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Wrestlers to watch at the 2019 Men’s Freestyle World Championship

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Check out the top freestyle wrestlers to keep an eye on in each weight class this year in Nur-Sultan.

Asian Games - Day 1 Photo by Yifan Ding/Getty Images

A dramatic year of freestyle wrestling action has brought us to the 2019 World Wrestling Championship, hosted by United World Wrestling in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

The Greco-Roman and Women’s Freestyle portions have already concluded, the Russian Greco and Japanese Women’s Freestyle teams, predicted to dominate, suffered numerous upsets that shook up the field.

The outstanding wrestler thus far has to be Cuba’s Ismael Borrero. A 2015 World and 2016 Olympic champion, Borrero knocked off four World champions including superstar Frank Staebler to win the “bracket of death”.

Freestyle action is set to kick off on September 19th, you can access the schedule and eventually the brackets for each weight through United World Wrestling. If you’re an American fan only concerned with US athletes, USA Wrestling will keep you updated. The action streams on TrackWrestling, it’s behind a paywall for now but United World Wrestling will post every match on YouTube after some time.

If you’re unfamiliar with the men’s freestyle field, here’s a weight-by-weight crash course, I’ll pick out athletes to follow per category.

2019 World Wrestling Championship

Men’s Freestyle Wrestlers to Watch

57 KG

1) Zaur UGUEV (RUS)

The lightest weight class is unbelievably deep, but the leading contender has to be the returning World champion, Russia’s #1 Zaur Uguev.

Uguev knocked off three currently ranked wrestlers on his way to a title in #18 Reineri Ortega, 2017 World champion #10 Yuki Takahashi, and #16 Nurislam Sanayev.

In his wrestle-off to make the Russian World team, Uguev defeated #4 Aryan Tyutrin by 10-0 technical fall, leaving no doubt.

Uguev’s 2019 had highs and lows. At the Ali Aliev tournament, he won gold, taking out Giorgi Edisherashvili to avenge losses from the 2018 European Championship finals and 2017 European Championship semis.

Unfortunately Uguev could not shake his pattern of taking lumps at continental tournaments, taking bronze at the 2019 European Games after an upset loss to current #3 Makhir Amiraslanov.

Based on his output at United World Wrestling Ranking Series tournaments, Uguev is currently the two-seed, putting him on a collision course with third-seeded Yuki Takahashi once again, possibly meeting in the finals with our next wrestler.

2) Suleyman ATLI (TUR)

Ranked #2 in the world, Turkey’s Atli won bronze at last year’s World Championship, losing to #16 Sanayev and beating America’s 2017 World silver medalist Thomas Gilman.

Atli has had a strong 2019 that has seen him earn the one-seed at Worlds this year. His most noteworthy performance was at the European Championship, where he won gold after defeating #3 Amiraslanov, #19 Vangelov and #6 Muslim Sadulaev in the finals.

Atli also reached the quarterfinals of the European Games where he suffered an upset to an American representing Serbia, #13 Stevan Micic. He bounced back to win bronze, and he’ll carry that momentum into Worlds. It’s worthy of note that Atli has defeated Zaur Uguev, albeit in 2017.

3) Makhir AMIRASLANOV (AZE)

Some might see Amiraslanov as the favorite to win right now, considering he knocked off #1 Uguev in the semifinals of the 2019 European Games in a 3-2 match. Of course, this is complicated by the fact that Amiraslanov also lost to Suleyman Atli at the 2019 European Championship, 6-3.

Amiraslanov was inactive in 2018, but his 2019 performances have been outstanding. After losing to Atli, Amiraslanov knocked off #19 Vangelov for bronze, then went on to dominate the European Games.

He defeated Vangelov again in the qualification round, returning World champion and #1 Zaur Uguev in the semifinals, then extinguished a red-hot #13 Stevan Micic in the finals by a shocking 9-1 margin.

61 KG

1) Magomedrasul IDRISOV (RUS)

Another weight class, another #1 ranked Russian, something international fans are more than familiar with.

Although he won the 2018 Russian Nationals, Idrisov was unable to compete at the senior level at the 2018 World Championship, Russia sent Gadzhimurad Rashidov instead, who took silver.

Idrisov, still age-eligible, competed at the U23 World Championship where he won gold, defeating #14 Nikolai Okhlopkov and #15 (57 kg) Ulukbek Zholdoshbekov.

Idrisov has had a nearly spotless 2019. He took out #14 Ohklopkov and #2 Ramazan Ferzaliev on his way to a Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix title, but was upset by #13 Recep Topal. Idrisov also took a loss at the Ali Aliev to the #3 ranked wrestler, his countryman Zelimkhan Abakarov.

However, Idrisov cemented his place at the top with wins over #3 Abakarov and #2 Ferzaliev at the 2019 Russian Nationals. In his final tournament before Worlds, Idrisov won the Ziolkowski tournament, taking out #16 Tumenbileg on the way.

Idrisov is a tremendously heavy favorite to win at 61, but we cannot count out the returning World champion, #10 Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez. Bonne has had a rough 2019, but he is no stranger to taking losses during the year. Check out this career recap of the explosive Cuban!

65 KG

1) BAJRANG (IND)

A must-follow on Twitter, India’s #1 Bajrang Punia (usually represented just as Bajrang, like Cher) has been an absolute hammer since his World silver medal in 2018.

In the semifinals, Bajrang defeated current #2 Alejandro Valdes Tobier, before losing to the young phenom and current #3, Takuto Otoguro, for gold.

Since then, he has been undefeated in official competition, his only blemish a thrilling exhibition against #11 Yianni Diakomihalis at Beat the Streets.

In 2019 Bajrang won the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov Ranking Series tournament where he defeated #12 Gergenov, the 2019 Ali Aliev where he defeated #13 Shiraev, and the 2019 Asian Championship. In the Indian Pro League, he defeated #4 Haji Aliyev.

2) Takuto OTOGURO (JPN)

A 2015 Cadet World champion, Otoguro unseated 2016 Olympic silver medalist and current #10 Rei Higuchi to represent Japan at Worlds in 2018.

On his way to a title, Otoguro defeated #9 Akhmed Chakaev and current #1 Bajrang for gold.

His match with Chakaev was especially exciting and dramatic.

An injury kept Otoguro out of competition for some time, and in his return he suffered an upset loss to the aforementioned Rei Higuchi in the finals of the All-Japan Championship. Otoguro got back to form and exacted revenge, defeating Higuchi in the official wrestle-off.

3) Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS)

Some see him as the uncrowned World champion.

Rashidov has been inches away from two World titles, losing the finals in both 2017 (to #4 Haji Aliyev) and 2018 to Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez, both at 61 kg.

Up at 65 kg, Rashidov debuted at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix by defeating #14 Zain Retherford, losing to his countryman #9 Akhmed Chakaev, taking bronze. At the 2019 World Cup, Rashidov defeated #15 Takatani.

Rashidov’s biggest moment of the year was his performance at the 2019 Russian Nationals, where he took out #6 Naachyin Kuular.

Rashidov was set to challenge Akhmed Chakaev for the spot, but injuries kept the former World representative out of competition, and Rashidov was awarded the trip to Nur-Sultan.

65 kg is loaded with hammers, but these three are the most likely to contend for a title in my opinion.

70 KG

1) David BAEV (RUS)

While unseeded, young Russian David Baev is ranked #1 in the world for a reason.

After winning the 2017 Junior World Championship, Baev transitioned to higher age-group competition, medaling at the 2018 Medved tournament and making the finals of the U23 World Championship, losing only to a wrestler now competing at 74 and 79 kg in #11 (74 kg) Taimuraz Salkazanov.

Baev began his march to the top at the 2018 Alans, defeating #4 (74 kg)/#11 (P4P) Magomed Kurbanaliev and two-time World medalist #19 James Green. At the 2019 Ivan Yarygin, Baev defeated Green again before losing to returning World champion Gazimagomedov and #2 Razambek Zhamalov.

But at the Russian Nationals, Baev cemented his status as the top contender in the world by getting revenge on #2 Zhamalov as well as taking out #3 Evgeni Zherbaev.

74 KG

1) Zaurbek SIDAKOV (RUS)

For the sake of brevity, please reference these in depth pieces on the career of Sidakov:

PART 1
PART 2

The returning World champion has remained undefeated in 2019, winning the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix, the European Games, and his wrestle-off vs. #11 P4P Magomed Kurbanaliev.

While he hasn’t looked untouchable, Sidakov is known for his dramatic matches against the best in the world.

74 KG

2) Jordan BURROUGHS (USA)

The five-time World and Olympic champion will look to get revenge, as his only loss in the 2018 World Championship was on a last-second takedown to Sidakov.

While this piece is more focused as a match breakdown, please reference it for a career recap on Burroughs.

Burroughs and Sidakov are seeded on the same side of the bracket, meaning only one can advance to the World finals.

Outside of dropping one Final X match to #19 Isaiah Martinez, Burroughs has been undefeated since 2018 Worlds. He won the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov tournament, defeating #3 Frank Chamizo and #6 Bekzod Abdurakhmonov. Burroughs stayed busy, winning the Pan American Championship and an exhibition match with Ben Askren, but neither featured noteworthy opponents.

At the 2019 Yasar Dogu, Burroughs had a tight match with #11 Salkazanov, then teched #12 Yakup Gor before Chamizo forfeit in the finals.

3) Frank CHAMIZO MARQUEZ (ITA)

Having lost to both Burroughs and Sidakov at the 2018 World Championship, Chamizo is in a fantastic spot as the #1 seed, separating himself from both until the finals.

Transferring from Cuba to Italy, Chamizo boasted a 2015 World title, 2016 Olympic bronze and 2017 World title before moving up to 74 kg.

Chamizo earned his sole win over #2 Jordan Burroughs in the finals of the 2018 Yasar Dogu, but has not yet defeated Sidakov. He did however defeat the formidable #5 Khetik Tsabalov at the 2018 European Championship and 2019 City of Sassari tournament. In 2019, Chamizo has big wins over #20 Zelimkhan Khadjiev and #7 Timur Bizhoev.

79 KG

1) Kyle DAKE (USA)

79 kg is one of the easiest weights to predict by far.

At 2018 Worlds, four-time NCAA champion and #1 Kyle Dake went unscored upon, taking out returning World champion Gadzhimagomedov 13-0 and shutting down #5 Jabrayil Hasanov 2-0 in the finals.

Dake has been injured for some time since his title, but returned to win the Grand Prix of Spain before his wrestle-off with #3 Alex Dieringer.

In two low-scoring matches, Dake defended well to defeat Dieringer twice to make the team.

In his career, Dake has domestic wins over World champions in Jordan Burroughs, David Taylor and J’den Cox. With Gadzhimagomedov, the only wrestler to defeat Dake in 2018, out of competition, it’s hard to see anyone challenging him.

86 KG

1) Hassan YAZDANICHARATI (IRI)

After growing tremendously in the past few years, Iran’s top wrestler in Hassan Yazdani seems to have found a home at 86 kg. With 2018 World champion David Taylor injured this year, Yazdani is the clear #1 heading into Nur-Sultan.

Yazdani won his Junior World Championship in 2014 at just 66 kg, moving up to 70 kg the next year to take silver at the 2015 World Championship.

In 2016 Yazdani competed at 74 kg, he knocked off Aniuar Geduev in the Olympic finals, Geduev was responsible for knocking off Jordan Burroughs that year.

However, at the 2017 World Cup Yazdani suffered the first major blemish of his streak. After a strong start, he was pinned by the American David Taylor, a two-time Hodge Trophy winner in college who was starting to fully come into his own in freestyle.

That year, Taylor was defeated by J’den Cox and did not represent the US at Worlds.

We don’t know how Yazdani would have fared against Cox, as the American took a tough loss to Boris Makoev, who Yazdani soundly defeated in the finals to win yet another World title.

Taylor got his shot at Yazdani in the first round in 2018. It was a wild match, but Taylor’s pace prevailed once again. He would reach the finals and win gold on his first attempt. Yazdani rattled off two techs in repechage then defeated the Russian #4 Dauren Kurugliev for bronze.

Yazdani has only competed in one tournament in 2019, the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov. There he defeated #20 Boris Makoev and #7 Ali Shabanau to take gold.

2) Artur NAIFONOV (RUS)

A relatively new face on the senior world stage, the Russian Naifonov has been a force for some time, but broke through in a major way this summer to make his first senior team.

After winning a 2017 Junior World title, Naifonov medaled at nine straight tournaments, including a 2017 Alans title, 2018 Ivan Yarygin bronze, a 2018 European Championship, and a 2018 U23 World Championship silver medal.

The only thing keeping him from representing his country was #4 Dauren Kurugliev, who defeated him in the finals of the 2018 Russian Nationals. This was an especially tough loss, as Naifonov was the victor when the two met at the 2018 Ivan Yarygin in January.

But 2019 has been Naifonov’s year.

He took out Kurugliev in the finals of the Ali Aliev, then at Russian Nationals he dispatched the other consistently strong Russian contender at 86 kg, #5 Vladislav Valiev.

The World team picture became increasingly clear at the 2019 Ziolkowski, Kurugliev suffered a loss in a thrilling match against #6 Zbigniew Baranowski, while Naifonov pinned the 2018 World silver medalist #11 Fatih Erdin before taking care of Baranowski in the finals.

92 KG

1) J’den COX (USA)

Like 79 kg, this may be another weight where the American returning World champion is a justifiably heavy favorite.

J’den Cox has been undefeated since April of 2018 at the World Cup, taking losses to #7 Dato Marsagishvili and #12 (97 kg) Aslanbek Alborov.

Up until then, Cox had always been just a hair short of gold, winning bronze at the Olympics after defeating #1 (79 kg) Kyle Dake to make the team and taking out a slew or ranked opponents. In 2017 it was the same story, Cox defeated future World champion David Taylor to make the team then dropped a disappointing match to #20 Boris Makoev, taking bronze.

After what felt like a step down at World Cup, J’den Cox moved up to the new 92 kg weight class for 2018 and took control. On his way to a title he took revenge on #7 Marsagishvili, beat #2 Alireza Karimimachiani in the semis before controlling #19 Ivan Yankouski for gold.

Cox doesn’t typically have high-scoring matches, but he is a pleasure to watch nonetheless.

To make the 2019 World team, Cox defeated #13 Bo Nickal in two matches.

2) Alireza KARIMIMACHIANI (IRI)

While he may have been defeated by Cox last year, Karimimachiani is an undeniable title contender, given his resume and form as of late.

The Iranian had a monstrous 2018, defeating #3 Sharif Sharifov, #8 Batyrbek Tsakulov, and #7 Dato Marsagishvili (by technical fall!) on his path to World bronze.

His 2019 has been rock solid, winning the Asian Championship and the City of Sassari Tournament.

One other wrestler to keep an eye on is #4 Alikhan Zhabrailov of Russia. He defeated #6 Magomed Kurbanov to make the Russian team, and his only loss this year is to #3 Sharifov, who will be competing at 97 kg.

97 KG

1) Abdulrashid SADULAEV (RUS)

The #1 P4P wrestler on earth is favored to win another World title in 2019.

For a complete career breakdown on Sadulaev, click here.

Sadulaev holds a clear advantage over the field, he has most recently pinned #2 Kyle Snyder, and defeated #3 Vladislav Baitsaev by technical fall in their wrestle-off to make the Russian team.

#8 Aliaksandr Hushtyn held Sadulaev to a 3-1 match at the European Championship, but before that Sadulaev teched #16 Nurov and shut out #4 Nurmagomed Gadzhiev, who will not be competing at Worlds.

Having teched #9 Odikadze and #10 Ibragimov at 2018 Worlds, it will be hard to find a challenger for Sadulaev outside of one Kyle Frederick Snyder.

2) Kyle SNYDER (USA)

Dubbed “Captain America” by some, Kyle Snyder was an American hero when he defeated Sadulaev at 2017 Worlds, handing the United States its first World Team Championship since the 90s.

While three-time NCAA champion Snyder regularly takes his lumps during the year, he appeared to be a “big game player” who always showed up when the lights were the brightest, winning the 2015 World Championships, the 2016 Olympic Games, and 2017 Worlds consecutively.

When he met Sadulaev for a rematch in the finals of the 2018 World Championship, it was clear the Russian had been reborn since their last match. After stuffing Sadulaev’s initial shot, he was caught with a “back hook” and taken across to his back. After some struggle, Sadulaev hipped over and stuck the standout American.

Snyder’s 2019 has been strong, albeit after a rocky start. He was defeated 6-5 by #15 Rasul Magomedov in the qualification round of the Ivan Yarygin, Magomedov lost his next match and Snyder was eliminated from the tournament.

Otherwise, Snyder won the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov, defeating #18 Ty Walz by technical fall and #5 Valerii Andriitsev 4-0 in the finals. Snyder’s Pan American Championship gold run saw him defeat #11 Reineris Salas Perez, and in the 2019 Yasar Dogu finals Snyder took out #7 Ali Khalil Shabanibengar.

Between Snyder and Sadulaev, 97 kg is covered.

125 KG

1) Taha AKGUL (TUR)
&
2) Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO)

International fans are quite used to this dynamic, the heavyweight class will almost definitely come down to two dominant giants in Akgul and Petriashvili.

The elder of the two, Akgul is reaching legendary status. In a row, Akgul won the 2013 World Championships, 2014 World Championships, 2015 World Championships, and 2016 Olympic Games.

Geno Petriashvili stopped that run, defeating Akgul in the 2017 World finals, 10-8.

They’ve gone back and forth ever since. At the 2018 European Championship, Akgul was the victor, winning 2-1.

However, at the 2018 World Championship, Akgul was upset by #3 Parviz Hadi of Iran in a 3-2 match. Petriashvili won the title, taking out #4 Anzor Khizriev, Hadi, and #15 Zhiwei Deng for gold.

Perhaps Akgul’s time at the time was over. His start of 2019 confirmed this suspicion for some, as he defeated #14 Zelimkhan Khizriev and #15 Zhiwei Deng before losing to #4 Anzor Khizriev.

But just three months later, Akgul was better than ever, taking revenge on Khizriev 8-1 at the 2019 European Championship before shutting out Petriashvili by a dominating 7-0 score.

Since, Akgul has been undefeated, winning the 2019 Yasar Dogu over #7 Nick Gwiazdowski of the United States.

2019 World Wrestling Championship

Men’s freestyle action kicks off on September 19th, at some god-forsaken hour, local time in Kazakhstan.

You can watch live (for a price) on TrackWrestling, or wait a while to catch up with everything via United World Wrestling.

If you’re looking for more in-depth looks into each weight, international specialist Seth Petarra and myself put together previews of all ten weight classes here.