After a four-year suspension (for using anabolics that gave him Wolverine powers), 2014 World wrestling bronze medalist Mohammad Hossei Askari Mohammadian appeared back in Iran’s lineup at 97 kg in late 2019.
At the 2019 Military World Games, Mohammadian ran through #7 Vladislav Baitsaev (who once pushed Abdulrashid Sadulaev to the brink) and #9 Aliaksandr Hushtyn for gold.
Those in the know were aware that the lengthy Iranian was the real deal, but no one could have predicted his shocking run at the Olympic year’s first Ranking Series tournament – the Matteo Pellicone in Rome.
After defeating three ranked opponents, including a blitzing technical fall over Bo Nickal and a pin over Kyle Snyder, the question of everyone’s mind is – can he push the reigning champion Sadulaev?
#6 Mohammad MOHAMMADIAN (IRI)
2020 Matteo Pellicone (Rome, Italy)
Qualification: Mohammadhossein Askari MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) df. Alisher YERGALI (KAZ)
Alisher YERGALI (KAZ)
An outside medal contender at the World championships, Kazakhstan’s Yergali is a fairly nimble 97 kg wrestler and a proficient upper body operator.
As shown in last week’s Hassan Yazdanicharati breakdown (and here’s part 1!), Iranian wrestlers are known for their preference for the underhook series, using the position to push out of bounds, or drop levels for ankle picks and knee taps.
While Mohammadian is excellent in this regard, he doesn’t take a meat and potatoes approach and hunt the underhook like most of his countrymen.
Instead, he prefers to stay long, hanging on the head with inside collar control and controlling a wrist. For the most part, it’s an attritive stalling position. He’s a counter wrestler, Mohammadian is looking to frustrate his opponent and force a bad shot from which he can further extend and exploit them.
If his opponent pressures in with their own collar tie, Mohammadian takes advantage of their heightened posture and digs up through the exposed window for the underhook. From there, he’s got a nice little variation on the knee tap. He’ll punch the underhook and look to tap\block the knee opposite the underhook, but once his opponent has planted on their free leg on the underhook side to maintain balance, Mohammadian takes a big step around it and drops off the underhook to the leg.
It’s not so dissimilar to what MMA fans have seen from TJ Dillashaw, but it’s more of a low shot entry on the leg than a one step finishing maneuver on the hips.
Over time, Mohammadian’s height and strength gives him superior structural security in a fight of collar ties. His opponent will begin to wear down, give ground, and take chances far before he does. When he feels them becoming easier to move, he’ll dig inside and straighten up his opponent from the collar, pressuring in to further extend their posture before disengaging and sweeping for an outside single entry.
What really seems to separate Mohammadian from the pack is his impeccable footwork – from the hand fight, defending on the edge, or in a scramble, the Iranian takes quick steps to keep his motion going without putting the rest of his body out of position.
That was how he was able to out hustle Yergali to rear standing and hit this absurd five-point throw.
Overall, it appears that Mohammadian’s game is based on controlling position in the center, being difficult to score on, swift leg attacks, and high-paced motion for scrambling and counters. He’s not all that dissimilar to Abdulrashid Sadulaev, even if their go-to techniques differ a bit.
1/8 Final: Mohammadhossein Askari MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) df. Bo Dean NICKAL (USA)
#5 Bo NICKAL (USA)
I’m clearly high on Bo Nickal, and I’m certainly not ruling out the possibility of him making the USA Olympic team at 97 kg. However, he’s undersized at the weight – the man weighed in under the limit for his wrestle-off with J’den Cox at 92 kg in 2019.
It’s extremely important for Nickal to get his snaps going off the collar ties, and against a taller, stronger man, that truly wasn’t an option.
Instead it was Mohammadian who controlled posture, straightening Nickal with the pressuring collar tie before dropping outside to the single. He quickly built up to the feet and snatched up the body-lock on the finish.
It may have been the strength advantage, or perhaps Mohammadian has an elite gut wrench, but he had zero trouble popping Nickal off the mat and taking him through in both directions for four points. Nickal, eager to counter in some way, was sitting up straight off the guts, allowing Mohammadian to scoot his hips back behind Nickal’s to get power in his next gut attempt.
In this match Mohammadian showed another neat technique off the underhook, a variant of the throw-by. We looked at the throw-by often in the David Baev career breakdown. Mohammadian throws by and grabs the single as is typical, but off the pick he secures the seat-belt with his other arm, steps deep to block both legs (which are now narrow) and redirects across the blocking leg.
Many of Mohammadian’s big finishes involve that sort of blocking and redirection, as we’ll see against Snyder.
In the final sequence, Mohammadian’s stinginess in the collar ties drew out a long shot from Nickal. Whizzering off the sprawl, Mohammadian blocked the post arm of Nickal and hipped over through the whizzer to debase his opponent. Nearly hitting the go-behind, Mohammadian was able to attack a single as Nickal recovered, straightening the leg and knocking down the American superstar for the tech fall.
Quarterfinal: Mohammadhossein Askari MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) df. Kyle Frederick SNYDER (USA)
#2 Kyle SNYDER (USA)
There’s no denying that Kyle Snyder is one of the world’s most credentialed active wrestlers, especially for his age.
His straightforward approach and physicality led him to high-profile victories over greats like Abdusalam Gadisov in 2015 and Abdulrashid Sadulaev in 2017. However, Snyder has taken his lumps, losing to a mixture of elite and lower ranked opponents over the years. After being pinned in the 2018 World finals by Sadulaev, and being upset by Sharif Sharifov in the 2019 World semifinals, Snyder opted for a change of scenery.
The Ohio State product moved operations to the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, on the campus of Penn State University.
The knocks on Snyder were about mobility, variety, mat wrestling, and overall depth of skill. These are the areas in which Penn State wrestlers are typically unrivaled.
Right away we’ve seen changes in Snyder, who is mixing up his shot selection, feinting, and appears rejuvenated.
With all of that in mind, Mohammadian completely dismantling him is even more impressive.
Even without the strength disadvantage present in the Nickal match, Mohammadian still held an obvious edge over Snyder when they tied up. Snyder was not going to have success moving the Iranian around the mat, at least not early. Mohammadian clearly had a read on his high crotch entry, stepping out and posting, so a straight shot was not an option.
With his best weapons taken away, over time, Snyder had to opt for newer, less comfortable tactics.
Feinting the high crotch from the outside, Snyder looked for Mohammadian to disrupt his base while evading, then shot an explosive double from the outside – a new look.
On his first attempt with this strategy, Mohammadian easily created distance and shut down the attempt with his whizzer and circling footwork.
On his second attempt, Snyder committed to the ankle pick then shot off his knees, getting to the leg. However, his base was not underneath him, and he quickly ran out of steam on the shot, allowing Mohammadian to circle behind for two.
On his final shot, instead of faking a single and then hitting his double, he went straight to the double, attempting to mix up his looks.
It was a truly explosive shot from Snyder, but Mohammadian’s athletic sprawl cleared the head of his opponent and had him sliding forward across the back, giving him a clear shot at the legs.
A scramble situation led Mohammadian to capture Snyder’s leg across his body in front of his stomach, with the American balancing on one leg behind him.
Mohammadian turned in, stepped across Snyder’s hips to block the far leg, and pivoted toward the stepping leg while swiveling hard with his right arm across the back of Snyder’s back.
Snyder landed directly on his back.
With the arm already under Snyder’s head, the leg controlled, and his hips covering Snyder’s, it was only a matter of small adjustments until the referee called the fall.
In two matches, Mohammadian went unscored upon and finished off two of the biggest American stars today.
Semifinal: Mohammadhossein Askari MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) df. Abraham de Jesus CONYEDO RUANO (ITA)
Abraham de Jesus CONYEDO RUANO (ITA)
The Cuban turned Italian Conyedo is solid, but likely not a noteworthy contender at 97 kg quite yet. He earned a bronze medal at the 2018 World Championship, losing to Kyle Snyder, but his wins don’t stack up with the more interesting wrestlers at the weight at the moment.
Nonetheless, he’s positionally solid, mobile and athletic for the weight.
Conyedo wasn’t easily out-hustled by Mohammadian, but it allowed the Iranian to showcase his more straightforward level-changing setups off his preferred ties.
He often played off the pressure from the collar to drop off to the ankle or a lower leg attack, much like we’ve seen from Yazdanicharati.
Ultimately Mohammadi thrived off his heavy snaps, the threat of the underhook, and his positioning and footwork that countered Conyedo’s attacks.
Final: Mohammadhossein Askari MOHAMMADIAN (IRI) df. Aliaksandr HUSHTYN (BLR)
#9 Aliaksandr HUSHTYN (BLR)
Outside of Abdulrashid Sadulaev, Aliasksandr Hushtyn is right there with Europe’s best 97 kg wrestlers like Sharif Sharifov and Elizbar Odikadze.
Having felt the likes of Sadulaev in many unsuccessful attempts, Hushtyn was no stranger to near-perfect mat control and unshakable posture from his opponents.
Early on, it appeared Hushtyn’s strategy was not to engage directly on Mohammadian’s terms, backing out of collar tie situations. That only enabled the Iranian to get to his pushout situations more easily.
When he did meet Mohammadian’s pressure head on, he stepped in hard (and tall) and grabbed a strong whizzer, hoping to neutralize the coming underhook.
Instead, we got to see one last wrinkle in Mohammadian’s underhook game. Against Yergali we were treated to that outside step entry off the underhook, but this time – likely because he was unable to drop to the leg due to the whizzer, Mohammadian kept the seatbelt and ran Hushtyn to his heels before stepping around to block the retreat.
Mohammadian was able to score off the level threat from his collar tie pressure, but late in the match, a potential hole in his game was exposed.
Pressuring and attempting to rally, Hushtyn stalked Mohammadian and continously cleared ties, backing him to the edge. Clearly uncomfortable, Mohammadian shot low off the pressure. They were perfectly fine shots, but Hushtyn was able to time them and flatten out the red-hot Iranian, nearly flurrying for the go-behind more than once.
It seems that without ideal control of setups and timing, Mohammadian isn’t a complete lights-out scrambler or finisher. He has programmed setups and responses, and of course outstanding fundamentals, but he isn’t the most organic wrestler.
Nonetheless, he won 9-0 for gold.
At the 2020 Matteo Pellicone, Mohammad Mohammadian outscored the field 49-0.
Will he represent Iran at the 2020 Olympic Games?
First, he’ll have to get through #2 (97 kg) Alireza Karimimachiani.
#2 Alireza KARIMIMACHIANI (IRI)
A tall order.
Theoretically if he makes the team, his toughest test is undeniably the reigning four-time World and one-time Olympic champion – Dagestan’s Abdulrashid Sadulaev. The #1 pound-for-pound wrestler on the planet.
Perhaps a more detailed assessment will follow if these two are on a collision course, but my initial read on this match is simple.
Much of Mohammadian’s success comes from a “Russian” style of tactics, patience in maintaining positioning and strong preferred ties, encouraging his opponent to make mistakes so he can outmaneuver them. Being the better, more physical hand-fighter is essential for him, and his physicality seemed to wane slightly at the end of the tournament after being pushed a bit by Hushtyn.
We have never seen Sadulaev lose outright in the hand-fight. We have never seen anyone consistently put him out of position. We have almost never seen him take a bad shot, be out-scrambled, or bullied physically. His one loss in recent history was largely due to faded conditioning after moving up to 97 kg, when Kyle Snyder extended exchanges and capitalized on his superior gas tank.
As much as I admire and rate Mohammadian’s skill set, he’s not the guy.
However, assuming he makes the team, this is an Olympic medal contender. Stay tuned for more wrestling coverage, focusing on other surging athletes to watch heading into Tokyo.
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