After Bouvaisar Saitiev, the greatest wrestler to ever live, retired following his third Olympic gold medal in 2008, Denis Tsargush rose to take Saitiev’s spot in the Russian freestyle wrestling team lineup at 74 kg. The early returns suggested that the Russian’s would not miss a beat with Tsargush in command, as the young Abkhazian* won world titles in both 2009 and 2010. Tsargush looked like he would maintain the Russian stranglehold on this weight for the foreseeable future, but something unexpected happened: the USA’s Jordan Burroughs appeared from nowhere to embark on his reign of worldwide pwnage.
*Abkhazia is semi-autonomous republic at the western reaches of the Caucasus, and central to a nasty dispute between the Russia and Georgia.
Burroughs defeated Tsargush in the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics; the latter being one of the single most captivating matches of international wrestling’s mostly horrid best-two-of-three-periods era.
After losing in London, Tsargush slumped a bit. 2013 saw him suffer a number of unexpected losses, including a defeat at Russian Nationals which cost him a chance to compete at the 2013 World Championships. Tsargush returns to the sport’s greatest event in 2014, and American fans should worry, for if anyone will derail the magical run of the USA’s golden boy, it will be he.
Burroughs and Tsargush are not the only notable competitors at 74 kg. Iran always brings talent at this weight; Iranian wrestlers have placed second at 74 kg in every world-level championship for the last four years. While this year’s Iranian entry, Reza Afzali Paemami, is new to the world stage, he has done well in continental competition, and should be in the thick of the medal race.
World medalists Murad Gaidarov of Belarus, Jabrail Hassanov of Azerbaijan, Livan Lopez of Cuba, Gabor Hatos of Hungary and Rashid Kurbanov of Uzbekistan round out a deep 74 kg weight class.
As a side note, the strange and sometimes partially awake giant of the wrestling universe, India, is apparently entering Balraj Balraj at this weight. This disappoints me because India has two first-rate wrestlers at 74 kg who won’t be coming: world champ and Olympic silver medalist Sushil Kumar and Narasingh Yadav who finished fifth in the world last year.
My pick to win it all: Jordan Burroughs
When I interviewed Burroughs for FILA, he told me something to the effect that the neighborhood where he grew up had a bunch of impressive physical specimens, but most of them ended up working construction. Burroughs said this in response to comments from the Russian wrestling community which attributed his success to brute athletic gifts, and not to any advanced technical and tactical acumen.
In other words, some Russians (including Tsargush) saw Burroughs as just a ridiculously fast and strong guy, and not a truly elite wrestler. This, of course, is total horseshit (among other things). Burroughs’ methods are unorthodox, particularly compared to those employed by wrestlers from east of the Black Sea, but his technique is fantastic. Furthermore, in terms of intelligently implemented tactics, I don’t think anyone compares to Burroughs. Every single match that he wrestles is his match, and he expertly steers the action to areas where that favor him. In particular, his tactical display at the London Games was masterful.
The real reason that I can’t pick against Burroughs, however, has nothing to do with his technique and tactics. Burroughs will win this championship because beneath his cool exterior burns a competitive spirit unmatched by anyone else in the world. It is mostly forgotten now, but in 2008 Burroughs finished tenth at the Junior World Championships. This devastated Burroughs, and while crumpled into a crying heap on the locker room floor, he vowed to never allow himself to be anything less than the best ever again. Since then Burroughs won two NCAA championships, two World Championships and an Olympic Gold medal. A Russian superstar, a broken ankle and a trio of spectacularly talented domestic competitors haven’t stood in the way of Burrough’s fidelity to his vow.
To Jordan Burroughs losing is just unacceptable, and the bigger the tournament, the more unacceptable it becomes. That’s why he’s going to win another world championship in 2014.
Darkhorse from an unlikely country: Krystian Brzozowski
Poland hasn’t had a world medalist in freestyle wrestling since Marek Garmulewicz made the podium in 1999. Garmulewicz retired from international competition a decade ago, and Krystian Brzozowski is the only Pole wrestler since who has posed an even semi-consistent threat to place in the world’s top three .
Brzozowski has been a fixture on the international scene since 2004, when he finished fourth at the Athens Olympics. In the time since, he has made another Olympic appearance, and placed top ten in the World Championships twice, including a fifth place finish in 2011. Though he’s no spring chicken, a bronze medal in this year’s European Championships, and a world ranking of seven show that Brzozowski still has enough gas left in the tank to have a strong showing in Tashkent.
The American entry: Jordan Burroughs
All he sees is gold. Enough said.
About the author