Photo: Nazar Kulchytskyy at the U.S. World Team Trials. Photo by Tony Rotund, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
Originally from Sosnivka, Ukraine, Nazar Kulchytskyy is beginning to pose a competitive threat in men’s freestyle on the U.S. Senior level.
In 2009, Kulchytskyy immigrated to the U.S. with his parents after his father won the Green Card Lottery, which is sponsored by the American Immigration Center to give people from qualifying countries the chance for a green card.
“It was the first time he ever played and he won,” Kulchytskyy said. “I was under 21 so I got to come as well. My brother and sister are a lot older and couldn’t come. Everyone in my family played the lottery for 10 years, and only my dad won. It’s crazy that that’s how it started. The process took about six to eight months.”
At the time, 16-year-old Kulchytskyy was nearly 1,000 miles away training in Yuzhne, in southern Ukraine. He had been there since he was 12 years old.
“Originally, I didn’t want to come,” he said. “I had a pretty good situation. Essentially, it was like I was getting paid more than my parents were. I won a national title, so the club took pretty good care of me. Everything was great for me. At the same time, I was curious to see how life in the U.S. was.”
Kulchytskyy was on the rise on the age-group levels in Ukraine. He made the Ukrainian World Team in 2008 as a Cadet. Although there were no Cadet World Championships during that time, Kulchytskyy represented his country at the European Championships and finished with a bronze medal.
Looking back, he competed against guys, who are now some of the world’s greatest on the Senior-level.
“It was a really tough bracket. I lost to a guy, who is now a three-time Senior World champion Haji Aliev, and Vladimir Khinchegashvili ending up winning my bracket, so I was wrestling those guys back in the day,” Kulchytskyy said.
With Aliev and Khinchegashvili being a year older than he was and moving up to the Junior level, Kulchytskyy was sure to win the European title in 2009, but he was given a choice: stay in Ukraine and compete for a championship or move to the U.S.
“It was an easy choice,” he said. “United States is the land of opportunities. If you work hard for something, you’re going to get it. It’s not like that in the Ukraine. There, you can work all your life for almost nothing. It’s just enough for food and your living situation. It’s really hard to live well in Ukraine. It doesn’t matter how hard you work.”
So he and his family went to Prairie di Chien, Wisc., where Kulchytskyy had already made a plan.
“I was talking to Larry Marchionda, who had a club out there,” Kulchytskyy said. “It seemed like it was a good opportunity. He always had a team from Japan come over to train. I knew I wanted to go there when I came to U.S. because he was the only person who responded to me. Even before we won the green card lottery, I was looking at clubs in the United States. He found me a good high school coach, Mel Dow. That’s how it started for me.”
Kuchytskyy went on to attend University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, a Division III school. In his career, he compiled a 143-5 record and collected three national championships.
In 2014, he was granted citizenship and was able to compete in the 2015 U.S. World Team Trials in Madison, Wisc., his own backyard.
He went 2-2 at the event, competing at 70 kg/154 lbs. and dropping a tight 8-7 match to eventual two-time World medalist James Green. Shortly after, he picked up wins over two-time NCAA All-American Adam Hall and 2013 NCAA champion Derek St. John.
Because 70 kg is not an Olympic weight, Kulchytskyy made the cut down to 65 kg/143 lbs. in 2016. The year didn’t go as expected.
“It started alright. I had some good tournaments,” he said. “I did well at a tournament in France, but it went downhill from there. My body couldn’t handle it. It was a good experience and now I know that for 2020, I won’t even think about cutting down again.”
Last season, Kulchytskyy recorded a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas to lead him into the World Team Trials in Lincoln, Neb. There, he was one win shy of making the National Team, losing to Jimmy Kennedy in the challenge bracket finals and Jason Nolf in the true-third bout.
“I left really disappointed after my first loss,” Kulchytskyy said. “When they told me I had to go back and wrestle one more match, I mentally wasn’t there, which is totally unlike me. It was a tough loss.”
With 2018 around the corner and the World Championships expanding to 10 weights in each style, Kulchytskyy is trying things out at a couple different weights.
“I tried 74 kg at Dave Schultz. I wrestled pretty well,” he said. “I haven’t 70 kg yet with the new two-day weigh-in. I want to try that. I think after talking to Coach (Bill) Zadick earlier this week, I’m going to try 70 in Ukraine. I’ll do that and see which one will feel better and go from there.”
At the 20th Annual Dave Schultz Memorial International, Kulchytskyy wrestled 74 kg/163 lbs., where he beat out two-time NCAA Div. I finalist Dylan Ness and Rasul Dzukaeva of Russia, who finished fifth at the 2017 Yasar Dogu, for the gold medal.
Shortly after, he traveled to Tehran, Iran, with Titan Mercury Wrestling Club to compete at the World Clubs Cup. He represented at 74 kg and went undefeated, claiming five wins and helped the team to a silver-medal finish.
Among those wins, he was victorious against 2017 Junior World bronze medalist Ver Dev Gulia of India in pool play and 2017 Asian Indoor Games silver medalist Hossein Elyasi of Iran in the finals.
“My individual performance was really good this year, so I’m happy about that,” Kulchytskyy said. “It really hurts to be that close to winning it. There were a lot of close matches, but it happens. It was a really good experience with some quality competition. Wrestling in front of the Iranian crowd was awesome.”
Kulchytskyy said his years of experience with foreign opponents, paired with new skills from wrestling American competitors, gives him the edge in international competitions.
“American guys are more intense and bring the pressure. International guys are more about technique and they stay in good position,” Kulchytskyy said. “It’s different, even in U.S. Trials. It’s hard to keep up the intensity in the same day because there are a lot of tough matches. I liked wrestling international guys before because I can feel good position. I know how they are, and I also know what they don’t like, which is a lot of pressure. Because of that, I find myself pretty successful against international guys now.”
With his year off to a solid start and his confidence in a good place, Kulchytskyy has set high expectations for himself that he is fighting hard for, no matter what weight he decides to compete at.
“My short-term goal is to wrestle at the World Cup in Iowa, represent this country and help USA win it. I just want to be a part of that experience, so I just need to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “My long-term goal is to win the U.S. Open and Trials and be on the World Team. I want to win it all, ultimately. Looking at the big picture, I think I can be a World champion.”