photo courtesy of Jim Thrall; MatFocus.com
From day one of the World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, American wrestling fans have been treated to a roller coaster ride. In a span of only minutes, in some cases, our legendary American wrestlers have had their dreams shattered with an unexpected loss, only to have a teammate come out and perform a legendary feat which further adds to their legacy. Saturday was no exception and US wrestling fans were subjected to watching one of their all-time greats, Kyle Snyder, leave the mat in the World semifinals without getting his hand raised. Snyder lost a 5-2 decision to 2012 Olympic Champion Sharif Sharifov (Azerbaijan) at 97 kilos. Sharifov has been on the international scene so long that he defeated Cael Sanderson at the 2011 World Championships. This loss was the first before the finals in Kyle’s five trips to the Senior World Championships. Snyder will be waiting in tomorrow’s bronze medal match for an opponent to emerge from the repechage.
The highlight of the day was seeing our star at 92 kg’s J’Den Cox capture his second world championship in as many years. As most predicted, Cox met up with Iran’s Alireza Karimi in the world finals. Karimi seems to be on another level from the rest of the weight class, while J’Den showed that he’s on a tier of his own at 92 kilos. Cox picked up an early takedown against the Iranian then added a second in the waning seconds of the opening period to take a 4-0 lead. For most, a four-point lead is not insurmountable, but when facing Cox, a 4-0 hole may as well be a 40-0 advantage. In the final period, Karimi could not even get close enough to get to J’Den’s leg, much less secure a takedown. 4-0 is how the match ended and Cox’s tournament ended without him surrendering a single point. In four bouts, Cox outscored his competition by a 26-0 margin.
J’Den finishes his year undefeated with his second world title, and gold medals at both the Pan-American Championships and the Yasar Dogu. As we set our sights on the 2020 Olympics, Cox will have a decision to make since 92 kg is not an Olympic weight. He won a bronze medal at the 2016 games while competing at 86 kg, but has moved up since the creation of the 92 kg weight class in 2018. Of course, his former opponent David Taylor won a world championship in 2018 at 86 kg after Cox moved up and is expected to be the favorite at the weight once he returns from a knee injury. At 97 kg’s is Kyle Snyder, the three-time World/Olympic Champion. In years past, some may have pegged Cox as the odd man out in this Olympic consolidation, but now it seems like he should be considered the favorite at either weight.
Another American legend in action was Jordan Burroughs at 74 kg. After his heartbreaking loss to Russia’s Zaurbek Sidakov in yesterday’s semifinals, Burroughs had to refocus on earning a bronze medal. In both of Jordan’s first two wins at the 2019 World Championships, he needed late comebacks to advance. This match featured none of that, as Burroughs blew through Mao Okui (Japan) and left nothing to doubt, with a 10-0 tech. The win gave Jordan his eighth World/Olympic medal and his third bronze from the World Championships. Burroughs is now eight-for-eight in his medal round matches at the World Championships.
Looking to match Cox with back-to-back World Championships is Kyle Dake, who will wrestle for the gold medal at 79 kg’s tomorrow. Dake did not display any rust after he missed most of 2019 while recovering from injuries. He cruised in all three of his matches, the closest of which was 5-1. Just a year ago, Dake pulled off the same feat that Cox matches, winning a title without allowing a single point. Kyle’s finals opponent is Jabrayil Hasanov (Azerbaijan) the same foe that he met in the 2018 World Finals.
Along with Snyder and Dake, also in action tomorrow will be Tyler Graff who is in the repechage at 61 kg. Graff had a strong showing in his first World Championship event, winning his first two matches before dropping a narrow, 3-1 decision to 2016 World silver medalist Beka Lomtadze (Georgia). Tyler’s opening match will come against Moldova’s Mihai Esanu, a fifth-place finisher at the U23 World Championships in 2018. A win would place him in the bronze medal match opposite Rahul Aware (India), a former Junior World silver medalist and 2019 Yasar Dogu champion.
At 86 kg’s, Pat Downey picked up a pair of wins over a couple of veterans on the world scene, Hohannes Mkhitaryan (Armenia) and Zbigniew Baranowski (Poland). Downey would get down early in his Round of 16 match to Ahmed Dudarov (Germany) and eventually was teched 13-0.
Also at 86 kg’s, Michigan’s three-time All-American Myles Amine was competing for San Marino and qualified the nation for the 2020 Olympics. This will mark the first time the country has been represented in wrestling at the Olympics. Amine earned wins over former world medalists Ali Shabanau (Belarus) and Sohsuke Takatani (Japan) on his way to the semifinals. His luck would run out against former World/Olympic Champion Hassan Yazdani (Iran). Amine drops to tomorrow’s bronze medal match and will await the winner of the repechage phase.