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#WrestleAlmaty

Otoguro repeats as 65kg champ without a fight as Punia injury aborts anticipated clash

By United World Wrestling Press

The highly anticipated third clash of the Asian 65kg titans never made it to the mat, and after receiving an injury default from rival Bajrang PUNIA (IND), Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) said he would love for the match to happen this summer in Tokyo.

Former world champion Otoguro repeated as 65kg champion at the Asian Championships when Punia pulled out of the final due to an elbow injury suffered during his semifinal match earlier Saturday in Almaty.

"It feels weird to not wrestle," said Punia, for whom the silver becomes the sixth Asian medal of his career. "This is the first time ever I have said no to a bout internationally against a person from another country. It feels bad."

Ravi KUMAR (IND) also retained his Asian crown when he defeated Alireza SARLAK (IRI) 9-4 in the 57kg final, as the five golds up for grabs went to wrestlers from five different nations on Day 5 of the six-day tournament in the empty Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports.

Otoguro, who was competing for the first time since his victory over Punia in the final at last year's Asian Championships in New Delhi, was disappointed that the match with the Indian star was aborted, but accepted that injuries are part and parcel to the sport.

"A final with Bajrang is always an interesting match, and I was really looking forward to it," Otoguro said. "He also wrestles hard and has his share of injuries. It can't be helped.

"I look forward to having a match at the Tokyo Olympics."

The two had first met in the final at the 2018 World Championships in Budapest, where a then-19-year-old Otoguro came out on top in a wild 16-9 victory that made him the youngest freestyle world champion in Japan history.

Otoguro, who graduated from Yamanashi Gakuin University in March, said he was able to continue training for the most part, as Yamanashi Prefecture, north of Tokyo, was not hard-hit by the coronavirus. "At the very least, I could run in the mountains," he said.

He participated in sporadically scheduled national team training camps, and then prepared for Almaty as a new member of the sports division of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, into which he was inducted in March. His older brother Keisuke, who will compete tomorrow at 74kg, is also a member.

Asked about being in what is regarded as the most competitive weight class, Otoguro responded, "I'm happy that I can fight in the weight class with the highest level. I welcome the challenge of beating them."

In the 57kg final, Kumar outlasted Sarlak for a victory that left the Iranian in tears after they kept trading scoring moves, but Kumar's were for bigger points.

"The feeling to be a champion again is unexplainable," Kumar said. "It has been long. I lost one tournament last year so it’s great to be back on top position," he said, referring to a loss by fall at the World Cup in Serbia.

In the first period, Kumar interspersed a takedown and 2-point barrel roll with three stepouts by Sarlak for a 4-3 lead. The two exchanged stepouts to start the second period, before the 2019 world bronze medalist pulled away with two takedowns in the last 1:15.

"The Iran wrestler was really good, but this was my first bout with him so I was keeping it normal," he said. "I wasn’t trying to do too much."

The surprise of the finals came at 79kg, where Byungmin GONG (KOR) edged 2020 bronze medalist Ali SAVADKOUHI (IRI) 5-3, scoring a takedown with 11 seconds left for his third straight close win of the competition.

Byungmin GONG (KOR)
Byungmin GONG (KOR) after winning the final of 79kg in Almaty. (Photo: UWW / Sachiko HOTAKA)

"Korean freestyle wrestling has not been so good in the past couple of years and I am happy to change that to a certain extent with this gold medal," said Gong, a 2018 Asian Games bronze medalist at 74kg. "I am happy to be part of this tradition."

In the final, Savadkouhi was going behind when Gong clamped down on his arm and turned him over for 2, after which the Iranian finished off his move for a 1-point reversal.

In the second period, Savadkouhi looked to have clinched the victory when he came out of a flurry in control for 2 with :16 left, only to be caught in a double-leg tackle that allowed Gong to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

"Regardless of who the opponent is, I always go into the bout to beat them," said Gong, whose combined margin of victory in his three matches was three points (he won his semifinal 5-5).

"[My coaches and I] developed a strategy that whatever happens, keep calm," he said. "Play it safe but don't back down. Play cool, calm and collective."

Gong already has his next challenge lined up -- dropping to 74kg to enter the final Olympic qualifying tournament in Sofia next month.

"I am not going to lie, it is going to be hard in 74kg at Sofia. But I just want to wrestle hard and adapt to the situation whenever it arises. I think that is the best I can do."

For Savadkouhi, the 2019 Asian U-23 champion, all that is left is to reflect on what might have been. "I can't believe the mistakes I made in the final," he said. "I was not able to win the gold and it pains me."

In contrast to Gong's tight path to gold, Ali SHABANIBENGAR (IRI) was totally dominant at 97kg, steamrolling 2020 bronze medalist Alisher YERGALI (KAZ) 12-2 in the final for his third technical fall in three matches.

Shabanigengar got a stepout late in the first period to take a 3-2 lead into the second, but opened the floodgates with a 4-point ankle pick that he followed with a 2-point gut wrench.

An unsuccessful challenge added a point, which provided the necessary margin of difference when he dumped Yergali during a single-leg takedown to end the match at 3:44.

"Thank God that I got a gold medal at the Asian Championships, and I thank God that I could defeat my opponent so dominantly," said Shabanibengar, a 2018 world U-23 bronze medalist.

The host nation earned the other gold of the night, when two-time world junior medalist Syrbaz TALGAT (KAZ) scored four points in the second period of an 6-2 victory over Sirojiddin KHASANOV (UZB) in an at-times tempestuous 70kg final.

Khasanov had a 2-2 lead on criteria after the first period, but got a takedown and two stepouts -- after the second one, Khasanov gave him a little shove to the head -- to add the Asian senior title to the junior one he won in 2019.

"I am really happy to win the competition since we are hosting at home," Talgat said. "I felt the responsibility to win at home.

"All of my opponents were prepared and were tough, so to win gold against them was a good thing. Most of my opponents had already competed at the senior level, but for me it was the first time."

In the bronze-medal matches, Narsingh YADAV (IND) picked up his first major medal since returning last year from a four-year doping ban, defeating Ahmed AL GBURI (IRQ) 8-2 at 79kg.

Yadav last brought home hardware in 2015, when he won world and Asian bronze medals at 74kg. Yadav, who placed 13th at the London 2012 Olympics, won the Asian title back in 2010.

Saiakbai USUPOV (KGZ) returned to the medal podium for the first time since 2016, again to receive a bronze, when he rolled to a 10-0 technical fall over Galymzhan USSERBAYEV (KAZ) in the other third-place match at 79kg.

Yuto TAKESHITA (JPN) extended Japan's run of bronze medalists at 57kg to four straight years, posting a solid 7-0 victory over Muhammad BILAL (PAK). Takeshita followed in the footsteps of 2017 world and Asian champion Yuki TAKAHASHI (JPN), who had back-to-back third-place finishes in 2019 and 2020, and Tomohiro HASEGAWA (JPN), a bronze medalist in 2018.

Morteza GHIASI CHEKA (IRI), one of the group of up-and-coming wrestlers dispatched by Iran for international seasoning, added a bronze medal to the Middle East powerhouse's tally with victory by fall over Nodir RAKHIMOV (UZB).

Ghiasi Cheka had levered Rakhimov to his back to go up 7-0 when the Uzbek called it a day with 10 seconds left.

Satywart KADIAN (IND), a silver medalist at 97kg a year ago, captured his third career Asian bronze, and he couldn't have cut any closer. He scored the winning takedown at the buzzer, and with an unsuccessful challenge point added, came away with a 5-2 win over Minwon SEO (KOR).

The other bronzes went to: Nodirjon SAFAROV (UZB) at 57kg, Yongseok JEONG (KOR) at 65kg, Islambek OROZBEKOV (KGZ) and Karan MOR (IND) at 70kg, and Takashi ISHIGURO (JPN) at 97kg.

The tournament wraps up Sunday with competition in the other five weight classes in freestyle, 61g, 74kg, 86kg, 92kg and 125kg.

Featured is the return of world and Olympic champion Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) to the Asian Championships at 86kg for the first time since 2018, when he won the gold in his lone appearance.

Yazdani, the 2019 world champion, has lost only once since 2016, a first-round loss to David TAYLOR (USA) at the 2018 worlds, where he went on to win a bronze medal.

Day 5 Results Freestyle

Finals

57kg (12 entries)
GOLD - Ravi KUMAR (IND) df. Alireza SARLAK (IRI), 9-4
BRONZE - Nodirjon SAFAROV (UZB) df. Ali ABURUMAILA (PLE) by TF, 12-2, 3:55
BRONZE - Yuto TAKESHITA (JPN) df. Muhammad BILAL (PAK), 7-0

65kg (11 entries)
GOLD - Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) df. Bajrang PUNIA (IND) by Default
BRONZE - Yongseok JEONG (KOR) df. Bilguun SARMANDAKH (MGL), 4-4
BRONZE - Morteza GHIASI CHEKA (IRI) df Nodir RAKHIMOV (UZB) by Fall, 5:50 (7-0)

70kg (10 entries)
GOLD - Syrbaz TALGAT (KAZ) df. Sirojiddin KHASANOV (UZB), 6-2
BRONZE - Islambek OROZBEKOV (KGZ) df. Perman HOMMADOV (TKM), 6-1
BRONZE - Karan MOR (IND) df. Seungbong LEE (KOR), 3-1

79kg (11 entries)
GOLD - Byungmin GONG (KOR) d. Ali SAVADKOUHI (IRI), 5-3
BRONZE - Narsingh YADAV (IND) df. Ahmed AL GBURI (IRQ), 8-2
BRONZE - Saiakbai USUPOV (KGZ) df. Galymzhan USSERBAYEV (KAZ) by TF, 10-0, 6:00

97kg (11 entries)
GOLD - Ali SHABANIBENGAR (IRI) df. Alisher YERGALI (KAZ) by TF, 12-2, 3:44
BRONZE - Takashi ISHIGURO (JPN) df. Altangerel CHINBAT (MGL), 1-1
BRONZE - Satywart KADIAN (IND) df. Minwon SEO (KOR), 5-2

#WrestleAlmaty

Yazdani Triumphs as Iran, Kazakhstan Score Double Golds at Asian C’Ships

By Ken Marantz

For superstar Hassan YAZDANI (IRI), the Asian Championships are just a stepping stone in preparing for his ultimate goal of winning a second straight Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. He rocked it anyway.

Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) proved once again he is in a class by himself, schooling Deepak PUNIA (IND) in their long-delayed first encounter to take the 86kg gold medal as the six-day tournament in Almaty concluded Sunday night with the last five finals in freestyle.

Yazdani, who won the gold in his only other Asian Championships appearance in 2018, was never in danger as he outclassed Punia with a 10-0 technical fall -- nearly two years after an inaugural meeting between them in the final at the 2019 World Championships in Nursultan was aborted when the Indian defaulted due to injury.

Prior to Almaty, Yazdani had not competed in an individual tournament since the 2019 worlds, and wanted to get in some mat time prior to the Tokyo Olympics, where he will defend the title he won at Rio 2016.

"After the pandemic started, it was hard to compete," Yazdani said. "I thought I would compete in the World Cup for preparation, but I did not," he said, referring to the Individual World Cup held in December last year in lieu of a World Championships.

"The Asian Championships was a good event and I wanted to see my preparations and now I will continue to prepare for the Olympics as a wrestler who will win the gold medal. Only the gold."

After Punia defaulted at the Nursultan Worlds due to an ankle injury suffered earlier in the tournament, many speculated on what might have been, given Punia's impressive run to the final just a year after winning a silver medal at the World Junior Championships.

But Yazdani is not called "The Greatest" for no reason, and it would take raising to another level to catch him off his game. For Punia, who looked sluggish at times en route to the final in Almaty, this was not the day.

Yazdani basically put on a takedown clinic, scoring four as Punia was able to resist all but one gut wrench, after the third takedown. That gave Yazdani an 8-0 lead, and he ended the match with a great second effort on a takedown attempt.

Punia had wiggled out of a single-leg attempt, but Yazdani pursued him to the edge and gained control to make it 10-0 at 2:53 for his third technical fall in three matches.

Yazdani said he plans to compete again before Tokyo, although he did not specify what events.

"I will participate in some more competitions until the Olympics so that I can keep working on myself and my flaws," Yazdani said. "This is my preparation for the Olympics and to win the gold medal in Tokyo. That is what matters in the end."

Looking at the competition in Tokyo, Yazdani said he is not focusing on any certain opponent.

"All of the competitors are important because all of them are good and everybody comes to win," Yazdani said. "All of them are doing their best to win because it's a dream for all."But my American and Russian competitors are much more difficult, but I take all my competitors serious. I have to make a good program together with my coach and team to beat them."

Not surprisingly, Iran added the team freestyle title to its victory in Greco-Roman earlier in the tournament at the spectator-less Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports, amassing 179 points after winning three golds and eight medals overall.

India edged Kazakhstan for second place by just two points, 151 to 149, despite having just one gold to the host nation's three. With two silvers each, the main difference came down to four bronzes won by India, against none for Kazakhstan.

In the lone final pitting Iranian and Kazakh wrestlers, Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ) kept the 74kg title in Kazakh hands and earned a second career Asian gold for himself by rallying to a 6-2 victory over Mostafa HOSSEINKHANI (IRI).

"It was a hard final and that is why I am very happy," Kaipanov said. "I was ill during my training. But thanks to my coaches, I could have great preparation for the Asian Championships. Coaches do many things that we athletes do not see."

Kaipanov, the 2019 world silver medalist and Asian champion at 70kg before moving up to the Olympic weight, trailed 2-0 going into the second period, but gained a takedown and an ankle roll to go ahead. He then added a takedown to clinch the victory.

"I did not like how I wrestled today," he said. "Fortunately, I was able to win the gold medal."

Kaipanov's victory followed the gold-medal run at 74kg last year in New Delhi by compatriot Daniar KAISANOV (KAZ), who finished third at the 2019 Nursultan worlds to earn an Olympic spot.

"Kaisanov is my rival and I have never wrestled him before, but in the future we will," Kaipanov said.

Hosseinkhani had to settle for a second straight bronze medal and third in four years, as the the 2016 world bronze medalist still seeks to add to the Asian titles he won in 2014 and 2016.

Iran's other gold came at 92kg, where Kamran GHASEMPOUR (IRI) showed that while he might not be as well-known as Yazdani, he could be just as dominant by winning the gold with a third consecutive technical fall.

Ghasempour, the 2019 world U-23 and Asian champion at 86kg, stormed to a 10-0 victory in 2:09 over 2020 bronze medalist Tsogtgerel MUNKHBAATAR (MGL), whose bid to become Mongolia's first Asian gold medalist in freestyle since 2015 never got off the ground.

Ghasempour overwhelmed Munkhbaatar with four aggressive takedowns, including a driving tackle for 4 points and powerful lift-and-dump with a single leg that ended the match.

"I feel good to win the medal," Ghasempour said. "In the future, I think I will go down a weight category. The final was very good for me because it is a weight category above my original."

Ghasempour said that dropping down a division will not create a national team clash. "Yazdani goes to the Olympics and I go to world championships," he said.

Oleg BOLTIN (KAZ) capped the tournament by winning the final gold on tap for the host country with a dramatic 4-3 victory over Aiaal LAZAREV (KGZ) in the 125kg final.

With the clock ticking down and Boltin trailing 3-2, he missed a golden opportunity to score went he arm-dragged Lazarev by, but couldn't finish it off and get behind.

But with Lazarev still on his knees, Boltin pressed him down to the mat as the Kyrgyzstani reached out and grabbed a leg. From there, Boltin secured a cradle and twisted him over for 2 points with :15 left.

"The final was not easy because my opponent was good and experienced," Boltin said. "I needed to wrestle till the end to win. I wanted to make everyone happy with this medal."

As at 74kg, Boltin kept the 125kg title in Kazakhstan's possession, as it followed the victory last year in New Delhi by Yusup BATIRMURZAEV (KAZ), who clinched an Olympic spot by winning the Asian qualifier held last week in the same venue.

"The 125kg category at the Olympics is very competitive as the level of competitors is very high," Boltin said. "There are a lot of strong wrestlers.

"Yusup won [the Asian gold] last year and I won this year. He is a good wrestler."

Jahongirmirza TUROBOV (UZB) picked up the first gold of the night when he roared back from four points down to defeat Adlan ASKAROV (KAZ) 14-9 in the 61kg final.

"I had good preparation and I was ready to wrestle anyone," Turobov said. "I always believed that I would be the champion even before coming here. The opponent in the final was stronger than me, but I had really good preparation and I am actually the champion and go back as one."

Turobov, a 2017 Asian junior champion, erased a 6-2 deficit in the second period when he scored a takedown and a pair of 2-point tilts to take a lead that he never surrendered against Askarov, a world U-23 silver medalist and junior bronze medalist in 2019.

Even without a crowd in the stands, Turobov said he felt pressure facing a Kazakh wrestler in Almaty as he won what he called the biggest medal of his career. Now he is aiming higher.

"I want to be the world champion and go to the next Olympics and take a gold medal," he said.

Iraq ends three-decade medal drought

In the bronze-medal matches, Mustafa AL OBAIDI (IRQ) became the first Iraqi since 1987 to win an Asian medal and the fourth overall when he notched a stunning and creative victory by fall at 86kg over Hayato ISHIGURO (JPN).

Ishiguro, a 2018 world junior champion, opened the scoring with a stepout, and seemed to be in no danger when he stopped a tackle attempt by Al Obaidi. But the Iraqi locked onto Ishiguro's arms, twisted him over and, with his back to the Japanese's chest, pressed him down for a fall in 1:06.

Just as odd was what happened moments later as Al Obaidi celebrated his historic victory. After raising a fist, he suddenly went from ecstasy to agony and dropped to the mat, clutching his left hamstring in pain. He had to be carried off the mat, but was able to walk on his own for the medal ceremony.

Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Ikhtiyor NAVRUZOV (UZB) earned his fifth career Asian medal dating back to 2010 with a workmanlike 5-0 victory over Atamyrat CHARLYYEV (TKM) at 74kg.

Navruzov, the Asian champion at 70kg in 2018, had lost a close 5-2 decision to Hosseinkhani in his opening match. He said he is aiming at getting back to the Olympics, after compatriot Bekzod ABDURAKHMONOV (UZB) secured a Tokyo spot for Uzbekistan at last week's Asian Olympic qualifier.

"I have been off the mat for some time because of COVID," Navruzov said. "But I have been training now and will wrestle at 74kg. I will also have a trial with Bekzod to decide who goes to the Olympics."

Sanjeet KUNDU (IND), who placed third at the 2019 world U-23 in Greco-Roman, earned his first senior freestyle medal by holding on for an 11-8 win over Rustam SHODIEV (UZB) at 92kg. Kundu had led 11-2 with just over two minutes left.

A silver medalist last year, Khuderbulga DORJKHAND (MGL) had to settle for bronze this time after rolling to a 10-0 technical fall over Amirjon NUTFULLAEV (UZB) at 125kg. It is the sixth career Asian medal for Dorjkhand, who won his lone title in 2014.

Korea won two bronze medals through Gwanuk KIM (KOR) at 86kg and Hyeokbeom GWON (KOR) at 92kg. The other bronzes were won by: Shoya SHIMAE (JPN) and Ikromzhon KHADZHIMURODOV (KGZ) at 61kg, Sumiyabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL) at 74kg, and Amin TAHERI (IRI) at 125kg.

Day 6 Results Freestyle

Finals

61kg (9 entries)
GOLD - Jahongirmirza TUROBOV (UZB) df. Adlan ASKAROV (KAZ), 14-9
BRONZE - Shoya SHIMAE (JPN) df. Sunggwon KIM (KOR), 5-1
BRONZE - Ikromzhon KHADZHIMURODOV (KGZ) df. Ravinder DAHIYA (IND) by TF, 14-4,
5:44

74kg (13 entries)
GOLD - Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ) df. Mostafa HOSSEINKHANI (IRI), 6-2
BRONZE - Sumiyabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL) df. Mansur SYRGAK UULU (KGZ), 4-1
BRONZE - Ikhtiyor NAVRUZOV (UZB) df. Atamyrat CHARLYYEV (TKM), 5-0

86kg (11 entries)
GOLD - Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) df. Deepak PUNIA (IND) by TF, 10-0, 2:53
BRONZE - Mustafa AL OBAIDI (IRQ) df. Hayato ISHIGURO (JPN) by Fall, 1:07 (2-1)
BRONZE - Gwanuk KIM (KOR) df. Bakhodur KODIROV (TJK) by TF, 10-0, 2:09

92kg (9 entries)
GOLD - Kamran GHASEMPOUR (IRI) df. Tsogtgerel MUNKHBAATAR (MGL) by TF, 10-0,
2:09
BRONZE - Hyeokbeom GWON (KOR) df. Elkhan ASSADOV (KAZ), 1-1
BRONZE - Sanjeet KUNDU (IND) df. Rustam SHODIEV (UZB), 11-8

125kg (11 entries)
GOLD - Oleg BOLTIN (KAZ) df. Aiaal LAZAREV (KGZ), 4-3
BRONZE - Amin TAHERI (IRI) df. Donghwan KIM (KOR) by Fall, 2:28 (10-0)
BRONZE - Khuderbulga DORJKHAND (MGL) df. Amirjon NUTFULLAEV (UZB) by TF, 10-0,
3:55