Beyond the prestige of winning this event, those who place in the top-five in men’s freestyle will earn seeding points towards a preferential bracket placement at this year’s World Championships. Each style will have four such events this season with last year’s World Championships and the 2018 continental championships also factoring in. The points do not carry over if an athlete changes weight classes and they are attached to the wrestler themselves, not the country they represent. Winners at the Yarygin score eight points plus the number of competitors in their bracket. The top four in the seeding point standings for each weight class that compete in Budapest will be separated in the draw. This is the most extensive seeding system ever employed by UWW and it will be interesting to see how many grapplers chase the points.
4) Strong Team USA roster joining Snyder, Stock
2016 world champion Logan Stieber (65 kg), Olympian Frank Molinaro (70 kg), 2017 world bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski (125 kg), Olympian Haley Augello (53 kg), and two-time world silver medalist Alli Ragan (59 kg) highlight the rest of the American contingent, though there are even more intriguing names to watch. NCAA stars Tony Ramos (61 Kg), Cory Clark (61 kg), Jayson Ness (65 kg), Josh Kindig (65 kg), Alex Dieringer (79 kg), Nick Heflin (92 kg), Nathan Burak (97 kg), Zach Rey (125 kg), and Bobby Telford (125 kg) will have plenty of fans keeping an eye on them this weekend in addition to two-time world team member Victoria Anthony (50 kg) on the women’s side. However, the two most intriguing names on the list of competitors are a pair that are forever intertwined, Kyle Dake (79 kg) and David Taylor (86 kg). The new 10 weight class system seems to have opened the door for these two incredible athletes to finally earn their first Senior level world team spots. Taylor proved last year he was one of the best in the world and few doubt Dake can be as well. They’ll both want to start their seasons off right with a win, but it won’t be easy. Also, keep an eye on redshirting freshman Jacob Warner (92 kg). A Cadet world bronze medalist in 2016, this would seem to be a little above Warner’s head, but don’t tell him that.
5) Will Yarygin be Yarygin?
UPDATE: Despite Russia announcing a roster with five wrestlers per weight, it appears they were only given three spots per bracket in men’s freestyle as the rules originally dictated.
With the new seeding points available in men’s freestyle, Russia will be limited to five athletes per weight which is a drastic reduction from past years when the brackets were filled with wrestlers from the host country. The depth of Russian wrestling combined with incredible tales of home cooking are an integral part of what has made this event into what it is today. Initially, each of these seeding events was supposed to limit the number of entries from any one country to three per weight, but Russia received an exemption from UWW so they could have five. It will be interesting to see if many additional foreign contenders emerge with the incentive of seeding points. The question will be asked all weekend, is the loss of the bulk of the Russians that used to fill the field worth it? Russia had to hold a qualifying tournament before the event to help decide who will gain entry. You can bet that those who made it through will be hungry to keep the podiums filled with their own.