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The Wild Throws That Turned TAZ/Ainagulov Into an Instant Classic

elmurat tasmuradov, 63 kg, asian championships

The Greco-Roman portion of the 2018 Asian Championships wrapped up earlier this week in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, as you are likely aware. There were plenty of terrific matches, most notably the hectic 72-kilogram final between Akzhol Makhmudov (KGZ) and Demeu Zhadrayev (KAZ). But before that bout took place, a seminal battle pitting two of the sport’s most athletic competitors against one another almost stole the show.

Two-time World/2016 Olympic bronze medalist Elmurat Tasmuradov (63 kg, UZB) locked horns with 2017 World runner-up Mirembek Ainagulov (KAZ) in an entertaining match-up that offered a little bit of everything — including an furious rally at the end.

On paper, Tasmuradov is the more accomplished competitor, even if Ainagulov owns the higher placing at a Senior World-level event. Part of that is due to the Uzbeki’s decision to move up to 66 kilograms last year, which was no doubt fueled in large part by his inability to make the lower weight. Tasmuradov had sporadically competed at 66 prior to 2017, and aside from a silver at the 2014 Vehbi Emre, the results were never all that fantastic (although his bronze at the Asian Indoor Games in September shouldn’t be dismissed).

The addition of 63 kilograms to the Senior Greco curriculum apparently fits right into Tasmuradov’s wheelhouse. The 26-year-old looked extremely comfortable in the new weight class at the Asian Championships as he zipped his way to the semis by notching a one-sided tech win over Vikram Krushnath (IND). Ainagulov’s quarterfinal victory was even more impressive. All he needed was a measly :19 to run 2017 Junior World champ Keremat Abdevali (IRI) right out of dodge thanks to back-to-back four pointers.

When these two squared off in the semis, you just knew something big was bound to happen. It’s in each guy’s DNA. Even when one of them is forced to slog through a low-scoring, passivity/criteria type of bout, you’re usually treated to at least a moment or two that allows you to better understand and respect their physical gifts. What we’ve got here are a couple of beautiful (if not timely) throws and a wrestler who remained relentless from whistle to whistle in order to walk away the winner.

Elmurat Tasmuradov (UZB) vs. Mirembek Ainagulov — 2018 Asian Championships

Tasmuradov was a tick more commanding to start off. He led with his right leg as he clashed in on Ainagulov’s left side. Both wrestlers were a little heavy with the interlocking fingers at the outset. But once the feeling-out process ebbed through its usual machinations, it was Tasmuradov who appeared more motivated to seek out some offense.

With :55 left in the first, Tasmuradov got his passivity point. An attempt at a gut that Ainagulov wriggled free of came next, though Tasmuradov challenged what he felt was a leg foul. He lost the challenge — and Ainagulov received a point — and back up to the feet they went.

Up until this reset, Ainagulov seemed outgunned. The tempo totally belonged to Tasmuradov and the Kazakhstan wrestler hadn’t made one discernible, legitmate attempt. That changed in a hurry.

They were both bent at the waist with dueling underhooks. Ainagulov enjoyed a slight advantage in depth, his left hand planted midway up Tasmuradov’s back. With his own back to the line, Ainagulov then switched direction in an instant to swoop behind Tasmuradov. What came next was a whopper of a five that in almost any other match against any other opponent, might have swung the momentum permanently in his favor.

What probably shouldn’t be ignored is that following Ainagulov’s five, he immediately netted an arm-throw-correct-throw right after to surge ahead 8-1. 8-1! One point away from a tech. A step-out, a passivity — practically anything remotely positive for Ainagulov in the proceeding three minutes would have ended the contest if Tasmuradov stayed off the board.

If you’d like to operate in the world of hypotheticals, maybe if that correct throw scored with more time on the clock in the first Ainagulov’s advantage would have been perceived differently. But it came right before the break, and when action resumed in the second, it was Tasmuradov who once again seized control. He looked to be the fresher athlete and began bullying Ainagulov around as if this was all of the sudden personal.

The result was three step-out points in the closing period. One step-out isn’t indicative of too much, anyone can be caught on their heels, out of position, and walked off the edge. But giving up two step-outs in the second period of a big match is certainly not ideal, and three represents a pattern. All three step-outs are clipped in order below. The second sequence is the most telling of the trio. Ainagulov is not completely spent at this stage, he briefly clamped and thought about arching. However, it was also probably his last gasp — crazy to think considering he was still up by four with a little over a minute left. But that just speaks to how hard Tasmuradov was coming on.

The situation was still in doubt. It’s not as if it was a formality Tasmuradov would complete the comeback just then. Only 1:12 remained following the third step-out that resulted in another restart. While it’s true Ainagulov was fading fast, he held a four-point margin for error. He couldn’t skate the rest of the way, that much he (and everyone else in the arena) knew. But could Ainagulov hold on and busy up Tasmuradov long enough to deplete a few extra precious seconds off the clock? No — and to give him credit, part of it was because he made another attempt.

Granted, it wasn’t the strongest, most vigorous try at an arm throw ever recorded. If anything, Ainagulov’s late arm throw attempt represented more of a defense mechanism meant to somehow slow down the hard-charging Tasmuradov. And Tasmuradov pounced on it, scoring two and gesturing to the official that Ainagulov was holding his wrist underneath. A subsequent try at a low gutwrench went nowhere and they returned standing with a mere :47 left in the bout.

Tasmuradov, trailing 8-6, stalked his way to a front headlock that he quickly waterfalled over for two. A glance at the table told him all that was necessary — he was still down on criteria and had only :34 to do some damage. Realistically, it might’ve been less than that if Ainagulov managed to avoid what came next. You don’t assume points are going to be scored at this level, regardless of how wilted one athlete may appear to be.

Which is why Tasmuradov wasn’t about to leave anything to chance. Once in position on top he locked, loaded, and launched, with Ainagulov cascading through the air headed towards a destination he couldn’t have imagined just minutes before.

Ultimately, Tasmuradov carried a broken Ainagulov to the finish line, got his hand raised, and then capped his fourth Asian Championships title with a tech win over Urmatbek Amatov (KGZ). But it was this match that mattered more, at least to the sport. Senior Greco-Roman always needs a few high-profile midseason showdowns to spark fan interest, especially in the US, and Tasmuradov/Ainagulov checked all of the required boxes.

The full match can be enjoyed in its entirety below.

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