Northern Michigan

Ryder Smith in Bronze Round; Welcome & Townsell in Repechage at Petrov

ryder smith, nmu, nikola petrov memorial
Ryder Smith -- Image: BF Borba

Northern Michigan University freshman Ryder Smith (60 kg) will compete for an international bronze medal on Sunday, while two other American competitors will attempt to accomplish the same feat but with a longer road ahead of them.

Day 3 of the 2023 Nikola Petrov Memorial began at 10:30am local time from Sofia, Bulgaria (3:30am ET) and streamed live on YouTube.

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Smith & Welcome

Smith was defeated by Poland’s Michal Tracz in the quarterfinal round; but because Tracz advanced to the final, Smith has an opportunity to wrestle in tomorrow’s bronze-medal round where he will be opposed by Koto Gomi (JPN). NMU had a bronze-medal candidate on Friday with Aidan Nutter (63 kg), who competed quite well and ultimately finished fifth.

Charlie Welcome (67 kg) also has a chance to keep the line moving. Welcome opened in the qualification round against ’19 World bronze Slavik Galstyan (ARM) and intimated a desire to take command of the space from the whistle. Welcome indeed pursued Galstyan towards the edge until the Armenian was able to wrap the body and achieve several turns in order to end the match.

Galstyan marched through the bracket and will appear in tomorrow’s final round. However, since Welcome was downed by Galstyan in the qualification round — as well as because 67 kg in Sofia is a more populated bracket — there is no bypassing of the repechage as is the case with Smith. Welcome must first defeat ’19 U23 World bronze Artur Politaev (UKR); if successful, he will then need to get past both ’20 Bulgarian National champ Nikolai Vichev and Furkan Yildiz (TUR).

Townsell In Repechage

Gabriel Townsell (60 kg, NYAC/CARTC), former age-group star for Illinois and a Junior Trials runner-up in ’16, returned to Greco competition on Saturday and was called upon to face reigning World Champion Zholoman Sharshenbekov (KGZ) right out of the gate. The movement was sure and confident for Townsell, though an inadvertent head check on Sharshenbekov proved indicative of their contrast in entry styles. A quick exchange saw Kyrgyzstan get on the board with a step-out, and passivity rang in short succession. Townsell was chosen to hit the deck, and Sharshenbekov managed to make good on a turn and lift combo to net the points required for a finish. Townsell did come close on hip-heisting out of the lock in search of a scramble to maintain continuation, but the proceeding sequence had already been recorded.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, Sharshenbekov has earned a spot in the final. This development provides Townsell with a slot in Sunday’s repechage. First, Townsell needs to prevail over Nedyalko Petrov (BUL); a win in that match would then pit the Stanford grad against ’22 University World gold Sajjad Abbasourragani (IRI) with bronze on the line.

Prior to Saturday, the last time Townsell competed in a Greco-Roman tournament was during the winter of ’22 — which also happened to be the Nikola Petrov Memorial.

Stepanyan, Briggs, & Higgins

’21 U23 World Team member David Stepanyan (67 kg, NYAC/NTS) had a stiff test waiting for him in the qualification round, ’20 European Championships gold Morten Thoresen (NOR). They traded paint early and often, with Thoresen apt to jut forward whilst prying for underhooks. Stepanyan dug hard himself in the tie-ups, and in one instance worked an overhook at the line from the hip-to-hip position. Passivity benefited Thoresen in the first period, of which he took advantage by garnering one turn.

In the second frame, Stepanyan came close on a double-overhook throw but the officials did not score it. Thoresen then received another passivity/par terre chance, mainly due to the American being warned for his head level. Stepanyan defended well and long, but Thoresen still had enough time to convert a correct hold for two. The final score was 6-0 for Thoresen, who was shut down by Yildiz in the quarterfinal.

Riley Briggs (77 kg) only had one match on Saturday, and it did not end in his favor. Still, it was a sincere, solid effort that rendered a glimpse at his long-known and well-respected abilities.

His counterpart was Zlatomir Dinkov (BUL), whose lankier presence at times in this bout were both an asset and hindrance. Briggs worked with stout positioning to start off, occasionally requiring an adjustment to keep his head at an adequate height. Dinkov looked to snare Briggs in a front headlock midway through the first — and quickly regretted it. From underneath, Briggs improvised with a barrel roll and hastily spun for a takedown. In the process, he had also trapped Dinkov’s left arm. A turn from par terre followed to put the American up 4-0.

riley briggs, 2023 nikola petrov memorial

Briggs (blue) deployed a well-timed counter to a front headlock position in order to convert a takedown and collected Zlatormir Dinkov’s left arm before scoring one turn for two points. The sequence resulted in a 4-0 lead for Briggs until Dinkov came back in the second period to eventually prevail via criteria. (Image: BF Borba)

The second period is when Bulgaria inched ahead. Briggs had stepped in for what was a sound high-dive attempt, but Dinkov stepped over to collect takedown points. A front headlock yielded two more the other way, thus providing Dinkov with an edge via criteria that he would not relinquish.

Also at 77 kilograms for on Saturday was Mike Higgins, who like the majority of NMU athletes this week, was making his official overseas debut. Higgins was originally slated to tangle with Finland’s Akseli Yli Hannuksela but instead received a forfeit into the round-of-16 where he was defeated by ’18 U23 European Championships bronze Elmar Nuraliev. Nuraliev went on a run through the bracket after triumphing against Higgins until a decision loss to highly-decorated Armenian Malkhas Amoyan.


Sunday is the fourth and final day of wrestling at the 2023 Nikola Petrov Memorial. Action begins slightly later than the previous three days as all preliminary rounds have been exhausted. Repechage — which will include Welcome and Townsell — is scheduled for 11:00am local time (4:00am ET). The bronze round featuring Smith will start at noon (5:00am ET). The stream to watch live can be found at this link.

2023 Nikola Petrov Memorial

March 2-5 — Sofia, BUL


60 kg

Ryder Smith (NMU/NTS)
LOSS Michal Tracz (POL) 9-0, TF

Gabriel Townsell (NYAC/CARTC)
LOSS Zholoman Sharshenbekov (KGZ) 9-0, TF

67 kg

David Stepanyan (NYAC/NTS)
LOSS Morten Thoresen (NOR) 6-0

Charlie Welcome (NMU/NTS)
LOSS Slavik Galstyan (ARM) 8-0, TF

77 kg

Riley Briggs (WC Greco RTC/NTS)
LOSS Zlatomir Dinkov (BUL) 4-4 (criteria)

Mike Higgins (NMU/NTS)
WON Akseli Yli Hannuksela (FIN) via forfeit
LOSS Elmar Nuraliev (UKR) 9-0, TF

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