Three wrestlers expected to have strong showings advanced and one wildcard out to prove himself rose to the forefront on the first day of the European OG Wrestling Qualifier in Zrenjanin, Serbia.
Kristijan Fris (SRB, world no. 14) did his part in familiar territory, moving on through the 59 kg bracket with nary a problem. His first match of the day proved to be his toughest. In the prelims, Fris locked horns with Kostiantyn Balitskiy (UKR) and had trouble generating any of the signature offense he would later employ throughout the day. Balitskiy was aggressive in the ties but also passive whenever the more-experienced Fris would look to open up. The points wouldn’t come in a hurry and a 5-0 victory for the Serbian would have to do.
He would have more luck going forward. The quarterfinal round saw Fris take apart Jani Jukka Haapamaeki (FIN) via a 9-0 tech. His next bout was a semifinal showdown with two-time Olympian Stig-Andre Berge (NOR), a decorated wrestler who might be making one of his last appearances. Berge just didn’t have an answer for the timely transitions Fris is known for. The momentum was too much and Fris walked away with an eight-point shutout to set up his match with Sanal Semenov (RUS) in the finals.
Semenov, curiously sent by the Russian contingent, borders on eery patience and intense aggression. He also likes to make a fight out of everything. The twin brother of 59 kg stalwart Mingiyan, Sanal Semenov didn’t come into this tournament for the experience. Instead, he used it as a coming-out party. Semenov blitzed through his side of the bracket with what could only be described as extreme prejudice, knocking off Ardit Fazlija (SWE) via fall (up 8-0 at the time) before running over Donior Islamov (MDA) 10-0. The semifinal saw the first points scored against him, but Semenov easily answered right back to pile up some more of his own to cruise past Aleksandar Kostadinov (BUL) 11-2.
66 kg had a few contenders to watch out for in the European OG Wrestling Qualifier, but it was the two headliners everyone was pointing to who emerged from the dust. Tamas Lorincz (HUN, world no. 4) didn’t charge through his opponents so much as play a calculated, controlled game, especially in the latter stages. Lorincz started off on fire initially, taking down and turning Matias Lipasti (FIN) for a brisk 9-0 win. But it would get considerably tighter in the next round. Matched up with France’s Artak Margaryan in the quarters, Lorincz had a lot of trouble getting his opponent to open up. The two jostled for position constantly and Margaryan wrestled conservatively to ward off any big scoring attempts the Hungarian normally plays for. It wasn’t the most exciting display, however, Lorincz escaped on the strength of a 4-0 victory.
Dominick Etlinger (CRO) seemed poised to take on the role of spoiler. Having a nice day at the European OG Wrestling Qualifier in his own right, Etlinger possessed a style fit to slow down Lorincz. Doing just enough to avoid a passivity call at times and then defending well whenever the action would heat up, the Croatian wrestler was stymying Lorincz both in the center of the mat and on the edge. With about a minute left in the match, it looked as if Lorincz got a jump. Etlinger’s side went for a challenge but it went the other way, making the conclusive score 6-4.
Junior World Champion Shmagi Bolkvadze (GEO, world no. 12) experienced similar challenges. The round of 16 offered up an early test courtesy of Marius Thommesen (NOR), who flickered and flinched and did his best to halt Bolkvadze’s proclivity towards punishing bodylocks. That would just mean this would turn into a waiting game. At the first available opportunity, Bolkvadze pounced to pick up points and did so on the edge and then again with a turn. The final score read 6-0, but the tension involved made it seem a bit closer than that.
Konstantin Stas (BUL) provided the right kind of opponent for Bolkvadze to shine. There would be no wet cement or sticky brush for the Georgian wrestler this time, as he was all over Stas from the start. Bolkvadze makes an impression whenever he has the ability to turn a takedown into immediate follow-up points. It’s become one of his trademarks and he went with that strategy in this one. A takedown/lift attempt followed up by a turn (or two) kept the train rolling to a 9-0 tech fall.
The last step towards advancing in the European OG Wrestling Qualifier also meant the biggest obstacle. Dawid (David) Karecinski (POL) delivered a stout, uncompromising challenge. The Polish wrestler was entered into the European OG Wrestling Qualifier with the younger Mateusz Bernatek on deck for the next qualifier should he fall here. A considerable amount of pressure for the elder Karecinski, as Bernatek at times has began to show he just might be the future at 66 for Poland. Karecinski, unlike Etlinger, didn’t merely put up a fight, he was committed to scoring points. Bolkvadze managed to snag a difference-making turn that would wind up providing the margin but the match was as trepidatious as it gets. Karecinski pushed his way through Bolkvadze standing up at times and seemed close to nailing down a throw at one point that might have been a game-changer. It wouldn’t happen. Bolkvadze persevered into the final, 6-4.
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