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Wrestling breakdown: Yianni Diakomihalis vs. the World

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With his spot on the US World team possibly hanging in the balance, Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis showed out at the 2019 Yasar Dogu.

Photo courtesy of United World Wrestling/Kadir Caliskan

Yianni Diakomihalis may be the hottest wrestler in the United States’ youth movement today. The New York native has won two NCAA Division 1 titles in two attempts thus far, adding to his two Cadet World freestyle titles in 2015 and 2016. While Diakomihalis’ freestyle prowess was always known, domestic and international interest jumped to new heights when he knocked off the #1 world ranked Bajrang Punia in a thrilling exhibition match.

However, it is still unknown whether or not Yianni Diakomihalis even has a chance at becoming the United States representative at 65 kg for the 2019 World Wrestling Championships. In the second of a two-match series at Final X: Rutgers, Diakomihalis had a series-tying victory snatched away by an unusual challenge by the Penn State coaching staff. While there were controversial calls made in the nearly one minute match-ending sequence, many continue to question the legality of the challenge.

If the team at Cornell is somehow able to get the second match result thrown out, or awarded to Diakomihalis, that would still only tie or keep Zain Retherford ahead one match in the series. The situation is murky as can be, but, for now, USA Wrestling publicly considers Retherford to be the official representative.

Perhaps as a sign of neutrality, both Retherford and Diakomihalis were permitted to go to the Yasar Dogu Ranking Series tournament in Turkey to take on the very best in the world. Many chose to believe that the outcome of their inevitable meeting would have an impact on who made the team.

To the mixed frustration and delight of American fans, Diakomihalis and Retherford were randomly drawn to face each other in the first round.

2019 Yasar Dogu Qualification Round:
Yianni Diakomihalis vs. Zain Retherford

While I’ve written about Yianni, Zain, their match at the US Open, and their matches at Final X, the dynamics between the two continue to develop and it never gets any less interesting.

Control the Ties, Control the Match

The difference-maker for Retherford has been his ability to capitalize on Yianni’s reactions to aggressive handfighting. Yianni was visibly frustrated by Retherford’s constant posting on the face and heavy snaps in each of their meetings. At Final X, Retherford was able to draw Yianni’s eyes and arms high with fake reaches of his own, before quickly changing levels for clean attacks on both legs. While Retherford did not struggle to get to his entries before, the scrambling of Diakomihalis was in play when he still had one leg free to work with.

At the Yasar Dogu tournament, Diakomihalis refused to be caught off guard, employing a long, reaching style of handfighting to intercept Retherford’s jabs and clubs. While the opportunity was still there to shoot under his arms, Diakomihalis was much better prepared to react. When Retherford did finally extend his arms, Diakomihalis was there to catch his wrists, rather than engaging in the collar ties where Retherford can snap and manipulate posture.

As the wrestler with control, Diakomihalis was able to feel the reactions of Retherford and shoot off the wrists when he chose, faking the snap and releasing for a head inside single.

But Retherford made adjustments as well.

At the US Open, Retherford was countered off his own single leg attempts. On head outside singles, Diakomihalis was able to get to his whizzer, circle away to square his hips with Retherford, then lock his hands through the crotch to lift and expose for two.

So, once Retherford got back to the head outside single at the Yasar Dogu and Diakomihalis whizzered, he chose not to stick around quite as long from the seatbelt. Instead, he picked the ankle with his free hand and stood with the leg. To finish, Retherford simply limp-armed out of the whizzer, letting gravity do the rest of the work. Speed was of the essence, as Diakomihalis was able to hit a modified funk roll from the same position at the Open. Quick finishes are a must for most wrestlers against Yianni Diakomihalis.

However, those opportunities were few and far between, the dynamic had changed. Now it was Retherford who feared the reaching hands and attacks of Diakomihalis. In one instance, Diakomihalis drew a committed sprawl from Retherford after a fake outside, then reshot inside for a clean entry as Retherford rose back to his feet. In another instance, Retherford worked hard to unglue the hands of Diakomihalis from his, then was met with a swift single as soon as he reached for a tie of his own.

Once Diakomihalis got a read on Retherford’s outside shots, he was able to anticipate and eventually punish Retherford for naked attacks. Retherford is more than just a clubbing brawler, he uses circling footwork to narrow the base of his opponents before shooting low at the ankles, quickly collapsing their base. But against a wrestler with the awareness of Diakomihalis, it would take a multidimensional approach of misdirection to get a clean opening. Diakomihalis took away the weapons of Retherford that had troubled him the most.

Freestyle Savvy

Diakomihalis showed exactly what sets him apart from most younger American competitors against Retherford - a comprehensive understanding of freestyle. That’s not to say Diakomihalis has never made mistakes and given up exposures, but in dicey situations where folkstyle habits would give up points, he typically knows what his options are.

After going head inside on a single leg, Diakomihalis built up to his knees and found Retherford draped over his back, attacking his ankles. Diakomihalis rose to put pressure on one foot, lifted Retherford’s legs together above his head, pushed off and exploded back toward Retherford to turn in.

Keeping the legs together, Diakomihalis transitioned into one of the nastier leg laces we’ve seen from an American in some time. Instead of rolling purely laterally, Diakomihalis walked to the side and rolled the knees toward Retherford’s back. While that motion doesn’t seem to translate quite as well to rolling someone through at first glance, it is clearly exponentially more painful, thus more effective at causing your opponent to turn to relieve pressure. Luckily for Zain Retherford, he was able to free one leg from the lace and turned and escaped without exposing his back.

Against Bajrang Punia, we saw that Yianni Diakomihalis is completely comfortable taking low ankle attacks after being snapped down. So, as Retherford ramped up his motion toward the end of the match, he snapped, Diakomihalis went to his knees, and there were the ankles. Ever-evolving as well, it was Retherford who used the threat of a crotch lock to work around to the back of Diakomihalis.

In folkstyle, Retherford was notorious for jumping on the backs of standing opponents, typically with legs in. In this case, Diakomihalis controlled one leg across his body, while Retherford kept the other leg loose, looking for an opportunity to plant. As folkstyle is all about control, in a collegiate match Diakomihalis would likely stay standing and look to shimmy Retherford off the side, looking to break or reverse.

In freestyle, exposure, and intent to expose, is what matters more. Control be damned. Logically, Diakomihalis walked to the edge and jumped, aiming Retherford’s back at the mat. Literally feet to back, a four point move. Retherford followed and took control, but it was only good for a one point reversal.

When the dust settled, it was a 9-5 decision for Diakomihalis over Zain Retherford. Retherford appeared to be limping badly after the four-point move, which could have far greater implications for the team spot than the result of the match itself.

2019 Yasar Dogu Quarterfinal:
Yianni Diakomihalis vs. Ali Rahimzade (AZE)

In the quarterfinals Yianni Diakomihalis met 2018 U23 World silver medalist Ali Rahimzade of Azerbaijan. Rahimzade was a finalist at the 2018 Yasar Dogu and a 2017 Junior European champion.

Against a more passive opponent who was eager to engage in the American’s preferred ties, Diakomihalis thrived. He was able to set up his attacks with feints and half shots, giving different looks and reading the reactions of the Azeri before getting to work.

Diakomihalis had an answer in every position against the young talent.

He won by 13-2 technical fall to move on to the semifinals.

2019 Yasar Dogu Semifinal:
Yianni Diakomihalis vs. Ismail Musukaev (HUN)

It’s not a real international tournament until you run into a tough Russian.

After coming up short at the 2018 Russian Nationals to U23 World champion Magomedrasul Idrisov at 61 kg, Musukaev moved up to 65 kg and began competing for Hungary.

In his career down a weight, Musukaev won prestigious tournaments like the 2017 Alans and Baku Golden Grand Prix in 2015, but never got over the hump to represent Russia at Worlds at the senior level.

A Technical Mauling

Riding high on his revenge over Zain Retherford and destruction of Rahimzade, Diakomihalis likely was not expecting the absurdly swift, powerful and accurate techniques of Musukaev.

Just as Diakomihalis found his attacks off his opponents’ snaps, Musukaev got to his motion off the handfighting of the American.

Any time that Diakomihalis attempted a snap or hard pull, lowering his level and widening his base, Musukaev dropped to all fours, then, with shocking agility, circled to a dominant angle and fired off an explosive leg attack.

Diakomihalis did get to his favored wrist ties and shoot to the outside as usual, but the savvy, underhooks and powerful hips of Musukaev shut him down quickly. Musukaev proceeded to drag the attacking arm and reshot with vigor.

If it was not clear already that Diakomihalis was operating at an athletic disadvantage, this near match-ending flurry should open your eyes.

Musukaev circles off and shoots, lifts Diakomihalis and bombs him for four. Diakomihalis switches from locking around the chest to through the crotch on the way down, one of his stronger positions. Perhaps too comfortable, Diakomihalis felt Musukaev’s head was near and switched the right arm connecting the lock to the head, looking for a cradle.

But, with his left leg freed, Musukaev turned in and postured up, grabbing a hold of Yianni’s right leg and standing. Once he felt Diakomihalis follow him up, Musukaev turned hard back the other way, whipping over the right leg and throwing Diakomihalis to his back.

A mad scramble ensued, and Diakomihalis hustled just enough to avoid giving up one final step out. At 9-0, one point could have ended the match.

The Wall

After an incredibly physical and high paced first period, Musukaev started to slow.

Americans are used to “breaking” foreigners with their pace, but Musukaev was headed toward a special kind of tired.

According to our friend Ivan on Twitter, the Hungarian delegation did not even have a proper training camp for the Yasar Dogu. He was in no way prepared for two hard periods.

One more hard scramble, and Musukaev would be cooked. Against Yianni Diakomihalis, it was inevitable.

After a quick flurry, the true scramble began off the Diakomihalis whizzer. With both of Musukaev’s hands committed to the leg, Diakomihalis was free to circle and square up, fishing for the crotch lock. But the freestyle veteran Musukaev adjusted beautiful, shelving the leg and turning in to the now compromised Diakomihalis.

Diakomihalis threw off the crotch lock and bellied down as Musukaev posted and looked to gain height. With the an ankle in hand and Diakomihalis flat, a go-behind seemed like a near-certainty.

But as the FloWrestling crew has said many times, Yianni Diakomihalis is an alien. Showing off his freaky flexibility and grip strength, Diakomihalis reached behind him and gripped the hip of Musukaev, posting hard with his free hand and and stepping high, looking to step over any time Musukaev circled toward his back.

The repeated maneuver bought Diakomihalis time, eventually Musukaev’s pursuit was cut short, and Diakomihalis had space to stand and turn in, attacking Musukaev with his hips. The experienced Russian grasped for a leg, but now he was broken down on his side. Diakomihalis wrenched with his whizzer to flatten Musukaev and potentially step over, but the fading Russian held on to the stepping leg for dear life.

Still in the whizzer position, Diakomihalis circled to get square again and attacked the crotch lock, and this time when he switched off to the cradle, a fatigued Musukaev did not posture up in time.

9-3, Diakomihalis, with nearly two minutes remaining.

As Yianni walked back to the center, Musukaev remained flat on his back.

In the words of Max Holloway, “The man is tired.”

After multiple warnings from the referee, Musukaev gave up a caution.

And then another. One point.

9-4, Diakomihalis.

With his opponent’s dangerous physicality significantly depleted, Diakomihalis got to work.

Getting to his outside shot fakes and offense off the wrist, Musukaev again sprawled to his knees and gave hard reactions, but this time, he did not have the energy to circle and attack.

It’s a testament to Musukaev’s composure that Diakomihalis could not literally run circles around him on the mat, even in his compromised state.

Despite his best efforts, Musukaev could not help but to give up control of the mat, doing all he could to stonewall and keep from getting pushed out.

The step outs and cautions piled up. Musukaev had nothing left. With over 45 seconds left in the match, Musukaev ran out of chances. He was cautioned out, essentially, he was disqualified for passivity.

Yianni Diakomihalis was headed for the finals.

Yianni Diakomihalis: 2019 Yasar Dogu Champion

But there would be no finals match.

His opponent, Haji Mohamed Ali (BRN) was either unable to, or chose not to continue to his gold medal bout.

Having already defeated the toughest two wrestlers in his bracket, Yianni Diakomihalis was a worthy Yasar Dogu champion.

With the 2019 World Championships looming in September, many fans are barking for Diakomihalis to be awarded the spot at 65 kilograms.

Having already defeated a top seed in Bajrang Punia, the American wrestling faithful like “Yianni D” to challenge returning World champion Otoguro and dangerous Russians like Rashidov or Chakaev to bring home a medal for the USA.

Zain Retherford did not compete in his repechage match after falling to Diakomihalis. Even if Retherford is able to wrestle in September, if he’s not 100%, men’s freestyle head coach Bill Zadick may decide it’s time to put in Yianni.

If you’re an American fan, there’s a silver lining either way. We are very, very good at 65 kg and the future looks bright.