It’s never been easier to be a fan of international wrestling. While the 2019 Worlds live stream for every mat was behind a paywall on TrackWrestling, as it is most years, United World Wrestling (the global governing body for international styles outside Olympic years) is kind enough to upload every match to their YouTube page a week or two after every session has concluded.
If you’re looking for more context on some of the weights that will be described as the article progresses, I invite you to check out the mini-preview of men’s freestyle at 2019 Worlds.
Hosted in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, the 2019 World Wrestling Championships saw a few compelling storylines play out in men’s freestyle. The Russian delegation (staffed by Dagestanis and Ossetians) won six out of ten weights, putting seven in the finals. Russian representatives won medals in nine out of ten weight classes. On top of that, Russian transfers, representing other nations such as France, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan won seven medals.
If Russian transfers were their own nation, they would have matched the United States in total medals across styles with their performance in men’s freestyle alone. Let that sink in.
Placing second in men’s freestyle, the host nation of Kazakhstan overperformed in a major way, earning an unprecedented seven medals across styles, three of those in men’s freestyle. They even put two wrestlers in the men’s freestyle finals.
Kazakhstan’s performance may come with an asterisk for some, as the brackets were suspiciously favorable for Kazakh wrestlers in an alarming number of weight classes. It does not seem possible for the draw to have been rigged, necessarily, but it is worth understanding the context for some of their medals.
The United States took a step back from their tight contention with Russia this year, winning seven medals across styles, with four overall champions. In men’s freestyle, Kyle Dake and J’den Cox repeated as World champions, while Jordan Burroughs mirrored his performance from 2018 by earning bronze after losing to Zaurbek Sidakov, now a two-time champion. While most American freestyle wrestlers did not place, there were no “bad” losses, and newer members of the team showed promise.
While their sixth place finish may not turn heads, India had a fantastic tournament. Indian wrestlers made good use of the UWW Ranking Series events to earn themselves high seeds at several weights, but still battled through elite opposition to earn medals at four different weights. International treasure Bajrang Punia made India proud when he battled back for bronze after losing an egregiously officiated match vs. Daulet Niyazbekov, a wrestler from Kazakhstan.
Greco-Roman held its own points of interest, points that the gentlemen at Five Point Move are much more qualified to speak to than I am. The most incredible story was 2016 Olympic champion Ismael Borrero defeating four World champions on his way to a title. Some saw the Russian Greco team poised to clean up on paper, and when the dust settled they had clearly separated from the pack for first place. However, crowning “only” two champions felt like a disappointment to some.
The United States had some bright performances, but ultimately failed to earn a medal at any Greco-Roman weight.
To the surprise of many, the Japanese women did not completely dominate the field, although they did still win a team title. It was not unreasonable to predict a Japanese wrestler as champion in five straight weights heading into Nur-Sultan.
It was a great moment for women’s wrestling when seven different nations were represented on top of the podium, with only the United States and Russia capturing multiple championships.
The American women took some extremely tough losses, with two-time World silver medalist Alli Ragan going down in the first round, and returning World silver Sarah Hildebrandt failing to place after losing to streaking Japanese and Indian wrestlers.
However, that frustration was juxtaposed by three individual championship performances by Jacarra Winchester, Tamyrah Mensah-Stock, and Adeline Gray- who became the first American to win five World titles.
Must-Watch 2019 Worlds Men’s Freestyle Matches
For me, “must-watch” can mean back-and-forth action, dramatic events, insane displays of skill, and sometimes- outright spectacle.
With that criteria in mind, you’ll notice there are far more lower weight matches listed. If you’re looking for action and excitement, even in low scoring matches, the mid to lower weights have a surplus.
TIP: In general, it’s safe to skip through challenges and injury time. These video times might look intimidating, but know it’s only possible for there to be six minutes of wrestling, each.
If it seems easier for you, I’ve created a playlist with all the following matches included, but I’m not certain the timestamps will work if you view them that way.
Mongolian sparkplug Erdenebat battles back from an enormous deficit to stay alive in Nur-Sultan.
Mahir AMIRASLANOV (AZE) df. Ulukbek ZHOLDOSHBEKOV (KGZ)
Two medal contenders are pit against one another in the very first round of the tournament. After feeling each other out for most of the first period, high-level flurries and razor-close scrambles ensue. TIP: Start at 2:25 on the video.
Continuing 57 kg’s theme of unfair brackets, World #3 ranked Amiraslanov takes on the #1 ranked wrestler and a returning World champion in Uguev. After losing to Amiraslanov at this year’s European Games, Uguev exacted his revenge.
TIP: Just watch the second period.
While not particularly high-scoring, former World champion Takahashi and Junior World champion Daton Fix set the mat ablaze with their quick feet and sharp flurries. The end of the match ends in dramatic fashion, with controversy surrounding the officiating - for some.
Kumar RAVI (IND) df. Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM)
A sleeper pick to medal at 57 kg, Harutyunyan showed why he was highly ranked at 61 kg when he took it to U23 World medalist Ravi Kumar early on. However, Ravi’s pace eventually wore down the Armenian, and the young Indian wrestler put a stamp on his comeback with dominance, setting up his fantastic medal run.
Although the vast majority of this match was tense and low-scoring, things came to a head in the final minute.
Kazakhstan’s Sanayev (a native Russian) was hit with passivity and put back on the shot clock, with the score tied and short time remaining. If he did not score in 30 seconds, the match would likely go to Atli. After a tight match, Atli and Sanayev finally light up the scoreboard.
Both men wrestle rose to the occasion, literally scrapping to the last second.
TIP: Just watch the final minute of the match.
After an incredible run, Erdenebat had his bid for bronze snatched away in the final 30 seconds of his repechage match. Hard-fought finishes and high-paced scrambles defined the final four minutes of this high-stakes match.
Domination. After playing it relatively close throughout the tournament, returning champion Uguev opens up on world #2 Suleyman Atli and puts him away.
Akhmednabi GVARZATILOV (AZE) df. Yowlys BONNE RODRIGUEZ (CUB)
This broke my heart. As a well-documented Bonne Rodriguez fan, I was already nervous heading into Nur-Sultan as YBR hasn’t had the greatest 2019.
He’d already lost to the Azeri twice, it was a rough draw for this early on in the bracket. After keeping it close against a highly ranked Gvarzatilov for most of this match, I felt a bit better.
Then it all blew up.
TIP: Watch the final minute of the match.
A competitive, high-scoring match between two ranked wrestlers, need I say more?
TIP: Start at 2:02 on the video.
Behnam Eshagh EHSANPOOR (IRI) df. Akhmednabi GVARZATILOV (AZE)
Gvarzatilov is a Seth Petarra favorite for a reason. Without fail, he finds a way to put himself in wild exchanges repeatedly against the best in the world.
Watch his heroic fall and respect the madness.
No efficient viewing tips here, take it all in.
After a slick, dominant first period, 2016 non-Olympic World silver Lomtadze probably thought he could cruise to an easy win.
Rahul Aware was not going down without a fight. Admire the quick attacks of Lomtadze and the heart and skill of India’s Aware in this dynamic match.
So close. After all the drama over the United States team selection between Zain Retherford and Yianni Diakomihalis (I’ve written so many articles on those two, here’s one), the Penn State legend is matched up with a top five wrestler in the qualification round.
After finding himself in a hole, Retherford pushed his signature pace and clearly fatigued the talented Cuban, pushing him to his absolute limits. As it often does in matches at this level, the result came down to close calls in the final seconds.
Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS) df. Haji ALIYEV (AZE)
Titans clash criminally early in a matchup between a perennial title threat and a decorated champion.
The main attraction of this match is the controversy of the final exchange, one which saw Rashidov come dangerously close to exposing his own back while pushing out Aliyev. The majority of the international community believe that not only was that move Aliyev’s, but the official also failed to award him a takedown in the moments leading to it.
Some experts believe the exchange was officiated perfectly, I’m not sure where I fall exactly.
With the controversy aside, this match featured flurries and scrambles that were frankly incredible. The low-scoring nature of this bout is a testament to the defense and savvy of both men, this is one to study for years to come.
TIP: Most of the action is in the second period, but I encourage you to watch the full six minutes of wrestling.
While less of a back-and-forth battle than the score suggests, this match was fun as hell. The highlight is definitely the upper body attacks of Cuba’s Tobier, who put on a show after giving up a takedown and exposure.
Just an absolute shootout.
Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS) df. Takuto OTOGURO (JPN)
Russia’s Rashidov puts on an absolutely masterful performance against the returning World champion.
This one hurt as a Otoguro fan, but Rashidov played it perfectly, demonstrating outstanding positioning to hold a small lead and capitalizing when Otoguro opened up.
Another dogfight, this time between the minihulk Niyazbekov and an unheralded German contender.
Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN) df. Selahattin KILICSALLAYAN (TUR)
Don’t trust the score, this win did not come easily for the Dagestani Musukaev. After looking frankly brilliant in sprinting flurries to score early, Musukaev showed off his signature move - getting really tired.
We saw his masterful technique and absurd athleticism followed by a dramatic breakdown when he wrestled Yianni Diakomihalis at the Yasar Dogu.
But this time, Musukaev had a plan. Demonstrating creativity and theatrical ability, Muskaev found himself repeated breaks in the action, or “lung timeouts\lungers” as the wrestling world knows them. From constantly protesting the score, to complaining of a (fake?) genital injury, Musukaev got all the rest he needed to sprint to a dominant technical fall.
You must watch.
Egregious fouling, botched calls, this one went against Bajrang every way it could. A cruel loss for the previously #1 ranked wrestler.
Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) df. Haji ALIYEV (AZE)
Having a bracket loaded on one side is not only awful because it keeps several worthy wrestlers from progressing in the tournament, but then those who lost to the finalist on that side all have to fight over one bronze medal.
That’s how you end up with World and Olympic champions clashing in repechage, before the medal is even up for grabs.
In probably my favorite match of the tournament, Otoguro and Aliyev both get to their games, and late-match savvy and defense make the difference in the end.
Two outside medal contenders have their moments, but the late-match heroics pulled off by Mustafayev make this one a must-watch.
A decent contender during the last Olympic cycle, Navruzov showed flashes of his old form when he became the only man to give “The Young King” David Baev a tough match in the entire tournament.
The competitive nature of the match was short lived, and Baev returned to his near-perfect form to widen the gap.
It took some time for Baev to crack the armor of the defensively solid, albeit boring, Dagestani.
Faced with the shot clock late in the match, Baev pulled the trigger and attacked a series of slick, hard-fought scoring sequences, which in turn were resisted by incredible evasive maneuvers from Gadzhiev.
TIP: Watch just the second period
While you’re at it, watch Baev’s finals match against Kaipanov. It doesn’t fit the theme for matches chosen thus far, but it’s a work of art.
In his first huge upset win of the tournament, 2019 Junior World bronze medalist Gadzhiyev knocks off a two-time Olympic medalist and World champion.
It’s a fun one.
Another Dagestani representing Hungary, another oddly paced match.
The appeal of this match is essentially the same as Musukaev-Kilicsallayan, albeit a bit less polished and not nearly as hilarious in terms of the lengths Kuramagomedov is willing to go to for a lunger.
But still, it’s always going to be a good time watching the Russo-Hungarian “sprintbeasts”, as I’ve dubbed them, do their thing.
The young upstart Gadzhiyev takes his next victim, this time it’s the returning World bronze medalist.
For Gadzhiyev’s late scoring maneuver alone, this is worth watching.
TIP: Start at 5:48 on the video.
Jordan BURROUGHS (USA) df. Azamat NURYKAU (BLR)
This one took a few years off the lives of many American fans, what an absolute nail-biter.
Five-time World and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs takes the most difficult route possible against the Dagestani Nurikov, shooting low and playing into his game, time after time.
Clutch-gene Burroughs strikes again.
TIP: Skip through the challenges
Once again, Jordan Burroughs has to fight back for a lead against Dagestan.
Although there was a little less drama, this match showcases the veteran savvy of Jordan Burroughs along with the obvious skill possessed by Kuramagomedov (even though he crosses his feet.)
In his third straight knockdown, drag-out match, Gadzhiyev pulls out a win vs. the two-time World bronze medalist.
In his next match against Jordan Burroughs, Gadzhiyev appeared to have next to nothing left in the tank. Watch this match and you’ll know why.
There was quite a drop in average match quality after 74, but you’ll still find some gems.
After nearly losing by technical fall, Kurbanov rallies for a comeback.
A high-scoring match between two ranked wrestlers, always worthwhile.
Grigor GRIGORYAN (ARM) df. Nika KENTCHADZE (GEO)
Although it makes me very sad to see a Kentchadze brother go down, a pin at the World Championships is rare and must be honored. Oddly enough, Nika’s brother Avtandil, the returning silver medalist, was also pinned.
Now that you’ve seen both Kurbanov and Grigoryan in action, watch them go to war with each other for a spot in the semis opposite Kyle Dake.
Nothing special, but a solid match.
Myles Nazem AMINE (SMR) df. Ali SHABANAU (BLR)
The Michigan wrestler representing San Marino had a hell of a tournament. After hanging with the four-time World medalist, Amine matched the veteran on passivity points before exploding on a crucial shot when his opponent least expected it.
TIP: Start at 6:01
Check out the massive upset here:
While the first period was fairly uneventful, both Friev and top-seeded Erdin absolutely went off in the second half.
This one literally comes down to the final ten seconds.
Hassan YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Artur NAIFONOV (RUS)
As I said, pins are rare at the World Championships. They’re even more rare when they’re in a match between the clear #1 and #2 wrestlers represented at the weight.
Feeling the pressure of Yazdanicharati, the promising Ossetian Naifonov attempted to roll through on a tight whizzer to counter, but ended up putting himself in a dire situation.
If you’re looking for matches to watch at 92, just follow J’den Cox’s run. There are video links attached to all of his matches here.
One other match worth checking out for pure entertainment:
Most of the action goes down in the first period, but it’s good fun. After the break, skip toward the end to see how it plays out.
The rest of the 97 kg fun in the tournament was provided by one Kyle Snyder.
Kyle Frederick SNYDER (USA) df. Magomed Idrisovitch IBRAGIMOV (UZB)
After trailing early, Kyle Snyder mounts a dominant comeback against a legitimately talented and credentialed wrestler in Ibragimov.
Up from 92 kg, World and Olympic champion Sharif Sharifov showed off an extremely impressive counter and reattack game against a fellow gold medal collector.
While this was a heartbreaker for American fans supporting Snyder and international fans who wanted to see “Snyderlaev” part three, the technique on display is can’t-miss.
There was one match truly worth watching, and it was absolutely one of the best matches of the entire tournament, regardless of weight class.
For context on the rivalry between the two heavyweight rulers, check out this mini-preview of 2019 Worlds.
Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) df. Taha AKGUL (TUR)
There was impeccable technique, drama, and historical context. In what was truly a special match, Geno Petriashvili strikes back against the titan Akgul, who seemed to have the Georgian’s number in 2019.