The sport of wrestling imposes an undeniable influence on mixed martial arts and its premier promotion, the UFC. Interestingly, this influence does not entail the conversion of the world's very best wrestlers into Ultimate Fighters. A medal in freestyle wrestling at a world championships or Olympic games represents the apex of wrestling achievement on this planet, yet, not a single fighter currently active in the UFC has one of these medals on his resume. In contrast, this weekend's FILA World Cup of Freestyle Wrestling features registration from thirty of these medalists. On top of these thirty medalists, dozens of wrestlers will take the mat with wrestling skills outstripping any current inhabitant of the UFC roster.
This tournament will be the most important pre-Olympic test for the U.S.A. Olympic freestyle wrestling team. The U.S. has not won the World Cup in nearly a decade. Since then the American team results have been disapointing. In the years where the team has managed to qualify, team success had been limited to a high finish of fourth place. Since 2003, the World Cup has only been held in cities in former Soviet republics and Iran; this is wrestling's heartland and a part of the world where American performance seems to suffer. This year, our wrestlers will hope to buck this trend in Baku, Azerbaijan.
After the jump, a look at the recent history, format, participants and results of one of freestyle wrestling's preeminent events, The FILA World Cup of Freestyle Wrestling.
A final participants list has been submitted and many initially listed wrestlers are not in attendance, a bold "NO SHOW" is next to each athlete not in attendance on my prior medalist list near the end of this post. After looking at final rosters it my observation is that on paper, Iran and Azerbaijan have the toughest teams and the US and Russia will duke it out for bronze.
Also, Pools have been determined.
Pool A: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan,and Russia
Poll B: USA, Georgia, Japan, Iran and Turkey
The US will be wrestling Japan in the first round.
Between the Black and Caspian Seas lie the nations of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, the Caucus States of Russian and the northern portions of Iran and Turkey. This land is the epicenter of international freestyle wrestling. The predominantly Islamic people of this often disregarded region dominate world-wide freestyle wrestling on a level vastly out of proportion with their population. The FILA World Cup of Freestyle Wrestling once more returns to these lands as it takes place this weekend in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku.
Only the top finishing countries from the previous year's World Championships of Wrestling are invited to attend the World Cup. This year's field consists of The U.S.A., Russia, Japan, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The U.S. failed to qualify for last year's World Cup after their disastrous performance in the Moscow World Championships of 2010, but after a third place team showing at last year's worlds, they stand poised to make a bid for a high finish in Baku.
The competition for team gold will be fierce and will include formidable opposition: Russia, winner of four of the last five World Cups; Iran, who has two reigning world champs in tow and a strong second place finish at last year's world championships and Azerbaijan, the host team with a star-studded lineup.
How big a deal is wrestling in Azerbaijan? It is home to the world's largest wrestling practice facility
World Cup Organization
Wrestling competitions can be divided into two categories: team events and individual events. The NCAA championships and the Olympics are individual events where single wrestlers are bracketed according to weight class and placers are determined on a weight class by weight class basis. Team scores are still usually kept at these events based on a variety of scoring criteria determined by the wrestler's achievements. This format favors top heavy teams with a small core of wrestlers who can place very high in the tournament.
The World Cup of Freestyle Wrestling is a team competition and features a dual meet format where every wrestler from each team wrestlers the other from their commensurate weight class. One team's lightest wrestler the other teams lightest, then the next weight and next weight etc. Team scores in dual meets are earned by winning individual matches.
The teams in this World Cup will be divided in half into two pools. The teams in each pool will wrestle the other members of their respective pool in a round-robin. The two pool winners will wrestle for gold and the two pool runner-ups will wrestle for bronze.
The World Cup also awards individual medals based on wins, losses, and mutual opponents. An individual gold here is not as prestigious as an Olympic or world gold, but it is still a noteworthy achievement.
Past world-level medalists competing by country
A past problem with the World Cup of wrestling is the quality of team fielded by participant teams. The number one wrestler from every country rarely attends and superstars who could otherwise be wrestling are often absent. A particular offender in this category is Russia who often brings fewer than half of their "A" team members. Impressively, they have had little trouble winning this event in spite of this. Their team this year appears to be shockingly devoid of their second or third tier wrestlers, in fact, my latest source informs me that they will be bringing what appears to be only their fifth string. This means that multiple gold medal winners Viktor Lebedev at 55 kg., Besik Kudukhov at 60 kg, Mavlet Batirov at 66kg, Denis Tsargush and Adam Saitiev at 74kg and Khajimurad Gatsalov at 96kg (Gatsalov is not likely to be Russia's Olympic Rep either) and behemoth heavyweight Beylal Makhov are all absent. Russia's national championship in freestyle looms close on the horizon and I have little doubt that this can be attributed to the dearth of top Russian talent
While it remains to be seen whether this Russian team of fifth stringers can manage to defeat their extremely impressive Azerbaijani or Iranian challengers, Russia has such incredible depth that this is a distinct possibility. At the time of publication, it seems that most other attending teams are redolent with their top level talent, a notable exception being Kazakhstan who appears to not have registered their 96kg star, Tigiev.
This tournament will bear witness to the presence of a monumental amount of wrestling talent, the following wrestlers, listed country by country, have won a medal at an Olympics or world championship (senior level, many junior level champions are present, but are not listed). These wrestlers are all registered and except for team USA, I have no means of knowing whether or not they will actually show up.
74kg: Jordan Burroughs, World gold medalist
84kg: Jake Herbert, World silver medalist (Initially registered, but not competing)
96kg: Jake Varner. World bronze medalist
120kg: Tervel Dlagnev, World bronze medalist
66kg: Jabrayil Hasanov, World bronze x2
84kg: Sharif Sharifov, World gold and bronze
96kg: Khetag Gazumov, World gold and silver, Olympic bronze
120kg: Jamaladdin Magomedov, World bronze
74kg: Murad Gaidarov, World silver, Olympic bronze
96kg: Ruslan Sheikov, World bronze x3 NO SHOW
120kg: Aleksey Shemarov, World gold
55kg: Radislov Velikov, World gold and silver, Olympic bronze NO SHOW
60kg: Anatolie Guidea, World silver NO SHOW
66kg: Serafim Barzakov, World gold x2, World silver x2 NO SHOW
84kg: Mikhail Ganev, World gold
66kg: Otar Tushishvili, World bronze x3, Olympic bronze (NO SHOW)
84kg: Dato Marsagishvili, World bronze
96kg: Giorgi Gogshelidze, World gold, silver and bronze (NO SHOW)
120kg: Davit Monsmanashivili, World bronze
55kg: Hassan Rahimi: World bronze
66kg: Mehdi Taghavi Kermani: World gold x2
74kg: Sadegh Goudarzi: World silver x3 and bronze
96kg: Reza Yazdani: World gold and bronze x2
60kg: Kenichi Yumoto: World bronze, Olympic bronze
66kg: Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu: World silver and bronze
55kg: Daulet Niyazbekov, World bronze
74kg: Abdulhakim Shapiev, World bronze NO SHOW
120kg: Murid Mutalimov, Olympic bronze
Results will be posted as they are received. For those of you lucky enough to reside in beautiful Azerbaijan, this tournament will be broadcast on Azerbaijani National Television, AzTv.
Mike Riordan is a high school wrestling coach, unsuccessful division one collegiate wrestler, and student of the sport of wrestling. He is a part time contributor to Bloody Elbow on matters of collegiate and Olympic wrestling.