Team Iran 2019 World Championship Preview

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Iran finished sixth last year in Paris at the 2018 World Championship with only three bronze medals. That resulted in some major changes in the Iran Wrestling Federation. Rasoul Khadem resigned as the head of the federation and freestyle team head coach. Things don't look much better for Iran a year after that situation.

The Iran Wrestling Federation experienced two temporary presidents until 2000 Olympic champion Alireza Dabir got elected as the new president. Because of the unstable situation in the federation, the new national team head coach Gholamreza Mohammadi had absolute power to pick the Worlds team. There was no technical committee to question his decisions. 

For Iran, the trial process is always different. This year, official trials only happened in a few weights and only between few selected wrestlers. In other weights Mohammadi simply picked his favorite wrestlers based on Takhti Cup and Asian Championship results.

Unfortunately for Iran, there were some late scratches to the squad after Mohammadi had his team pick. Those changes left Iran with only two former world medalists in this team. Veteran Reza Yazdani withdrew himself from the team because he couldn't train properly in the past few weeks because he had to use antibiotics for some minor injuries. And last year's world bronze medalist Parviz Hadi also withdrew, in Hadi's case because of a back injury. 

Nobody expects the current Iranian team to challenge Russia and USA for the top two positions. Even third place in team ranking will be a huge achievement. As usual, half of the team is from the Mazandaran Province in the north of Iran.


57 Kilograms: Reza Atri

In Iran it's a rare thing to give someone a third chance after failing twice, but Atri was lucky there was nobody else to challenge him for the spot. Despite his poor performance in Takhti Cup he was still the highest-ranked Iranian wrestler in that competition. Atri was selected for the Asian Championships, and his gold medal performance at the tournament in China secured him the spot in the Worlds team.

Atri is in the same place as Hassan Rahimi back in 2011, when Rahimi won his first world medal on his third trip to the World Championships. Rahimi went on to win several medals after that; however, nobody really expects Atri to go the same path. Atri can be dangerous sometimes, as he beat some big wrestlers in his career, but he also lost some important matches in the last seconds. 

His biggest achievement is winning a bronze at the 2018 Asian Games and a gold medal at the 2019 Asian Championships. His toughest opponent is usually his bodyweight. He has to cut a lot to make 57kg and for that reason, the Iranian coaches decided to protect him by not sending to any competitions after the Asian Championship.


61 Kilograms: Behnam Ehsanpour

If we consider Atri for lucky for getting a third chance, Ehsanpour is even luckier because it will be his fourth attempt at a world medal after failing three times before. Ehsanpour won the World Junior title in 2012 and was considered a talent, but after failing three times in a row in 2015, 2016, and 2017, he was excluded even from entering the Iranian team trials in 2018. However, the change in coaches has afforded him another chance.

Ehsanpour won the bronze medal at the Takhti Cup in his return, and because he is the highest-ranked Iranian wrestlers in Takhti Cup, he was selected for the Asian Championship. In Xi'an, China, Ehsanpour won his second Asian title and almost secured his place for the World Championship. 

Ehsanpour's direct rival, Bagher Yakhkeshi, was absent at the Takhti Cup, but later Yakhkeshi wrestled in a couple of international tournaments and didn't shine. Most experts believe this will be the last chance for Ehsanpour. He probably still remembers his 2016 World Championship semifinal versus Logan Stieber where he lost in the last three seconds, which was the turning point of his career.


65 Kilograms: Amir Mohammad Yazdani

There will be another Yazdani from the small town of Jouybar in the Mazandaran province on the Iranian squad, this time Reza's young cousin Amir Mohammad. A.M. Yazdani is the youngest member of this team. He came to the spotlight when he won the bronze at the Takhti Cup and beat the top Iranian contender Peiman Biabani. Despite Yazdani being the highest-ranked Iranian wrestler in Takhti Cup, the Iranian coaches still preferred to send Biabani to the senior Asian Championships, and they sent Yazdani to the Asian U23 Championship, where he returned only with a silver medal.

Eventually, since nobody satisfied the coaches, they held a mini-trials in this weight with four candidates. Yazdani emerged as the winner but he still he lost a match to Biabani in round-robin competition, so it wasn't enough to secure the spot for good. 

Yazdani was then supposed to wrestle at the World Junior Championship but missed the competition for some paperwork mistakes. The other Iranian candidates went to the Tbilisi Tournament, where Biabani got the best results by winning silver and only losing 2-0 to Bajrang of India. While everybody expected Biabani to be selected, the Iranian coaches decided to give Yazdani another chance. In a special wrestle-off, Yazdani beat Biabani twice convincingly to finally secure his ticket to Nursultan.

Yazdani is not considered a medal contender. Even winning the Olympic quota looks very hard for him, but Iran just didn't have lots of options in this weight.


70 Kilograms: Younes Emami

Emami didn't have to do much to make the World team: Winning the Takhti Cup in February was enough for him. After winning bronze at both World Juniors and U23 Championships, the previous coach Khadem invested a lot in him, but Emami has yet to deliver good results on the senior level. Emami made the senior team last year but lost his opening match by a late challenge on tie-breaking criteria to World U23 Champion Salkazanov of Slovakia.

Emami is known to make matches complicated for himself. His only major senior medal is the bronze medal he won at the Asian Championship this year. He is expected to do much better than last year, and being in a non-Olympic weight, he has to win a medal to show he deserves all the attention he has received.

Emami comes from Shahriar county in Tehran province, making him the only wrestler from Tehran in this squad.


74 Kilograms: Reza Afzali

Reza Afzali from Kermanshah is making the world team again five years after his debut in the 2014 World Championships. His presence was a kind of a surprise because he achieved nothing in the past five years. His only serious achievement is still the Asian gold medal he won back in 2014, the year he made the world team, where he finished 13th.

This year, Afzali drew attention first by winning silver in the Takhti Cup in his hometown. Still, that didn't convince the coaches to send him to the Asian Championships. Afzali instead went to the World Cup and got poor results. 

Since nobody was good enough to have earned the spot outright, trials were held in this weight between four candidates, and Afzali won the trials, beating all three opponents. Even that wasn't enough, and the coaches gave him one last obstacle: the Tbilisi International Tournament. Afzali finished third, higher than other Iranian wrestlers, which left no other option for the Iranian coaches but to pick him.

Most experts consider him the weakest member of the squad. Iran's main candidate for this weight was world bronze medalist Mostafa Hosseinkhani, but he had to withdraw only a few days before the trials because of injuries.


79 Kilograms: Bahman Teymouri

Teymouri was around the national team camp for a while but only this year made some noise after winning the Takhti Cup in his hometown Kermanshah. There Teymouri beat Jabrayil Hassanov in the final, which guaranteed him a place at the Asian Championships where he also won the gold and secured his place for the World team very early. 

His good performance at the Asian Championships made some people give him a good chance to medal in Nursultan, but then his mediocre performance in the Yasar Dogu and the Tbilisi tournament made those people think twice. Like all other wrestlers from Kermanshah, he is known for his tough defense, but his attack is lacking. Another interesting thing about Teymouri is that he never represented Iran in any age group tournaments.


86 Kilograms: Hassan Yazdani

At the age of 24, Hassan Yazdani is already one of the greatest wrestlers in Iran's history. He has an Olympic gold, three medals from the World Championships in three different colors, and an Asian Games title in his resume. 

People in Iran considered him unbeatable, but last year David Taylor proved them wrong. But as we know, Taylor won't be present in Nursultan to challenge Yazdani. Because of that, most people think Yazdani is already guaranteed the gold medal even though Yazdani himself always tries to be modest and respect all his opponents.

After Taylor's injury, the biggest challenge for Yazdani to win the world title came from inside Iran. Despite being the Olympic Champion, Yazdani still had to wrestle in the trials to make the team, only because Iran had one more good wrestler in this weight, World U23 Champion and Asian Champion Kamran Ghasempour, who comes from the same town and club as Yazdani. 

That turned out to be a close battle, though Yazdani prevailed and beat Ghasempour 6-3 to make the team. Since 2018 Budapest, Yazdani appeared only twice: the Iranian trials and the Dan Kolov tournament. He won both convincingly. After losing the world title last year, anything less than gold medal will be a bad result for Yazdani.


92 Kilograms: Alireza Karimi

There is one name Alireza Karimi will never forget: J'den Cox. The American is the unsolved problem of Karimi's wrestling career, who beat Karimi three times, including at the 2016 Olympics, and always in the same scenario. This time he will only meet Cox in the final because they are the top seeds in this weight class. In fact, that was the only reason Karimi was sent to one of the UWW ranking events in Italy, to guarantee his second-place ranking.

Alireza is a two-time World bronze medalist and 2018 Asian Games champion. He is a natural 86kg wrestler but had to move up to 92kg when Hassan Yazdani occupied his place at 86kg. But Karimi made headlines for another reason. He deliberately lost a match at the 2018 World U23 Championship to avoid the Israeli wrestler in the next round. That was actually the second time in his career where that happened, the first time was 2013 World Junior Championship where he had to forfeit the semifinal.

After that accident at U23s, UWW banned Karimi for six months, and since then Karimi has been accused of being favored by the Iranian wrestling federation. Last year he lost twice to another candidate, Javad Ebrahimi, but still, the previous coach Khadem picked Karimi for the worlds which created lots of controversy around Karimi that continues to this day

To make the World team Karimi only had to wrestle at the Asian Championships which he won easily. He also beat the Takhti Cup gold medalist Arashk Mohebbi at the Sassari tournament in Italy to prove he is Iran's number in this weight.


97 Kilograms: Ali Shaabani

Reza Yazdani was Iran's main candidate for this weight but his late withdrawal forced the Iranian coaches to go after someone relatively unknown. A year ago nobody knew Ali Shaabani; he came out of nowhere to make the U23 team and then won a bronze medal at the World U23 Championship. After missing the Takhti Cup he was sent to the World Cup in Russia where he lost a close match to Vladislav Baitsaev.

Still, seeing his name in the list for the Irian team trials surprised everybody. Shaabani was able to beat Sassari gold medalist Hamed Talebi to face Reza Yazdani in the finals, where he lost it 5-3. But Shaaani still impressed the coaches with his performance. He also reached the Yasar Dogu tournament finals where he lost only 2-1 to Kyle Snyder. When Reza Yazdani withdrew, Shaabani became the obvious pick for the Iranian coaches.

Shaabani's biggest problem is his lack of international experience. The 2018 World U23 Championship was the first time he left the country Iran for any reason! But his sudden improvement over the past months gives some hope to the Iranian fans to count on him to at least win the Olympic quota in this weight. He is not going to beat the great Sadulaev, but he can do some damage in the rest of the bracket.


125 Kilograms: Yadollah Mohebbi

Despite winning the gold medal at the Takhti Cup and the Asian Championships, Mohebbi never impressed the Iranian coaches, so he didn't receive a second chance when he lost to Parviz Hadi during the Iranian trials. But Hadi's back injury gave Mohebbi another chance for a World Championship medal. 

In Yadollah's first try back in 2017, he lost narrowly in the quarterfinals to the eventual bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski. This year, Mohebbi looked completely out of shape when he went to the Yasar Dogu tournament. At the time, Mohebbi claimed that since he didn't know he was going to be selected and he wasn't training full time. Replacing Hadi only a couple weeks before the World Championship won't give him much time to get into better shape.

Yadollah, also known as "Shiravan" Mohebbi to his friends, comes from a wrestling family as both his uncles, Mohammad Hassan and Mohammad Hossein, are former World medalists. Despite that, Mohebbi started wrestling very late in life, and that's the reason he is less technical than any other Iranian wrestler at this level. He mostly uses his strength and his big body to tire his opponents and beat them in the second period.

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