The final Senior international Greco-Roman tournament of the year did not disappoint.
The 2023 Arvo Haavisto Cup began at 10:30am local time from Ilmajoki, Finland (4:30am ET) and streamed live on YouTube.
Although several high-profile athletes who were previously registered for the event wound up not competing, their absences hardly put a damper on the proceedings — thanks in large part to the action available at 87 kilograms. Featuring two recent World runner-ups, Alex Kessidis (SWE, ’19) and Turpal Bisultanov (DEN, ’22), as well as the return of ’04 Olympic Champion/’12 bronze Karam Gaber (EGY), the bracket offered the most potential for interesting match-ups and, sure enough, the three pairings in question all materialized.
Kessidis — who was once a top name at 77 kg before moving up in weight — was tested in the first round of Pool A by Waltteri Latvala (FIN) and won on points 3-0 before steamrolling Nurassyl Amanaly (KAZ) via technical superiority. Meanwhile, Bisultanov was practically flawless in dismantling Elias Lyyski (FIN), which set him up with a showdown against Gaber, who had defeated Petteri Kukkola (FIN) in lopsided fashion.
Bisultanov vs. Gaber
Age was part of the story, of course. Bisultanov, who just turned 22 in October, is 22 years younger than Gaber, and likely a way’s off from reaching his athletic prime. Still, in a sport that revolves around positioning, skill, and timely-execution, along with Gaber’s tremendous arsenal and sparkling career resume, there was ample reason for observers to hone in on their contest.
The match began with not much happening on the feet. Gaber was dinged for passive, and Bisultanov quickly acquired his lock to crank a gutwrench. On the second attempt at a turn, Gaber stepped over to catch Bisultanov on his back for two points. A caution was then called on Bisultanov for an apparent leg foul, providing Gaber with two more points and an opportunity of his own from top par terre. The position fell apart for Egypt as Bisultanov reversed for a point. It was an oddly-paced affair, but that would soon change. Back standing, and, following a brief entanglement, Bisultanov slid high a right underhook and executed a huge hip toss to net four; Gaber himself was subsequently cautioned for not resuming engagement on the official’s orders. However, he did survive to see the second period.
But shortly after the conclusive frame got underway, Bisultanov darted inside on Gaber, attacked the body, and landed on top at the edge to collect the match-winning points. Gaber lied prone off to the side for the better part of two minutes in the aftermath and would default out of the tournament altogether due to injury.
Gaber, 44, walked away from the sport nearly a decade ago after serving a two-year doping violation until reappearing in October at the Veteran Worlds, which he won. The Egyptian star has designs on qualifying for Paris ’24 and registered for Haavisto as a means to prepare for the endeavor.
Kessidis Triumphs Over Bisultanov
After Bisultanov took care of Gaber, he went on to truck Estonian Andreas Valis and qualify for the gold-medal final against Kessidis. This was the match-up that everyone wanted to see.
The bout unfolded in layers and through the beginning stages was played predictably tight to the chest. Kessidis, with his long limbs, required a moment or two of adjustment as he went to work in the tie-ups as the stocky Bisultanov was content to prod and punch underhooks. Passivity on Kessidis was called following the first :90 of the bout. Bisultanov clamped a lock and immediately sought a lift. He hopped from side to side with the hold, but Kessidis defended the assault and earned a restart. It was 1-0 for Denmark after the first period.
Early on in Period 2, a pressure-release from Kessidis on a bull-charging Bisultanov resulted in the latter becoming off-balanced. Both were expending more energy. Kessidis played the matador as Bisultanov fought like mad to avoid the compulsory passive flip. It did not work, and Kessidis was awarded a chance from top along with a point. After a near caution on Bisultanov for false starts, they at last resumed and Kessidis rotated three gutwrenches for a 7-1 lead. Denmark challenged, as they had surmised that the last turn should not have been scored. Following the review, the points distribution from the sequence went unchanged and Kessidis received an additional point due to the call being upheld. They returned to the feet with Bisultanov betraying a red-alert sense of urgency. Unfortunately for him, Kessidis was finding too much success controlling range within the ties. He was pushing and pulling while dictating the distance with his feet. Bisultanov was thus unable to muster an actionable attempt, and eventually it was all over as Kessidis prevailed 8-1 in the battle between recent World silvers.
Elsayed & Kuosmanen
For a second consecutive week, ’20 Olympic bronze Mohamed Elsayed (EGY) was precise and effective as he trounced through the 67 kg bracket to come away with gold. “Lights out” is the phrase. Elsayed did not discriminate when it came to the positions from where he scored points, though his most prominent offensive accumulation was witnessed in par terre. The 25-year-old had next to no trouble overwhelming Oliver Pada (FIN) and Tuukka Peltokangas (FIN), both by way of 8-0 technical superiority, which delivered to him young Bagdat Sabaz (KAZ) in the final.
Sabat — still U20-eligible — did not go down without a fight. From the whistle, the two athletes flung at one another fleeting hand-checks and were not keen on forcing static contact. That is until Sabat briefly roped a left-side two-on-one and came close to extending Elsayed’s appendage, a cause for consternation given the position’s penchant for creating on Egypt’s part a problematic vulnerability. But before the position could mature, Elsayed danced out of danger and proceeded to demonstrate an uptick in aggression. It was the one decision that worked against him on Saturday. Now operating with more zeal, Elsayed brought more forward-pressure; in response, Sabat again found a left-side two-on-one, causing Elsayed to try and wrangle free from the position; as they went hip-to-hip near the line, Sabat popped Elsayed out of bounds to score a step-out point.
After the reset, Elsayed cooled his jets ever-so-slightly and waded back into the ties, locking onto Sabat’s right wrist whilst securing an underhook on the opposite side. The advanceable position — a known but oft-misunderstood component of the sport’s passivity guidelines — gave Elsayed the advantage in terms of scoring possibility as well optics on the part of the officials. Thus, passivity rang on Sabat. Never one to let such an opportunity go to waste, Elsayed pounded out a straight lift for four, re-locked, hoisted Sabat in the air once again, and finished forward on the second throw to garner the 9-1 VSU in conjunction with Haavisto Cup gold. Last week in Haparanda, Elsayed put on a similarly-domineering performance in winning that tournament and now has two titles to his credit as the Olympic Year continues to pick up steam.
Matti (Elias) Kuosmanen‘s second life as a heavyweight has been accompanied by a string of solid showings over the past two years and he certainly had another one on Saturday. Originally a competitor in the 98/97 kg division, Kuosmanen was forced to move up to 130 in ’21 after countryman Arvi Savolainen assumed a stranglehold on 97. The situation went well for both athletes. Savolainen qualified 97 for Finland at the European Olympic Qualifier. One month later, and in a weight category that was new to him, Kuosmanen advanced all the way to the final of the World Olympic Qualifier in Bulgaria to give FIN two first-time Olympians in Tokyo.
28-year-old Kuosmanen started off his trek for a second-straight Haavisto gold by raking Eerik Pank (EST) to the tune of an 8-0 technical fall. Kuosmanen executed a beautifully-timed arm throw to surge ahead 4-0, scored a step-out immediately after the restart, received a passive point, and rolled one gutwrench to haul in his points. Against Romas Fridrikas (LTU) in Round 2, Kuosmanen held a 1-0 lead late in the first period when, from a stand-still, he dashed in on a body attack that netted a step-out point. Fridrikas was dinged for passive once again in the second period and Kuosmanen eventually took a 3-0 decision.
The final was devoid of offensive scores entirely. Facing off with ’18 Junior World bronze Franz Richter (GER), Kuosmanen was the clear aggressor throughout (which is not a surprise; Kuosmanen has long held a reputation for physicality and, at times, has appeared inclined towards brutish tactics some have found questionable) as he consistently dug into Richter’s wrists and arms. They were jousting with equal eagerness, but Kuosmanen’s plodding involved a higher degree of pressure and purpose. On two occasions, his methods were close to compelling step-out points. But ultimately, it came down to passivity. Richter was knocked in both periods to give Kuosmanen the 2-0 victory.
A bit of a surprise did occur elsewhere in the heavyweight bracket as ’21 World bronze Mantas Knystautas (LTU) went 0-2. Richter had eeked past the tall Lithuanian via criteria 1-1 (passive points for both athletes) — but because Richter made the final, Knystautas was pulled back in for the bronze round. There he stood toe-to-toe with noted Finnish heavy Konsta Maenpaa. Soon after the match began, Knystautas initiated the over/under position and clamped down on his portion of the hold. It had appeared as though there would not be a scoring action and that the position might organically crumble. It did not. Instead, Maenpaa was the one who took a risk. He stepped inside, popped his hips, and bombed Knystautas straight to his back. Maenpaa did not have to maintain position on top very long, as the signal for the fall arrived in short order.
CRO: Etlinger & Kamenjasevic
’19 European Championships bronze Dominik Etlinger (CRO) came back last week in Haparanda after a three-year forced hiatus and stormed to the final round, where he was defeated by Elsayed. That was at 67 kilograms. This weekend, Etlinger decided to give 72 a shot. Well-accustomed to the machinations of that weight category, Etlinger scorched his first three opponents on Saturday via VSU to make the Haavisto final against ’23 U23 World silver Ifran Mirzoiev (UKR). Just as the bout had begun to gather heat, Mirzoiev caught Etlinger with a short lateral drop and held position for the shocking win by pin.
Antonio Kamenjasevic (77 kg, CRO) is likely not in a jovial mood after the Haavisto finals, either. Kamenjasevic wrestled quite well all day long and started off with a shellacking of Stanislav Sobol (UKR); he then persevered through two tough matches against Paulius Galkinas (LTU) and Mikko Peltokangas (FIN), respectively. The three wins put Kamenjasevic in the gold round opposed by Finland’s Akseli Yli-Hannuksela — who Kamenjasevic VSU’ed last week for gold in Haparanda. Whether due to the support of the home crowd or simply because Yli-Hannuksela was better prepared, the result flipped.
Kamenjasevic carried a 2-0 lead into the second period when Yli-Hannuksela received his passivity/PT chance. From top, Yli-Hannuksela went for a lift that brought him correct-hold points. Up 3-2, he thwarted Kamenjasevic’s succession of last-gasp attempts. Upon the whistle indicating the match’s conclusion, Kamenjasevic opted to challenge on the grounds that Yli-Hannuksela was grabbing his singlet. A brief officials’ conference ensued, after which it was determined that there was not an infraction and the final score was updated to 4-2 in Yli-Hannuksela’s favor.
2023 Arvo Haavisto Cup
December 9 — Ilmajoki, FIN
GOLD: Aibek Aitbekov (KAZ)
SILVER: Yevhen Pokovba (UKR)
BRONZE: Marko Voloshyn (UKR)
GOLD: Mohamed Elsayed (EGY)
SILVER: Bagdat Sabaz (KAZ)
BRONZE: Nestori Mannila (FIN)
BRONZE: Yussuf Ashrapov (KAZ)
GOLD: Ifran Mirzoiev (UKR)
SILVER: Dominik Etlinger (CRO)
BRONZE: Christoffer Dahlen (SWE)
BRONZE: Dmytro Vasyliev (UKR)
GOLD: Akseli Yli-Hannuksela (FIN)
SILVER: Antonio Kamenjasevic (CRO)
BRONZE: Miko Peltokangas (FIN)
BRONZE: Erik Persson (SWE)
GOLD: Jonni Sarkkinen (FIN)
SILVER: Ruslan Abdiiev (UKR)
BRONZE: Ivan Chmyr (UKR)
BRONZE: Jesper Harkanen (FIN)
GOLD: Alex Kessidis (SWE)
SILVER: Turpal Bisultanov (DEN)
BRONZE: Waltteri Latvala (FIN)
BRONZE: Elias Lyyski (FIN)
GOLD: Aleksandr Stjepanetic (SWE)
SILVER: Kavin Uspenski (EST)
BRONZE: Oskar Johansson (SWE)
GOLD: Elias Kuosmanen (FIN)
SILVER: Franz Richter (GER)
BRONZE: Roman Fridrikas (LTU)
BRONZE: Konsta Maenpaa (FIN)
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