When Greco-Roman begins at the 2022 World Championships next month in Belgrade, Serbia, only one American athlete will own a seeded position in his bracket: Max Nowry (Army/WCAP).
Nowry will be seeded fourth in the 55 kg division — behind ’18 World Champion/multi-time medalist Eldaniz Azizli (AZE), two-time bronze Nugzari Tsurtsumia (GEO), and another two-time third-placer, Ekrem Ozturk (TUR).
How Nowry received his slot in the bracket and what it means is deserving of closer inspection.
But first, some background.
Nowry, 32, was looking forward to enjoying a busy winter that he figured would help carry him into the latter part of the season. The National program’s plan — which largely came to fruition — was to break “January Camp”, provide the athletes with a brief respite, and then head to Europe for two competitions and three training camps. None of this is particularly unique but for a single wrinkle, which was the actual opportunity to travel in and of itself. Although American athletes eventually embarked on scattered trips throughout the past season (not counting the ’20 Tokyo Olympic Games or the ’21 World Championships), the pandemic had severely disrupted their usual reliance on overseas training. The winter tour of ’22 promised a return to normalcy in this regard, especially considering the recent dearth of competitive offerings stateside.
But in short order, it all came apart for Nowry as well as his Army/WCAP brethren. Days prior to takeoff for Croatia in late-January, Army officials removed all of their wrestlers from the trip. Gone in a relative flash was a substantial training block that was to also include a pair of suitable competitions. One faint brightside did materialize, however. The Matteo Pellicone Memorial “Ranking Series” tournament was originally on the winter calendar before United World Wrestling enacted a four-month postponement in the wake of various COVID-related protocols and concerns.
As for Nowry, and the rest from Army who were slated for the European tour, the American domestic season took over as the preeminent focus. Alas, there was no other choice.
On April 1, Nowry defeated teammates Cole Smith and Dalton Duffield to win the Bill Farrell Memorial, which in addition earned him a spot on the US roster for the Pan-American Championships. A three-time gold medalist at the event, Nowry would be entering the ’22 Pan-Ams as a sizable favorite to collect yet another title; he would also have the chance to wrestle against international counterparts, something he tends to prioritize at this stage of his career.
Except that is not what occurred. For the second time within a three-month span, Army brass determined that World Class Athletes Program wrestlers necessitated removal from an international trip. Something about Mexico, drug cartels, and fears that motivated cartel members might attempt to extract all American wrestling types from their hotels and hold them for ransom.
The effect of the cancellation, not the cause, is what ultimately mattered. At least for those who hold UWW “Ranking Series” points in high esteem.
UWW Points: A Very Brief Overview
Instituted in time for the ’17/’18 season, United World Wrestling’s “Ranking Series” distributes points to athletes relative to their placings from select events (with events offering different point values). Each year, this system centers around four elite international tournaments, the slate of annual continental championships, and the Worlds or Olympic Games. Athletes who accumulate enough points are ranked accordingly in UWW’s index, and said rankings influence seeding at the aforementioned Worlds/Olympics.
The Pan-American Championships checks the box for “continental” and Nowry was unable to compete in this year’s version of the tournament; Brady Koontz (TMWC/Ohio RTC) instead repped the US in Mexico, placed first, and gathered a total of 5,000 UWW “Ranking Series” points.
NOTES PART I:
— Unlike the process for Olympic Games, which sees athletes “qualifying” weight classes on behalf of their nations and not themselves, UWW points are attributed only to individuals — meaning that Koontz’s points from the ’22 Pan-Ams are his, and his alone.
— Koontz currently appears at #47 (5,000 pts) on UWW’s rankings for 55 kilograms.
— Nowry was ranked #9 prior to the Pan-American Championships with 13,500 pts.
Nowry acquired his 13,500 points for the ’21/’22 season thanks to his performance at last year’s World Championships in Oslo, where he placed ninth. In that tournament, Nowry VSU’ed Sajjad Abbaspourragani of Iran and was downed by eventual fifth-place Norayr Hakhoyan (ARM).
NOTES PART II:
— Nowry earned 10,500 points for placing ninth at the ’21 Worlds.
— UWW’s “Ranking Series” system allows for athletes to receive an additional 3,000 points if their brackets host between 13 and 16 participants, hence why Nowry had 13,500 points entering this season.
The One Int’l Excursion
Nowry has in fact managed to compete once internationally thus far in ’22, the previously-postponed Matteo Pellicone “Ranking Series” tournament. It was a small bracket for 55 kilograms back in June that was limited to just Nowry, Florin Tita (ROU), and Mohammad Hosseinvand Panahisani (IRI). Nowry defeated Hosseinvand Panahisani and was edged by Tita; Hosseinvand Panahisani defeated Tita. In the end, the result was third-place for Nowry plus 2,600 ranking points.
Why Seeded 4th if Ranked 9th?
Nowry has maintained the same UWW #9 ranking for many months, and 55 in general has not witnessed much in the way of movement this season. So, how did he wind up with a seed that is five slots higher in the Belgrade ’22 bracket?
Easy: five athletes who are ranked above him will be absent from the World Championships; and, as per the “Notes Part I” section, rankings/seeds do not belong to countries and are instead individually-based.
— Reigning World Champion Ken Matsui (world #1) is out for Japan, with Yu Shiotani taking his place.
— With Russia still excluded from participating in sanctioned sports outside of their borders, that takes care of returning silver Emen Sefershaev (world #4). Though it should be noted that it is likely Sefershaev would not have been RUS’ pick at 55 this year with which to begin.
— Armenia is taking Rudik Mkrtchyan, not Hakhoyan (world #6).
— Similarly, Kazakhstan is opting for Amangali Bekbolatov instead of Khorlan Zhakansha (world #7).
— Sardarbek Konushbaev is ranked #8, but Kyrgyzstan is apparently not sending an athlete in this weight category.
UWW’s “Ranking Series” inputs seeds for only eight athletes. In the case of 55 kilograms, five competitors are not in their respective national federations’ plans for Belgrade, thus generating the space for Nowry (along with four others) to move up high enough on the ranking ladder and commandeer a seed. The remaining entrants in the bracket will be subject to block-chain random draws.
It all adds up to Nowry going from potentially missing a seed altogether to gaining a spot in the top-4. This scenario pertaining to Nowry was appropriately discussed as a possibility in the March 21 edition of the Monday Roundup.
The seeds as presently constituted for 55 kilograms at the ’22 World Championships are:
1. Eldaniz Azizli (AZE)
2. Nugzari Tsurtsumia (GEO)
3. Ekrem Ozturk (TUR)
5. Fabian Schmitt (GER)
7. Jasurbek Ortikboev (UZB)
8. Koriun Sahradian (UKR)
Nowry has had time-on-target with three of the seeded wrestlers listed above: Azizli, Tsurtsumia, and Schmitt.
— Azizli defeated Nowry in the bronze-medal match of the ’19 World Championships in Nur-Sultan.
— Tsurtsumia decisioned Nowry in the ’19 Wladyslaw Pytlasinski Memorial (Nowry eventually finished with bronze).
— Nowry is 2-1 against ’19 Euro bronze Schmitt. At the ’18 German Grand Prix, they split two matches (one of which was equally contentious and entertaining). Nowry faced Schmitt a third time in the round-of-16 at the ’19 Worlds and prevailed in lopsided fashion.
The amount of relevancy one might attach to World seeds is subjective, this despite the worthwhile attempt on UWW’s part to observe objectivity within their methodology. After all, the “Ranking Series” system was conceived primarily as a means to create bracket separation among highly-accomplished athletes in an effort to avoid such match-ups occurring too early in the tournament (i.e., a World champ vs. World champ showdown in the qualification round). Seeding eight athletes and randomly-drawing the rest is the step UWW has taken to address what they and many others have long considered an issue, though it must also be understood that the margins for error at the World-level are often infinitesimal. When an athlete holding a high seed is defeated by an unseeded opponent at a World tournament, it’s not necessarily an “upset”. Rather, it is simply what happens when you avail a competition involving the best wrestlers on the planet.
Of which Nowry is certainly one. Since 55 kilograms’ revival for the ’17/’18 campaign, he has been the most consistent lightweight in the country and one of the program’s top international performers overall. Nowry is sharp, fast, shrewd, and exceptionally skilled and experienced — with the capability to beat everyone in his weight class. He doesn’t require a seed to know all of this.
Neither should you.
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