The order in which the weight categories were contested allowed Azkhol Makhmudov (77 kg) to become Kyrgyzstan’s first Greco-Roman World Champion. Two days later, Zholaman Sharshenbekov emerged as their nation’s second-ever gold. Amantur Ismailov had earlier earned bronze, as well, with the three pieces of hardware enough to catapult KGZ to their best-ever finish by far (fourth) in the team standings.
But the Kyrgyz Republic’s team performance, while outstanding, was not the only story of the 2022 World Championships. It was also Serbia, and by extension Iran. It was Turkey watching as half of their roster took pictures on the podium, and Azerbaijan unable to stay in the title picture due to having only one gold medalist.
“Only one gold medalist”. Imagine such a sentence being interpreted as a failure.
Iran headed back to the Middle East without a single champ and just three medal-winners, which was jarring in its own right. Home to the pound-for-pound most complete wrestler walking the planet in Mohammadreza Geraei, the IRI had appeared poised to at least equal if not surpass their results from a year ago, when they edged Russia for top honors in Oslo. With Russia out of the mix in ’22 — and because Iran’s delegation this year seemed plenty formidable on paper — too easy it was for most legitimate Greco-Roman fans to anticipate a potential repeat despite the strength of Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Kim Over Geraei
Instead, Iran faltered, thanks in part to Kim Hyeon-Woo‘s (77 kg, KOR) measured decision victory over three-time bronze (and sibling to the aforementioned best Greco athlete on Earth) Mohammadali Geraei in the round-of-16. Kim and Geraei are not heated rivals, but have operated within the same biosphere in recent years. Once Geraei moved up to 77 from 72, it opened the door for a few meetings. Kim started the string by steamrolling Geraei at the ’19 Asian Championships, had collected an entertaining win against the Iranian in Tbilsi, and Geraei flipped the script at the ’19 Nur-Sultan Worlds… Not an enormous sample size, but certainly sufficient in generating interest for their battle last weekend.
And the match didn’t disappoint. Kim built a 3-0 lead following passivity on Geraei and a subsequent, deliberately-executed gutwrench (“slow is smooth, smooth is fast”). A fourth point arrived for Kim before intermission after a failed challenge from IRI, and the conclusive two points in the 6-1 score were the byproduct of a late Kim takedown.
Which was the bout’s highlight, as well as the first indication in Belgrade that 33-year-old Kim should still be a force moving forward. The latter stages of the match were predictably intense. Geraei was down by three with less than two minutes on the clock, prompting him to elevate his sense of urgency. Kim — who at most could be construed as “actively passive” when up on points — was fending off his adversary by attempting to initiate ties rather than wait for Geraei to stumble into something preferable. Just how he operates. Always has. Kim is rarely bottling up the works waiting for the clock to read goose eggs. The approach is often is a difference-maker for him, and it was in Belgrade. With Geraei frantically weaving inside for an attack towards the edge, Kim instantly countered and spun behind for two, thus essentially sealing the victory with :19 remaining.
Kim was eventually clipped by Makhmudov in the semifinal, and again by Yunus Basar (TUR) in the bronze round to ultimately finish in fifth place. Overall, it was an encouraging showing for the ’12 Olympic/’13 World Champion, even with taking into account his clinging-to-life criteria win over Johnny Bur (FRA) in the qualification round (which one might assume that Kim’s output, or lack thereof, in that match was simply the result of clearing cobwebs after not participating in a World-level match in three years).
Serbia ended the ’22 Worlds on home turf by coming in third behind Turkey and Azerbaijan — with only six of ten weight categories represented on the roster. But, they were loaded, with four of their six athletes having been prior medalists (including two champs), and all four of their medalists in ’22 earned gold. It should also be noted that SRB’s impressive team performance was not the result of “getting all the calls” or the general perception of favoritism.
Those Serbs who rocketed to gold medals all did the one thing athletes need to do most: try to score points… and then, indeed, score some points. Now-two-time champ Zurabi Datunashvili, who occupies one of Greco-Roman’s least fan-friendly weight classes (87 kilograms), did not hesitate to attempt an arm throw in the final against the surging Turpal Bisultanov (DEN) and it paid off immediately with four points. Mate Nemes (67 kg) sensed that Mohammadreza Geraei was beginning to fold, so he turned up the pressure throughout the second period and the outcome was one of the tournament’s biggest surprises.
The event’s actual biggest surprise, in totality across all weight categories, was likely the title for Sebastian Nad at 63 kilograms. Belgrade was the first time Nad had ever ventured down to 63. He had not once before in his Senior career competed below 67.
Nad was not exactly an unknown commodity previously but few, if any, expected him to even be in the running. And he was a monster, though none of it was easy. Nad didn’t brutalize the field en-route to gold. He did not record a single VSU at the Worlds, and his AMV was 3.75 including passives. But overcoming Taleh Mammadov (AZE) and consensus pick Leri Abuladze (GEO) in consecutive matches? In a new, lighter weight class? At the World Championships? Incredible.
Kim decisioning Mohammadali Geraei halted Iran from potentially garnering between 15-25 points in the standings, just as Nemes upsetting Mohammadreza Geraei forced Iran to settle for 20 points instead of 25. ’21 World Champion dropping Mohammad Saravi dropping a tight semifinal to Artur Aleksanyan (ARM) instantly meant the highest score IRI could gain at 97 kilos was 15 points, which they did. Meaningful points were available for Ali Reza Nejati at 63 after he fell to Abuladze in the semis, but Nejati was ousted by Erbatu Tuo of China, providing Iran with 10 points rather than 15. By the time Amin Mirzazadeh advanced to the heavyweight final on Tuesday, none of this mattered in the team race any longer. Upon Greco wrapping in Belgrade, the most glaring bright spot for IRI might have just been Mirzazadeh out-wrestling Riza Kayaalp (TUR), even if Kayaalp still managed to do-nothing his way to another crown.
Serbia’s most meaningful addition in this tournament, and one of the key reasons why they finished ahead of Iran by 29 points, was, in fact, due to an Iranian. In his first Worlds as a competitor for SRB, Ali Arsalan dazzled in nearly every one of his five matches as he raced to victory in the 72-kg division, while Mohammad Reza Mohktari didn’t make it out of the round-of-16 against underrated Ibrahim Ghanem (FRA, and who would later grab bronze).
Arsalan defected from IRI towards the end of ’21 and the Belgrade World tournament was only his fourth start wearing SRB on his back. Last Saturday, he got moving by superioring Andrey Kulik (UKR) and top-ranked Kristupas Sleiva (LTU); in between, he had turned back ’22 Euro gold Robert Fristch (HUN); in the semifinal, Arsalan aced Ghanem via fall, and closed out on Sunday with a thrilling battle against Ulvi Ganizade (AZE) in which he was cautioned and required a multi-point score in the last minute. Down by one but needing two for the win, Arsalan was credited for four points after landing on top of a Ganizade throw attempt near the boundary. Serbia acquired 25 team points at 72 kilograms. Iran received zero.
2022 Greco-Roman World Championships
- There were 22 first-time Senior medalists at the 2022 World Championships, two of whom earned gold (Nad and Arsalan).
- There were six first-time Senior World-level gold medalists.
- Seven medalists from the ’20 Tokyo Olympic Games placed at the ’22 World Championships.
- Nine medalists from the ’21 World Championships placed in ’22.
- 103 of the 312 contested matches ended via stoppage (either technical fall or pin). The three weight categories with the most early endings were, in order, 60 kg (17), 55 kg (12), and 67 kg (11).
The top-eight nations qualify for the next World Cup, which was originally scheduled for early November in Baku, Azerbaijan.
- Turkey (125pts)
- Azerbaijan (118 pts)
- Serbia (110 pts)
- Iran (81 pts)
- Kyrgyzstan (77 pts)
- Georgia (76 pts)
- Hungary (70 pts)
- Uzbekistan (61 pts)
- Armenia (58 pts)
- Kazakhstan (51 pts)
* — first-time Senior World-level medalist.
** — first-time Senior World Champion.
GOLD: Eldaniz Azizli (AZE)
SILVER: Nugzari Tsurtsumia (GEO)
BRONZE: *Jasurbek Ortikboev (UZB)
BRONZE: *Yu Shiotani (JPN)
GOLD: **Zholaman Sharshenbekov (UZB)
SILVER: *Edmond Nazaryan (BUL)
BRONZE: Kenichiro Fumita (JPN)
BRONZE: Aidos Sultangali (KAZ)
GOLD: */**Sebastian Nad (SRB)
SILVER: Leri Abuladze (GEO)
BRONZE: *Taleh Mammadov (AZE)
BRONZE: *Erbatu Tuo (CHN)
GOLD: Mate Nemes (SRB)
SILVER: Mohammadreza Geraei (IRI)
BRONZE: *Hasrat Jafarov (AZE)
BRONZE: *Amantur Ismailov (KGZ)
GOLD: */**Ali Arsalan (SRB)
SILVER: *Ulvi Ganizade (AZE)
BRONZE: *Selcuk Can (TUR)
BRONZE: *Andrey Kulik (UKR)
GOLD: Azkhol Makhmudov (KGZ)
SILVER: *Zoltan Levai (HUN)
BRONZE: *Yunus Basar (TUR)
BRONZE: Malkhas Amoyan (ARM)
GOLD: Burhan Akbudak (TUR)
SILVER:*Jalgasbary Berdimuratov (UZB)
BRONZE: *Yaroslav Filchakov (UKR)
BRONZE: *Tamas Levai (HUN)
GOLD: Zurabi Datunashvili (SRB)
SILVER: *Turpal Bisultanov (DEN)
BRONZE: *Ali Cengiz (TUR)
BRONZE: *David Lonsonczi (HUN)
GOLD: Artur Aleksanyan (ARM)
SILVER: Kiril Milov (BUL)
BRONZE: *Arif Niftullaev (AZE)
BRONZE: Mohammadadi Saravi (IRI)
GOLD: Riza Kayaalp (TUR)
SILVER: Amin Mirzazadeh (IRI)
BRONZE: *Mantas Knystautas (LTU)
BRONZE: *Alin Alexuc-Curarriu (ROU)
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