With part 2 of my complete guide, I will preview the three styles of wrestling.
UPDATE: The updated official competitors list, differs somewhat from the source I was using, I will update this when I am capable e.g. Iran's Khomeil is in the tournament.
Note: My current list of competitors does not include any wrestlers from Kazakhstan, this could mean a great deal as this is one of the world's very best wrestling nations, take this into account while reading.
I don't write much on the women's side of the sport, and I'm going to make an effort to provide more coverage, but this preview will lack a bit of quality as I am still obtaining the requisite expertise over the subject matter. I have less interest in women's wrestling for the same reason I have less interest in Greco, I haven't been following these athletes for as long. I become emotionally invested in the freestyle wrestlers; in this era of improved wrestling coverage, I've often watched these athletes compete at a high level since high school and through the NCAA level. The USA Greco team consists largely of specialists who never found themselves in the limelight of college wrestling, and women's high school and college wrestling, unfortunately, still is in its infancy, therefore my exposure to these athletes usually begins at the international level.
Our women wrestlers deserve more attention from me. The talent pool does not feature the depth of the men's side, but it grows every year, and the overall technical proficiency of women's wrestling noticeably improves with every Olympic cycle. I become more impressed with every world-level women's event I watch, and I expect to feel no different when I watch the women next week.
In the 2012 Olympics, the story of the women's wrestling competition was the dominance of Japanese wrestlers. Two of Japan's outstanding gold medalists will wrestle next week: Saori Yoshida at 55kg and Kaori Icho at 63kg. Keep an eye on them as they are the best female wrestlers in the world and possess technical capabilities which far outstrip their competition.
Fortunately for the rest of the field, the 2013 World Championships will contest seven women's weight classes, three more than in London. This will dilute the talent a bit, and afford more wrestlers the chance at success.
Enter the Americans. Team USA brings some serious talent and should compete for hardware at every weight. The crown jewels of the lineup sit at 63 and 72kg where 2011 world champions Elena Pirozkhova and Adeline Gray stand poised to retake their place atop the world. Addtionally, 2011 world silver medalist Helen Maroulis appears to be on a mission at 55kg, where she buzzsawed her way through the World Team Trials.
As I mentioned in part 1 of this guide, the 2013 championships have positioned Greco competition as the main event. At the 2012 Olympics, the then current set of rules had turned Greco into an abomination of a sport. It was appalling boring to watch. In short, the rules incentivized wrestlers to do nothing, and many medals were won by virtue of a wrestler's ability to lay on his belly.
In the wake of wrestling's recent near-death experience at the hands of the IOC, all the styles of wrestling received a rules overhaul. Greco seems to have benefited greatly from these changes, and so far the results have been very pleasing (yes I am aware of the statistical trend where scoring goes up immediately following a rule change, only to shrink drastically over time). For now, if you are one of the one curious viewers horrified by what you have seen of Greco in the past, you may want to tune in again.
Greco enjoys a greater diversity of successful nations than freestyle, particularly among European nations. For instance, unlike in freestyle, you may see medal winners from Italy, France (France has become shockingly good lately), Scandinavia and all the Baltic Sea-Bordering nations (Sweden is particularly good), and a mix of Eastern European nations (Croats wear singlets with that cool Crocop checker board pattern). Additionally, certain countries like China, South Korea and Armenia seem to produce better Greco wrestlers than freestyle, while some countries like Canada and India, who enjoy respectable success in freestyle, do not seem to put as many resources into Greco.
For the most part, however, countries good at freestyle are good at Greco. Do not be surprised to see medalists from Japan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cuba or Turkey.
Greco, historically, has been a Soviet and Russian possession. Just eye-balling a list of all-time results, I would go as far to say that the majority of world or Olympic gold medals ever awarded in Greco have gone to those wrestling under a red Soviet flag, or Russian tri-color. Until recently, every other country was competing for the scraps left by Russians. This was until the rise of Coach Mohammad Bana in Iran, who took a country with little historic Greco success and turned it into a juggernaut. Iran won three gold medals in Greco in London, and then Bana resigned, now none of Iran's big names are entered into this tournament. Now we will see if Iran can retain its place as the top of the Greco world, or if Russia, or another challenger, will retake the throne.
I'll give some weight by weight notes
55kg- 2 returning London medalists here: Bayramov from Azerbaijan and hometown kid Modos from Hungary. The USA has Spenser Mango at this weight. Spenser has been competing against the world's best for forever now, and at some point he has to break through on the world level.
60kg- Georgia's Revaz Lashki is the only returning London medalist here. The USA's representative is University of Wisconsin freshman ("freshman") Jesse Thielke.
66kg- This seems to be host nation Hungary's best shot at gold, as London silver medalist Tamas Lorincz is in the mix. The USA's best hope at a medal, two time world bronze medalist, Justin Lester will look to make good on his vast potential at this weight.
74kg- The tournament's most stacked weight. All the medalists from London are back, as is 2008 gold medalist and 2012 bronze medalist at 66kg, France's Steeve Guenot (the extra "e" is for excellence). The USA's young gun Andrew Bisek had his work cut out for him.
84kg- The wrestler to watch here should be Poland's Damian Janikowski. He's built like tank and exciting as hell, in London he just missed out on the finals and settled for bronze. The United State's Jordan Holm has looked good this year and I think he might make a deep run.
96kg- Armenia's Artur Aleksanyan is the lone returning medalist from London. The USA brings Caylor Williams. I think Caylor is a cool name.
120kg- Cuba's unstoppable beast Mijain Lopez look like he won't be in the field. With him gone, the favorites at this weight should be Turkey's Riza Kayaalp (reinstated after culturally inflammatory tweets), Sweden's Jonathan Euren (the boringest wrestler ever), and London silver medalist Estonia's Heiki Nabi. The United States will feature Robby Smith at this weight, and I have no idea what to expect from him.
Tomorrow we will see the start of Men's freestyle competition. The story line in this style should be the absence of almost every London medalist. The only gold medalist who will see the mat is the United State's Jordan Burroughs. Russia does not bring a single wrestler who has ever competed at the world level at their current weight.
Let's waste no time to take a look at the weights:
55kg- The favorite here should be North Korea's Kyon-Il Yang. Yang won a world championship back in 2009, fell off for a while, but then regained his form and won a bronze in London. After him, I see Russia's Nariman Israpilov and Iran's Hassan Rahimi as the next two contenders. Rahimi won a world bronze in the past and though Israpilov has never represented Russia on the world stage, the Dagestani is very good and has been for a long time. India's Amit Kumar could pose a real threat to the rest of the field.
Former Indiana University NCAA champ Angel Escobedo has replaced Obe Blanc as the USA representative here after Blanc failed a drug test at the World Team Trials. Escobedo has plenty of talent, but a tall mountain to climb.
60kg- I'm not sure what to make of this weight, all of the medalists from London are gone, as well as Iran's usual starter Masoud Esmailpour. I do know that Russia's Bekhan Goigereev had to overcome the mother of all domestic weight classes to make it to worlds, so he must be considered a top contender. The other wrestler who stands to do well is Puerto Rico's Franklin Gomez. Gomez won an NCAA title for Michigan State, a world silver in 2011, and has beaten the world's very best in the past. I have high hopes for the USA's Reece Humphrey. Humphrey has experience and incredible athletic ability, and he now sits in a good spot with a rather untested weight class around him.
66kg- The favorites at this weight come in the form of Iran's Mehdi Taghavi and Livan Lopez. Lopez beat Taghavi in London, winning bronze, but Taghavi has beaten Lopez a number of times in the past and owns a couple of world championships. After these two, Russia's Magomed Kurbanaliev should factor in, as well as Armenia's Devid Safaryan and Canada's Haislan Garcia.
The greatest beneficiary of the new wrestling rules might be the USA's Brent Metcalf. Metcalf has a tendency to give up points, but nobody can outlast him in a long, grueling match...NOBODY. He stands a decent chance of bringing home a medal here.
74kg- There has been some buzz in certain corners of the internet regarding a Jordan Burroughs injury, but by all indications he is healthy and ready to go. Olympic and world champ Burroughs ought to be considered the biggest favorite in any weight in men's freestyle. Azerbaijan's Ashraf Aliev and Russia's Kakhaber Khubezhty (pronounced "Hoobet-zee", I think) should provide his stiffest test.
84kg- This weight sees the return of Olympic silver and bronze medalists Jaime Espinal of Puerto Rico and Dato Marsagishvili of Georgia. I'm not convinced that either of these wrestlers will fare well in this tournament. Instead, I believe the Uzbekistan's world champion Zaurbek Sokhiev, Cuba's newly reinstated past world medalist Reine Salas, and Iran's Olympic medalist Ehsan Lashgari constitute the cream of the 84kg crop. Russians are always good, so a championship run by Shamil Kudiyamagomedov should raise no eyebrows.
The USA brings Factoryville Pennsylvania's own Keith Gavin at this weight. Gavin won a national championship at Pitt in college, and has long been one of my favorite wrestlers in the country. Unfortunately, I think this weight has a surprising amount of depth, and Gavin will need to get really hot and stay that way if he wants a medal.
96kg- This weight has lost a huge amount of star power. The clear cut favorites are Azerbaijan's Khetag Gazyumov, long one of the worlds best with a world championship and Olympic bronze to his credit, and Russia's Anzor Boltukaev who is having an awesome year on the mats. After these two, this weight looks pretty wide open, I'm not terribly familiar with the Iranian entry here, but they always have someone tough at this weight
The USA brings the powerful J.D. Bergman. Bergman has the size, strength, and talent to beat anyone, but has yet to show the necessary consistency to bring home the world's biggest prize. Now might be his time.
120kg- Iran's Komeil Ghasemi would have been a favorite here, but does not appear to be in the field. With his absence, this weight should be four horse race. Azerbaijan's Jamaladdin Magomedov has been one of the world's best for a while and would be my top pick to win. Russia's Khadzhimurat Gatsalov has had a legendary career at 96kg, but he keeps getting older and this will mark his first world-level appearance at 120kg. I wrote extensively about young Turkish Star Taha Akgul earlier this year, but he might not yet have the horsepower to beat some of the senior level's true buffaloes.
Lastly we have the United States' Tervel Dlagnev, long established as one of the world's best, he can win gold here if he wrestles up to his ability level.
Watch the action here live at 7 am (EST).