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2018 World Championships preview at 97 kg/213.5 lbs. in men’s freestyle

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Oct. 13, 2018, 10:56 a.m. (ET)

Photo of Kyle Snyder of the USA at the 2017 World Championships by Jonny Ruggiano.

Dates of competition: Sunday, October 21 and Monday, October 22

Who ya got in Snyder vs. Sadulaev II?

While this is the big question the world is asking heading into the 2018 World Championships at 97 kg in men’s freestyle, there are many more stories that could define the final narrative at this weight class in Budapest. There are no less than eight past World or Olympic medalists in the expected field.

We were all treated to the “Match of the Century” in Paris, France, when 2016 Olympic champions Kyle Snyder of the United States and Abdulrashid Sadulaev of Russia met in the final match of the entire tournament. The team score was tied between the United States and Russia, with the winning athlete at 97 kg also clinching the team victory. The actual match met all expectations and more, as Snyder scored a late takedown to edge Sadulaev and make it a day that will forever be remembered within international wrestling.

Fast forward to 2018, and once again, both Snyder and Sadulaev are entered in the tournament again. Neither athlete will receive a seed, since Sadulaev wrestled much of 2018 down at 92 kg and Snyder did not enter enough UWW Ranking events. It will all come down to the random draw, so a potential Snyder vs. Sadulaev rematch could happen in any round, or might not happen at all.

Snyder is attempting to become the first U.S. wrestler to win four straight World or Olympic medals since John Smith got his first four during his amazing streak of six straight from 1987-1992. (Helen Maroulis in women’s freestyle is also going for four straight for the USA). Snyder, the youngest U.S. wrestler to win a World title (age 19) and Olympic title (age 20) also boasts Junior World gold and bronze medals. This year, Snyder won his second straight Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix title and went 4-0 in the World Cup in Iowa. He edged Cuban star Reineris Salas in the Beat the Streets Gala in New York, and was third at the Yasar Dogu International in Turkey, dropping a 3-3 criteria decision to World medalist Aslanbek Alborov of Azerbaijan. Snyder has lost matches during his previous three Senior seasons, but has always shown up at his best at the most important event of the year.

Sadulaev won three in a row himself when he claimed the 2014 and 2015 World titles and the 2016 Olympic gold medal, all down at 86 kg. After moving up to challenge Snyder last year in Paris, Sadulaev started the 2018 season at the new 92 kg division, winning three straight gold medals at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix in Russia, the Dan Kolov in Bulgaria and at the European Championships. He bumped up to 97 kg to win the Russian Nationals, and has decided to stay there. Sadulaev won two Cadet World titles before winning the Senior Worlds on his first try. This athlete has tremendous ability and focus, but is a bit physically smaller than Snyder and some of the others competing at 97 kg.

Cuba’s Reineris Salas is a two-time World silver medalist, falling to Sadulaev in the 2014 World finals at 86 kg and to Ibragim Aldatov of Ukraine in the 2013 World finals. U.S. fans will remember the exciting Salas vs. J’den Cox 86 kg bronze-medal match at the 2016 Olympic Games, when Cox came back late to score and Salas refused to finish the match. He gave Snyder a real hard battle before losing by a point in the Beat the Streets dual in May. This athlete is talented and has some dangerous technique. Salas moved up to 97 kg in 2017 and did not medal at last year’s World Championships. He won gold medals at the Pan American Championships and the Central American and Caribbean Games this season, but went 2-2 at the World Cup in Iowa City.

Both of the 2017 World bronze medalists, who placed behind Snyder and Sadulaev, also return for another run at the medals, Georgi Ketoev of Armenia and Aslanbek Alborov of Azerbaijan.

Ketoev started his career with Russia, and was a 2007 World champion and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist for them at 84 kg. He had a great early career, with a 2005 Junior World title and a 2006 World Military title. Ketoev did not crack Russia’s World Team lineup after winning his Olympic medal, and started wrestling for Armenia in 2016, when he made his second Olympic appearance. He has not wrestled much in 2018, but does have a gold medal at the Sargsyan International in Armenia and missed the medal rounds at the European Championships.

In addition to winning the Yasar Dogu this year, Alborov claimed a silver medal at the Ali Aliev Tournament in Russia and won his only match at the World Cup in Iowa City. He won a medal last year in Paris in his first Senior World appearance. Alborov had a successful age-group career as a 2009 and 2010 Junior World silver medalist and 2011 Junior World bronze medalist.

Both of the 2016 Olympic bronze medalists from the Rio Olympics at 97 kg are also expected in the field in Budapest, Albert Saritov of Romania and Magomed Ibragimov of Uzbekistan. Both started their international careers competing for Russia.

Saritov was a 2011 World bronze medalist for Russia at 84 kg who did not make another Russian World Team, wrestling for them on the international scene through 2015. In 2016, he competed for Romania and went on to win his Olympic bronze. Saritov did not wrestle at the 2017 Worlds, and has only one major event this year, a silver at the Corneanu Memorial in Romania.

Ibragimov was never able to make a Russian Senior World Team, but won a silver medal at the 2013 Yarygin Grand Prix and a bronze medal at the 2009 Yarygin. He ended his Russian career in 2014, then arrived with Uzbekistan in 2016, in time to make the Olympics and win his Olympic bronze medal. He has remained active on the world scene since, winning the Asian Senior Championships in both 2017 and 2018 and adding a bronze at the 20187 Asian Games. He competed at the 2017 World Championships but did not reach the medal rounds, losing to Ketoev in the quarterfinals.

Host Hungary has added another transplanted star from an Eastern European power, as two-time World bronze medalist Pavlo Oliynik has switched over from Ukraine. Oliynik won his first World bronze medal in 2013, and added a second World bronze medal in 2015, both for Ukraine. A 2013 World University Games silver medalist, Oliynik wrestled for Ukraine right up through the 2017 World Championships, where he did not reach the medal rounds. This year, he has wrestled in six international events for Hungary, winning the Grand Prix of Spain and taking a bronze medal at the Ziolkowski Memorial in Poland.

In addition to the eight past medalists, another top contender has reached medal matches at the Worlds or Olympics for four straight years, but placed fifth each time, the rugged Elizbar Odikadze of Georgia. His fifth-place finishes include the 2016 Olympic Games, plus the 2014, 2015 and 2017 World Championships. This is a talented wrestler, who has scored a win over Snyder in the past and is competitive in every event he enters. After taking a bronze at the 2018 European Championships, Odikadze won gold medals at the Kartozia and Balavadze International in Georgia and the Ziolkowski Memorial in Poland. He is capable of reaching the finals, even in such a loaded weight class.

The scary part is when you look at the rest of the field, there are some big-time talents who could also make a strong run in Budapest. Earning the No. 1 seed after a strong season in the UWW Ranking events is 2017 U23 World bronze medalist Murazi Mchelidze of Ukraine. He boasts bronze medals from the Dan Kolov in Bulgaria, the Kartozia and Balavadze International in Georgia and the Medved International in Belarus, plus a fifth-place finish at the European Championships.

Iran will enter 2017 U23 World champion Mojtaba Goleij, who won silver medals at the 2018 Asian Championships and the Yasar Dogu in Turkey. Goleij was also the 2017 Asian Indoor Games champion. 2017 European champion Riza Yildirim of Turkey enters his third Senior World Championships, and has World medals at the University and the Junior levels in his past. Mongolia is expected to enter Batsul Ulzisaikhan, who has won four international medals this year, including silver medals at the President’s Cup of Buryatia in Russia, the Mongolia Open and the Korkin International in Russia.

2017 World Military champion Aleksandr Hushtyn of Belarus was second in the 2018 European Championships and recently won the gold medal at the Medved International in Belarus. Two-time Olympian Jose Diaz Robertti of Venezuela was a 2016 Pan American champion and has five past Pan American medals to his credit. Three other athletes in the field have placed in the top 10 at the World Championships within the last five seasons, Takeshi Yamaguchi of Japan, Jae-Gang Kim of Korea and Magomedgadji Nurov of Macedonia. Yamaguchi and Kim were both 2018 Asian bronze medalists. Magomed Musaev of Kyrgyzstan won a 2018 Asian Games silver medal.

Any way you look at this, 97 kg in men’s freestyle is a weight packed with talent and experience. But, with all eyes focused on Kyle Snyder and Abdulrashid Sadulaev, there will be a ton of great matches beyond that potential showdown to enjoy.

Note: will be posting daily weight class previews for the 2018 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, October 20-28


2017 World Championships
97 kg/213 lbs. - Gold - Kyle Snyder (United States); Silver - Abdulrashid Sadulaev (Russia); Bronze – Aslanbek Alborov (Azerbaijan) ; Bronze – Georgi Ketoev (Armenia); 5th - Elizbar Odikadze (Georgia); 5th - Mamed Ibragimov (Kazakhstan); 7th - Nicolai Ceban (Moldova); 8th - Jaegang Kim (Korea); 9th - Satywart Kadian (India); 10th - Magomedgadji Nurov (FYR Macedonia)

2016 Olympic Games
97 kg/213 lbs. – Gold – Kyle Snyder (United States); Silver – Khetag Goziumov (Azerbaijan); Bronze – Albert Saritov (Romania); Bronze – Magomed Ibragimov (Uzbekistan); 5th – Elizbar Odikadze (Georgia); 5th – Valerii Andriitsev (Ukraine); 7th – Reza Yazdani (Iran); 8th – Mamed Ibragimov (Kazakhstan); 9th – Magomed Musaev (Kyrgyzstan); 10th – Javier Cortina (Cuba)

2015 World Championships
97 kg/213 lbs. – Gold – Kyle Snyder (United States); Silver – Abdusalam Gadisov (Russia); Bronze – Khetag Gazumov (Azerbaijan); Bronze – Pavlo Oliynik (Ukraine); 5th – Elizbar Odikadze (Georgia); 5th – Abbas Tahan (Iran); 7th – Stefan Kehrer (Germany); 8th – Ibrahim Boulukbasi (Turkey); 9th – Magomed Musaev (Kyrgyzstan); 10th – Jaegang Kim (Korea)

2014 World Championships
97 kg/213 lbs. – Gold – Abdulsalam Gadisov (Russia); Silver – Khetag Gazumov (Azerbaijan); Bronze – Javier Cortina (Cuba); Bronze – Valerii Andriitsev (Ukraine); 5th – Elizbar Odikadze (Georgia); 7th – Egzon Shala (Albania); 8th – Khderbulga Dorjkhand (Mongolia); 10th – Zueyi Zhang (China).

2013 World Championships
96 kg/211.5 lbs. – Gold – Reza Yazdani (Iran); Silver – Khetag Gazumov (Azerbaijan); Bronze – Anzor Boltukaev (Russia); Bronze – Pavlo Oliynik (Ukraine); 5th – Aleksey Krupnyakov (Kyrgyzstan); 5th – Dato Kerashvili (Georgia); 7th – Kamil Skaskiewicz (Poland); 8th – Takeshi Yamaguchi (Japan); 9th – Nicolai Ceban (Moldova); 10th – Egzon Shala (Albania)

2012 Olympics
96 kg/211.5 lbs. - Gold – Jake Varner (United States); Silver – Valerii Andriitsev (Ukraine); Bronze – George Gogeshelidze (Georgia); Bronze – Khetag Gazyumov (Azerbaijan); 5th – Kurban Kurbanov (Kazakhstan); 5th – Reza Yazdani (Iran); 7th – Magomed Musaev (Kyrgyzstan); 8th – Rustam Isokawa (Japan); 9th – Abdusalam Gadisov (Russia); 10th – Khetag Pliev (Canada)

Current UWW Ranking Series standings (for seeding)
1 Murazi Mchedlidze (Ukraine)
2 Aliaksandr Hushtyn (Belarus)
3 Vladislav Baitcaev (Russia)
4 Elizbar Odikadze (Georgia)
5 Magomed Ibragimov (Uzbekistan)
6 Mojtaba Mohammadshafie Goleij (Iran)
7 Valerii Andriitsev (Ukraine)
8 Kyle Snyder (USA)
9 Fatih Yasarli (Turkey)
10 Reineris Salas Perez (Cuba)