With all due respect to the revamped formats international wrestling organizers trot out every couple of years, mixed martial arts is the best and worst thing to happen to wrestling in the past decade. Hard-core MMA fans have expanded their combat-sport interests to the more traditional mat-and-singlet sport, and the possibility that today’s U.S. champion could be tomorrow’s UFC champion doesn’t hurt the interest level.
On the flip side, the sport’s top talents may decide that learning to punch someone and get paid beats toiling in international tournaments in the former Eastern Bloc for a shot at the Olympics. That trend is extending to women’s wrestling as well, with 2004 silver medalist Sara McMann now plowing through the women’s MMA ranks. Some people, like Joe Warren, will try to balance MMA with a run at London.
But that migration is happening mostly in the Western world. This sport is still huge in Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan and elsewhere in the Eastern Europe/Central Asia range. In women’s wrestling, which merges the seven World Championship weight classes down to four in the Olympics, add Japan and Canada.
This is another combat sport with two bronze medals per class. And World Championships every year — last September in Moscow, this September in Istanbul.
Unfortunately, FILA basically doesn’t compile rankings based on any other competitions. Think I’m deterred by any of that? Nah. Here’s what we’ll do: Take the 2010 World Championships previews at USA Wrestling’s lively site, TheMat.com, which compile plenty of information from the past several years. Then check the 2010 results.
55kg: Russia’s Victor Lebedev moved up from bronze to gold in 2010. The two wild cards here are North Korea’s Yang Kyong-Il, the 2009 champion but a no-show in 2010, and gold medalist Henry Cejudo, who has taken time off but plans to return. Japan’s Yasuhiro Inaba won the 2010 Asian title and was third at Worlds behind Lebedev and Azerbaijan’s Togrul Asgarov. The other 2010 medalist was Cuba’s Frank Chamizo.
2008: Henry Cejudo (USA), Tomohiro Matsunaga (Japan), Besik Kudukhov (Russia), Radoslav Velikov (Bulgaria)
Projection: Russia, USA, Japan, Azerbaijan
Top Americans: In Cejudo’s absence, Obe Blanc ranked 10th at Worlds.
60kg: Three of four 2009 medalists repeated in 2010, including champion Besik Kudukhov of Russia. Ukraine’s Vasyl Fedoryshyn has vacillated (sorry) between silver and bronze over the past three World and Olympic events. Azerbaijan’s Zalimkhan Huseinov has moved up from fifth in 2008 to silver in 2009 and bronze in 2010. The other 2010 bronze medalist also is no stranger to the podium — Iran’s Seyed Morad Mohammadi won the 2006 world title and Olympic bronze in 2008. Falling off the podium from 2009 to 2010 was Uzbekistan’s Dilshod Mansurov.
2008: Mavlet Batirov (Russia), Vasyl Fedoryshyn (Ukraine), Seyed Morad Mohammadi (Iran), Kenichi Yumoto (Japan)
Projection: Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Iran
Top Americans: Mike Zadick took silver in 2006 but hasn’t been in the top 10 since.
66kg: Russia has taken second in this class at two straight World Championships with two different wrestlers. India’s Sushil Kumar bounced around the top five — bronze in 2008, fifth in 2009 — before taking the world title last year. Azerbaijan’s Jabrayli Hasanov took the European title and World bronze last year. Cuba’s Geandry Garzon has medaled in four of the last five Worlds and was fifth in Beijing.
2008: Ramazan Şahin (Turkey), Andriy Stadnik (Ukraine), Sushil Kumar (India), Otar Tushishvili (Georgia)
Projection: Russia, India, Azerbaijan, Cuba
Top Americans: Brent Metcalf was a disappointing 20th at Worlds.
74kg: All Russia, with Denis Tsargush taking over from the decorated Bouvaisa Saitiev and winning two straight world titles. Iran’s Sadegh Goudarzi has taken bronze and silver in the last two Worlds. The 2010 bronze medalists were the relatively unheralded Abdulhakim Shapiev (Kazakhstan) and Gabor Hatos (Hungary). Bulgaria’s Kiril Terziev, who took bronze in 2008, was seventh at Worlds.
2008: Bouvaisa Saitiev (Russia), Soslan Tigiev (Uzbekistan), Murad Gaidarov (Belarus), Kiril Terziev (Bulgaria)
Projection: Russia, Iran, Hungary, Bulgaria
Top Americans: Travis Paulson couldn’t make any headway at Worlds. This was Ben Askren’s weight class before his departure for MMA.
84kg: Bulgaria’s Michail Ganev had been bubbling under the podium for a while before dethroning Uzbekistan’s Zaurbek Sokhiev in last year’s final. Sokhiev didn’t medal at the Olympics but had taken bronze in 2006 and 2007 in addition to his 2009 title. The bronze medalists were Russia’s Soslan Ktsoev (the European champion) and Cuba’s Reineri Salas. Ukraine’s Ibragim Aldatov slipped from third to fifth in 2010.
2008: Revaz Mindorashvili (Georgia), Yusup Abdusalomov (Tajikistan), Taras Danko (Ukraine), Georgy Ketoyev (Russia)
Projection: Uzbekistan, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine
Top Americans: Jake Herbert had a rough time at Worlds but has had some success in this class, where “King” Mo Lawal once roamed.
96kg: Azerbaijan’s Khetag Gazyumov completed the progression from bronze (2008) to silver (2009) to gold, ending a long run for Russia atop the weight class. In the final, he beat four-time world champion and 2004 Olympic champion Khadshimourad Gatsalov, who did not compete in 2008 while his countryman Shirvani Muradov won gold. Georgia’s Georgi Gogchelidze has bronze in three straight competitions. Alexei Krupniakov of Kyrgyzstan took the other bronze in 2010 after some quarterfinal appearances in the past.
2008: Shirvani Muradov (Russia), Taimuraz Tigiyev (Kazakhstan), Georgi Gogshelidze (Georgia), Khetag Gazyumov (Azerbaijan)
Projection: Azerbaijan, Russia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan
Top Americans: Jake Varner was ninth in 2009; J.D. Bergman 10th in 2010.
120kg: Another class in which Russia has a multiple-time world champion (Beylal Makhov) missed the 2008 Games. He beat 2008 gold medalist Artur Taymazov (Uzbekistan) in the 2010 final. Greece’s Ioannis Arzoumanidis has taken bronze twice in a row. Georgia has had a couple of different wrestlers in the mix, and Iran’s Fardin Masoumi has the 2009 silver along with some quarterfinal performances.
2008: Artur Taymazov (Uzbekistan), Bakhtiyar Akhmedov (Russia), David Musulbes (Slovakia), Marid Mutalimov (Kazahkstan)
Projection: Russia, Uzbekistan, Greece, Iran
Top Americans: Tervel Dlagnev took bronze in 2009. Les Sigman beat him to earn a spot on the 2010 team and placed ninth.
48kg: We’ll make a potentially dangerous assumption here — this weight class is so stacked that few 51kg wrestlers will make the effort to cut weight and wrestle in this class. Azerbaijan’s Mariya Stadnik added a 2009 world title to her 2008 bronze, and Olympic champion Carol Huynh (Canada) returned from a year off to take bronze in 2010. And yet they were upstaged in 2010 by Japan’s Hitomi Sakamoto, who had retired after winning six world titles at 51kg but returned to make a run at the Olympics at 48kg. She beat European champion Lorisa Oorzhak (Russia) for the title. China’s Shasha Zhao took the other bronze, while Britain has a contender in quarterfinalist Yana Stadnik.
2008: Carol Huynh (Canada), Chiharu Icho (Japan), Mariya Stadnik (Azerbaijan), Irina Merleni (Ukraine)
Projection: Japan, Canada, Azerbaijan, Russia
Top Americans: Clarissa Chun won the 2008 world title (yes, a separate competition was held) and placed fifth in the Olympics, but Alyssa Lampe took her spot in 2010 without making an impact at Worlds.
55kg: Now we have two weight classes to deal with — 51 and 55. The 51kg contenders are Sofia Mattsson (Sweden) and Aleksandra Kohut (Ukraine), who traded gold and bronze in the past two Worlds. Two different Japanese wrestlers also medaled at 51, but they’ll never qualify at 55 ahead of the legendary Saori Yoshida, who has dominated the 55kg class for the better part of a decade. Azerbaijan threw two different wrestlers at her in the past two Worlds, each taking silver. North America counters with 2008/2009 bronze medalist Tonya Verbeek (Canada) and 2010 bronze medalist Tatiana Padilla (USA).
2008: Saori Yoshida (Japan), Xu Li (China), Tonya Verbeek (Canada), Jackeline Renteria (Colombia)
Projection: Japan, Azerbaijan, USA, Canada
Top Americans: See above for Padilla. Jessica Medina was ninth at 51.
63kg: No dominant wrestler at 59kg — Soronzonbold Battsetseg (Mongolia) won the 2010 world title ahead of China’s Zhang Lan, who won the 2010 Junior Worlds and could be poised to move up. Japan’s four-time world champ Ayako Shoda shared bronze with 2009 Euro champion Johanna Mattsson (Sweden). Canada’s Tonya Verbeek, moving up from 55kg, shared fifth with American Kelsey Campbell. But Shoda, Campbell and Mattsson might have a hard time qualifying at this weight class ahead of 2010 world medalists Kaori Icho, Elena Pirozhkova and Hanna Johansson. Icho has two Olympic golds and five world titles; countrywoman Mio Nishimaki took the titles when Icho took a post-Olympic break. Russia’s Lubov Volosova has medaled in the last three Worlds.
2008: Kaori Icho (Japan), Alena Kartoshova (Russia), Yelena Shalygina (Kazakhstan), Randi Miller (USA)
Projection: Japan, USA, Sweden, China
Top Americans: Russian-born Pirozkhova’s silver medal was a good follow-up to two top-10 finishes at Worlds. Sara McMann wrestled here before jumping into the cage.
72kg: Canada’s Martine Dugrenier owns the 67kg class, winning three straight world titles. Nigeria’s Ifeoma Inenacho has two straight bronze. At 72kg, Bulgaria’s Stanka Zlateva has won four of the last five Worlds along with the 2009 bronze and Olympic silver. Canada’s Ohenewa Akuffo has two medals from the last three Worlds. Russia has stiff competition just to make the team, and Ekaterina Bukina took bronze in 2010. China also has depth here. Japan’s Kyoko Hamaguchi won five world titles from 1997 to 2003 and keeps making the podium, taking bronze in 2010.
2008: Wang Jiao (China), Stanka Zlateva (Bulgaria), Kyoko Hamaguchi (Japan), Agnieszka Wieszczek (Poland)
Projection: Bulgaria, Canada, Russia, China
Top Americans: Kristie Davis (formerly Marano) has nine World Championship medals. The bad news is that they’re mostly at 67kg, and she struggled at 2010 Worlds. Stephanie Lee reached the 2010 quarterfinals, while Ali Bernard was fifth in the 2008 Games.
55kg: Hamid Sorian Reinhanpour (Iran) is one of those perennial world championships who disappointed in Beijing. He took the 2010 world title ahead of Asian champion Choi Gyu-Jim (South Korea), 2008 gold medalist Nazyr Mankiev (Russia) and 2008 bronze medalist Roman Amoya (Armenia). Fifth place was shared by two European bronze medalists — Peter Modos (Hungary) and Vugar Ragimov (Ukraine). European champion Elchin Aliev (Azerbaijan) was ninth. Basically, we have a lot of consistent performers here, making an outright shock unlikely but making it tough to pick from a few elite guys.
2008: Nazyr Mankiev (Russia), Rovshan Bayramov (Azerbaijan), Park Eun-Chul (South Korea), Roman Amoyan (Armenia)
Projection: Iran, Russia, South Korea, Azerbaijan
Top Americans: Spenser Mango had a disappointing run in the 2010 Worlds but has had some top 10s in big competitions and a strong junior record.
60kg: In case you haven’t noticed yet, Azerbaijan is pretty good at wrestling. Vitaly Rahimov has moved up, and 2009 European champion Hasan Aliev stepped up to win the 2009 European and 2010 World titles. Ryutaro Matsumoto (Japan) was a slightly surprising 2010 silver medalist. Kazakhstan and South Korea shook up their rosters and took 2010 bronze medals anyway. Not sure what happened to teen phenom Islam-Beka Albiev after his gold medal in 2008.
2008: Islam-Beka Albiev (Russia), Vitaly Rahimov (Azerbaijan), Nurbakyt Tengizbayev (Kazakhstan), Ruslan Tumenbaev (Kyrgyzstan)
Projection: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Japan, South Korea
Top Americans: Jeremiah Davis qualified for Worlds and won the first period of his bout with former world champion Dilshod Aripov but lost the next two.
66kg: European champion Ambako Vachade (Russia) won the 2010 world title ahead of 2008 bronze medalist Armen Vardanyan (Ukraine), Turkey’s Vasif Arzimanov and the aforementioned Vitaly Rahimov (Azerbaijan). France’s Steeve Guenot, the 2008 gold medalist and copy desk nightmare, shared fifth with Hungary’s Tamas Loerincz.
2008: Steeve Guenot (France), Kanatbek Begaliev (Kyrgyzstan), Armen Vardanyan (Ukraine), Mikhail Siamionau (Belarus)
Projection: Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, France
Top Americans: Faruk Sahin was 11th at Worlds.
74kg: Turkey’s Selcuk Cebi has won two straight world titles. Armenia’s Arsen Julfalakyan took silver as one of several good performances in 2010. The class has had some turnover beyond those two — Russia’s Imil Sharafetdinov and Kyrgyzstan’s Daniar Kobonov shared bronze ahead of yet another wrestler from Azerbaijan, Rafig Huseynov.
2008: Manuchar Kvirkelia (Georgia), Chang Yongxiang (China), Yavor Yanakiev (Bulgaria), Christophe Guenot (France)
Projection: Turkey, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan
Top Americans: Jake Fisher was introduced to World Championship competition in 2010.
84kg: Bulgaria’s Hristo Marinov came from nowhere to win the world title. Cuba’s Pablo Shorey was a little less surprising runner-up, having taken bronze the year before. Russian veteran Alexei Mishin shared bronze with Croatia’s Nenad Zugaj. 2009 champion Nazmi Avluca (Turkey) shared fifth with Poland’s Damian Janikowski.
2008: Andrea Minguzzi (Italy), Zoltán Fodor (Hungary), Nazmi Avluca (Turkey), vacant (Sweden’s Ara Abrahamian tossed the medal aside soon after its presentation and was officially stripped of it for disrupting the medal ceremony)
Projection: Cuba, Turkey, Russia, Bulgaria
Top Americans: Jacob Clark ranked 11th at Worlds.
96kg: Amir Ali Akbari (Iran) moved up from bronze to gold in 2010. Timofej Dzeynichenko (Belarus) was second at Euros and Worlds. Sweden’s Jimmy Lidberg has a silver and bronze from the last two Worlds, while 2008 gold medalist Aslanbek Khushtov (Russia) has bronze in the last two.
2008: Aslanbek Khushtov (Russia), Mirko Englich (Germany), Adam Wheeler (USA), Asset Mambetov (Kazakhstan)
Projection: Iran, Belarus, Sweden, Russia
Top Americans: Justin Ruiz is a legit contender, holding a bronze from 2005 and a fifth-place finish in 2010.
120kg: Cuba’s Mijian Lopez is simply the best — 2008 Olympic gold, world titles in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010, plus a silver in 2006. Armenia’s Yuri Patrikeyev added world silver last year to his 2008 Olympic bronze. Riza Kayaalp (Turkey) has two straight bronze medals, sharing the 2010 prize with Nurmakhan Tinaliev (Kazakhstan). Veterans abound in this class — former world and Olympic champion Khassan Baroev (Russia) was seventh at Worlds, and former world champion and Rulon Gardner training partner Dremiel Byers (USA) was fifth.
2008: Mijain Lopez (Cuba), Khasan Baroyev (Russia), Mindaugas Mizgaitis (Lithuania), Yuri Patrikeyev (Armenia)
Projection: Cuba, Armenia, Turkey, USA
Top Americans: Byers is gearing up for that elusive Olympic medal.