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#WrestleAlmaty

Yazdani, Punia to clash for Asian 86kg title as Iran, host Kazakhstan put 3 each in finals

By Ken Marantz

Two years after superstar Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) and up-and-coming Deepak PUNIA (IND) were slated to meet for the world title in a match that never came about, the two will finally tangle with an Asian gold on the line.

Yazdani, the reigning world and Olympic champion, and Punia both won their semifinal matches at 86kg during the early session to set up the long-delayed clash when the six-day Asian Championships wrap up with five freestyle finals on Sunday night in Almaty.

"I have not wrestled for one and a half years and I thought I should test myself in a lighter competition," said Yazdani, who won the gold in his only other appearance at the Asian Championships in 2018. "This is just to check how my body is and if it is ready. Thankfully, it was great start from the first bout today."

Yazdani is one of three Iranians in the finals, along with 2020 bronze medalist Mostafa HOSSEINKHANI (IRI) at 74kg and Kamran GHASEMPOUR (IRI), who will aim to add the 92kg gold to the one he won at 86kg in 2019.

Host Kazakhstan, led by 2019 world silver medalist Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ) at 74kg, also has three finalists, while Uzbekistan, India, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan have one each.

Punia, the 2018 world junior silver medalist, caught the wrestling world's attention when he made an impressive run into the final at the 2019 World Championships in Nursultan, which also served as the initial qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics.

However, he conceded the gold to Yazdani after being forced to default the final due to a left ankle injury suffered in his opening match.

"Definitely I will wrestle in the final," Punia said. "I missed a chance to wrestle him before because I was injured. It is always good to wrestle a good wrestler and that, too, when you know that you can meet him in the Olympics."

In getting another shot at one of the premier wrestlers in the world today by making the final in Almaty, Punia will have to lift his game much higher than what he showed in the early session.

Punia, the bronze medalist a year ago in New Delhi, could only manage a pair of activity-clock points in defeating Gwanuk KIM (KOR) 2-0 in the semifinals. That came after struggling to edge Bakhodur KODIROV (TJK) 4-3 in the quarterfinals.

"My body is still recovering from the fatigue of travel," Punia said.

Yazdani, on the other hand, was never challenged in chalking up a pair of technical fall victories.

The Iranian, who last lost in the first round of the 2018 World Championships, advanced to the final with an 10-0 rout in 2:53 of a valiant but overmatched Mustafa AL OBAIDI (IRQ), methodically scoring four takedowns and adding a gut wrench after the final one.

Al Obaidi showed remarkable resilience in chalking up a wild 12-11 victory in the quarterfinals over Mirlan CHYNYBEKOV (KGZ). Al Obaidi, who fell behind after blowing an 8-2 lead, came through with a takedown with 7 seconds left for the win.

Like Yazdani, Ghasempour advanced to the 92kg final riding a pair of technical falls. In the semifinals, he built up a 9-0 lead in the first period against Rustam SHODIEV (UZB) before finishing him off with a takedown early in the second.

Standing in his way to the gold is 2020 bronze medalist Tsogtgerel MUNKHBAATAR (MGL), who scored a 4-point takedown with 30 seconds left to clinch a 7-2 win over Elkhan ASSADOV (KAZ) in the other semifinal.

A number of the most exciting bouts of the day came at 125kg, where the massive combatants dispelled the notion of their weight class being one of plodding affairs. Certainly not when one match has 33 points.

Aiaal LAZAREV (KGZ) prevented Iran from having a fourth finalist with a stunning victory by fall over Amin TAHERI (IRI), slamming his opponent to the mat after falling behind 6-0.

In the final, he will face Oleg BOLTIN (KAZ), who chalked up a 3-0 victory over Amirjon NUTFULLAEV (UZB), who certainly must wish he had saved some of the 30 points he had scored in his first two matches.

Lazarev, who missed out on earning a place at Tokyo Olympics at the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament held last week in the same venue, spotted 2018 world U-23 bronze medalist Taheri a 6-point lead when the Iranian scored a takedown and two gut wrenches.

But Lazarev coolly locked up an arm and the head in the standing position, then slammed a stunned Taheri to the mat, securing the fall at 2:43.

"I was waiting for his attacks but I tried to control and catch his movement for my attack," Lazarev said. "I will do my best in the final to display what I can do with my wrestling. The result will only be seen on the mat."

Boltin, a Japan national collegiate champion when he competed at Yamanashi Gakuin University, gained an activity point in the first period, then added a driving tackle for 2 in the second to defeat Nutfullaev.

"I am wrestling at home so I wanted to perform good and make everyone happy," Boltin said. "I am feeling very good before every bout."

Boltin's day was not without its drama. In the quarterfinals, he had a slim lead over Sumit MALIK (IND) in the dying seconds when the Indian had a leg and was nearing a takedown. But Boltin hit a desperate back roll and lift for 4 points and a 7-1 win.

"The second bout against Sumit was very difficult because he was very strong," said Boltin, who started his day by scoring a takedown with 8 seconds left to knock off 2020 silver medalist Khunderbulga DORJKHAND (MGL) 3-2 in his opening match.

But nothing compares to what Nutfallaev went through earlier. After rallying for an 11-6 victory over Taiki YAMAMOTO (JPN), the Uzbek got into a free-wheeling shootout with Rustam ISKANDARI (TJK).

Nufallaev came back from 8-1 down to go up 12-9 at one point, then finished up a 19-12 win with a takedown and two rolls.

"Yes, I am very tired," Nutfallaev said. "My opponents were very good. I have not trained too much and I know that I need a lot of training and improvements to win.

"I had prepared well for the Kazak wrestler, but Boltin was very good in the semifinals."

As 74kg, Kaipanov kept on track to add to his 2018 Asian gold when his two takedowns trumped the two stepouts by Sumiyabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL) in a 4-2 victory.

In the other semifinal, Hosseinkhani advanced with an 11-0 technical fall over Atamyrat CHARLYYEV (TKM) as he looks to make his fifth Asian medal the third gold of his career.

The 61kg final will be a clash between 2017 Asian junior champion Jahongirmirza TUROBOV (UZB) and Adlan ASKAROV (KAZ).

Turobov defeated Sunggwon KIM (KOR) 4-0, while Askarov came out a 7-4 winner over Ravinder DAHIYA (IND), a fellow silver medalist (in different weight classes) at the 2019 World U-23 Championships.

Day 6 Results Freestyle

Semifinals

61kg
Jahongirmirza TUROBOV (UZB) df. Sunggwon KIM (KOR), 4-0
Adlan ASKAROV (KAZ) df. Ravinder DAHIYA (IND), 7-4

74kg
Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ) df. Sumiyabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL), 4-2
Mostafa HOSSEINKHANI (IRI) df. Atamyrat CHARLYYEV (TKM) by TF, 11-0, 3:57

86kg
Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) df. Mustafa AL OBAIDI (IRQ) by TF, 10-0, 2:52
Deepak PUNIA (IND) df. Gwanuk KIM (KOR), 2-0

92kg
Tsogtgerel MUNKHBAATAR (MGL) df. Elkhan ASSADOV (KAZ), 7-2
Kamran GHASEMPOUR (IRI) df. Rustam SHODIEV (UZB) by TF, 10-0, 3:25

125kg
Aiaal LAZAREV (KGZ) df. Amin TAHERI (IRI) by Fall, 2:42 (4-6)
Oleg BOLTIN (KAZ) df. Amirjon NUTFULLAEV (UZB), 3-0

#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