Last year I saw Russia’s Bekhan Goygereev destroy the field en route to a gold medal in the 2013 World Championships at 60 kg. I thought that I had just witnessed the ascension of wrestling’s newest megastar and that Goygereev would maintain a Stranglehold on the division for as long as he wanted.
Then something weird happened: Goygereev started losing. In January, he lost to Djamal Otarsultanov at the Yarigin Memorial, then he lost to Haji Aliyev at the European Championships. Most notably, he lost at the Russian National Championships, ensuring that he would not even make the team Russia would send to the 2014 World Championships.
Instead of Goygereev, Russia sends national champion Alexander Bogomoev. Bogomoev has beaten Goygereev in the past year, and has plenty of high profile wins to his credit, but I do not foresee him dominating the field like his Russian colleague did in the 2013 championships.
The number one ranked wrestler in the World at 61 kg heading into this tournament is Azerbaijan’s Haji Aliev, who has had break out year om 2p14 which has seen him beat both of last year’s world finalists. I’ll admit that I have always overlooked Aliev, failing to see him as a serious player on the international scene (justifiably so before this year), so I don’t have much to say about him in terms of stylistic analysis.
Fans who watch this championship should also keep their eye on last year’s bronze medalist at 60 kg Masoud Esmailpour (Iran), silver medalist Vladimir Dubov (Bulgaria) and fifth place wrestler Nyam-Ochir Enkhsaikhan who has an opportunity to break through and claim a medal for a rising Mongolian program in this somewhat talent-depleted 61 kg class.
I’ll add this is the second weight in a row where an Indian who medaled last year (Bajrang, one word like Cher, won bronze) fails to appear in this year’s edition.
My pick to win it: Masoud Esmailpour
I think this is the year that Iran’s Masoud Esmailpour gets it done, and takes home a gold. I love watching him; he’s totally one-dimensional, but that one dimension consists of brutally unceasing animal aggression. When the guy takes the mat, he works from start to finish like a piston in an engine, and a really ill-tempered engine at that. Most of his opponents just wilt under the constant pressure.
Esmailpour already has a win over Bogomoev this year, along with a win over Aliev at last year’s World Championships. This bodes well for the Persian.
Dark Horse from an unexpected country: Jae-Hoon Yang
South Korea used to regularly generate top-flight freestylers, so it is a sad commentary on the state of their program when I name one their wrestlers in this section. Unfortunately a widespread corruption scandal in the Korean Wrestling Federation, and the loss of the precious sponsorship for the corporate giant Samsung, seems to have adversely affected the quality of Korea’s freestyle wrestling.
If the Koreans want to reclaim some of their old glory in this style of wrestling, Jae-Hoon Yang represents their best chance. Yang showed the potential for a brilliant career when he placed seventh in the 2005 World Championships, but since then his appearances at international events have been sporadic. Last year, Yang announced a bit of a return to prominence with a runner-up finish in the 2013 Asian Championships, and he has a shot to make some noise in a 2014 61 kg class which seems to lack a bit of star power.
The American Representative: Jimmy Kennedy
I always knew that Jimmy Kennedy was tough as squirrel jerky, and that he was a damn good wrestler, but I never thought he’d be this good. Since completing an multi-time All American NCAA career at The University of Illinois, Kennedy has flourished as a resident athlete at Ann Arbor’s Cliff Keen Wrestling Club, and under the tutelage of Coach Andy Hrovat, Kennedy has claimed a place among the best wrestlers in the world at 61 kg.
Kennedy stands a serious chance to do big things at this tournament. Though this is his first World Championship, he has had some big wins over tough competition in the past couple years, and has established himself as a force on the international level. While he is good enough to beat anyone in this field, he is also not so good as to be immune from an upset bid from a lesser wrestler. All told, I think it would take a disastrous series of events for Kennedy to finish outside the top seven, and I’d put him at pretty good odds to make it to a medal match.
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