The 65 kg weight class at the 2014 Freestyle Wrestling World Championships will feature neither the defending Olympic champion, nor four of the past five world champions. (To list notable absences: Japan's Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu, Cuba's Livan Lopez, India's Sushil Kumar and Iran's Mehdi Taghavi)
The only world titlist in attendance will be Armenia's David Safaryan, who won this weight (technically 66 kg) at the 2013 World Championships in Budapest. I wouldn't bet on Safaryan to repeats. The Armenian was something of a surprise winner last year, he hasn't exactly set the world on fire since his championship and he had the good fortune of facing a Cuban in the world finals. Cuban wrestlers have a combined record of zero wins and ten losses in their last ten world finals appearances. A ten match loss streak in gold-medal matches, what awful luck, that's crazy, mysterious and totally inexplicable...right?
Meanwhile, Iran brings Asian champion Sayed Ahmad Mohammadi and Russia will field its national champion Soslan Ramonov. Both of these wrestlers have plenty of talent, but this will be their first appearance on the world's biggest stage (just as an FYI, the USA's Brent Metcalf beat Ramonov at the ‘Rumble on the Rails' last year).
Other than that, I think the remaining three best wrestlers all originate from the Western Hemisphere. Bulgaria's Boris Navachkov is a California native, an All American for Cal Poly in college, and has shown serious promise as an international wrestler in the past couple years. Puerto Rico's Franklin Gomez was an NCAA champ for Michigan State, a 60 kg world silver medalist in 2007, and combines dazzling talent with frightening inconsistency. Finally, Canada's rep at 65 kg, a Cuban defector name Haislan Garcia, is a tough and skilled veteran with some big wins in the past, including one over American World Team member Brent Metcalf.
And just so it does not go unnoticed, India has another excellent wrestler they could send at this weight: Olympic bronze medalist Yogeshwar Dutt. Sadly, he isn't on the entry list.
My pick to win it: Mandakhnaran Ganzorig
I am torn between picking the American, Brent Metcalf and Mongolia's Ganzorig. Ganzorig wins out because I think that he was the second best wrestler at 66kg in last year's World Championships, where he won bronze, only losing to Cuba's Livan Lopez. Lopez was, in my opinion, the best wrestler in the field, but he fell victim to the 'Cuban Curse' in the gold medal match. He has since moved up a weight in this year's championship.
Dark horse from an unlikely country: Haiwei Ling
I'm going to go with a Chinese wrestler here. I wanted to put Chonyao Zhang as my Dark Horse at 74 kg, but he won't be wrestling, so I'll pick his teammate at 65 kg, Haiwei Ling. Ling placed fifth at the Asian Championships this year, and China will eventually start winning world medals in Men's freestyle, so why not here?
The USA representative: Brent Metcalf
The other night I made a Southern delicacy. I poured salt, milk, butter and coarse ground hominy into a pot, and then cooked the mixture into a nice thick consistency. I added some pepper, thyme and garlic, and finished it with a generous amount of shredded cheddar and some cream. I ate the whole damned batch, and afterward I still wasn't anywhere near as gritty as Brent Metcalf.
You can draw a straight line between Metcalf and the godfather of hyper-conditioned, super-intense, punishingly-physical American wrestling, Dan Gable. Metcalf is now the world's primary exponent of the ‘Iowa Style', pioneered by Gable, and then passed down to Metcalf's college coaches, the Brands brothers, who turned the USA's 2014 65 kg world team rep into the style's most dedicated devotee.
In college, Metcalf was a real-life Brian Shute; he didn't just beat all comers, he broke them and then stomped their souls into dust. Though a weird set of circumstances (including a wild upset at the hands of Bellator featherweight Darrion Caldwell) left him with ‘only' two NCAA championships, Metcalf dominated like few others in college wrestling history.
Moving to the senior-level freestyle circuit, Metcalf now occupies the role of Loudon Swain: a plucky underdog who curries the favor of his fanbase as he seeks to win championships on the strength of his heart and work ethic. Despite struggles against the world's very best, Metcalf never gave up, and never stopped believing. Apparently, his fortitude has paid off. In the last few months, he has looked better than ever while overwhelming opponents at the World Cup, Heydar Aliev grand prix and USA World Team Trials.
Arriving in amazing form, with a fairly open field lacking Iran's Mehdi Taghavi and including a beatable Russian, I'm calling a finals appearance for Metcalf. That's right, book it! The worst case scenario is a silver for the Brentcalf. He's coming, he's fired up, and the rest of the world should be very scared.
70 kg is a wild card. Wrestlers have not competed in this weight range since the early 2000s, and due to its newness and the fact that the weight will not appear in the Olympics, few wrestlers with any major credentials join the field in this classification.
I am not going to pretend to know much about many of the top guys at this weight, but the favorites should be the Asian Champion Moustafa Hosseinkhani of Iran, and European Champion Ruslan Dibirgadzhiyev of Azerbaijan. After that, the other prime competitors come from the usual suspects of wrestling nations: Armenia, Turkey, Ukraine and Bulgaria.
The Russian at this weight, Khetig Tsabolov, has a shocking dearth of Senior-level accomplishments, but he was a Junior world champion in 2011, and wrestlers in Russian singlets seem to have an uncanny knack for leaving big tournaments with medals hanging from their necks.
My pick to win it: I have no clue, let's go with the Russian.
Dark Horse from an unlikely country: Adrian Moise
You would think Romania would be a better freestyle wrestling country, but it isn't. The program had a great deal of success in the 70s, but fell off the map in the 80s. Their last world medal came in 1987, and Romanian freestylers have only yielded three top-ten finishes in the World Championships in the last decade.
In this new weight, Romania has high hopes in the form of Adrian Moise, who has a reasonably good shot to bring home hardware. Moise placed fifth in this year's European Championships, boasts a top-ten World Ranking, and has had consistent high finishes at notable events in the last couple of years.
The American representative: Nick Marable
Ben Askren's University of Missouri teammate Nick Marable represents the red, white and blue at 70 kg. Marable's biggest wrestling moment came earlier this year when he handed American mega-star Jordan Burroughs his first ever Senior-level freestyle loss at 74 kg. Since then, Marable has dropped to 70 kg, where he placed third at the World Cup and won the US Open and US World Team Trials.
Marable has the physical dimensions of a 19th century wood stove; his low center of gravity and stubby, stumpy legs make him a defensive marvel. Unfortunately, this build limits his range, and his offensive capabilities. Marable usually wins, but he wins in close, controlled matches, which may lead him to run afoul of current passivity penalties.
In Marable, we are talking about someone who beat the best wrestler in the entire world, up at a higher weight, this very year. Marable clearly has what it takes to defeat anyone, and a world championship is within his capabilities. Conversely, if he can't get his offense going, or if he gives up big points early in a match, he can lose to anyone he faces. I'll let readers make their own predictions as to where he'll finish, to do so just pick a random number between one and ten.