Sadulaev back, Freestyle stars assemble for European Championships
Monday, February 5, 2024 - 08:17 By Vinay Siwach
BUCHAREST, Romania (February 2) -- Four months after a neck surgery and four years since his last European Championships, Abdulrashid SADULAEV (AIN) will return to the mat, hoping to win his sixth European title.
In September, Sadulaev pulled out of his semifinal against eventual champion Akhmed TAZHUDINOV (BRN) and underwent surgery. This will be his first international competition as he won the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix in the last week of January.
The European Championships will kick off on February 12 in Bucharest, making the countries participating in the tournament eligible to participate in the European Olympic Qualifier in Baku. The tournament will be available on UWW+ on uww.org and the UWW app.
Apart from Sadulaev, Tokyo Olympic champion Zavur UGUEV (AIN), world champion Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN), world champion Akhmed USMANOV (AIN) and arch-rivals Taha AKGUL (TUR) and Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) will be in action.
Sadulaev, who is yet to qualify for the Paris Olympics, will be checked by world silver medalist in Belgrade Magomedkhan MAGOMEDOV (AZE), bronze medalist Givi MATCHARASHVILI (GEO), Vlagyiszlav BAJCAJEV (HUN) and former world silver medalist Batyrbek TSAKULOV (SVK).
Soon after winning the Yarygin tournament, Sadulaev posted on his Instagram that "he is back on track." A fully fit Sadulaev is expected in Bucharest which will mean that his opponents will have a tough time.
Dauren KURUGLIEV (GRE) is the defending champion at 86kg. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)
Among other Olympic weight classes, 86kg defending champion Dauren KURUGLIEV (GRE) will be returning since his injury in the Ranking Series in Budapest last year. In all likelihood, he is set to face Tokyo bronze medalist Artur NAIFONOV (AIN) as the two revive their rivalry. The two used to dominate the national scene in Russia.
Another transfer and winner of the season-opening Zagreb Open Ranking Series, Magomed RAMAZANOV (BUL) will also be in action, making it a tough bracket. Ramazanov will be keen on continuing his good form and challenging the established stars at 86kg in Europe.
World bronze medalist Myles AMINE (SMR) is entered and making it to his third straight final at the European Championships will be his top priority. U20 world champion Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA), 79kg world silver medalist Vladimeri GAMKRELIDZE (GEO) and Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR) are also in the bracket.
Taha AKGUL (TUR) and Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) are expexted to meet in the 125kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)
Akgul and Petriashvili, ranking second and fourth in the world, can only meet in the final, setting up another gold-medal bout if both make it to the final.
The two have long dominated the weight classes with the former winning it 10 times since 2012 and Petriasvili winning it twice with the last coming in 2020. Akgul defeated Petriashvili in the final in Zagreb last year.
At the Ranking Series in Zagreb, Petriashvili pulled out of his bout against world champion Amirhossein ZARE (IRI) citing injury. It will be interesting to see if he will return fully fit.
At 57kg, Zavur UGUEV (AIN) will look to put behind the disappointment of finishing without a medal at the World Championships and return to winning ways. Uguev has a lot to fight for as a win in Bucharest will make him the favorite for the gold medal in Paris as well if he goes to the Olympics.
But world bronze medalist Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) will look to win the European title at 57kg as well. The 61kg champion last year has moved down to the Olympic weight and possesses the skills to upset any star wrestler. At the World Championships, he dropped a 16-13 semifinal against Rei HIGUCHI (JPN) before winning a bronze medal.
With many wrestlers deciding not to go through the rigorous process of reducing their weight, the 65kg weight class will see world bronze medalists Shamil MAMEDOV (AIN) and Vazgen TEVANYAN (ARM) as the top stars.
The two will be drawn on the same side of the bracket given Tevanyan is ranked third in the world and Mammedov is fifth. Mikyay NAIM (BUL) and Erik ARUSHANIAN (UKR) will also be in the fray to reach the final.
65kg world champion Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN) will be at 70kg in Bucharest. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)
The 65kg world champion Muszukajev has moved up to 70kg and will be the favorite to win the gold medal. A definite crowd-puller, Muszukajev will once again be tested for his conditioning. But if his performance at the World Championships is anything to go by, Muszukajev should put on a show of explosive wrestling.
U23 world champions Inalbek SHERIEV (AIN) and Kanan HEYBATOV (AZE) will look to upset the world champ if they meet in the bracket. At the U23 World Championships, Sheriev defeated Heybatov 13-3 and the Azerbaijan wrestler will be keen on avenging that loss as well.
At 74kg, three-time champion Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) will start as the favorite but will be tested by Timur BIZHOEV (AIN), a former world bronze medalist. The field also includes Dzhabrail GADZHIEV (AZE) and veteran Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR).
World champion Akhmed USMANOV (AIN) will be up against a strong field at 79kg. (Photo: UWW / Amirreza Aliasgari)
Most of the regular stars of 74kg have moved up to 79kg, a weight class which will be a tightly-contested category. Multiple world and Olympic medalists are entered in the weight class for the Bucharest tournament. World champion Akhmed USMANOV (AIN), Tokyo silver medalist at 74kg Mahamedkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (AIN), former world medalist Avtandil KENTCHADZE (GEO), young star and defending champion Georgios KOUGIOUMTSIDIS (GRE), multiple-time world medalist Frank CHAMIZO (ITA), veteran Hetik CABOLOV (SRB), Iakub SHIKHDZHAMALOV (ROU) and Ramazan SARI (TUR) are a few names who will be vying for the European title.
A face-off between Abasgadzhi MAGOMEDOV (AIN) and Zelimkhan ABAKAROV (ALB) is expected at 61kg. MAgomedov lost the 61kg final at the World Championships while Abakarov finished with a bronze medal at 57kg after suffering a loss to Stevan MICIC (SRB). Micic was registered for the European Championships but pulled out.
Boris MAKOEV (SVK) is moving up to 92kg for the European Championships but the weight class already has a few hammers. Magomed KURBANOV (AIN) will have a chance to win the title but world silver medalist Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE), bronze medalist Miriani MAISURADZE (GEO) and former European champion Feyzullah AKTURK (TUR) are also in the mix.