The United States did not exit the Zagreb Grand Prix completely empty-handed as both Ildar Hafizov (60 kg, Army/WCAP) and Mahmoud Sebie (82 kg, NYAC) appeared in bronze-medal matches before eventually finishing fifth.
The third and final day of the 2024 Grand Prix Zagreb Open began at 10:00am local time from Zagreb, Croatia (4:00am ET) and streamed live in the US on FLOWrestling.
Team USA had a total of six competitors in the tournament Sunday morning and were searching for their first medal contenders of the weekend. Friday and Saturday did not bear fruit for the Americans when it came to placewinners. In fact, the US had not recorded a single individual victory prior to Sebie’s decision over Roland Schwarz of Germany in the 82 kg qualification round earlier today.
Sebie was the first US athlete to gain a win but it was Hafizov who kept the ball rolling by defeating Denis Mihai (ROU) via technical superiority in the round-of-16. As he and those who understood the bracket composition beforehand, the win meant a showdown with ’21 World Champion/’18 silver Victor Ciobanu (MDA) in the quarterfinal.
Hafizov stood his ground and diligently worked on Ciobanu’s left wrist as they met in the preamble. Passivity favored the Moldovan in the first period, a potential cause for consternation. However, when Ciobanu gathered his reverse lock, Hafizov had, with immediacy, stepped to his feet and arched out of the hold and for himself found a front headlock. Ciobanu complained about fingers on the back-end of the sequence and demanded a challenge. Upon review, Hafizov (who chuckled at the call) was penalized for a caution-and-two and they reset from par terre. Again, Ciobanu was unable to score from top and the first period came to a close with the US trailing 3-0.
In the second period, Hafizov braved the opening onslaught from Ciobanu and wrangled another front headlock. He had remained in the position a touch too long and over-extended, of which Ciobanu took advantage by wrapping the body; in response, Hafizov held onto the front headlock in effort to counter-throw, but had already surrendered four-points for exposure. Back standing and, despite staring at a 7-0 deficit, Hafizov was not lacking in confidence as he worked Ciobanu around the mat. Passivity with just over a minute left in the contest brought about a potential change in complexion. From top par terre, Hafizov locked and hoisted what appeared to be a beautiful lift — but Ciobanu contorted, flung his body in desperation, and landed on top. Hafizov was in trouble upon landing and the signal for the fall arrived soon after.
With Ciobanu advancing to the final round, Hafizov was pulled into repechage. One win, and a shot for bronze was on the table.
The situation was still in doubt heading into the second stanza. Hafizov had only a 1-0 passive lead on Leo Tudezca (FRA), even if by relevant optics he was in control. But, points are necessary in these events, especially when one mere executed technique on the part of the opposition can cause a wreck. The first offensive score for Hafizov was derived from standing as the four-time US World Team member attacked the body and spun behind for two points. The follow-up from par terre did not yield a further harvest but he made up for it in short order. After the reset, both wrestlers were mired in an over/under position when Hafizov whammed a headlock to pick up four. He then held steady a high-lock from par terre, Tudezca turned towards said lock as a defensive measure, and Hafizov simply took Tudezca in the direction he wanted to go and earned the exposure required to force a halt to the proceedings as well as secure a spot in the bronze round.
A challenging opponent awaited with bronze on the line in ’22 World silver and generally well-decorated Edmond Nazaryan (BUL), who had fallen to Ciobanu on criteria in the semifinal. Hafizov masterfully prodded in the ties until passivity, during which he defended well to earn a reset. Back to the feet and Nazaryan looked to yank a high head-and-arm throw. The attempt landed — but was quickly called for legs and thus a restart was ordered. The second period gave way to passivity on Nazaryan, providing Hafizov with a criteria lead along with a wonderful chance to create distance on the scoreboard. A high lock was achieved, but Nazaryan held firm. Another reset and, shortly thereafter, a Hafizov attack was met with an angular dash that led to takedown points for Bulgaria. With time a factor, Hafizov snared a front headlock and began to slither into position. The problem, or part of it, was that Nazaryan found a crease and countered for a takedown to render a 5-1 score that he would not relinquish.
“I thought Ildar wrestled very well, especially since we haven’t been on the mat because of the holidays and everyone was gone,” declared Army coach Spenser Mango to 5PM following the tournament. “He said his top par terre was rusty, and I saw that. But he wrestled great on his feet and from bottom. It was a good day for him. There is stuff to build on and it was definitely a confidence booster.” Hafizov succinctly summed up his showing in Zagreb with “I’ll be better after the camp.”
For Sebie against the aforementioned Schwarz, all of the offense had arrived in Period 1. An arm throw attempt that nearly scored as a correct hold helped set the tone and Schwarz was deemed passive moments later. Sebie then hastily added to his 1-0 lead by rotating two gutwrenches and, just like that, he was up 5-0. A subsequent lift off the edge delivered two more points and the former Egyptian competitor was riding high once the second period got underway. Schwarz avoided a shutout by using his own passivity/PT chance to grab correct throw points, but Sebie went virtually unthreatened the rest of the way and moved on with a 7-3 decision. A close loss to eventual finalist Alperen Berber (TUR) was next for Sebie in the quarterfinal, with the defeat depositing him directly into the bronze-medal match opposite ’22 U20 World Champion Deni Nakaev, one of Germany’s best young prospects.
An odd circumstance arose following the first-period par terre, which had gone to the US. Sebie opted for a gutwrench but stepped to lift when Nakaev failed to budge; Sebie’s throw did not achieve exposure, but Nakaev had impacted out of bounds. The officials awarded no points for the action, much to the chagrin of the American corner, and so a challenge was requested. But — Sebie wanted to hold back the challenge and resume wrestling. It was too late, the officials reviewed the sequence, and Nakaev received a point for the call being upheld.
Sebie came close to another score soon into the second thanks to an arm throw attack. Nakaev stayed upright on the initial attempt but Sebie had re-positioned to pursue a conventional takedown towards the boundary and collected two points. Nakaev challenged the call, and Sebie’s points were wiped off the board. The next passivity benefited Nakaev — who scored a four-point lift before Sebie ambled for a reversal. The score was updated to 6-2 in favor of Germany, which is ultimately how the bout concluded.
Sebie — who in ’23 became eligible to compete in US Team selection tournaments following a reputable career in Egypt — was originally targeting 87 kilograms this season but invited curiosity by choosing to go 82 in Zagreb. There is a reason for the weight change. Reportedly, he is seeking to enter the Olympic Team Trials in April at 77 kilograms instead of 87, due in large part to having a “walk-around weight” of only 81 kilos. The Grand Prix Zagreb Open represented his first international start as an American competitor.
Two-time US World Team member Alan Vera (97 kg, NYAC) was the only other American aside from Hafizov and Sebie to earn a win in Zagreb. And he did so at the expense of a suitably stout opponent, Sergey Omelin of Ukraine. The second-period par terre is how Vera prevailed. From top, he cranked a pair of gutwrenches for a 5-1 lead. Omelin answered back with a step-out that was tethered to a fleeing caution on Vera, and the Ukrainian added a late takedown. Vera still owned criteria and advanced to the round-of-16, where he was downed by ’21 World silver Alex Szoeke (HUN). Szoeke won his next match but was blanked by ’20 Olympian Arvi Savolainen (FIN) in the semifinal to eliminate Vera from repechage. “I’m a little bit disappointed but this is the game,” Vera said later. “Learn from mistakes and work on it.”
Tuma, Rau, & Coon
The always-explosive Hayden Tuma (60 kg, NYAC) has not had many opportunities to compete in Europe as of late, which was one more reason why his entering the Zagreb GP carried interest. Tuma — multi-time US National Champion and oft recognized as one of the most dangerous lightweights overall in the country — can pile up points like no other. But on this day, the kinetic energy for which he is most closely-associated was unavailable.
It was Tuma who garnered the first-period passivity/PT against Liguo Cao (CHN) and worked for a gutwrench. Cao defended, and both spent the remainder of the frame jousting for position with not much in the way of workable attempts. In the second period, Cao had his chance from top par terre and executed back-to-back four-point lifts to earn the match-winning points. Cao fell to Pridon Abuladze (GEO) in the next round, which meant that Tuma was without the opportunity to compete in the repechage.
Certainly, three-time World rep Joe Rau (97 kg, TMWC) must have walked off the mat in frustration after his lone contest in Zagreb. Facing German Peter Oehler — who G’Angelo Hancock defeated for World bronze in ’21 — Rau pushed the issue and consistently navigated what were otherwise relevant tie-ups, but the calls did not go his way. Oehler received passive points in both periods and did not capitalize from par terre, resulting in a 2-0 decision loss for Rau. Oehler was also defeated by Szoeke to cut short Rau’s time in the tournament.
’18 World silver Adam Coon (130 kg, NYAC/Cliff Keen) battled in the trenches against ’15 World bronze/two-time Olympian Oleksandr Chernetskyy (UKR) in the qualification round. Coon assumed top par terre with the opening passivity and follow-up points for him were not forthcoming. An interesting development ensued after the reset. Chernetskyy engaged Coon in an over/under clinch, which is (still) considered the American’s strongest position and was the one from which he bodied a string of antagonists to their eventual disposal at the ’18 Worlds. But in this match, Coon chose an alternative tactic. Upon the first realization of the hold, he hung in the over/under with his back towards the line, seemingly waiting to time a pivot and compel a step-out; alas, it was Chernetskyy who earned the point.
Later in the bout, that same over/under was again achieved, and Chernetskyy off-balanced Coon to score a takedown. Chernetskyy clamped over/under’s twice more, the last of which was an obvious resting hold and so Coon was the recipient of another passivity point. He could not garner a turn, and Chernetskyy clung to a 3-2 advantage until the final whistle. Multi-time World medalist Oscar Pino Hinds (CUB) got past Chernetskyy in the round-of-16 to eliminate Coon from a potential path to bronze through the repechage.
The United States performance in Zagreb was not, pertaining to medal results, what one might define as a success. Only three Americans earned victories, and not one stood on the podium. But glitzy stats and box scores were not the premier objective, either. The Grand Prix Zagreb Open provided for the US an opportunity to compete against and among the finest athletes in the sport. Plus, Hafizov will take home 9,000 more “Ranking Series” points, which should propel him into a potentially-advantageous bracket position next month at the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier in Acapulco, Mexico. In the end, the primary goal for Team USA Greco in Croatia was to test themselves in a top-caliber environment and participate in the event’s popular attached training camp. Such are the items National Team head coach Herb House wants fans to remember upon the weekend’s conclusion.
“This tournament was incredibly tough,” said House. “Each weight class had multiple World and Olympic Champions and medalists. It was not an easy tournament at all. In fact, it was even harder than the World Championships in some brackets. However, it is important for everyone to know that this tournament was only a preparation for the Olympic Qualifier. The only thing that matters is for us to learn from this weekend, go to camp, and prepare for Mexico. That’s our main focus.”
2024 Grand Prix Zagreb Open
January 12-14 — Zagreb, CRO
TEAM USA FULL RESULTS
Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP) — 5th
WON Denis Mihai (ROU) 8-0, TF
LOSS Victor Ciobanu (MDA) via fall
WON Leo Tudezca (FRA) 10-2, TF
LOSS Edmond Nazaryan (BUL)
Hayden Tuma (NYAC) — 20th
LOSS Liguo Cao (CHN) 9-1, TF
Robert Perez III (Sunkist) — 22nd
LOSS Lei Lui (CHN) 5-3
Peyton Omania (Orange County RTC) — 24th
LOSS Aleksey Masyk (UKR) 6-2
Alex Sancho (Army/WCAP) — 26th
LOSS Hasrat Jafarov (AZE) 3-1
Benji Peak (Sunkist/NTS) — 40th
LOSS Riccardo Abbrescia (ITA) 3-0
RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC) — 39th
LOSS Vikas Vikas (IND) via DQ
Mahmoud Sebie (NYAC) — 5th
WON Roland Schwarz (GER) 7-3
LOSS Alperen Berber (TUR) 4-2
LOSS Deni Nakev (GER) 6-2
Spencer Woods (Army/WCAP) — 27th
LOSS Aleksander Komarov (SRB) 9-1, TF
Joe Rau (TMWC) — 30th
LOSS Peter Oehler (GER) 2-0
Alan Vera (NYAC) — 17th
WON Sergei Omelin (UKR) 5-5 (criteria)
LOSS Alex Szoeke (HUN) 8-0, TF
Adam Coon (NYAC/Cliff Keen WC) — 16th
LOSS Oleksandr Chernetskyy (UKR) 3-2
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