| Patrick Martinez at the 2015 U.S. Open.
Photo: Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
Date of competition: Tuesday, September 8
In year two of its existence, the non-Olympic Greco-Roman weight class of 80 kg/176 lbs. looks to be once more the most wide open of all eight weights to be contested at the World Championships in Las Vegas.
The reigning 80 kg World champion, Peter Basci of Hungary, has elected to make the move down to 75 kg in anticipation of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With Basci dropping the field opens up considerably in terms of potential finalists.
The frontrunner for the 80 kg gold medal is undoubtedly the stout Russian Evgeni Saleev. Currently ranked No. 1 in the World by UWW, Saleev has posted a near perfect 2015 campaign since falling just short of the World title in Tashkent, losing to Basci 2-1 in the gold medal match.
Saleev has picked up four international gold medals since the Worlds last year, including exacting revenge on Basci at the Greco-Roman World Cup, winning the World finals rematch over the Hungarian 7-6. The one blemish on an otherwise perfect season for Saleev is a 2-1 loss to Rafik Huseynov of Azerbaijan in the World Cup finals, a loss Saleev would avenge in the finals of the European Games in June.
Huseynov is currently ranked No. 2 in the World by UWW and appears to be the top challenger to Saleev come Las Vegas.
The Azerbaijani standout has appeared at the World Championships four times and has failed to medal on every occasion. He has wrestled for a bronze medal twice, in 2009 and 2010, but was stifled both times.
Huseynov’s last World Championships appearance came in 2013 where he lost to Emrah Kus of Turkey in round three. However, he did defeat two quality opponents, Viktor Nemes of Serbia and Neven Zugaj of Croatia, in the first two rounds in Budapest, Hungary.
Zugaj made the World finals at 75 kg last year in Tashkent, but the Croatian will give it a go at 80 kg in Las Vegas. The U.S. contingent will recall Zugaj being the wrestler to defeat Andy Bisek in the World semifinals one year ago, derailing The Cowboy’s gold medal aspirations.
The move up to 80 kg for Zugaj is most likely a result of his poor international performances at 75 kg since the World Championships. He has only won a single international match since Tashkent and holds finishes of 14th at the European Games and 29th at the Wladyslaw Pytlasinski Cup.
Two-time World Champion Selcuk Cebi of Turkey will look to take home World gold for the third time in his illustrious career come September.
The 33-year-old Cebi was able to claim a bronze medal at the World Championships last year in his first run through at 80 kg. He currently sits at No. 6 in the UWW World Rankings after securing a bronze medal at the Wladyslaw Pytlasinski Cup and fifth place finishes at the European Games and Dan Kolov – Nikola Petrov Tournament. Expect similar results from this seasoned veteran come Las Vegas.
Jim Pettersson of Sweden is the other returning World bronze medalist at 80 kg. Pettersson has competed at 85 kg for all of 2015, but the Swede has had minimal success up a weight class, not earning a single international medal since Worlds. This lack of success at 85 kg casts doubt as to which weight Pettersson will compete at in Las Vegas.
European Games bronze medalists Daniel Aleksandrov of Bulgaria and Viktor Sasunovski of Belarus are potential medal contenders in Las Vegas.
Aleksandrov is ranked No. 4 in the World by UWW having won four international medals this season. He won a University World silver medal last year before competing at his first senior level World Championships in Tashkent, placing 20th.
Sasunovski will enter the Worlds with a similar resume to Aleksandrov. He is currently No. 5 in the World rankings and has earned three international medals this year. The Belarusian wound up in 25th overall at the World Championships last year in his first trip to the big show.
Entering the 80 kg fold for the U.S. in Las Vegas is newcomer to the Greco-Roman scene Patrick Martinez.
Martinez has competed at six international events this season and earned the silver medal at the Bill Farrell Memorial International. Most recently, Martinez showed tremendous improvements at the Grand Prix of Spain taking fifth place overall.
With men shuffling in and out of this weight class in preparations for the Olympic year, Las Vegas will serve as a prime opportunity to seize a World medal at 80 kg and establish some momentum heading into 2016.
UWW WORLD RANKINGS
1. Evgeni Saleev (Russia)
2. Rafik Huseynov (Azerbaijan)
3. Peter Basci (Hungary)
4. Daniel Aleksandrov (Bulgaria)
5. Viktor Sasunovski (Belarus)
6. Selcuk Cebi (Turkey)
7. Lasha Gobadze (Georgia)
8. Arslan Atem (Turkey)
9. Yousef Ghaderian (Iran)
10. Eduard Sargsyan (Armenia)
11. Aleksander Shyshman (Ukraine)
12. Dogan Goktas (Turkey)
13. Jonas Bossert (Switzerland)
14. Igor Besleaga (Moldova)
15. Aishan Aishan (China)
16. Giorgi Tsirekidze (Georgia)
17. Ashkat Dilmukhamedov (Kazakhstan)
18. Nikolaos Varkas (Greece)
19. Julius Matuzevicius (Lithuania)
20. Alexander Jersgren (Sweden)
RECENT WORLD RESULTS
2014 World Championships
80 kg/176 lbs. – Gold – Peter Bacsi (Hungary); Silver – Evgeni Saleev (Russia); Bronze – Jim Pettersson (Sweden); Bronze – Selcuk Cebi (Turkey); 5th – Tadeusz Michalik (Poland); 5th – Bozo Starcevic (Croatia); 7th – Habibollah Akhlaghi (Iran); 8th – Pascal Eisele (Germany); 9th – Jonas Bossert (Switzerland); 10th – Aleksandr Kazakevic (Lithuania)