#WrestleBaku, #WrestleParis

Sadulaev leads star-studded line-up for European OG Qualifier

By Vinay Siwach

BAKU, Azerbaijan (March 31) -- For the first time in his career, Abdulrashid SADULAEV (AIN) will participate in 'qualifiers' hoping to earn a spot for the Paris Olympics. His previous two appearances at the Olympics, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, came after winning the preceding World Championships in 2015 and 2019, respectively.

Sadulaev, if he qualifies, won't go to Paris as the world champion. Nor would he be the clear pick to win the gold. However, Sadulaev will be the favorite in Baku.

The two-time Olympic champion, who withdrew from his semifinal at the 2023 World Championships due to injury, is set to compete in the European OG Qualifiers in Baku from April 5 to 7, aiming to secure a Paris quota as an Individual Neutral Athlete in the 97kg category. This marks his return to competition following the World Championships and subsequent neck surgery.

The 97kg bracket includes some notable contenders aiming to secure quotas for Paris 2024 including Vlagyiszlav BAJCAJEV (HUN), who clinched a bronze medal at the European Championships, veteran Magomedgadji NUROV (MKD), Radoslaw BARAN (POL), and Tokyo Olympian Aliaksandr HUSHTYN (AIN).

Sadulaev is expected to be seeded second, barring any last-minute changes to the entries, while Erik THIELE (GER) is set to receive the top seed, placing him separate from Sadulaev. As a result, Bajcajev is likely to be the third seed, and if the seeds hold, he will meet Sadulaev in the semifinal, with the winner securing the Paris 2024 spot.

Baran is slated to be the fourth seed, positioning him in the top half of the bracket. Hushtyn, Nurov, Radu LEFTER (MDA), and Benjamin HONIS (HUN) will be drawn randomly.

Despite the time away from international competition and being in unfamiliar territory, Sadulaev will look to leave no doubt that he remains an unbeaten force.

Haji ALIYEV (AZE)Haji ALIYEV (AZE) wrestling at the World Championships where he lost in the quarterfinal. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Another wrestler hoping to earn a Paris 2024 spot is two-time Olympic medalist Haji ALIYEV (AZE). When he last competed at a European qualifier, Aliyev had a relatively straightforward path to the final, securing his qualification for the Tokyo Olympics. However, this year may present different challenges.

Aliyev will have to tackle a lot, both on and off the mat, to qualify for his third Olympics. He will be dealing with some additional pressure of leading a formidable Azerbaijan team looking to qualify in five Olympic weight classes in Baku.

The 65kg bracket in Baku will feature the latest European champion, Islam DUDAEV (ALB), European silver medalist Mikyay NAIM (BUL), former European bronze medalist Erik ARUSHANIAN (UKR), and 2024 European bronze medalist Andre CLARKE (GER), among others.

Dudaev won the gold in February after beating Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (AIN) in the final, throwing his name in the mix to earn a Paris Olympic quota in Baku.

Aliyev will be seeded number three with Maxim SCULTAN (MDA) taking the top seed, Joshua FINESILVER (ISR) at number two and Nino LEUTERT (SUI) at number four.

The weight cut for Aliyev will also be a challenge. Since the Tokyo Olympics, he has participated in six United World Wrestling competitions, wrestling at 70kg in three of them. The Baku tournament will also mark his first competition since the World Championships in September last year, where he exited after suffering a loss to Vazgen TEVANYAN (ARM) in the quarterfinals.

Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE)Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE) is looking to qualify Azerbaijan at 57kg. (Photo: United World Wrestling)

Joining Aliyev in the Azerbaijan team are Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE) at 57kg, Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE) at 74kg, Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE) at 86kg and Giorgi MESHVILDISHVILI (AZE) at 125kg.

Rzazade failed to move past the Round of 16 at the World Championships and even lost his cool in that bout. But with Stevan MICIC (SRB), Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM), Zelimkhan ABAKAROV (ALB) and Zavur UGUEV (AIN) already earning a spot from the World Championships, the European field does offer a huge opportunity for Rzazade.

He will be seeded fourth in a bracket that also has Tokyo Olympian Georgi VANGELOV (BUL), Horst LEHR (GER), Robert DINGASHVILI (GEO), Simone PIRODDU (ITA),  Vladimir EGOROV (MKD), Suleyman ATLI (TUR) and Kamil KERYMOV (UKR).

Atli and Egorov, former European champions, will be drawn randomly while Vangelov will be seeded number three after Lehr, who is number two.

Artur NAIFONOV (AIN)Artur NAIFONOV (AIN) is returning since the 2021 World Championships. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 86kg, Nurmagomedov will have to repeat his heroics from the 92kg weight class that saw him become a world silver medalist and European champion. Azerbaijan will hope that Nurmagomedov can finish the job in Baku and not leave things to the final qualifiers in Istanbul in May.

But it won't be easy as Tokyo bronze medalist Artur NAIFONOV (AIN) returns for his first competition in three years. He will be among the contenders to claim one of the two spots. A few familiar opponents will greet Naifonov as Magomed RAMAZANOV (BUL) will turn up for Bulgaria while Dauren KURUGLIEV (GRE) will turn up for Greece.

Naifonov last wrestled at the World Championships in Oslo in 2021, winning a bronze medal. He will now be in Baku to earn the 86kg spot as an Individual Neutral Athlete.

Kurugliev won the European Championships in February and will start among the favorites to win one of the two spots in Baku. But he has to look out for Naifonov who will be drawn at random in the bracket.

The top seed will be European bronze medalist Osman GOCEN (TUR) who impressed at the European Championships. He will followed by Ramazanov as the second seed and Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA) as the third seed. Kurguliev will be fourth, putting him on the same side as Gocen.

Two-time World Championships medalist Vladimeri GAMKRELIDZE (GEO) at 79kg has entered 86kg since the start of the year with hopes of qualifying Georgia. Former world medalists Boris MAKOEV (SVK) and Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR) are expected to surprise the field.  

The 125kg can throw a few close match-ups with little to predict. European bronze medalists Meshvildishvili and Alen KHUBULOV (BUL) will look to seize this opportunity and earn Paris spots. Joining them is Dzianis KHRAMIANKOU (AIN) who finished fifth in Bucharest, former Euro medalist Daniel LIGETI (HUN), Tokyo Olympian Abraham CONYEDO (ITA) and Oleksandr KHOTSIANIVSKYI (UKR).

Ligeti was a win away from getting the spot at the World Championships but he has another chance in Baku. He will be the top seed followed by Meshvildishvili at number two. Khotsianivskyi will be at number three and Khramiankou at number four.

Mahamedkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (AIN)Mahamedkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (AIN) is a silver medalist in the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

74kg minefield

Perhaps the most unpredictable weight class in the world right now. A host of Olympic and World Championships medalists will make their way to Baku to earn Paris 2024 quotas. But many will leave without one.

Tokyo silver medalist Mahamedkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (AIN), who exited the World Championships after a first-round loss, has some forgetful memories of a European qualifier as he suffered a heartbreaking 4-4 loss four years ago.

However, a European Championships silver medal in February will boost Kadzimahamedau's confidence as he heads to Baku unseeded.

Bayramov, who came agonizingly close to winning a Paris spot in Belgrade before being cautioned out, will lead the Azerbaijan challenge as the top seed. He finished with a bronze medal at the European Championships after dropping his semifinal against Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK).

Both will be separated in Baku as Salkazanov is seeded second and will be on the other side of the bracket. However, he will be drawn with Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR),  the third seed, and if the seeds hold, both will meet in the semifinals. The two wrestled in the European Championships final and Salkazanov won 5-0.

Murad KURAMAGOMEDOV (HUN) will be the fourth seed for the competition which leaves Frank CHAMIZO (ITA) and Avtandil KENTCHADZE (GEO) unseeded. They will be roaring after missing out on medals at the World Championships. Chamizo even spent 10 days in Tokyo to prepare for the qualifiers. (Yes, the video if you keep scrolling).

Out of the 22 wrestlers entered at 74kg, only two can earn the spots for the Paris Games. The others will have to give it another shot in Istanbul in May.

#WrestleBaku, #WrestleParis

Aliyev leads as Azerbaijan wins six Paris 2024 quota at European qualifier

By Vinay Siwach

BAKU, Azerbaijan (April 7) -- Haji ALIYEV (AZE) on the mat in front of a packed stadium in Baku for an Olympic spot. The fans cheered every time he scored. It only got louder as he inched towards victory. As the final whistle blew, Aliyev stretched his arms and fell on the mat even as the National Gymnastics Arena in Baku was defeaning.

Two-time Olympic medalist Aliyev, 32, qualified Azerbaijan for the Paris Olympics at 65kg with an entertaining 6-4 victory over European champion Islan DUDAEV (ALB). Aliyev was back.

Since winning the silver medal in the Tokyo Olympics, Aliyev has not dominated the 65kg weight class. He finished fifth at the 2022 World Championships and eighth at the 2023 edition.

Azerbaijan was losing confidence in its star as the Paris Olympics came closer with it still to earning a qualification. Aliyev was under pressure and his conditioning was being questioned. And a few youngsters were knocking on the door.

Yet, Aliyev entered the European OG Qualifier in Baku as the favorite. In front of the home crowd and as the captain of the Azerbaijan Freestyle team, Aliyev had to deliver.

After seeing off Khamzat ARSAMERZOUEV (FRA) and Niurgun SKRIABIN (AIN), Aliyev faced Dudaev for Paris qualification. Dudaev won the European Championships in Bucharest in February after defeating Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (AIN).

He threatened to beat Aliyev, leading 3-0 at the break. But Aliyev managed to get on a single leg and score a takedown to close the gap to 3-2. He again hit the same shot and got a takedown before using the lace to make it 6-3. Dudaev tried hard but Aliyev was too good with his defense and only gave up a stepout for one up.

Azerbaijan will most likely give Aliyev the spot in Paris 2024, his third in his career. Aliyev will be looking to win his third Olympic medal after a bronze medal in Rio 2016 and a silver in Tokyo 2020.

The second Paris 2024 quota at 65kg was won by Goderdzi DZEBISASHVILI (GEO) who defeated Maxim SACULTAN (MDA), 2-1, in the other semifinal. The two wrestlers exchanged passivity but Sacultan was put on the activity clock in the second period, giving Dzebisashvili the criteria win. 

Aliyev's win was one of the five that Azerbaijan had to become the first country to win all six Freestyle Olympic quotas. Apart from Aliyev, Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE), Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE), Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE), Giorgi MESHVILDISHVILI (AZE) earned quotas.

Rzazade seemed in a hurry to be off the mat as he opened the scoring against former European champion Vladimir EGOROV (MKD). He kicked off the bout with a stunning ankle pick for a takedown in the first five seconds of the bout and tried to soak in the Baku pressure by pacing around the mat as Egorov took time to return to the center.

In the second period, Rzazade scored a stepout when Egorov was on the activity clock, giving Rzazade a 4-0 lead. Egorov scored a takedown and was given one more point for Rzazade's fleeing at the end but the Azerbaijan wrestler won 4-3 to win the quota at 57kg.

Former world bronze medalist Aryan TSIUTRYN (AIN) defeated Tokyo Olympian Georgi VANGELOV (BUL), 7-3, in a one-sided semifinal to earn the second quota at 57kg.

At 86kg, Nurmagomedov showed his skills to beat Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR), 4-1, to earn a qualification. He also defeated Ramazan RAMAZANOV (BUL) in the quarterfinals.

Wrestling internationally for the first time since 2021, Olympic and world bronze medalist Artur NAIFONOV (AIN) confirmed his Paris 2024 spot after a gritty 4-0 win over Vladimeri GAMKRELIDZE (GEO). In the quarterfinal, Naifonov held off European champion Dauren KURUGLIEV (GRE) 2-1.

Giorgi MESHVILDISHVILI (AZE) confirmed the qualification at 125kg after he defeated Alen KHUBULOV (BUL), 7-0. The other qualification went to Dzianis KHRAMIANKOU (AIN) who defeated Kamil KOSCIOLEK (POL), 9-2.

A last-minute replacement for Abdulrashid SADULAEV (IND), Alikhan ZHABRAILOV (AIN) still got the job done of qualifying after he defeated Illia ARCHAIA (UKR), 11-0 to earn the Paris 2024 quota.

The second spot at 97kg was won by Aliaksandr HUSHTYN (AIN) after his opponent Radoslaw BARAN (POL) pulled out due to an injury he suffered in the quarterfinal.

At 74kg, Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE) did let the ghost of past affect him as he held on to a 8-8 win over Frank CHAMIZO (ITA) in a thrilling bout.

Chamizo trailed 8-6 but got awarded two caution points and almost scored a takedown which was reverted on challenge and Bayramov got a criteria win and an Olympic quota.

Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Magomedkhabib KADIMAGOMEDOV (AIN) held on to a 3-2 win over European champion Taimuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) to win the quota. All five points were technical points.




57kg Paris Qualification Bouts
SF 1: Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE) df. Vladimir EGOROV (MKD), 4-3
SF 2: Aryan TSIUTRYN (AIN) df. Georgi VANGELOV (BUL), 7-3

65kg Paris Qualification Bouts
SF 1: Goderdzi DZEBISASHVILI (GEO) df. Maxim SACULTAN (MDA), 2-1
SF 2: Haji ALIYEV (AZE) df. Islam DUDAEV (ALB), 6-4

74kg Paris Qualification Bouts
SF 1: Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE) df. Frank CHAMIZO (ITA), 8-8
SF 2: Magomedkhabib KADIMAGOMEDOV (AIN) df. Taimuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK), 3-2

86kg Paris Qualification Bouts
SF 1: Artur NAIFONOV (AIN) df. Vladimeri GAMKRELIDZE (GEO), 4-0
SF 2: Osman NURMAGOMEDOV (AZE) df. Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR), 4-1 

97kg Paris Qualification Bouts
SF 1: Alikhan ZHABRAILOV (AIN) df. Illia ARCHAIA (UKR), 11-0
SF 2: Aliaksandr HUSHTYN (AIN) df. Radoslaw BARAN (POL), via inj. def.

125kg Paris Qualification Bouts
SF 1: Dzianis KHRAMIANKOU (AIN) df. Kamil KOSCIOLEK (POL), 9-2