2024 Olympic Games Watch Party

65 kg 2024 Olympic Wrestling Preview - Can Zain Retherford Win Gold?

65 kg 2024 Olympic Wrestling Preview - Can Zain Retherford Win Gold?

A full preview with predictions for the 65 kg weight class in the men's freestyle wrestling division at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

May 29, 2024 by Jon Kozak
65 kg 2024 Olympic Wrestling Preview - Can Zain Retherford Win Gold?

The 2024 Paris Olympics are just a few months away with wrestling set to take place August 5-11. The 65 kg weight class in the men’s freestyle division is one of the deepest weights with incredible parity. Check out the below article for a full breakdown of 65 kg along with our medal predictions.

The 57 kg 2024 Olympic Participants

Worlds

Gold - Ismail Musukaev, HUN

Silver - Sebastian Rivera, PUR

Bronze - Shamil Mamedov, RUS

Bronze - Vazgen Tevanyan, ARM

5th Place - Rahman Amouzad, IRI

Continentals Qualifiers

Pan-Ams - Alejandro Valdes, CUB

Pan-Ams - Austin Gomez, MEX

African & Oceania - Georgii Okrokovv, AUS

African & Oceania -  Gaku Akazawa, SAM

Euros - Haji Aliyev, AZE

Euros - Goderdzi Dzebisashvili, GEO

Asians - Kotaro Kiyooka, JPN

Asians - Ernazar Akmataliev, KGZ

Last Chance World Qualifier

Tulga Tumur-Ochir, MGL

Islam Dudaev, ALB

Zain Retherford, USA

65 kg Olympians' Accolades

  • Ismail Musukaev, HUN - 2023 World Champion, 2019 & 2022 World Bronze
  • Sebastian Rivera, PUR - 2023 World Silver
  • Shamil Mamedov, RUS - 2023 World Bronze, 2021 U20 World Champion
  • Vazgen Tevanyan, ARM - 2023 World Bronze, 2022 U23 World Champion, 2021 U23 World Silver, 2018 U20 World Bronze
  • Rahman Amouzad, IRI - 2022 World Champion, 2021 U20 World Champion, 2018 & 2019 U17 World Champion
  • Alejandro Valdes, CUB - 2017 & 2018 World Bronze
  • Haji Aliyev, AZE - 2014, 2015, & 2017 World Champion, 2020 Olympic Silver, 2016 Olympic Bronze
  • Ernazar Akmataliev, KGZ - 2021 World Silver, 2022 World Bronze, 2021 U23 World Champion
  • Tulga Tumur-Ochir, MGL - 2021 World Bronze 
  • Islam Dudaev, ALB - 2017 & 2018 U23 World Bronze
  • Zain Retherford, USA - 2023 World Champion, 2022 World Silver, 2012 U17 World Champion

Current 65 kg Olympic Seeding

  1. Vazgen Tevanyan, ARM
  2. Rahman Amouzad, IRI
  3. Ismail Musukaev, HUN
  4. Sebastian Rivera, PUR
  5. Shamil Mamedov, AIN (RUS)
  6. Haji Aliyev, AZE
  7. Islam Dudaev, ALB
  8. Tulga Tumur-Ochir, MGL

The Favorites

  • Ismail Musukaev, HUN
  • Shamil Mamedov, RUS
  • Rahman Amouzad, IRI

As the 2023 World Champion, Ismail Musukaev headlines the group of favorites at 65 kg. Musukaev went on an amazing run last year to claim gold at Worlds by defeating Takuto Otoguro (6-1), Shamil Mamedov (5-4), Rahman Amouzad (6-5), and Sebastian Rivera (11-0) in consecutive matches. Musukaev has always been known to have world-class offense but his conditioning has been his biggest weakness. Musukaev seemingly overcame that deficiency last year and even scored late takedowns to secure his victories in his matches against Mamedov and Amouzad. If Musukaev wrestles in Paris like he did last year in Serbia, he’s the man to beat at the Olympics.

Check out a breakdown of Musukaev's incredible story:

After Musukaev, Russia’s Shamil Mamedov is one of the favorites in this bracket. Mamedov is coming off a bronze medal performance at the 2023 World Championships and has now won 2 straight Russian Nationals. Only 23 years old, Mamedov already has an incredible hitlist on the senior level that includes wins over Rahman Amouzad (2022 world champ), Zagir Shakhiev (2021 world champ), Tulga Tumur-Ochir, Abasgadzhi Magomedov (2021 world champ), Haji Aliyev (2014, 2015, & 2017 World Champ), Gadzhimurad Rashidov (2019 world champ), Ibrahim Ibragimov, and a host of other top wrestlers in the world. Mamedov has some of the best offense in the world regardless of weight class and he has the ability to win gold in Paris. 

Shamil Mamedov's win over Rahman Amouzad in the bronze medal match at the 2023 World Championships:

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The final wrestler who should be considered a favorite in this weight class is Iran’s 2022 world champ Rahman Amouzad. That year, Amouzad defeated Ismail Musukaev (6-0), Haji Aliyev (9-2), and Yanni Diakomihalis (13-8). On top of those wins, Amouzad best career wins on the senior level include victories over Nick Lee, Tulga Tumur-Ochir, Bajrang Punia, and Taiyrbek Zhumashbek Uulu. Amouzad is one of the biggest 65 kg wrestlers in the bracket and his size, along with underhook pressure, makes him a challenging matchup for anyone in this bracket.

Amouzad's win over Yianni Diakomihalis in the 2022 World Cup:

Contenders

  • Tulga Tumur-Ochir, MGL
  • Ernazar Akmataliev, KGZ
  • Zain Retherford, USA
  • Haji Aliyev, AZE
  • Vazgen Tevanyan, ARM

The number of above contenders highlights just how deep 65 kg really is. Of the 5 wrestlers listed, Tulga Tumur-Ochir is the one I considered moving up to the favorites category. However, he does have losses in the past year to Haji Aliyev (at 2023 worlds), Ernazar Akmataliev (at 70 kg), and Rahman Amouzad (at 2024 Asians). Despite those losses, Tumur-Ochir has established himself as one of the best wrestlers in the world at 65 kg and has recent wins over Zain Retherford, Rahman Amouzad, Nick Lee, Ismail Musukaev, Joey McKenna, Yianni Diakomihalis, and Vazgen Tevanyan. Tumur-Ochir’s offense and athleticism are as good as any in this weight class and no one should be surprised if he becomes Mongolia’s first-ever Olympic gold medalist.

Tumur-Ochir's wins over Ismail Musukaev, Nick Lee, Yianni Diakomihalis, and more:

Zain Retherford may have lost to Tumur-Ochir at the final Olympic Qualifier but Retherford is absolutely a medal contender in Paris. Retherford won 6 matches against world-class competition in order to qualify the weight and is coming off a world title at 70 kg. Retherford doesn’t have head-to-head matches with many of the competitors in this bracket but his win over Abdulmazhid Kudiev at the Olympic Qualifier is a great measuring stick. Kudiev notably has 3 wins in the past 18 months against Shamil Mamedov and while you can’t attribute those wins to Retherford, it does show that Retherford is right there with the best in the world at 65 kg. It is worth noting that Retherford won’t be seeded so it will be interesting to see where he’s drawn into the bracket. 

Zain Retherford's win in the 70 kg 2023 World Finals over Amir Yazdani:


Ernazar Akmataliev is a two-time world medalist at 70 kg and is an interesting addition to the field at 65 kg. Akmataliev has the unique ability to hit big moves on almost anyone, making him one of the most exciting wrestlers in the world. As mentioned, Akmataliev recently defeated Tumur-Ochir up at 70 kg and also has a past victory over Vazgen Tevanyan. Akmataliev, like Retherford, won’t be seeded at the Olympics and will be a dangerous first-round draw for anyone.

Akmataliev's win over Vazgen Tevanyan in the 2021 U23 World Finals:
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Haji Aliyev is the most credentialed wrestler of any in the bracket. Aliyev is a 3-time world champion and already has 2 Olympic medals (bronze in 2016 and silver in 2020). Aliyev is 33 years-old and might be past his prime, but he’s a crafty vet who's capable of finding ways to defeat high-level opponents. In fact, Aliyev defeated Tulga Tumur-Ochir at last year’s world championships in a tight, 3-3 match. I’m not picking Aliyev to win gold in Paris, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes out one of the favorites and comes away with his third Olympic medal. 

Haji Aliyev's win over Tumur-Ochir at the 2023 World Championships:

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Vazgen Tevanyan is the final contender in this list and is coming off a bronze medal finish from the 2023 World Championships. Tevanyan is currently holding the number 1 seed and has an incredible hitlist that includes wins over Haji Aliyev, Sebastian Rivera, Joey McKenna, Yianni Diakomihalis, and Ismail Musukaev. Tevanyan has stingy defense and a great gut wrench that allows him to win tight matches against some of the top guys in the world. Similar to Aliyev, I’m not picking Tevanyan to come away with gold, but he’s absolutely a medal threat and is capable of knocking off Musukaev, Amouzad, or Mamedov. 

Tevanyan's win over Sebastian Rivera at the 2024 Zagreb Open:

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Sleepers & Landmines

  • Sebastian Rivera, PUR
  • Austin Gomez, MEX
  • Kotaro Kiyooka, JPN
  • Islam Dudaev, ALB

In other weight classes, the above group of four wrestlers might be considered contenders but because of the depth at 65 kg, these wrestlers aren’t guys I’m picking to medal. I want to start with Sebastian Rivera considering he’s the returning world silver medalist. Rivera had an incredible world championship last year and even defeated Vazgen Tevanyan in a wild, 10-9 match to reach the finals. However, that result is an outlier for Rivera compared to the rest of his career. At the 2024 Zagreb Open, Rivera lost to Tevnayan (9-1), then lost to Joey McKenna (10-0). Before last year’s worlds, Rivera was teched by Cuba’s Alejandro Valdes at the Pan Am Championships. Unlike last year where Rivera only had to go through one, world-class wrestler, things won’t be as “easy” at the Olympics and Rivera will likely need to defeat 3 wrestlers on par with or better than Tevanyan. I believe he’s capable but Rivera will need to wrestle his best and pull off an upset or two to reach the medal stand in Paris. 

Rivera's win over Tevanyan at the 2023 World Championships:

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Austin Gomez is another wrestler with American ties who will be a landmine in the 65 kg bracket. The two-time All-American qualified for the Olympics by defeating Nick Lee in a wild 22-12 match highlighted by numerous 4-point moves for Gomez. That win was the best of Gomez’s senior-level career and he’s never wrestled anyone in the Olympic bracket. Gomez’s ability to hit big moves, along with him being an unknown to the field, could make Gomez the perfect candidate for pulling off the upset of the tournament against one of the more established vets at 65 kg. 

Austin Gomez's win over Nick Lee at the Pan-Am Olympic Games Qualifier:

Japan’s Kotaro Kiyooka is also an unknown and earned his spot on Team Japan after defeating 2020 Olympic Champion Takuto Otoguro. Then Kiyooka punched his ticket to Paris with three wins at the Asian Olympic Games Qualifier - the most notable coming against Abdulmazhid Kudiev (10-7). Aside from those results, Kiyooka doesn’t have any other notable wins that suggest he will challenge for gold in Paris. However, Kiyooka’s win over Otoguro is significant and he is only 23 years old which suggests he could still improve. I honestly don’t know what to expect from Kiyooka and that makes him the perfect sleeper in this bracket. 

Islam Dudaev is the final wrestler worth mentioning at 65 kg who has the potential to pull off an upset and shake-up the bracket. Dudaev is a Russian now representing Albania with his most notable result coming at the European Championship where he won gold by defeating Russia’s Gadzhimurad Rashidov (2019 world champ and Olympic bronze medalist). Along with that result, Dudaev also won bronze at the 2023 U23 World Championship where he defeated Tulga Tumur-Ochir (10-9). Dudaev's inconsistency over the past few years is the main reason he isn't listed as one of the contenders. He’s never placed at senior world championships and has recent losses to Nick Lee, Haji Aliyev, and several other wrestlers who aren’t at or near the top of the 65 kg weight class. 

Dudaev's win over Rashidov at the 2024 European Championships:

65 kg Olympic Predictions

This might be the most difficult weight to predict for the champion and medalists. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Mamedov, Amouzad, Musukaev, or Tumur-Ochir won gold at the Olympics. With that in mind, I’m taking Russia’s Shamil Mamedov to come away with gold from Paris. I believe Mamedov has the offense to match anyone in the bracket and I think he’s jumped a level since last year’s world championships. 

Obviously, American fans are going to notice I didn’t pick Zain Retherford to win a medal, and if you’re upset, I understand. I absolutely believe that Retherford is capable of beating anyone in this bracket but what concerns me is that Retherford is going to be randomly drawn into the bracket. That means Retherford might have to beat Musukaev, Mamdeov, and Tumur-Ochir in successive matches just to make the finals. That unknown makes it hard for me to be confident in picking Retherford to win an Olympic medal. 

Full 65 kg Olympic Medal Predictions

Gold - Shamil Mamedov, AIN (RUS)

Silver - Rahman Amouzad, IRI

Bronze - Ismail Musukaev, HUN

Bronze - Tulga Tumur-Ochir, MGL