Three stars are missing from a bracket that in recent years, was one of the deepest in the sport. Up in weight are two-time World and Olympic Champion Roman Vlasov (RUS, world no. 1) and 2016 Rio runner-up Mark Madsen (DEN, world no. 10), and two-time World bronze medalist Andy Bisek (Minnesota Storm) is now coaching at Northern Michigan University. There’s little argument that the absence of those three wrestlers means the depth at 75 kilograms is reduced, but it’s not exactly a barren landscape, either. Kim Hyeon-woo (KOR, world no. 1) is still around, as is Saied Abdvali (IRI, world no. 2), and both lead the way for a bracket that is welcoming in some talented up-and-comers along with a few familiar faces who have jumped up in weight class themselves.
For the Americans, it is young Mr. Mason Manville (Army/WCAP) who gets the call, having come off an incredible run at the 2017 US World Team Trials this past April. Manville, 20, brings a different approach compared to most, if not all of the competitors here. As a wrestler who doesn’t shy away from all three styles, he will try to implement his own hybrid attack that is reliant on movement, transitions, and bullish contact geared towards opening up scoring opportunities. His assignment won’t be easy, but it’s the one he has chosen to accept. Manville may be known for his all-around gifts, but it’s his ability to focus on the task at hand that will be his greatest asset as he pounds away towards World glory.
2017 Greco-Roman World Championships: 75 kg
Kim Hyeon-woo — KOR, world no. 1 (2012 Olympic gold medalist, 2013 World Champion, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, five-time Asian Championships gold medalist, 2006 Junior World silver medalist)
The #1 seed, Kim owns one of the most impressive resumes here as well as a litany of gigantic wins in the most critical moments imaginable. That’s quite the gun to have in one’s holster. He’s 28, too, so he is right in his prime. However, Kim hasn’t been in an international event since Rio, when he was on the wrong end of a perceived hose job towards the end of his round-of-16 bout with Vlasov. No matter, Kim still went on to earn bronze. He has the fastest arm throw maybe out of everyone in the entire tournament, so that’s another plus. Kim also sustains a nearly-unrivaled pace and never, ever stops moving. At this stage of his career, a lack of matches leading up probably doesn’t mean a whole lot. If Kim can avoid an early slip-up, he’ll be in position to add to his medal collection.
Saied Abdvali — IRI, world no. 2 (2011 World Champion, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, two-time Junior World bronze medalist, 2013 World Military Championships gold medalist, 2010 Asian Games gold medalist)
You’ve really got to hand it to Abdvali. Like Kim, Abdvali lost early on in Rio (by a heartbreaking 1-1 criteria decision to eventual silver Madsen) and fought back for third. He took a break following the Olympics and returned for the 2017 World Cup this past March, where he and Vlasov put on one of the more memorable matches of the event. Basically, Abdvali went off-script and just started brawling his head off. He’s a physical wrestler anyway, but he lost his cool and it was as terrific as it sounds, in case you didn’t see it. Some of the wrestlers here who have moved up in weight will have trouble dealing with Abdvali in the pummel. It’s here where he makes his money and just as soon as opponents think he’s taking his foot off the gas, there he is, in on a lift. None of this makes him a lockdown favorite necessarily, but let’s not fool ourselves, either. Abdvali is a monster.
Tamas Lorincz — HUN, world no. 4 (2012 Olympic silver medalist, 2015 World bronze medalist, 2006 Junior World bronze medalist, three-time European Championships gold medalist, 2017 European Championships bronze medalist, two-time Hungarian Grand Prix gold medalist)
30-year-old Lorincz isn’t too long in the tooth to still get the job done. He had a close call with Gela Bolkvadze (GEO) at the Euros before being turned back by eventual champ Tarek Abdelslam (see below) in the semis. Lorincz then wound up earning a bronze in Serbia and rang in with another one a month later at the Tbilisi Grand Prix. Lorincz committed to 75 kilograms in back in March at his home tournament, the Hungarian Grand Prix. where he defeated Kazbek Kilov (also listed below) in a tight match that saw Kilov actually turn on the heat in spurts, bothering Lorincz’s smooth rhythm just a bit. The jump in weight didn’t seem to be too much of an issue for Lorincz then and the same can be said of his performances after that. But in Paris, everyone is going to be in peak condition, so it’ll be interesting to see how he holds up against some of the naturally bigger guys who are more used to what life is like here.
Viktor Nemes — SRB, world no. 8 (2015 U23 European Championships gold medalist, 2015 FILA Grand Prix gold medalist, 2016 European Championships silver medalist)
Nemes is probably not looked at as a big-time contender right now, but that might be a mistake. He’s a very good worker, has an excellent lift, and he has also performed well against some of the bigger names in this weight class. What holds Nemes back is that sometimes, he is inconsistent with his attack. He either keeps a good tempo throughout an entire match or turns it on early and fades late. That has hurt him with the current rule-set, because he can’t just take a breath, re-set, and then go on the offensive. He has to stay plugged in the entire time. An early exit at the Euros could have been taken as a bad sign, but Nemes rebounded very well in the summer with tournament victories in both Serbia and Romania.
Aleksander Chekhirkin — RUS, world no. 6 (2014 European Championships gold medalist, two-time Wladyslaw Pytlasinski Cup gold medalist, 2017 Russian Nationals gold medalist)
Can Chekhirkin win a World gold medal? Is he ready to? Russia lost its seed placement here with Vlasov moving up to 80, which means Chekhirkin will not be done any favors in the draw. But that doesn’t exclude him from being a name to pay attention to. What you find with Chekhirkin is a fiery approach that can win a lot of those grueling battles in the ties. This is a wrestler who is willing to positively exhaust himself in the early phases of a match just to get to one position he likes. Opponents usually can’t stand up to that brand of pressure for an entire six-minute bout so by the middle of the second period, Chekhirkin is usually able to take command. Even though he won the Russian Nationals, it wasn’t some mind-blowing performance. Chekhirkin looked decidedly tougher winning the Pylasinski Cup last month where he emerged through a challenging bracket to take out Kilov in the finals.
Tarek Abdelslam — BUL, world no. 3 (2013 Junior World bronze medalist, 2015 All African Games gold medalist, 2017 European Championships gold medalist)
There were several names most would have picked to win the 2017 Euros and it’s doubtful Abdelslam was one of them. That isn’t a slight — he’s a fine wrestler. But in a bracket that included Lorinz, Nemes, and the man who Abdelslam defeated in the finals, 2014 Senior World Champion Chingiz Labazanov (RUS, world no. 7), the Bulgarian’s win came as somewhat of a surprise. But something is going on with Abdelslam currently. Maybe momentum is on his side. When you watch him go to work, it’s not as if so much jumps out at you. That might be his greatest weapon, though. Originally a competitor for Egypt, Abdelslam (full name, Tarek Mohamed Abdelslam Sheble Mohamed) demonstrated a workmanlike approach at the European Championships, constantly moving his feet, staying loose, staying aggressive, and pouncing on points when opportunities presented themselves. That’s a solid formula to stick with given the current rule-set.
Kazbek Kilov — BLR, world no. 5 (2012 Junior World Champion, 2017 European Championships bronze medalist, 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix silver medalist, 2015 U23 European Championships silver medalist)
Maybe the strongest competitor in the division, Kilov brings an element of both power and patience to his matches. At times, there might be a little too much patience, making him come off like a plodder. He’ll go wrist-to-wrist, half-heartedly engage in whatever garden variety tie-up, hang his head… But he gets away with all of this for two main reasons: 1) Kilov is frighteningly-effective at snapping guys down. So even if he’s sort of playing possum with a collar-tie, opponents are actually in very real danger of being violently whipped to the mat face-first; 2) If he gets his arms around the body, that’s it. Kilov has a vice-grip bodylock that once secured, gives him a multitude of finishes. He can lift and arch, twist it, sag it down, or simply drive forward and plant people on their backs. Kilov can wear down a little later on in matches, but that’s hardly a unique problem. He might not be a winner in Paris, but you’ll like watching him.
TEAM USA: Mason Manville (2015 Grand Prix Zagreb Open bronze medalist, 2014 Youth Olympic Games silver medalist)
Following an extremely impressive high school folkstyle and age-group career, Manville bucked convention. Rather than immediately enrolling at one of the many Division I schools which had expressed interest, he instead set his sights on Senior Greco-Roman competition. What’s interesting is that Manville doesn’t get enough credit for this fact. US Greco-Roman coaches and fans always point to how the program needs more talented “blue chip” prospects and if Manville is anything, it is that. However, it wasn’t smooth sailing for the wrestler in the early going. Predictably, Manville struggled with some of the more rugged Seniors and it was all he could do to stay afloat in marquee domestic events.
But because he is an extraordinarily bright individual and possesses incredible natural wrestling ability, it didn’t take too long before he started to figure things out a little. The first sign he was going to wind up becoming a legitimate future contender appeared at the 2016 Olympic Trials. There, Manville advanced to the semifinals of the 75 kilogram challenge tournament after an upset victory over former World Teamer Jake Fisher. He was eventually upended by Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets) and then tech’ed out by Dillon Cowan (Army/WCAP) in the consolation bracket, but overall, it was a step in the right direction. Manville spent the remainder of ’16 further honing his skills and it wouldn’t be until the end of the year when he competed again.
At the 2016 US Nationals in December, Manville went 2-2, but it was an odd 2-2. His two losses on the day were to one man — the explosive-but-tortured-genius that is Kendrick Sanders (NYAC-OTS). Sanders bombed Manville twice — once in the quarters and again in the consolation semis. But in between, Manville scored revenge over Cowan and then breezed past Marine JayShon Wilson via tech. From there, he was scheduled to compete at two of the three overseas events in March, but wound up not even hopping on a plane. A minor injury held him out and at first glance, this seemed to be a most unfortunate occurrence. After all, Manville probably would have benefitted from some foreign action, especially six weeks out from the World Team Trials. But as soon as he was healed up enough to resume “wrestling activity”, the Penn State commit was welcomed into the hallowed room at the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club where he worked out with some of the biggest collegiate stars in the country. It was a decision that probably resulted in a few scoffs from the more hardcore Greco folks, but apparently, Manville knew something about himself they didn’t, and the masses would find out what that was soon enough.
The World Team Trials at 75 kilos was supposed to come down to three wrestlers — newly-minted Junior World champ Kamal Bey (Sunkist, world no. 18), Jesse Porter (NYAC-OTS), and Sanders, though an argument could have certainly been made for Jon Jay Chavez (NYAC), who was originally expected to be a weight class up. Manville was not deemed by most of the press as a threat to this enterprise. Why should he have been? Public perception was such that Manville was going to do whatever he could at the Trials and then spend the summer sharpening up his folkstyle game ahead of his first semester at Penn State. Perception, as it tends to be, was meaningless in this case. Manville came out firing and there wasn’t a whole lot anyone could do about it on this day.
He opened up with a tech over NMU upstart Corey Fitzgerald and then advanced to the semis after downing Porter 5-2. Manville had some previous success against Porter but still, that one was kind of an eye-opener given the event and the stakes riding on it. Next came another showdown with Cowan, who had earlier blitzed Sanders in an exciting but weird bout which saw Sanders bow out afterwards due to injury. Manville was on his horse versus Cowan only this time, scored a surprising technical fall on the strength of some nifty opportunistic scoring chances. In the best-of-three finals, Manville survived an exhilarating first match against Bey and then capped it all off with a stunning 8-0 tech. With the win, Manville didn’t just make his first Senior World Team. He also proved that his style could persevere if executed under the right circumstances.
The US World Team Trials and the Greco-Roman World Championships are obviously two entirely different events with markedly different levels of talent. The one area in which they have the most in common, at least pertaining to Manville, is that just like the Trials in Las Vegas, he is not expected to do much here. It’s that simple. That doesn’t mean he will be overlooked by his opponent(s). Quite the contrary — US guys always have a target on their backs, even if they’re not stars. But by and large, Manville is the most underrated member of the American squad. He’s the wildcard. There aren’t a whole lot of people giving him a shot to advance and that’s understandable, particularly because he definitely didn’t look a World-caliber athlete his last time out in Tbilisi.
Only, this isn’t Tbilisi. It also isn’t early-June. Manville has had two months to shore up his holes and adjust his approach. So there’s no doubt he will be improved. We don’t know for sure who his first opponent will be, and it really doesn’t matter who it is. In order for Manville to be successful in Paris, he’s going to have to “do him.” Manville didn’t win the World Team Trials by playing everyone else’s game. He can go to his two-on-one and he can still jut angles in the pummel, or employ his solid hand-fighting skills to beat opposition to his preferred inside tie-ups. His pace will be the most important aspect of his approach. If Manville can stay active and hang in there when the going gets rough, he’ll have the lungs to carry him through. But any hesitation on his part will result in jiffy passivity calls, which in turn, will force him to rush attempts and risk unnecessary vulnerability. They worked on pressure-scoring at camp to prepare for these situations.
The most seasoned and celebrated guys here — Kim, Abdevali, Lorincz, et al. — are bruising, powerful, tireless workers who will try to grind a guy like Manville down before exploding on him. Surely he knows this. The best part about Manville is that this is what he loves to do, he loves to fight it out while figuring it out. For an “all-style” wrestler, Manville is a gritty, head-in-your-face type who wants the hard contact. He also won’t be tired out by anyone’s push. Yes, the deck is a little stacked against him, but that’s what being a wildcard is all about. And the thing about wildcards is, they have a habit of showing up at the most crucial points of a game. It doesn’t get more crucial than this.
ALSO IN THE RUNNING:
Karapet Chalyan — ARM, world no. 9 (2013 Junior World Champion, 2012 Junior World bronze medalist, 2017 Paris International gold medalist)
Chalyan arm-threw Manville at Tbilisi, so he’s on the US’ radar, although he would have made this list anyway. Chalyan scored a nice win over Nemes early on at the Euros but then he got his life controlled by Lorincz in the quarters. Chalyan may not last long enough to made a medal run, but he is certainly capable of spoiling the day of a few others.
Shohei Yabiku — JPN, world no. 16 (2013 Junior World bronze medalist, 2017 Grand Prix of Spain gold medalist)
American fans might remember Yabiku from the Schultz, where he lost out to Speiller in the semis. His most recent appearance was at the Grand Prix of Spain. He didn’t have a very stacked bracket, but he won, so there’s that. Yabiku is a strong-willed dude who keeps his wheels moving, which might be just enough to keep him in the hunt for awhile.
2017 Greco-Roman World Championships
AccorHotels Arena, Paris, France
Monday, August 21st — 71 kg, 75 kg, 85 kg, 98 kg
Tuesday, August 22nd — 59 kg, 66 kg, 80 kg, 130 kg
Live streaming available in the United States on Trackwrestling.com