Saturday gave US Greco Roman wrestling fans two events to focus on — the Golden Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan and the Arvo Haavisto Tournament in Ilmajoki, Finland. Unless you keep odd hours or happen to enjoy being sleep deprived like some of us, you may have missed out on some of the bulletpoints due to the time difference. That’s okay, because we’re going to run through what you need to know.
First of all, the Grand Prix was strange
That isn’t to say there was a lack of excitement. Quite the contrary, plenty of matches provided unpredictable results, which probably should have been predictable given a) the nature of the tournament itself and b), the removal of forced par terre. The numbers compared to last year’s Golden Grand Prix are indicative of this, though they are a mixed bag.
- There were two technical falls in the finals of last year’s event (Almat Kebispayev over 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Elmurat Tasmuradov and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Davit Chakvetadze over Rio silver Zhan Belenyuk [the two subsequently met in the Olympic finals]) compared to zero tech’s in this year’s final, although there were two falls (both in the first two weight classes — Kenichiro Fumita pinned Firuz Tukhtaev at 59 kilos and Artem Surkov flattened Shmagi Bolkvadze at 66).
- Altogether, there were five less technical superiority wins throughout the entire Grand Prix this year compared to last (17 this year, 22 in 2015), but there were actually more in two weight classes this year (71 kg and 130 kg).
Key: Weight class, number of tech falls for 2016/2015
59 kg — 3/6
66 kg — 0/6
71 kg — 4/3
75 kg — 3/3
80 kg — 1/1
85 kg — 2/5
98 kg — 2/3
130 kg — 2/1
The point of shuffling out these statistics is merely to highlight that two issues are currently at play. The first is that as expected, matches are going the distance a little more often, at least just by using this event as a small sample size. Secondly, scoring is considerably down. Last year’s Grand Prix saw a minimum of seven points scored in matches contested during the tournament 43 times (ways in which points were distributed was not taken into account). This year? 27. And that is counting points accumulated when falls occurred.
It’s early and adjustments will be made as they always are. A more comprehensive study might show how many passivity points were awarded and the rate in which that occurred, though keeping track of initial verbal warnings would likely be as helpful in trying to determining how certain outcomes arrived where they did. Nevertheless, the action this weekend in Baku was tight and not just due to the level of athletes present.
Not the day the US wanted
Both Patrick Smith (71 kg, Minnesota Storm) and Cheney Haight (85 kg, NYAC) lost their first round bouts and were eliminated. For Smith, who went at it with Ridong Zhang (CHN, world no. 8), it was likely especially frustrating. Behind 1-1 (on criteria) in the second, Smith just started getting warm before Zhang attempted a throw off the edge Smith scampered out of at the last second. Zhang was awarded two and the US offered a challenge, but Smith declined. Shortly after, Smith found deep double underhooks only to have Zhang hit a duck to a four-point bodylock.
Smith once again had double underhooks and was walking Zhang towards the edge when Zhang came loose off of a counter headlock. The wrestlers landed out of the circle and Zhang was given a point. This time, Smith did challenge because he had to at that juncture, but it was to no avail. Smith dropped the match via a 9-1 technical fall.
Up a full weight class was Haight, who locked up with eventual GGP bronze medalist Sultan Beybala Ismayilov (AZE). Haight picked up the first passive point but that was it. Ismayilov dropped Haight not once, but twice with over-under locks, the second time holding the Utah native down for the fall.
At 80 kilograms, Patrick Martinez (NYAC) grinded out his first match against 2016 Junior World bronze medalist Sultan Azara Bashir with a 2-1 win. In that match, Martinez was the more physically dominant wrestler but couldn’t put points together. That would be the theme in his next bout, as well. Martinez led Samat Shirdakov (KGZ) 1-0 midway through the second in a strikingly similar contest only this time, he was not the beneficiary of the late passivity call, Shirdakov was. Martinez appeared to be the busier of the two, but the officials wanted more and let him know it. The American did what he could to create a last-ditch opening as Shirdakov feverishly fended it all off. For his part, Shirdakov advanced to the semifinals and lost in the bronze medal match to Daulet Zhaylykov (KAZ).
Other notable results from the Grand Prix
The dream semifinal at 66 between Olympic bronze medalists Elmurat Tasmuradov (UZB, world no. 4 at 59 kg) and Shmagi Bolkvadze (GEO, world no. 4 at 66 kg) didn’t materialize, but the final was a solid substitute pitting Bolkvadze against 2015 World bronze medalist Artem Surdakov (RUS). This could have been a good one, had it went longer. But it didn’t. Surdakov tossed Bolkvadze to the mat early in the first and came away with a startling fall to take the gold.
Sure, Fumita’s pin over Tukhtaev was eye-opening, but even more so was Tukhtaev’s clean, impressive semifinal win over 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Mingiyan Semenov (RUS). Tukhtaev stayed composed and confident every step of the way, setting up angles American collegiate wrestling fans could appreciate to score takedown points. It was as much of a high-level “crossover” match as you’ll be likely to find outside of the US.
Viktor Nemes (SRB, world no. 7) scored an appropriately weird win over Elvin Mursaliev (AZE, world no. 8) at 75 kilos. In the second period and ahead on criteria, Nemes kind of-sort of executed an arm throw but no points were dished out. Mursaliev really didn’t seem to lose control of his body in the process, but a challenge review came back with two for Nemes, who toughed it out for the remaining 1:49 to hold on for the title.
Back to the States
The three US boys who have spent the last couple of weeks in Finland are finally back home and one of them had a very strong day on Saturday. Competing at the Arvo Haavisto Tournament, Dalton Roberts (59 kg, NMU-OTS) earned a well-deserved silver medal. Roberts lost his first match to Radion Somatov (RUS) and then proceeded to beat up everybody else in the round-robin bracket. Helary Mägisalu (EST), Jusso Latvala (FIN), Lauri Karjalainen (Perhon Kiri, FIN) were his victims in three consecutive tech falls. When Roberts gets going, he’s tough to stop and that just might be something he is starting to realize.
Ryan Hope (85 kg, Cliff Keen WC) went 1-2 on the day, but almost had a shot at picking up his second medal of the trip. A 3-1 versus Alexander Stjepanetic (SWE) followed by a tech fall loss to Julius Matuzevicius (LTU) put him in the medal round, where he dropped a 3-1 decision to 2015 Junior European Championships bronze medalist Ivan Huklek (CRO).
Travis Rice (66 kg, NMU-OTS), whose first competition in five months was the Vantaa Cup last weekend, didn’t fare much better at the Haavisto. Rice’s opposition was Mikko Peltokangas (FIN), one of Finland’s brightest prospects who had medaled the week before at the Vantaa. Peltokangas didn’t give Rice a chance to get comfortable and the result was a 9-0 tech fall loss for the American. Rice, along with Roberts and Hope, is gearing up for the US Nationals next month in Vegas.
What’s coming up here
- We are going to resume the “Memorable Matches” segment soon enough, so if you have any athletes you’d like to request, let us know.
- There will be a “Coach Lindland’s Report” once things are settled in Budapest.
- Countdown to the 2016 US Nationals.
- A closer look at an athlete everyone seems to like.
- More videos!