As we continue to put out roster information for the 2017 Greco-Roman World Cup, which takes place two weekends from now in Abadan, Iran, a lot of the focus, naturally, has been on the Iranian and Russian squads. Iran, the winner of five World Cup titles in seven years, always seems to bring their “A” game to events like these. When it comes to Russia, their incredible depth is usually called upon to stand on its own though this time around, all of the big guns are showing up to the battlefield.
However, it would be a mistake to count Azerbaijan out. Azerbaijan prides itself on its own tradition of Greco-Roman excellence that arose in the wake of the dissolution of the United Soviet Socialist Republic some 25-plus years ago. Azerbaijan might consider freestyle wrestling its national sport but make no mistake about it, Greco is also a strength, proven by the country’s World Cup win just two years ago.
For 2017, Team Azerbaijan is looking just as solid as it did in 2015, with World champs and Olympic medalists up and down the roster. At 59 kilograms resides one of the most consistent and best wrestlers in the world, Rovshan Bayramov (world no. 6). Bayramov failed to make the medal stand in Rio but his amount of hardware is impressive enough as it is. Two Olympic silvers (2008 and 2012), two World silvers, a World bronze, and a World gold (2011) make him a living legend. And at 29 years of age, Bayramov still has plenty left in the tank to defeat any other 59’er at this event. Plus, few are as sharp in par terre offense as he is, provided he finds his way there.
71 kilos is where Azerbaijan’s greatest depth lies and is also where one of the most recognizable faces in Greco-Roman can be found — Rasul Chunayev (world no. 3 at 66). Chunayev was originally at 66 in the beginning of his career but embraced the higher non-Olympic weight upon its introduction a few years ago. His talent has been prodigious from the start, as Chunayev was elevated to Senior competition before he had even cut his teeth as a Junior. As a Senior, the 26-year old took his place among the elite with a World gold in 2015 and followed that up with a bronze back down at 66 in Rio. Chunayev is an immensely talented athlete who can score from anywhere, and should help set the tone in each dual.
Joining Chunayev at 71 kilograms is Hasan Aliyev (world no. 3), one of the hardest dudes in the sport. Aliyev is a thrower who picks his spots maybe as well, if not better than Chunayev, who relies on footwork and chaos to manage opportunities. Short of scoring an Olympic medal, there is little Aliyev hasn’t accomplished. He has a World title as a Senior and two of them as a Junior, has won the country’s prestigious Golden Grand Prix five times, and has been a part of three World Cup teams. Nothing about this stage is new to Aliyev and with the kind of success he has accrued in his career, look for him to make his presence felt when it counts the most.
Another grizzled vet to look out for is 2016 World Champion Rafik Huseynov (80 kg, world no. 1). Huseynov is not beholden to any one approach and that is why he has become increasingly more dangerous as his career has progressed. He possesses all of the classical elements opponents need to account for, but he can also change directions on his angles and employ blitzing setups to bodylocks. That is one reason perhaps why the updated rule-set has worked for him. Not that Huseynov couldn’t contend in par terre, but he makes fast adjustments on his feet that play right into his attacks.
The backend of the lineup features 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Sabah Shariati (130 kg, world no. 4), a plodding heavyweight who is strong on the mat and operates with a keen sense of timing. The Iranian-born Shariati is not fast or overly-athletic, but he sticks to what works for him. He might appear lackadaisical at times in the ties, shuffling through his pummels, but on a moment’s notice he can seize an underhook and take control. From here he usually just keeps the pummel going unless something opens up. The question mark for him will be his work-rate. Shariati hasn’t competed since the Olympics and without forced par terre to potentially save him during dicey moments, he might struggle a little.
The 2017 Greco-Roman World Cup takes place March 16th-17th in Abadan, Iran.
2017 Azerbaijan Greco-Roman World Cup Roster
Rovshan Bayramov (2011 World Champion, two-time Olympic silver medalist, two-time World silver medalist, 2009 World bronze medalist, 2003 Junior World Champion)
Taleh Mammadov (2014 Golden Grand Prix gold medalist, 2015 Takhti Cup gold medalist)
Kamran Mammadov (2010 Junior World Champion, two-time Golden Grand Prix gold medalist)
Rasul Chunayev (2015 World Champion, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, 2014 World bronze medalist, 2010 University World Champion, 2010 Junior World bronze medalist, 2015 European Games gold medalist)
Hasan Aliyev (2010 World Champion, 2016 World bronze medalist, 2016 World Military Championships gold medalist, five-time Golden Grand Prix gold medalist)
Elvin Mursaliyev (2014 World bronze medalist, 2010 European Championships silver medalist, 2015 European Games gold medalist)
Islambek Dadov (2016 Junior World bronze medalist)
Rafik Huseynov (2016 World Champion, two-time Junior World bronze medalist, 2015 World Military Games gold medalist, four-time Golden Grand Prix gold medalist)
Emin Ahmadov (2012 Olympic bronze medalist, 2009 Golden Grand Prix bronze medalist)
Islam Abbasov (2014 Junior World Champion, two-time Cadet World Champion, 2014 Junior World silver medalist, 2016 World Military Championships silver medalist)
Arif Niftullayev (2014 Cadet World silver medalist)
Araz Hasanov (2012 Moscow Lights silver medalist)
Sabah Shariati (2016 Olympic bronze medalist, 2013 Golden Grand Prix gold medalist)