We are less than 12 hours away before Day 1 of the 2018 U23 Greco-Roman World Championships begins in Bucharest, Romania and four of Team USA’s starting five now know who their first-round opponents are.
55 kg — Dalton Duffield (NMU/OTS) vs. Bence Kovacs (HUN)
In Kovacs, Duffield is facing an experienced athlete who will automatically be looked upon as possessing extra style points since he’s from Hungary. But the truth is, though Kovacs is good, he isn’t all that scary.
Kovacs has been around the block a little bit and if you’ve watched even a smattering of mid-tier international tournaments over the past few years, chances are you’ve seen him. The usual script — jack of all trades, master of none. Skilled from par terre and tough on the feet, but there is nothing Kovacs boasts physically that should be of major concern for someone like Duffield. Par terre top is where Kovacs holds the most definitive edge, as one might suspect.
One cool note about the Hungarian is that in September, Kovacs competed at both 55 and 63 at Serbia’s Gedza. The 63 kilo bracket was just he and World Champ Stepan Maryanyan (RUS), and Maryanyan easily got him out of there. At 55, a four-man bracket, Vasily Topev (RUS) and Vitali Kabaloev (RUS) earned decisions over Kovacs. If it matters, Kovacs hung in there pretty well against Kabaloev.
For recent USA-driven context, Xavier Johnson (63 kg, Marines) decisioned Kovacs 4-2 back in January at the Grand Prix of Zagreb. Aside from Johnson’s first-period passivity point, the rest of the scoring was the result of scrambles. Johnson went to lift, Kovacs escaped and nailed a front-headlock for two; and then Johnson reversed and caught Kovacs on his back.
This tournament is not seeded, obviously, but Duffield resides at the very top of the bracket. Should he prevail over Kovacs, his quarterfinal assignment would be either 2015 Junior World Champion Reza Khedri (IRI) or 2012 Cadet World bronze Balbai Dordokov. The main hurdle to a finals appearance on the top side likely comes in the form of 2018 World bronze Nugzari Tsurtsumia (GEO, world no. 6).
63 kg — Travis Rice (Illinois RTC) vs. Aleksandr Hrushyn (UKR)
A stiff test greets Rice right out of the gate. Hrushyn is a rigid wrestler compared to the more fluid Rice, and not all that easy to move around. Physical. Gets his head in there a lot. Fights hard for two-on-ones to set up arm drags — but has shown a tendency to bail out of unfavorable tie-ups. His is a right-leg lead and Hrushyn really sticks to it, which you saw a lot of last year when forced par terre wasn’t around. Rice is a risk-taker and that could serve him well here, provided opportunities present themselves. He’ll have to brawl it up a little to manufacture lanes to the body,
Taylor LaMont (Sunkist) cruised to the Junior World semis a year ago and it was Hrushyn who was responsible for derailing the train. In that match, LaMont observed stout positioning through much of the contest, and Hrushyn had no choice but to try and open up creative looks, dipping down occasionally towards the body. LaMont held a 1-0 lead in the second before Hrushyn received a passivity point, flashed a high dive for two, and gutted LaMont over for another pair.
If Rice, who finds himself on the bottom side of the bracket, gets by Hrushyn in the round-of-16, he will have the winner of Onur Atalay (TUR) and Katsuaki Endo (JPN).
77 kg — Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS) vs. Fatih Cengiz (TUR, world no. 16)
And here we are again.
Cengiz was forced to deal with Porter in the first round of last year’s U23 Worlds, and after he defeated Porter 2-1 on a step-out and passivity point, he won the tournament. Mind you, this was less than three months after Cengiz had earned a bronze at the Senior Worlds, so he was riding high. Though you’d like to think Porter briefly brought him back down to Earth.
Cengiz has put together another brilliant year, winning his home country’s Vehbi Emre to go along with a University World title and bronze medals at Takhti and the Euros, respectively. Budapest didn’t happen for him, so here is his shot a semblance of redemption. Athletically, Cengiz is even-keeled, for the most part. He appears to be teeming with energy, but he very rarely will risk position. That’s why Porter pressed him in ’17. Porter offers just enough of an unorthodox style to puzzle a classical stylist like Cengiz; and because the American offered an air of unpredictability a year ago, Cengiz was the one playing catch-up for the most of the bout. Even in the second period, Porter was making legitimate attempts and Cengiz shuffled on his heels.
Porter’s approach against Cengiz in 2017 did not lead to victory, and this time around par terre is involved. Porter is going to have to convert on his attacks. He can do it, but there has to be a greater sense of urgency. What a scalp this would be.
77 is a packed weight class, with this bout taking place in the round-of-32. Porter’s opposition in the following round will either be Finland’s Matias Lipasti or Andrija Maletin (SRB). One of the other weight class favorites, three-time Junior World bronze Zoltan Levai (HUN), could meet Porter in the quarterfinals. No easy roads at this event.
87 kg — George Sikes (NMU/OTS) vs. Anton Kurs (BLR)
Physically, these two couldn’t be more different. Sikes is compact, short, particularly for this weight class; Kurs is long and lanky. Experience-wise, Kurs would seem to hold the advantage, but not by so much. Kurs is just beginning to come on. At the U23 European Championships, he gave 2017 U23 World silver Ivan Huklek (CRO) a run for his money in a match that went sideways in the second period. It wound up a fifth for Kurs, who went 1-2 on the day.
Sikes, on the other hand, has done everything he can to fast-forward his learning curve. He has gotten himself overseas a substantial amount early in his career. While he has yet to assume a place atop the USA Senior pecking order, his development is noticeable. Sikes uses what he has, which is underrated movement, aggressive in-fighting, and a nose for coming up with scores when opponents decide to hawk down in his zone.
Kurs won’t be able to get underneath Sikes on the feet — unless Sikes is overcome with nerves and instead of freezing, abandons positional discipline and flies open. Kurs has long arms, and this year, has shown a typical long-arm, elbow-deep gutwrench. That is an equalizing factor in a match like this. If Sikes can defend from bottom, he’ll be in this thing.
Awaiting Sikes in the round-of-32 will be the survivor of Toni Metsomaeki (FIN) and Elmar Ukali (KAZ). 2016 U23 European Championships gold Yoan Dimitrov (BUL) and Daniel Hechavarria (CUB) represent two of the tougher faces Sikes may see later on should he advance.
130 kg — Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist) vs. Andrii Vozniuk (Ukraine) or Boban Zivanovic (Serbia)
Whether it is Zivanovic or Vozniuk, Schultz has a great chance to make the quarterfinal. Zivanovic is a name US fans may remember from earlier this year. At the Zagreb Grand Prix, the Serbian put in a 3-0 decision win over Trent Osnes (Marines), who himself is a still-developing Greco athlete. Osnes, a big, strong character, owned Zivanovic for large portions of the match but fell short of defending. As for Vozniuk, he is a newcomer. We tried to find video of him and data-set examples prior to the release of the rosters and no dice.
Not that you want to assume victory(ies) for Schultz, but it’s equally about looking ahead on his, the bottom side of the 130-kilogram bracket. 2018 European Championships bronze, among other things, Oskar Marvik (NOR) could be next in the quarterfinals if they both emerge victorious. After that, 2017 U23 World bronze Jello Krahmer (GER) and Estonia’s Artur Vititin could present suitably tough matches leading to the finals.
U23 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE
All times local (+7 hours EST)
Monday, November 12th (Day 1)
10:30am-3:00pm — 55 kg, 63 kg, 77 kg, 87 kg, & 130 kg
Qualification rounds through semifinals
Tuesday, November 13th (Day 2)
10:30am-3:00pm — 60 kg, 67 kg, 72 kg, 82 kg, & 97 kg
Qualification rounds through semifinals
10:30am-3:00pm — Repechage rounds for Day 1 weight classes
6:00pm-8:30pm — Finals/medal rounds for Day 1 weight classes
Wednesday, November 14th (Day 3)
10:30am-3:00pm — Repechage rounds for Day 2 weight classes
6:00pm-8:30pm — Finals/medal rounds for Day 2 weight classes
Broadcast available live in the US on Trackwrestling (subscription required).