If there is any consolation to be found in a loss to one of the best on the planet at a big event, it is that there is a decent likelihood you’ll get another chance to compete later on. That was the case for Army/WCAP stud Mike Fuenffinger (60 kg) on Saturday at the 2018 Nikola Petrov Cup in Sofia, Bulgaria. His vanquisher, reigning World Champion Kenichiro Fumita (JPN), advanced to the finals, which provided Fuenffinger with an opportunity to fight back for a bronze earlier this morning. And he gave it a good run.
Teodor Horatau (ROU) stood in Fuenffinger’s way to begin. The Romanian was the recipient of the first passive/par terre chance at 1:24 of the opening period and took advantage with a gutwrench he pulled over for two. Fuenffinger struck back shortly thereafter. As Horatau locked for a throw with his back to the edge, the WCAP wrestler adjusted to collapse on top for his own pair of points. Now working with a flash of confidence, Fuenffinger became the stalker and popped Horatau’s elbow in an apparent arm-drag attempt and used it to coax him out of bounds for another score. As they meandered back to the center for the reset, Army coach and former two-time Olympian Spenser Mango yelled out, “Let’s work this last :30!” Fuenffinger must have been all ears, because in an instant, he netted two off of a correct arm throw for a 5-3 lead entering the break.
A throw attempt by Horatau early in the second frame narrowed his deficit to one. Fuenffinger had an answer for that, too. He cinched up a bodylock with Horatau’s back to the line. There was no rushing. Instead, Fuenffinger modified his lock in the midst of the exchange and crumpled Horatau directly to his back. An ensuing scramble nearly yielded additional points but there was nothing doing. Fuenffinger continued to move Horatau around for the remainder of the contest and picked up a passive point along the way to emerge victorious 10-4.
The battle for bronze pitted Fuenffinger against young Ivo Iliev (BUL), who is expected to be major candidate for a Junior medal this coming year. A frenetic pace ignited upon the whistle. There was little doubt Fuenffinger was the more physically viable of the two, but Iliev was moving briskly and forcing openings that resulted in the American being knocked for passive. Fuenffinger fought and fought to avoid being turned before Iliev eventually gutted him over. Fuenffinger hand-walked his way into a scramble and regained his footing in time to snare a front headlock that scored two. There was hardly time to breathe. The next restart saw Fuenffinger come close on a go-behind before he attempted to arch over a throw attempt at the boundary. Iliev bucked and bounded in effort to adjust as he landed on top to take a commanding 7-2 lead.
Only :14 was left in the period. Iliev appeared spent but looks can be deceiving. He was gulping air, his chest heaving as oxygen raced through his mouth. For his part, Fuenffinger was the picture of poise, and although down by five, the bout certainly wasn’t out of reach, not with a full 3:14 left to surge back into the thick of things. Whether Iliev felt he had no choice but to close the show in fear of breaking in the second, who could know? But right after the whistle he darted in on a dramatic arm throw that quickly ended any hopes of a Fuenffinger comeback.
2018 Nikola Petrov Notes:
- Fuenffinger was the only American who competed for a medal.
- Three of the four US Greco-Roman athletes wrestled in repechage matches (Ryan Mango, Patrick Smith, and Fuenffinger).
2018 DAN KOLOV-NIKOLA PETROV CUP
MARCH 22-25 — SOFIA, BULGARIA
TEAM USA FULL RESULTS
Mike Fuenffinger (Army/WCAP)
LOSS Kenichiro Fumita (JPN) 14-3, TF
WIN Teodor Horatau (ROU) 10-4
LOSS Ivo Iliev (BUL) 11-2, TF
Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP)
LOSS Uyar Ahmet (Turkey) 8-0, TF
Ryan Mango (Army/WCAP)
WIN Dato Chkhartishvili (GEO) via fall
LOSS Shinobu Ota (JPN) 12-2, TF
Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm)
LOSS Evrik Nikogosyan (FRA) 9-0, TF
LOSS Tomohiro Inoue (JPN) 8-0, TF