2018 World Championships preview at 125 kg/275 lbs in men’s freestyle

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Oct. 16, 2018, 11:12 a.m. (ET)
2017 World bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski, shown competing at the 2017 Worlds in Paris, seeks to climb on the podium in Budapest. Photo by Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors.

Dates of competition: Saturday, October 20 and Sunday, October 21

When it comes to men’s freestyle heavyweights, two athletes stand out based upon past achievements and their tremendous skill sets and ability to peak for the major competitions. The eyes of the world return to 2017 World champion Geno Petriashvili of Georgia and 2016 Olympic champion and two-time World champion Taha Akgul of Turkey.

Last year’s gold-medal finals, which Petriashvili dramatically won in a 10-8 shootout, was an instant classic. Both athletes showed great technique and desire, giving a tremendous show for the fans. Some fans are hoping for an rematch in the 2018 finals, but there are numerous other tough opponents looking to reach the gold-medal match themselves. Plus, only Petriashvili was able to secure a seed through the UWW Ranking Series, meaning Akgul will be pulled into the draw randomly.

Petriashvili has a long list of achievements to go along with his World title. He was a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, and won World bronze medals in both 2013 and 2015. His big breakthrough year was in 2013, when he won a Junior World gold medal and followed that up with his Senior World bronze medal. His age-group achievements also include a 2011 Cadet World silver medal and a 2012 Junior World bronze medal. So far this year, Petriashvili won gold medals at the Dan Kolov in Bulgaria and the Kartozia and Balavadze International in Georgia, plus silver medals at the European Championships and the Ukrainian Memorial International.

Akgul was one of the top wrestlers on the planet when he won three straight World-level medals, winning both the 2014 and 2015 World Championships, and following that up with his impressive gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. In addition to his World silver last year, Akgul won a 2013 World bronze medal and competed in the 2012 Olympic Games. His resume includes a University World Games gold and a University World Championships gold. This year, he won gold medals in both events he entered, beating Petriashvili in the finals to capture the European gold medal and also winning the Cerro Pelado International in Cuba.

The No. 1 seed in Budapest will be 2017 World bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski of the United States. The Gwizz has been very consistent this year, winning the Pan American Championships and taking bronze medals at the Yarygin Grand Prix in Russia and the Yasar Dogu International in Turkey. At the World Clubs Cup, he lost a 6-5 match to Petriashvili in the finals dual. While he is still improving in all phases of his freestyle, the two-time NCAA champion and three-time finalist for NC State has proven he can compete with anybody in the world.

Although he is not listed in the preliminary rosters, 2017 World bronze medalist Levan Berianidze of Armenia would be a tough draw if he enters. His only competition this year was at the India Professional League in the winter. A 2010 World bronze medalist for Georgia, he switched to Armenia in 2015, and he went on to place fifth at the 2016 Olympic Games.

Davit Modzmanashvili of Uzbekistan is another former Georgian heavyweight also switched allegiances and should be a top medal hopeful. Modzmanashvili won a 2012 Olympic silver medal for Georgia, and continued competing there until 2015, when it was clear that Petriashvili had taken over the spot on the team. His first appearance for Uzbekistan was at the 2017 Worlds, where he fell short of the medals. He has been very active since, wrestling in eight international events this season. He won the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Championships and also won the Grand Prix of Spain and the Kunaev International in Kazakhstan. Most recently, he was third at the 2018 Asian Games.

2015 World silver medalist Jamaladdin Magomedov of Azerbaijan also has gold-medal aspirations. He started his career with Russia, but has been Azerbaijan’s top big man since 2011, when he won a Senior World bronze medal in his first Senior World meet. Magomedov competed in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. He won the 2018 Medved International in Belarus and placed third at the European Championships. He scored a win over Gwiazdowski in the finals dual at the 2018 World Cup in Iowa City.

Then, there is 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Ibrahim Saidau of Belarus, another former Russian who has found the grass greener elsewhere. Saidau only wrestled once in 2017, but has three international events this year, including bronze medals at the Korkin International in Russia and the Medved International in Belarus. Saidau was good enough to win the Yarygin Grand Prix in Russia in 2015, and if he shows up in good shape and prepared, he will be dangerous.

With as many as six past World or Olympic medalists, this weight class is already stacked. However, at least five other entries in Budapest have reached bronze medal bouts at a past Worlds or Olympics, meaning they have also proven the ability to make a run at the medals.

Russia brings back Anzor Khizriev, who was fifth at the 2017 World Championships, falling to Petriashvili and Berianidze in Paris. Khizriev won the Russian Nationals for the second straight year, and also claimed a gold medal at the Ziolkowski Memorial in Poland and a silver medal at the Yarygin Grand Prix in Russia. He has not competed as much as many of the veteran stars in this weight class, but should be ready to take the next step in his career as part of a revived Russian World Team.

Earning the No. 3 seed is Oleksandr Khotsianivskyi of Ukraine, who was fifth at the 2014 World Championships. Khotsianivskyi won gold medals this season at the Yasar Dogu in Turkey and the Ukrainian Memorial International. He beat Petriashvili in the finals in Ukraine, and then lost to Petriashvili to take a silver at the Karatozia and Balavadze International in Georgia. A 2012 Olympian, he has won two career University World-level medals.

Taking fifth at the 2017 World Championships was veteran Zolboo Natsagsuren of Mongolia, who won a bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Championships, and added silver medals at the Mongolia Open and the Korkin International in Russia this year.

China’s Zhiwei Deng placed fifth at the 2013 World Championships. He has put together a solid 2018 season, placing second in the Asian Games and winning a silver medal at the Medved International and a bronze medal at the Ziolkowski Memorial in Poland. Deng competed in the 2016 Olympics, won a 2013 World Military gold medal and claimed a 2007 Junior World bronze.

Host Hungary will be cheering for Daniel Ligeti, who placed seventh at the 2016 Rio Olympics and was also fifth at the 2010 Senior World Championships. He has competed in five Senior Worlds and two Olympic Games.

Iran will be represented by 2018 Asian Games champion Parviz Hadi Basmanj, who will be competing in his second Senior Worlds after placing ninth at the 2015 Worlds in Las Vegas. Hadi also won a gold at the Takhti Cup in Iran this season. In his career, Hadi has won five Senior Asian Championships or Asian Games gold medals.

There is still another former Georgian heavyweight who is entered for another nation, as Giorgi Sakandelidze is now competing for Qatar. A 2010 Junior World bronze medalist, Sakandelidze competed in the 2014 Senior Worlds for Georgia and continued with that nation through 2016. Wrestling for Qatar in 2018, he has won three international medals in five tournaments, including a gold at the Macedonian Pearl, a silver at the Asian Championships and a bronze at the Sargsyan International in Armenia.

Canada has high hopes for 2014 Junior World champion Amar Dhesi, who was an NCAA All-American for Oregon State. 2018 Commonwealth Games champion Sumit of India was also a 2017 Asian Senior silver medalist. 2012 Olympian Nick Matuhin of Germany placed fifth at the 2018 Yasar Dogu in Turkey in preparation for Budapest, and also placed ninth in the 2014 World Championships.

2016 Olympian Robert Baran of Poland won a bronze medal at the 2018 European Championships. 2017 Asian bronze medalist Taiki Yamamoto of Japan returns for his second straight Senior Worlds. 2012 Junior World bronze medalist Yermukambet Inkar of Kazakhstan won the 2018 Bill Farrell Memorial here in the United States.

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

RECENT WORLD AND OLYMPIC RESULTS

2017 World Championships
125 kg/275 lbs. - Gold - Geno Petriashvili (Georgia); Silver - Taha Akgul (Turkey); Bronze –Nick Gwiazdowski (United States) ; Bronze –Levan Berianidze (Armenia); 5th - Zolboo Natsagsuren (Mongolia); 5th - Anzor Khizriev (Russia); 7th - Korey Jarvis (Canada); 8th - Aiaal Lazarev (Kyrgyzstan); 9th - Yadollah Mohebi (Iran); 10th - Taiki Yamamoto (Japan)

2016 Olympic Games
125 kg/275 lbs. – Gold – Taha Akgul (Turkey); Silver – Komeil Ghasemi (Iran); Bronze – Ibrahim Saidau (Belarus); Bronze – Geno Petriashvili (Georgia); 5th – Levan Berianidze (Armenia); 5th – Tervel Dlagnev (United States); 7th – Daniel Ligeti (Hungary); 8th – Korey Jarvis (Canada); 9th – Diaaeldin Abdelmottaleb (Egypt); 10th – Alen Zasieiev (Ukraine)

2015 World Championships
125 kg/275 lbs. – Gold – Taha Akgul (Turkey); Silver – Jamaladdin Magomedov (Azerbaijan); Bronze – Geno Petriashvili (Georgia); Bronze – Bilyal Makhov (Russia); 5th – Chuluunbat Jargalsaikhan (Mongolia); 5th – Levan Berianidze (Armenia); 7th – Daulet Shabanbay (Kazakhstan); 8th – Nobuyoshi Arakida (Japan); 9th – Parviz Hadi (Iran); 10th – Aiaal Lazarev (Kyrgyzstan)

2014 World Championships
125 kg/275 lbs. – Gold – Taha Akgul (Turkey); Silver – Komeil Ghasemi (Iran); Bronze – Tervel Dlagnev (USA); Bronze – Khadzhimurat Gatsalov (Russia); 5th – Alexei Shemarov (Belarus); 5th – Oleksandr Khotsianivskyi (Ukraine); 7th – Chuluunbat Jargalsaikhan (Mongolia); 8th – Aslan Dzebisov (Azerbaijan); 9th – Nick Matuhin (Germany); 10th – Zhiwei Deng (China)

2013 World Championships
120 kg/264.5 lbs. – Gold – Khadzhimurat Gatsalov (Russia); Silver – Alen Zasieiev (Ukraine); Bronze – Geno Petriashvili (Georgia); Bronze – Taha Akgul (Turkey); 5th – Zhiwei Deng (China); 5th – Tervel Dlagnev (USA); 7th – Rares Chintoan (Romania); 8th – Jamaladdin Magomedov (Azerbaijan); 9th – Daniel Ligeti (Hungary); 10th – Komeil Ghasemi (Iran)

2012 Olympics
120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Gold – Artur Taymazov (Uzbekistan); Silver – Davit Modzmanashvili (Georgia); Bronze – Komeil Ghasemi (Iran); Bronze – Bilyal Makhov (Russia); 5th – Tervel Dlagnev (USA); 5th – Daulet Shabanbay (Kazakhstan); 7th – Chuluunbat Jargalsaikhan (Mongolia); 8th – Alexei Shemarov (Belarus); 9th – Taha Akgul (Turkey); 10th – Rares Chintoan (Romania)

Current UWW Ranking Series standings (for seeding)
1 Nick Gwiazdowski (USA)
2 Danylo Kartavyi (Ukraine)
3 Oleksandr Khotsianivskyi (Ukraine)
4 Geno Petriashvili (Georgia)
5 Muradin Kushkhov (Russia)
6 Zolboo Natsagsuren (Mongolia)
7 Jamaladdin Magomedov (Azerbaijan)
8 Giorgi Sakandelidze (Qatar)
9 Robert Baran (Poland)
10 Yadollah Mohammadkazem Mohebi (Iran)