After several thrilling rounds of Greco-Roman and women’s freestyle wrestling at the Tokyo Olympic Games, it is finally time for men’s freestyle to kick off. Each day, two weight classes will compete through the semifinals, with the finals taking place the following morning. Check out USA Wrestling’s updates for schedules with American time zones.
57 KG - Well-balanced bracket = guaranteed drama
As expected, the seeds are separated in the typical fashion, but the unseeded wrestlers have fallen into place to create a competitive bracket all the way through.
Returning two-time World champion Zavur Uguev will have his hands full right out of the gate, facing team USA’s World silver medalist, Thomas Gilman. Gilman has not had positive results against the elite since his medal run in 2017, it’s likely that he will have to rely on Uguev making the finals to get a chance at a medal.
In the next round I expect Uguev to hit Abdullaev of Uzbekistan, a dark horse medal contender with phenomenal results from the past year. Abdullaev is currently ranked #6 after 2021 wins over #6 Ravi Kumar and two-time World medalist Nurislam Sanayev. However, Abdullaev also dropped a lopsided match to Kumar in that same tournament, so he may be just shy of the elite level. I expect Uguev to move on.
The bottom half semifinal will likely be a meeting between the #1 and #2 ranked wrestlers in the world - Zavur Uguev and Suleyman Atli. Since taking silver to Uguev at the 2019 World Championship, Atli has picked up noteworthy wins over #3 Nachyn Mongush and #19 Stevan Micic, with one loss to #4 ranked Azamat Tuskaev. Atli is fantastic, and in great form - but the same can be said for 2019, where he lost to Uguev by technical fall. I believe we will see Uguev in the finals.
The top half of the bracket is going to be absolute chaos. It’s set up for #19 Stevan Micic and #6 Ravi Kumar to meet in the semifinals, but that result is nowhere near a lock. In his opening match, Micic will have 2017 World champion and #7 ranked Yuki Takahashi. Ravi Kumar undeniably has the “easiest” portion of the bracket, with no high-ranked contenders or recent World medalists in his path to the semifinals.
In the top half semifinals I expect to see Kumar vs. the winner of Takahashi and two-time World medalist Nurislam Sanayev. This dynamic played out at the 2020 Asian Championships - where Takahashi defeated Sanayev 14-5, and Kumar defeated Takahashi 14-5. Takahashi has been solid since then, and Kumar dropped that match to Abdullaev in 2021. It’s possible that Takahashi turns the tables, but I’m picking Kumar to come through to the finals.
My pick for the gold medal matchup is #1 Zavur Uguev vs. #6 Ravi Kumar. The last meeting between the two was a 6-5 win for Uguev at the 2019 World Championships. While Kumar may have made gains since then and the tight score suggests he has a real shot, the recent lost to Abdullaev is discouraging. Uguev has been dominant for over two years, I think this is his tournament to win. Kumar drives a great pace, but Uguev is a master of slowing down matches, exploding into his superduck entry and running up a score with his gut-wrench. He’ll do what he has to, and he’ll win Olympic gold.
86 KG - Chalk likely, but upset potential looms
In my preview, I noted that 86 KG was a clear race between the top three ranked contenders - #1 David Taylor, #2 Hassan Yazdanicharati, and #3 Artur Naifonov. The bracketing has given David Taylor separation and the easier path to the finals, and fans around the world are crossing their fingers for a third match between Taylor and Yazdanicharati in the gold-medal final.
Right off the bat, Yazdanicharati will have the next biggest threat outside the big three, #7 ranked Javrail Shapiev of Uzbekistan. Shapiev hasn’t lost since his 6-0 match vs. Artur Naifonov at the 2019 World Championship, but his hasn’t faced the upper echelon of the weight, either. He can give Yazdanicharati a match, but he will likely have to settle for a shot at bronze...which will likely be another match against Naifonov. Yazdanicharati will likely have Stefan Reichmuth next, but despite his World medal credentials, Reichmuth is outside of the top 20 and is not a true medal threat in this bracket.
For Artur Naifonov, his path to the semifinals will be much more difficult. First he’ll have #14 ranked 2017 World silver medalist Boris Makoev, who recently returned to form after a terrible 2019 season. In their last meeting, Naifonov dispatched Makoev in a timid 3-0 match, the Russian will likely move on. Next he’ll have #13 ranked Sosuke Takatani, the owner of one of my favorite nicknames in the sport - “Tackle Prince”. Takatani has been up and down since his World silver medal in 2014, but he swept his five matches at the 2021 Olympic Qualifier and seems in solid form. However, his body of work in the past two years does not suggest he is ready for a wrestler of Naifonov’s caliber, his last match against a top 10 opponent was a loss to Myles Amine at the 2019 World Championship.
That sets up a rematch between Yazdanicharati and Naifonov in the semifinals. Their last meeting at the 2019 World Championship was fairly competitive, until Naifonov attempted to step over the back of Yazdanicharati to counter, and was promptly bumped forward and pinned. That doesn’t necessarily mean Yazdanicharati’s advantage is that pronounced, but it’s reason to favor him moving forward. Both have been near perfect since then, with the except being Naifonov’s loss to Dauren Kurugliev, which he avenged in March.
The bottom half of the bracket is led by #1 David Taylor, the 2018 World champion. After pinning Yazdanicharati in 2017, and defeating him in a more competitive match in 2018, David Taylor solidified himself as the best wrestler at 86 KG and a top five pound-for-pound force. A serious knee injury at an exhibition in May 2019 took Taylor out of competition for almost an entire year, but he was able to make it back for the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier in 2020 and ran through the overmatched field. Taylor has looked solid, but nowhere near as dominant as he was in 2017 and 2018.
While Taylor is separated from Yazdanicharati and Naifonov, his path to the finals is extremely dangerous. First he’ll have #19 Ali Shabanov, a four-time World bronze medalist. While Shabanov is dangerous and experienced, he was recently pinned by #18 Sandro Aminashvili and will likely not be a genuine threat to Taylor. The real test will be in his second match vs. Myles Amine. An American wrestling for the enclave of San Marino, Amine earned a #12 ranking with his 2019 World Championship 5th place performance, where he defeated Ali Shabanov, Sosuke Takatani, and Ahmed Dudarov. Amine has picked up subsequent wins over ranked wrestlers like Boris Makoev, but has also dropped matches to Artur Naifonov and Americans like Zahid Valencia.
Amine will be Taylor’s toughest test on his way to the finals, as #2 seed Deepak Punia is unranked worldwide and his seed is not representative of his standing in the field.
Assuming he gets past Amine, David Taylor will meet either Hassan Yazdanicharati or Artur Naifonov in the gold medal final. He has wins over both, including a pin over Yazdanicharati and a technical fall over Naifonov. Neither has been able to defeat him. If Taylor is anything like the wrestler he was in 2018, he will become an Olympic champion.