After several days of international speculation and deliberation, the U.S. is set to take on the world in the 45th installment of the Men’s Freestyle World Cup in Kermanshah, Iran this week.
The American roster is loaded with A-level talent led by Olympic champions Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder, plus newly-minted World champion Logan Stieber. The trio have combined for two Olympic gold’s, five World titles and six overall World medals. Throw in talents like 2015 World bronze medalist James Green and 2016 Olympian Frank Molinaro, and the U.S. boasts as much firepower as any team in the field.
Last week, United World Wrestling conducted a blind draw to group the eight competing nations into two separate pools. The U.S. was selected to compete in Group A alongside Russia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The opposite pool features host nation Iran, Turkey, Mongolia and India.
For the past five years, Iran has set the bar for World Cup performances, winning first place in every World Cup event since 2012. After the win in 2016, Iran passed Russia for third place in all-time World Cup titles with seven. The U.S. holds 13 such titles, but has not come out on top in the World Cup since 2003 in Boise, Idaho. Only the former Soviet Union owns a better World Cup track record than the Americans with 15 championships to its credit.
On paper, the U.S. matches up well with all seven opposing squads, and is capable of winning its 14th World Cup crown. To do so, they will need its stars to be stars and several young talents to emerge as elite contenders on the World stage.
On Thursday morning, the U.S. will face Georgia in its opener followed thereafter by a formidable Russian squad.
Georgia is led by a pair of Olympic bronze medalists, Dato Marsagishvili at 86 kg and Geno Petriashvili at 125 kg, but will be without 57 kg Olympic champion Vladimer Kinchegashvili. Georgia defeated the U.S. 4-4 on criteria in the third-place match at last year’s World Cup. However, with the U.S. roster solidified with top talent, and the Georgian team featuring several unproven athletes, the U.S. is in prime position to reverse the result from one year ago.
Although clearly absent its No. 1 wrestlers, the Russian roster is littered with talent, old and new. 2012 Olympic champion Dzhamal Otarsultanov is Russia’s big name, but nearly every other wrestler on the roster placed in the top three at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix last month. Just like the matchup against Georgia, the U.S. is the favorite to take this dual on paper.
The Thursday evening session will test the American contingent perhaps more than any, with Azerbaijan posing a considerable threat to the U.S. title hopes. Last year when the two teams met in pool play the U.S. swept all eight bouts. Do not expect a similar result in 2017 with Azerbaijan sending Olympic medalists Haji Aliyev at 61 kg, Jabrayil Hasanov at 74 kg and Sharif Sharifov at 86 kg, in addition to a bevy of past Senior and Junior World medalists. Several swing matches will determine the end result here, but none more enthralling than the clash of World champions Stieber and Aliyev at 61 kg.
If everything goes according to plan for the U.S. on day one, expect a showdown with Iran in the championship dual on Friday night. Fireworks are aplenty when the U.S. and Iran meet on the mat, and it will be a similar story between the two this year. Olympic medalists Hassan Rahimi at 57 kg, Hassan Yazdanicharati at 86 kg and Komeil Ghasemi at 125 kg headline a deep and powerful Iranian lineup. Last year, Iran topped the U.S. 4-4 on criteria, and all indications are it will be a tossup should the two meet again.
Both days of the Men’s Freestyle World Cup will be broadcast live by United World Wrestling, with wrestling starting at 9:30 a.m. local time on Thursday and 10 a.m. local time on Friday. Kermanshah, Iran is eight hours and thirty minutes ahead of U.S. Eastern Time, meaning those wishing to watch stateside must tune in at 1 a.m. on Thursday and 1:30 a.m. on Friday.
To add a touch more flavor to the World Cup preview, the following are 11 of the most anticipated matchups U.S. wrestlers could see this week.
11. Kyle Snyder (USA) vs. Nurmagomed Gadzhiyev (AZE)
2016 Olympic champion Kyle Snyder rebounded from a pair of losses at the World Freestyle Wrestling Club’s Cup to become the 11th U.S. man to win the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix last month. Already the youngest World and Olympic champion in U.S. history, Snyder has created a lasting legacy. His toughest test at the World Cup this week could come from 2015 Junior World champion Nurmagomed Gadzhiyev of Azerbaijan. This match will no doubt be key in a U.S. win over the tough Azerbaijani team.
10. James Green (USA) vs. Mostafa Hosseinkhani (IRI)
Projecting a USA-Iran final, 2015 World bronze medalist James Green will meet 2016 World bronze medalist Mostafa Hosseinkhani at 70 kg. The two met at the World Cup last year with Green winning 5-2. Green has not competed since the World Championships in December where he finished in seventh place with a 2-1 record.
9. Zach Rey (USA) or Nick Gwiazdowski (USA) vs. Komeil Ghasemi (IRI)
The 125 kg U.S. representative will likely alternate between Zach Rey and Nick Gwiazdowski depending on matchups. Rey’s history with two-time Olympic medalist Komeil Ghasemi of Iran goes back to the 2015 World Cup where Ghasemi won 3-1, clinching to team title for Iran in the final match of the competition. On the other hand, Gwiazdowski and Ghasemi have yet to wrestle. However, Gwiazdowski did defeat Iran’s Parviz Hadi to cement the World Freestyle Wrestling Club’s Cup for Titan Mercury WC in November. If history is any indication, the winner of this match could in fact determine the World Cup champion.
8. David Taylor (USA) vs. Dato Marsagishvili (GEO)
The always-electric David Taylor will finally get his chance in the world spotlight, and things are expected to heat up quickly for the Magic Man. Taylor will potentially see Olympic bronze medalist Dato Marsagishvili of Georgia in his first match of the week. Marsagishvili topped Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox 7-4 in this event last year. This will be a great litmus test for Taylor as he seeks to solidify himself at 86 kg.
7. Tony Ramos (USA) vs. Hassan Rahimi (IRI)
We have seen Tony Ramos and Olympic medalist Hassan Rahimi several times before, with each match more heated than the last. Ramos has wrestled Rahimi as tough as anyone over the past three years, but has fallen just short each time. In the 2015 World Championships, the last meeting between the two, Ramos was seconds away from victory before Rahimi scored a late takedown to steal the win. With Ramos back at 57 kg for the first time since the Olympic Trials, it is time to see if he has developed into a World medal contender.
6. Jordan Burroughs (USA) vs. Jabrayil Hasanov (AZE)
Jordan Burroughs has been the face of USA Wrestling since his first World Championship run in 2011. Since that time, he has amassed an Olympic gold, three World titles and a World bronze medal. However, Burroughs run at a second Olympic title fell short in Brazil, and he has not competed since. Olympic bronze medalist Jabrayil Hasanov has never beaten Burroughs in multiple attempts, but the question remains where Burroughs stands post-Olympics. No test will be greater for Burroughs in his initial return to the mat as he seeks to reaffirm himself atop the 74 kg weight class.
5. David Taylor (USA) vs. Sharif Sharifov (AZE)
The road doesn’t get any easier for Taylor, who is likely to see his second Olympic medalist of the day on Thursday evening. Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov won Olympic gold in 2012 and is coming off Olympic bronze in 2016. This is another crucial bout for Taylor and the U.S. team in their quest to make the finals.
4. Logan Stieber (USA) vs. Dzhamal Otarsultanov (RUS)
2016 World champion Logan Stieber will face an early test from 2012 Olympic champion Dzhamal Otarsultanov of Russia on Thursday. Otarsultanov has posted sporadic results since his golden performance at the London Games. Here lies an opportunity for Stieber to further distance himself from the 61-kg pack as we head into the new quadrennial.
3. Zach Rey (USA) or Nick Gwiazdowski (USA) vs. Geno Petriashvili (GEO)
Rey or Gwiazdowski will start things off with Olympic bronze medalist Geno Petriashvili of Georgia in the U.S. opener at 125 kg. Both Gwiazdowski and Petriashvili utilize similar styles of aggressive offensive, while Rey plays it tighter with his attacks. If Gwiazdowski gets the nod expect a high-scoring affair. Petriashvili will give Gwiazdowski a premier gauge of where he stands internationally. Rey has battled Petriashvili in the past, most recently at the Paris International where Petriashvili won 10-0. A win by either American would go a long way in providing momentum for a championship run.
2. David Taylor (USA) vs. Hassan Yazdanicharati (IRI)
As if two Olympic medalists weren’t enough, David Taylor will most likely get his shot at the reigning 74 kg Olympic champion Hassan Yazdanicharati in a USA-Iran dual. Taylor bumped up from 74 kg to 86 kg after the 2015 season, and Yazdanicharati will do the same this year. The two have polar opposite styles, with Taylor picking apart his opponents with flare and Yazdanicharati methodically grinding away his opponents. Both men have something to prove in this one with potentially everything on the line.
1. Logan Stieber (USA) vs. Haji Aliyev (AZE)
It doesn’t get any better than this. The reigning 61 kg World champion taking on the man who won the World gold in 2014 and 2015. Stieber will face Azerbaijan’s Haji Aliyev for supremacy at 61 kg. Aliyev competed at 57 kg at the Olympic Games, winning a bronze. Therefore, he was ineligible to compete at the 61 kg World Championships in December. Both men are heavy offensively and savvy as any in the weight class. This could be the first of many battles between the two, and a win here gives one a leg up moving forward. Not to mention, this match could play a major part in which country winds up winning Group A and advancing to the finals.
2017 FREESTYLE WORLD CUP
Feb. 16-17 in Kermanshah, Iran
Thursday, February 16
9:30 a.m. – Group Rounds 1 & 2
4:30 p.m. – Group Round 3
Friday, February 17
10:00 a.m. – 7th Place Match
11:15 a.m. – 5th Place Match
4:00 p.m. – 3rd Place Match
5:30 p.m. – 1st Place Match
Tentative World Cup Rosters
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Anthony Ramos, Chapel Hill, N.C. (Sunkist Kids)
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Nahshon Garrett, Tempe, Ariz. (Sunkist Kids)
61 kg/134 lbs. – Logan Stieber, Columbus, Ohio (Titan Mercury WC)
61 kg/134 lbs. – Jayson Ness, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm)
65 kg/143 lbs. – Frank Molinaro, State College, Pa. (Nittany Lion WC)
70 kg/154 lbs. – James Green, Lincoln, Neb. (Titan Mercury WC)
74 kg/163 lbs. – Jordan Burroughs, Lincoln, Neb. (Sunkist Kids)
86 kg/189 lbs. – David Taylor, State College, Pa. (Nittany Lion WC)
86 kg/189 lbs. – Richard Perry, Philadelphia, Pa. (New York AC)
97 kg/213 lbs. – Kyle Snyder, Woodbine, Md. (Titan Mercury WC)
125 kg/275 lbs. – Zachery Rey, Bethlehem, Pa. (Lehigh Valley WC)
125 kg/275 lbs. – Nick Gwiazdowski, Raleigh, N.C. (Titan Mercury WC)
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Artem Gebekov, 2017 Ivan Yarygin silver
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Arbi Abakarov
61 kg/134 lbs. – Dzhamal Otarsultanov, 2012 Olympic champion
61 kg/134 lbs. – Viktor Rassadin, 2016 World University champion
65 kg/143 lbs. – Alan Gogaev, 2012 Olympian, 2010 World silver
65 kg/143 lbs. – Chermen Valiev, 2017 Ivan Yarygin silver
70 kg/154 lbs. – Alibek Akbaev, 2017 Ivan Yarygin bronze
70 kg/154 lbs. – Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov, 2017 Ivan Yarygin bronze
74 kg/163 lbs. – Atsamaz Sanakoev, 2017 Ivan Yarygin silver
74 kg/163 lbs. – Radik Valiev, 2014 Cadet World silver, 2017 Ivan Yarygin bronze
86 kg/189 lbs. – Vladislav Valiev, 2013 Junior World champion, 2017 Ivan Yarygin bronze
86 kg/189 lbs. – Akhmed Magamaev, 2017 Ivan Yarygin bronze
97 kg/213 lbs. – Yury Belonovskiy, 2010 World University champion, 2017 Ivan Yarygin bronze
97 kg/213 lbs. – Rasul Magomedov, 2017 Ivan Yarygin silver
125 kg/275 lbs. – Vladislav Baitcaev, 2009 Junior World bronze, 2015 World Military champion
125 kg/275 lbs. – Mukhamagazi Magomedov, 2016 Russia Nationals champion
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Mahir Amiraslanov, 2015 Junior World champion
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Giorgi Edisherashvili, 2016 Golden Grand Prix champion
61 kg/134 lbs. – Haji Aliyev, 2016 Olympic bronze, 2014 & 2015 World champion
61 kg/134 lbs. – Akhmednabi Gvarzatilov, 2016 World bronze, 2013 Junior World bronze
65 kg/143 lbs. – Magomed Muslimov, 2016 Intercontinental Cup silver
65 kg/143 lbs. – Gitinomagomed Gadzhiyev, 2016 Golden Grand Prix silver
70 kg/154 lbs. – David Suynyuchkhanov, (Formerly of Russia), 2014 Alexander Medved bronze
70 kg/154 lbs. – Gadzhimurad Omarov, 2013 Junior World bronze, 2016 European U23 silver
74 kg/163 lbs. – Jabrayil Hasanov, 2016 Olympic bronze, 2010 & 2011 World bronze
74 kg/163 lbs. – Murad Suleymanov, 2016 Golden Grand Prix bronze
86 kg/189 lbs. – Sharif Sharifov, 2012 Olympic champion, 2016 Olympic bronze, 2011 World champion
86 kg/189 lbs. – Alexander Gostiev, Three-time Yasar Dogu champion, 2016 Golden Grand Prix champion
97 kg/213 lbs. – Nurmagomed Gadzhiyev, 2015 Junior World champion, 2016 European U23 champion
97 kg/213 lbs. – Aslanbek Alborov, Three-time Junior World medalist, 2016 Golden Grand Prix bronze
125 kg/275 lbs. – Jamaladdin Magomedov, 2015 World silver, 2011 World bronze, Two-time Olympian
125 kg/275 lbs. – Umar Israilov, 2016 Junior World silver
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Otari Gogava, 2015 Golden Grand Prix bronze
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Beka Bujiashvili, 2013 Junior World bronze
61 kg/134 lbs. – Shota Phartenadze, 2013 Junior World bronze, 2011 Cadet World bronze
61 kg/134 lbs. – Giorgi Revazishvili, 2016 Golden Grand Prix bronze
65 kg/143 lbs. – Iveriko Julakidze, 2015 Cadet European champion, 2014 Youth Olympic bronze
70 kg/154 lbs. – Levan Kelekhsashvili, Fifth at 2013 World Championships
70 kg/154 lbs. – Konstantine Khabalashvili, 2012 Junior World silver
74 kg/163 lbs. – Jakob Makarashvili, 2016 European bronze, Fifth at 2013 World Championships
74 kg/163 lbs. – Jumber Kelashvili
86 kg/189 lbs. – Dato Marsagishvili, 2012 Olympic bronze, 2011 World bronze
86 kg/189 lbs. – Irakli Mtsituri, 2016 European U23 silver
97 kg/213 lbs. – Omar Gusoshvili, 2015 European U23 champion
125 kg/275 lbs. – Geno Petriashvili, 2016 Olympic bronze, 2013 & 2015 World bronze
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Hassan Rahimi, 2016 Olympic bronze, 2015 World silver, 2011 & 2014 World bronze, 2013 World champion
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Younes Sarmastidizaji, 2016 World University champion, 2013 Junior World champion
61 kg/134 lbs. – Behnam Ehsanpoor, Fifth at 2016 World Championships, 2012 Junior World champion
61 kg/134 lbs. – Masoud Esmaeilpoorjouybari, 2014 World silver, 2013 World bronze
65 kg/143 lbs. – Meisam Nasiri, 2016 Olympian, 2016 Asian champion
65 kg/143 lbs. – Mohammademehdi Yeganehjafari, 2017 Ivan Yarygin bronze
70 kg/154 lbs. – Mostafa Hosseinkhani, 2017 World bronze, 2016 Asian champion
70 kg/154 lbs. – Hamed Rashidi, 2016 World University bronze
74 kg/163 lbs. – Peyman Yarahmadi, 2015 Asian champion, 2013 Junior World bronze
74 kg/163 lbs. – Bahman Teymouri, 2016 Pune Mayor’s Cup champion
86 kg/189 lbs. – Hassan Yazdanicharati, 2016 Olympic champion, 2015 World silver
86 kg/189 lbs. – Alireza Karimimachiani, 2015 World bronze, 2014 Junior World champion
97 kg/213 lbs. – Amir Mohammadi, 2016 World University champion
97 kg/213 lbs. – Hossein Shahbazigazvar, 2016 Junior World champion
125 kg/275 lbs. – Komeil Ghasemi, 2016 Olympic silver, 2014 World silver, 2012 Olympic bronze
125 kg/275 lbs. – Yadollah Mohebi, 2016 Golden Grand Prix bronze
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Sezar Akgul, 2013 World bronze, 2009 World silver
61 kg/134 lbs. – Cengizhan Erdogan, (Formerly Opan Sat of Russia), Three-time European champion
65 kg/143 lbs. – Mustafa Kaya, 2016 European silver, 2012 World University champion
70 kg/154 lbs. – Yakup Gor, 2015 World bronze, 2014 World silver
74 kg/163 lbs. – Islam Kilic, 2016 Yasar Dogu bronze
74 kg/163 lbs. – Safa Aksoy
86 kg/189 lbs. – Selim Yasar, 2016 Olympic silver, 2015 World silver, 2014 World bronze
97 kg/213 lbs. – Faruk Akkoyun, 2012 & 2013 Yasar Dogu bronze
97 kg/213 lbs. – Serdar Boke, 2012 World University silver, 2010 World University bronze
125 kg/275 lbs. – Salim Ercan
125 kg/275 lbs. – Riza Yildirim, 2014 Alexander Medved champion, 2008 World University silver
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Batbold Sodnomdash, 2016 Asian bronze, 2012 World University bronze
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Zanabazar Zandanbud, Fifth at 2015 Junior World Championships
61 kg/134 lbs. – Tulga Tumur-Ochir, 2015 Cadet Asian champion
61 kg/134 lbs. – Nyam Ochir Enkhsaikhan, 2014 World bronze
65 kg/143 lbs. – Lkhangarmaa Narmandakh, 2014 World Military champion
65 kg/143 lbs. – Batmagnai Batchuluun, 2016 Asian bronze, 2014 World Military bronze, 2014 World University bronze
70 kg/154 lbs. – Mandakhnaran Ganzorig, 2013 & 2014 World bronze
70 kg/154 lbs. – Khatanbaatar Davaatseren
74 kg/163 lbs. – Ankhbayar Batchuluun, 2015 President Cup of Kazakhstan silver
74 kg/163 lbs. – Gombodorj Dorjvanchig, 2010 Asian bronze, 2006 World University bronze
86 kg/189 lbs. – Unurbat Purevjav, 2015 World silver, two-time Olympian
86 kg/189 lbs. – Uitumen Orgodol, 2016 Asian silver, 2015 World Military bronze, two-time Olympian
97 kg/213 lbs. – Batzul Ulziisaikhan
125 kg/275 lbs. – Zolboo Natsagsuren, 2017 Ivan Yarygin bronze
125 kg/275 lbs. – Lkhagvagerel Munkhtur
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Amit Kumar, 2013 World silver
61 kg/134 lbs. – Harphool Harphool, 2016 Commonwealth champion
65 kg/143 lbs. – Bajrang Bajrang, Fifth in 2015 World Championships
70 kg/154 lbs. – Amit Dhankhar, 2016 Commonwealth champion
74 kg/163 lbs. – Jitender Jitender, 2016 Commonwealth champion
86 kg/189 lbs. – Deepak Deepak, 2016 Commonwealth champion
97 kg/213 lbs. – Roublejit Rangi, 2015 Asian bronze
125 kg/275 lbs. – Krishan Krishan, 2016 Commonwealth silver