U23 World Championships Men’s Freestyle Preview: World champ Petriashvili leads deep field as USA aims high

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Nov. 20, 2017, 12:34 p.m. (ET)
Geno Petriashvili (Georgia) celebrates after beating Olympic champion Taha Akgul (Turkey) in the 2017 Senior World heavyweight finals. Photo by Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors.

The first U23 World Championships are set for Bydogszcz, Poland, Nov. 21-26, bringing together the world’s best 18-23 year old wrestlers in the three Olympic disciplines. Men’s freestyle is the final style contested on Nov. 25-26.

This new World Championships will give a delightful pause in the hectic U.S. college season, and allow American fans a chance to enjoy some of the nation’s best college wrestlers and young Olympic hopefuls battling stars from around the world. Fans will be able to enjoy the action live each day on TrackWrestling.

This is the third U23 Worlds preview on TheMat.com, with Greco-Roman on Saturday and women’s freestyle on Sunday. Check out the regular daily updates from USA Wrestling from Bydogszcz.

57 kg/125.5 lbs.

The American
Daton Fix of Sand Springs, Okla. has already made his name on the World level, with four age-group World-level medals while a high school star. Fix was a 2017 Junior World champion, 2016 Junior World bronze medalist, 2015 Cadet World bronze medalist and 2014 Youth Olympic Games silver medalist. Fix takes a break from his freshman year at Oklahoma State to compete in Poland. He beat the No. 3 U.S. Senior wrestler, Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello to make the USA team. He will need to keep beating Senior-level wrestlers if he hopes to medal, because that is what he will face. His freestyle IQ is off the charts, and this will be a great test for him.

Other top Medal contenders
• Andrii Yatsenko (Ukraine) – 3rd in 2017 Senior Worlds, 2014 Cadet World champion
• Suleyman Atli (Turkey) – 2016 Olympian, 2013 Junior World champion
• Reza Atrinagharchi or Younes Samrastindizaji (Iran)
Atrinagharchi – 2017 Asian Senior bronze medalist, 3rd in 2015 World Military Championships
Samrastindizaji – 2016 University World champion, 2013 Junior World champion
• Khasankhusein Badrudinov (Russia) – 2016 Junior World silver medalist
• Darthe Capellan (Canada) – 2016 Pan American Senior champion
• Zhandros Ismailov (Kazakhstan) – Second in 2017 Senior Islamic Solidarity Games
• Kazuya Koyanagi (Japan) – 2013 Cadet World Greco-Roman champion
• Reineri Andreu Ortega (Cuba) – 3rd in 2017 Pan American Senior Championships
• Ivan Zamfirov (Moldova) – 3rd in 2016 and 2017 U23 European Championships
• Utkarsh Kale (India) – 3rd in 2016 Commonwealth Games
• Abdelhak Kherbache (Algeria) – 2nd in 2017 African Senior Championships
• Daniel Popov (Israel) – 2017 Maccabiah Games champion

The skinny
When a Senior World medalist competes in an age-group event, he becomes a favorite, and Yatsenko (UKR) has the highest Senior achievement with his 2017 Senior bronze. Iran’s two possible entries, Atrinagharchi and Samratindizaji, compete at a high level on the Senior level. Atli (TUR) has been to the Olympics and the Senior World Championships. Badrudinov (RUS) is a rising Russian star, and will be medal-ready. Fix (USA) is a freestyle wizard, and is moving up against much older wrestlers. Cuba never brings athletes at the age-group level unless they are medal contenders, so watch out for Ortega (CUB). There is good depth at 57 kg in Poland.

61 kg/134 lbs.

The American
Mitchell McKee of Hanover, Minn. seeks his second age-group World medal of the year, after winning a Junior World silver medal this year. McKee is a sophomore at Minnesota, and was an NCAA qualifier as a true freshman. He faced two ranked opponents in folkstyle the weekend before travelling, Seth Gross of SD State and Kaid Brock of Oklahoma State, a good tuneup for him. McKee grew up as both a freestyle and Greco-Roman youth star, so switching styles is natural to him. It also gives him a few throws in his arsenal as needed. When wrestling well, McKee piles up tons of points. However, to beat Senior athletes, his defense will also need to be sharp to stay out of wild matches he may not win.

Other Top Medal Contenders
• Rinya Nakamura (Japan) – 5th in 2017 Senior Worlds Championships, 2nd in 2011 Cadet World Championships
• Islam Dudaev (Russia) – 3rd in 2017 Russian Senior Nationals
• Zanabazar Zandanbud (Mongolia) – 2nd in 2017 Asian Senior Championships, 5th in 2015 Junior Worlds
• Imam Sadeghikoukandeh (Iran) – 2014 and 2015 Junior World champion
• Petro Bileichuk (Ukraine) – 5th in 2017 European Seniors
• Sedat Ozdemir (Turkey) - 2nd in 2017 European U23s
• Shota Phartenadze (Georgia) – 3rd in 2013 Junior Worlds, 3rd in 2011 Cadet Worlds, 3rd in 2016 and 2017 European U23
• Dimitar Ivanov (Bulgaria) – 2nd in 2016 European U23s
• Ali Rahimzade (Azerbaijan) – 2017 European Junior champion
• Husein Shakhbanau (Belarus) – 2nd in 2011 Cadet Worlds
• Kuat Amirtayev (Kazakhstan) – 3rd in 2017 Medved Prizes (BLR)

The skinny
This weight class has a nice mix of Senior-level experience with age-group talent. Nakamura (JPN) was fifth in the 2017 Senior Worlds in Paris and a past Cadet World silver medalist. Dudaev (RUS) was third in the 2017 Russian Senior Nationals. Zandanbud (MGL) was second in the 2017 Asian Seniors. Of the age-group stars, Sadeghikoukandeh (IRI) was a 2014 and 2015 Junior World champion. McKee (USA) was a 2017 Junior World silver medalist. Phartenadze (GEO) has won two age-group World medals. In comparison to other weights, this one could be competitive, as there does not seem to be a big gap in experience or performance.

65 kg/143 lbs.

The American
Joey McKenna of Towaco, N.J. was a 2014 Junior World silver medalist and is a successful freestyler with Senior-level experience. After a strong high school career, he spent a year at the U.S. Olympic Training Center before heading off to Stanford, where he was an All-American. McKenna transferred this year to Ohio State, and is doing his freestyle training with the respected Ohio RTC. He is also seeking to help the Buckeyes win an NCAA team title as he pursues an individual NCAA title as well. Ohio State has been flexible with its freestyle stars such as Kyle Snyder and Nathan Tomasello while undergrads, which fits right in McKenna’s wheelhouse. We will see how the change in training situation affects McKenna at another World-level event.

Other Top Medal Contenders
• Bajrang (India) – 5th in 2015 Senior Worlds, 9th in 2016 Senior Worlds, 2017 Asian Senior champion, 2016 Commonwealth champion
• Gor Ogannesyan (Ukraine) – 5th in 2017 European Seniors, 5th in 2012 Junior Worlds
• Hoerhi Kaliyeu (Belarus) – 10th in 2016 Senior Worlds, 2nd in 2016 European Seniors
• Nachyn Kuular (Russia) – 2016 and 2016 Military World champion, 2nd in 2015 Yarygin Grand Prix (RUS)
• Haydar Yavuz (Turkey) – 2nd in 2017 European U23s
• Iveriko Julakidze (Georgia) – 3rd in 2017 Junior Worlds, 3rd in 2017 European U23s, 3rd in 2014 Youth Olympic Games
• Dillon Williams (Canada) – 3rd in 2016 and 2017 Pan American Seniors

The skinny

Bajrang (IND) was fifth in the 2015 Senior Worlds and a Senior Asian champion in 2017, the most impressive background in this field. Kalieyeu (BLR) was 10th in the 2016 Senior Worlds and a European Senior silver medalist in 2016. Kuular (RUS) was a two-time Military World champion. Ogannesyan (UKR) was fifth in 2017 European Seniors. McKenna (USA) was a Junior World silver medalist in 2014. Williams (CAN) won a pair of Pan American Senior bronze medals. This weight should be wide open, an opportunity for young stars to make a stand.

70 kg/154 lbs.

The American
The world does not know Richie Lewis of Toms River, N.J., which could be to his advantage. Lewis is a senior at Rutgers, seeking his first NCAA All-American honor this year after missing last season with injury. A Jersey boy, Lewis went to Iowa Central CC, where he was second and third at the NJCAA Nationals. He was an NCAA qualifier in his first year at Rutgers. He showed some strong freestyle skills in winning the U23 Trials, and in college action so far this year, continues to dominate on his feet, which will serve him well in Poland. It will be fun to see how Lewis competes at his first World-level event.

Other Top Medal Contenders
• Nobuyoshi Takojima (Japan) – 5th in 2017 Senior Worlds, 5th in 2013 Junior Worlds
• Gadzhimurad Omarov (Azerbaijan) – 2017 European U23 champion, 2nd in 2016 European U23s, 3rd in 2013 Junior Worlds
• Magomed Dibirgadzhiev (Russia) – 2nd in 2017 Russian Senior Nationals, 2nd in 2017 Medved International (BLR)
• Surko Rashytkhanau (Belarus) – 2nd in 2016 European U23s, 5th in 2017 European U23s
• Muhammet Akdeniz (Turkey) – 3rd in 2016 European U23s
• Sumiyabazar Zandanbud (Mongolia) – 2nd in 2014 Cadet Worlds
• Mirza Skhulukhia (Georgia) – 3rd in 2017 European U23s

The skinny
This weight does not have much in the way of Senior-level achievements, led by Takojima (JPN), who was fifth in the 2017 Senior Worlds. Dibirgadzhiev (RUS) was second in the 2017 Russian Senior Nationals. Most of the achievements are at the U23 level or below, with 2017 European U23 champion Omarov (AZE) leading the way. Zandanbud (MGL) was a Cadet World silver medalist. This one is a toss-up, where some new athletes could emerge at a world level.

74 kg/163 lbs.

The American
Two-time NCAA champion and three-time finalist Isaiah Martinez of Leemore, Calif. has made his name in American wrestling as a star at the University of Illinois. Although he is a talented freestyle wrestler, this will be his first U.S. World Team experience, in spite of impressive domestic achievements. Martinez has competed in the Senior World Team Trials, been a University Nationals champion and a Junior World Team Trials runner-up. The U23 Worlds gives Imar a chance to truly test himself at an international level, something he has wanted to do for a long time. This gives him even more motivation to perform well in Poland.

Other Top Medal Contenders
• Zelimkhan Khadjiev (France) – 5th in 2015 Senior Worlds, 8th in 2016 Olympics, 9th in 2017 Senior Worlds, 2nd in 2017 European U23s
• Murad Suleymanov (Azerbaijan) – 2nd in 2017 European Seniors, 2nd in 2016 European U23s, 5th in 2016 Junior Worlds
• Andrei Karpach (Belarus) – 3rd in 2016 Military Worlds, 5th in 2015 Military Worlds, 3rd in 2015 European U23s
• Gadzhi Nabiev (Russia) – 3rd in 2017 Russian Senior Nationals, 2015 Junior World champion
• Avtandil Kentchadze (Georgia) – 2017 European U23 champion, 2nd in 2016 UWW Golden Grand Prix Finals, 9th in 2015 Senior Worlds
• Samy Hamdy Moustafa (Egypt) – 2017 African Senior champion
• Yajuro Yamasaki (Japan) – 2014 Youth Olympic Games champion, 3rd in 2014 Cadet Worlds, 5th in 2017 Junior Worlds
• Kyrillos Binenmpaoum (Greece) – 2nd in 2015 Beach Worlds, 5th in 2017 European Seniors
• Jevon Balfour (Canada) – 2nd in 2015 Pan American Seniors, 2nd in 2014 Commonwealth Games,
• Vasyl Mykhailov (Ukraine) – 2nd in 2016 University Worlds, 2nd in 2012 Cadet Worlds, 3rd in 2017 European U23s
• Mohammad Mottaghinia (Iran) – 3rd in 2017 Junior Worlds
• Alberts Jurcenko (Latvia) – 3rd in 2014 Cadet Worlds

The skinny
This weight class has a ton of talent, led by Khadjiev (FRA), who was fifth in the 2015 Senior Worlds and eighth in the 2016 Olympic Games. Suleymanov (AZE) was second in the 2017 European Seniors. Nabiev (RUS) was a 2015 Junior World champion and third in the 2017 Russian Senior Nationals. Kentchadze (GEO) was ninth in the 2015 Senior Worlds and won the 2017 European U23s. Moustafa (EGY) is an African Senior champion. Karpach is a 2016 Military World bronze medalist. Yamasaki (JPN) won the 2014 Youth Olympics. Expect some great matches throughout this bracket, with a difficult road to a medal for sure.

86 kg/189 lbs.

The American
Sammy Brooks of Iowa City, Iowa is in his first year after winning two All-American honors and two Big Ten titles for Iowa. He will be competing in his third age-group World Championships, winning a bronze medal at the 2011 Cadet Worlds and placing eighth at the 2013 Junior Worlds. As an Illinois high school star, he won national titles in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. He had a tough bracket at the U23 Trials, beating Brett Pfarr in the semifinals and Myles Martin in the finals. He has as much experience and success as anybody on the USA team, which will serve him well against tough foreign rivals.

Other Top Medal Contenders
• Ali Reza Karimimachiani (IRI) – 3rd in 2015 Senior Worlds, 7th in 2016 Olympics, 2017 World Military champion, 2015 and 2017 Asian Senior champion, 2014 Junior World champion, 2nd in 2011 Cadet Worlds
• Azamat Dauletbekov (Kazakhstan) – 2nd in 2017 Asian Seniors, 2nd in 2014 Junior Worlds, 3rd in 2011 Cadet Worlds
• Krystsztof Sadowik (Poland) – 5th in 2015 and 2016 Junior Worlds
• Deepak Punia (India) – 2016 Cadet World champion, 5th in 2017 Junior Worlds
• Irakli Mtsituri (Georgia) – 2nd in 2016 European U23s
• Bendeguz Toth (Hungary) – 2nd in 2017 European U23s
• Raman Chytadze (Belarus) – 3rd in 2016 European U23s, 5th in 2015 Junior Worlds, 5th in 2012 Cadet Worlds
• Ivan Stefanov (Bulgaria) – 2nd in 2015 Cadet Worlds
• Kanan Aliyev (Azerbaijan) – 3rd in 2017 European U23s

The skinny
Karimimachiani (IRI), a 2015 Senior World bronze medalist, two-time Asian Senior champion, World Military champion and Junior World champion, is among the top stars competing in Poland this week, making him heavily favored. Dauletbekov (KAZ) was second in the 2017 Asian Seniors and boasts two age-group World medals. Punia (IND) was a 2016 Cadet World champion. Stefanov (BUL) won a 2015 Cadet World silver. Brooks (USA) was a 2011 Cadet World bronze winner. The rest of the field includes some European U23 medalists among the challengers. There will be some medals up for grabs, as this weight does not have the kind of depth of some of the others.

97 kg/213 lbs.

The American
Ty Walz of Blacksburg, Va. was a star at heavyweight for Virginia Tech, a three-time All-American and ACC champion for the Hokies. Walz will be in his first major international event in Poland. Dropping down to 97 kg makes Walz big and strong in comparison, and his aggressive style works well for him at this weight. He was fifth at the 2017 U.S. Senior Open and looked tough at the U23 World Team Trials. An Ohio native, Walz was a Cadet National freestyle champion in 2010, and continued competing in age-group freestyle throughout high school and college. He is excited for this opportunity to show what he has internationally.

Other Top Medal Contenders
• Givi Matcharashvili (Georgia) – 2nd in 2017 Junior Worlds, 2017 European U23 champion, 2014 Cadet World champion
• Mojtaba Goleij (Iran) – 3rd in 2016 UWW Golden Grand Prix Finals, 2017 Asian Indoor Games champion
• Rasul Magomedov (Russia) – 3rd in 2017 Russian Senior Nationals, 2nd in 2017 Yarygin Grand Prix (RUS)
• Bakdaulet Almentay (Kazakhstan) – 3rd in 2016 Asian Seniors, 3rd in 2015 Junior Worlds
• Yunus Dede (Turkey) – 2nd in 2016 University Worlds, 3rd in 2016 European U23s, 3rd in 2015 Junior Worlds, 2nd in 2012 Cadet Worlds
• Erik Thiele (Germany) – 3rd in 2016 European Seniors, 2nd in 2016 Junior Worlds
• Viky (India) – 3rd in 2016 Cadet Worlds
• Gadshimurad Magomedsaidov (Azerbaijan) – 3rd in 2016 and 2017 Junior Worlds
• Dzianis Khramiankou (Belarus) – 2nd in 2015 Junior Worlds, 3rd in 2016 Junior Worlds
• Vasile Caras (Romania) – 3rd in 2014 Junior Worlds
• Murazi Mchedlidze (Ukraine) – 3rd in 2017 European U23s, 5th in 2014 European U23s
• Alexios Kaouslidis (Cyprus) – 5th in 2015 and 2016 European U23s
• Nishan Randhawa (Canada) – 3rd in 2017 Pan American Seniors
• Nathaniel Tuamoheloa (American Samoa) – 2012 Olympian, 2nd in 2015 Oceania Seniors

The skinny
This weight class has a ton of depth, with some strong Senior achievements and many age-group honors. Matcharashvili (GEO) is the reigning European U23 champion and a 2014 Cadet World champion. Goleij (IRI) won a bronze at the 2016 UWW Golden Grand Prix Finals. Magomedov (RUS) was third at the 2017 Russian Senior Nationals and second at the rugged Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix, losing to Olympic and World champion Kyle Snyder in the finals. Almentay (KAZ) was third in the 2016 Asian Seniors. Thiele (GER) was third in the 2016 European Seniors. Add in four more age-group World medalists. There’s even a 2012 Olympian, Tuamoheloa (ASA). It will be a great scrap on the way to the medals.

125 kg/275 lbs.

The American
Michael Kroells of Minneapolis, Minn, a three-time All-American heavyweight for Minnesota, is competing in his first major international event. Kroells is pretty smart as well, making numerous Academic Teams while studying aerospace engineering. He was active in USA Wrestling programs for many years, getting All-American at the Junior, UWW Junior and University age groups. Kroells had a strong U23 Trials to make the team, and could surprise the field in Poland.

Other Top Medal Contenders
• Geno Petriashvili (Georgia) – 2017 Senior World champion, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, 2013 and 2015 Senior World bronze medalist, 2013 Junior World champion
• Amin Taheri (Iran) – 3rd in 2017 Military Worlds, 2nd in 2014 and 2015 Junior Worlds
• Taiki Yamamoto (Japan) – 10th in 2017 Senior Worlds, 3rd in 2017 Asian Seniors
• Magomed Dibirov (Russia) – 2016 and 2017 European U23 champion
• Mariyan Todorov (Bulgaria) – 3rd in 2014 University Worlds
• Vitali Piasniak (Belarus) – 3rd in 2017 Military Worlds, 2nd in 2017 European U23s
• Umar Israilov (Azerbaijan) – 2nd in 2016 Junior Worlds
• Kamil Kosciolek (Poland) – 3rd in 2014 Junior Worlds, 5th in 2015 Junior Worlds, 3rd in 2017 European U23s
• Danylo Kartavyi (Ukraine) – 3rd in 2016 University Worlds, 2nd in 2016 European U23s
• Jere Heino (Finland/Campbell Univ) – 5th in 2015 Junior Worlds, 5th in 2016 European U23s, 2017 Finland Senior World Team

The skinny
2017 Senior World champion Geno Petriashvili (GEO) is the top star in this event. He boasts a 2016 Olympic bronze and two other Senior World bronzes, plus a Junior World gold. He is an obvious favorite here. Taheri (IRI) has a medal at the Military Worlds and two Junior World silver medals. Yamamoto (JPN) was 10th in the 2017 Senior Worlds. Dibirov (RUS) has won the last two European U23 titles. Israilov (AZE) was a 2016 Junior World silver medalist. There are a number of other age-group World medalists in the mix. Unless there is a big upset, Petriashvili should reach the finals, and it will be interesting to see who earns the right to challenge him there.