USA Greco

Rau Going for Bronze at Petrov in Bulgaria

joe rau, 2024 nikola petrov memorial
Joe Rau -- Photo: Tony Rotundo

On the strength of two technical superiority victories — and following what is likely perceived by the athlete as a frustrating loss in the semifinal — three-time World Team member Joe Rau (97 kg, TMWC) will compete for a bronze medal once action in Sofia resumes on Saturday.

Day 2 of the 2024 Nikola Petrov Memorial began at 10:30am local time from Sofia, Bulgaria (3:30am ET) and streamed live on the Bulgarian Wrestling Federation’s YouTube channel.

not all roads lead to gold, parent edition, jim gruenwald

Rau was one of three USA Greco-Roman wrestlers competing on Friday as he was joined by ’18 U23 World rep George Sikes (NYAC/NTS) and Northern Michigan University’s Patrick Curran (87 kg). Rau and Sikes were both in the same weight category as well as on the same side of the bracket, and indeed faced one another in the quarterfinal.

But first up for Rau in the qualification round was ’22 European Championships bronze Daniel Gastl (AUT), which delivered to the American a potentially fitful test. Gastl is an established competitor in addition to having become a consistent international performer.

Rau (who was in fact cornered for this match by Sikes as NMU head coach Andy Bisek was minding Curran on a different mat) did not provide Gastl with an opportunity to get comfortable. After Gastl was cited for passivity, Rau locked head-and-arm from the Austrian’s left side and pulled his hold over for four points. Rau then kept the front headlock and cranked Gastl for two more pairs of exposure points. Austria challenged the sequence due to, apparently, not agreeing with the point distribution. The original scoring was upheld following review and Rau had won via VSU at the expense of a stout opponent.

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Sikes had enjoyed a bye to the quarterfinal as he prepared to greet Rau. Multi-point scores did not factor into the equation between the two. Rau constantly dug into Sikes’ clutches in search of two-on-one’s and relied on torsion and leg-driving to collect a step-out. This strategy enveloped thrice more before Sikes was penalized for a caution. Neither changed course; Rau resumed poring inside, and Sikes struggled to have an answer for the pressure. He was bent at the waist whilst attempting to fend off the advances and could not hold his ground. Another step-out attached to a caution made the score 7-0 prior to the break. Shortly into the second period, Rau managed to force Sikes off the line once more to end the match prematurely.

The semifinal pitted Rau against ’23 U20 Asian gold Amirreza Akbari of Iran. And it was a wild contest.

Rau received the opening period’s passivity/par terre chance and turned Akbari to surge ahead 3-0. In the second period, the passives flipped and Akbari turned Rau twice to render a 5-3 score — but on the back-end of Akbari’s second turn, Rau stepped over and exposed the Iranian for two ahead of securing a front headlock and netting two more.

The score was 7-5 for Rau as the match moved into its latter stages. It appeared that the Illinois native was in firm command until, with :30 remaining, Akbari frenetically swam behind Rau for a takedown-gut combination. Immediately, Rau wanted a challenge for he insisted that a leg foul had occurred. The officials reviewed the action and indeed the points were wiped off the board. After the reset, Akbari dove towards Rau, who hastily spun behind for an apparent two — but no points were awarded and they gathered for one more restart.

Upon the whistle, Akbari, now trailing 7-6, laced his right arm around Rau’s back (and whether it was inadvertent or not, he had his fingers dug into Rau’s singlet, which had already been ripped by the Iranian earlier in the bout) and looked to lock his hands. Rau responded by over-hooking Akbari’s right appendage as the two careened towards the boundary with less than :05 on the clock. Akbari hipped into Rau, who went head over heels, and Iran was awarded four points. Bisek motioned from the corner to check if Rau wanted to challenge. The brick was not tossed, and Akbari had prevailed 10-7.

Rau will now have to refocus for Saturday’s bronze round where he will meet Zegang Wang of China.


In his first major Senior overseas tournament, Curran had one advantage working in his favor: he was about to benefit, for experience’s sake, from a pooled 87 kg bracket.

Match 1 saw Curran paired with Sultan Eid (JOR). The young NMU competitor fought at the wrists and did his best to stand up to the oncoming fire from Eid — and for the most part, his tactics worked. Eid was unable to do much on the feet aside from busying up the ties. Passivity is how the Jordanian scored. Curran was dinged and Eid ran a succession of guts to compel the stoppage.

Lukas Staudacher (AUT) was next in line for Curran, for whom it would seem that a front headlock is a preferred maneuver. Curran latched a front headlock early into the bout but Staudacher adjusted his footing and landed on top for four points. The Austrian was set to try and collect follow-up points with a gutwrench — and Curran stepped over on the turn to nail a front headlock that brought him two points. Back standing, and with Staudacher slightly owning position, Curran was called passive. From top par terre, Staudacher achieved his lock and rolled two guts for the 11-2 technical fall.

The opposition did not become easier for Curran as well-traveled Yoan Dimitrov (BUL) awaited in Round 3. Not lacking in either energy or urgency, Curran bravely checked into the ties and went to battle against the Bulgarian. Footing was an issue, however, and Dimitrov ambled behind to score a takedown and quickly transitioned to a gutwrench that he was able to rotate three times en-route to an 8-0 VSU.

Day 3

The United States has one more athlete in addition to Rau suiting up on Saturday — ’21 U23 World Team member David Stepanyan (67 kg, NYAC/NTS). At press time, Stepanyan’s draw has not yet been made available. Should that change, this page will include the updated information. The finals/bronze-medal round tomorrow (featuring Rau vs. Wang) is scheduled for 6:00pm (11:00am ET).

Saturday, March 9 — Day 3 (Stepanyan)
10:30am — Qualification rounds & Day 2 repechage
5:00pm — Semifinals
6:00pm — Finals & bronze matches for Day 2 athletes (Rau vs. Wang)

2024 Nikola Petrov Memorial

March 7-10 — Sofia, BUL


87 kg

Patrick Curran (NMU/NTS)
LOSS Sultan Eid (JOR) 9-0, TF
LOSS Lukas Staudacher (AUT) 11-2, TF
LOSS Yoan Dimitrov (BUL) 8-0, TF

97 kg

Joe Rau (TMWC)
WON Daniel Gastl (AUT) 9-0, TF
WON George Sikes (NYAC/NTS) 8-0, TF
LOSS Amirreza Akbari (IRI) 10-7

George Sikes (NYAC/NTS)
LOSS Joe Rau (TMWC) 8-0, TF

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