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The United States' claim to being the best team in the world was short lived, as their 2017 title was followed up by a second place finish to Russia last year in Budapest.
Now, they will once again challenge the historical giants for the team crown in Nur-Sultan Kazakhstan. Coming out on top would result in America's fourth team title, while for Russia, it would be their 35th (including the years as the Soviet Union).
Six of the eight members from that title team in Paris are on the squad this year, and four of Russia's starters return from the group that won last October. Team USA has six previous medalists competing and Russia has four that will be wrestling next week.
We won't know the draws until the day before each weight wrestles, but we do know the top four seeds for each weight going in. In total, we know where three Russians will be in their bracket, and five Americans. All those Russians will be on the bottom side, and four Americans on the top side, with Jordan Burroughs on the bottom.
I did this same exercise last year, and came out pretty close to the margin of victory for Russia, but was a bit conservative in both nation's point totals. We will once again try to break down the team race, going weight-by-weight and day-by-day, trying to provide a range of possible points each wrestler will score. Finally comes an approximate prediction for what the final team score will look like.
Before we begin, this is what the scoring system looks like:
- Gold: 25 points
- Silver: 20 points
- Bronze: 15 points
- Fifth: 10 points
- Seventh: 8 points
- Eighth: 6 points
- Ninth: 4 points
- Tenth: 2 points
And here is a quick rundown of the weights and wrestlers for both countries, by day.
|57kg||Thursday||Daton Fix||Zaur Uguev|
|65kg||Thursday||Zain Retherford||Gadzhimurad Rashidov|
|70kg||Friday||James Green||David Baev|
|74kg||Friday||Jordan Burroughs||Zaurbek Sidakov|
|92kg||Friday||J'den Cox||Alikhan Zhabrailov|
|125kg||Friday||Nick Gwiazdowski||Alan Khugaev|
|61kg||Saturday||Tyler Graff||Magomedrasul Idrisov|
|79kg||Saturday||Kyle Dake||Gadzhi Nabiev|
|86kg||Saturday||Pat Downey||Artur Naifonov|
|97kg||Saturday||Kyle Snyder||Abdulrashid Sadulaev|
Remember, the competition now uses a two day format. A weight is started on one day, with the bracket running through the semifinals. The next day, the athletes weigh-in again, wrestle the repechage in the morning and the medal matches in the afternoon. Also, please check out our international rankings for reference.
Thursday, September 19th
We’ve got a rookie and the returning champ. Zaur Uguev has been Russia’s rep each of the past two years, and the results could not have been more different. In 2017 in Paris, he went 0-1, falling to Sandeep Tomar of India. However, he returned with a vengeance last year, blitzing through the field for his first world title.
I say Daton Fix is a rookie, which he is for the senior level, but he’s won five medals between his years as a Junior and Cadet. There have also been some examples in the past of an American’s best performance coming in their first time at worlds.
Uguev is the two seed, so he'll be at the very bottom of what is currently a 38 man bracket. He will have a first round bye, but will still have a good chance he ends up with the tougher half. I think he's the favorite to repeat, with a floor that has him wrestling for bronze. Similarly, Daton is not out of the running to win, but on paper I'd lean more towards him wrestling for a medal and qualifying the weight for the Olympics.
Neither wrestler for either country is seeded. Bumping up to 65 this year is #5 Gadzhimurad Rashidov, a Dagestani who was silver each of the past two years at 61kg. In what might be the deepest weight class, or at least the most difficult to win, Rashidov has to be considered a gold medal contender.
Zain Retherford was on the 2017 team but did not score any team points. He went 1-1 in Paris, beating David Habat but losing to Adam Batirov, who would go on to get silver the next year up at 70kg. The three-time NCAA champ for Penn State faced Rashidov at the Yarygin in January, and led 3-0 going into the break but ultimately lose 4-3.
All signs right now point to this being a 10+ point advantage for Russia on paper. With 46 entries, it would be very advantageous if Zain was drawn into the top half and Rashidov the bottom half of the bracket.
Friday, September 20th
The USA will be sending #16 James Green for a fifth straight year, and in two of those trips he brought home a medal. The Russian opposite him is #1 David Baev, an Ossetian who was won Junior worlds and been second at U23 worlds. Baev is 2-0 against Green, having beaten him at the Alans in December and Yarygin six weeks later.
As far as handicapping the team race, Baev is the favorite to me and I would pencil him in for 25 points. Green has finished as high as silver but also scored no points before. Based on his extremely active season, he's in medal contention but it would be surprising if he won. This is another weight on paper where Russia looks to have about a 10 point advantage.
One of only two weights where both reps are seeded. Defending champ and top ranked Zaurbek Sidakov is the three seed, while five-time world and Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs is the two seed. That means they should, or at least can, meet in the semis. JB has had tough matches this year against Franklin Gomez and Bekzod Abdurakhmonov, but is nonetheless one of the gold medal favorites heading in.
This will be Sidakov's second trip to worlds, having won the gold medal in his first try last year. The Ossetian also won Military worlds last year and got bronze at Junior worlds in 2015. If they hit in the semis as expected, it should be a 20 point swing for the winner. A gold gets 25 and bronze gets 15, so this is a massive opportunity for America to make up some ground.
It is difficult to articulate how massive of an advantage USA has at this weight. The strong likelihood of this bracket is that #1 J'den Cox reigns supreme once again, it is just a matter of figuring out what #4 Alikhan Zhabrailov's ceiling is. Given how he got teched by Mongolia at the Yarygin, I do not believe he will be wrestling for a medal. That means America should come out 15 points or more ahead in the team race here.
Russia having to go from Yarygin champ and Euro Games gold Anzor Khizriev to Alan Khugaev certainly helps the United States. Nick Gwiazdowski has won bronzes the past two years, and some of that can be attributed to favorable draws, but as I wrote last year: You train for months, peak for the biggest tournament of the year, and wrestle who's in front of you. There's no excuses when the draw is hard and no apologies when it's easy.
Their only head-to-head was a 6-1 victory for Gwiz at the 2018 Yarygin. Neither is favored to win or make the finals with Akgul and Petriashvili on opposite sides, but a relatively similar draw favors the American to score more.
Saturday, September 21st
An absolute crap shoot of a weight, and not just when talking about the American and the Russian. Several top wrestlers fled the weight to go up or down and try to qualify their country's Olympic spot, and the defending champ has one of the most erratic resumes we've seen.
Magomedrasul Idrisov won U23 worlds last year and Yarygin this year, but went 0-1 at the European championships, leaving his range for points extremely difficult to predict. Graff's last two trips overseas were the Medved in August and Stepan Sargsyan last September. Those results suggest he can win some matches but will need a great draw to wrestle for a medal.
Perhaps America's greatest advantages as they try to knock off Russia are Cox and Kyle Dake. With Russia down to their fourth string guy, a repeat by Dake could result in a massive team point boost for the USA. Now, Gadzhi Nabiev could still make the finals, which would be huge for the Russians, but the whole point in an article like this is to determine where each country has an edge heading into the weekend.
Although this weight has been a rotating cast of characters for Russia, it is because they have depth here, not because it is a weak weight for them. This year they are sending #2 Artur Naifonov, an Ossetian who won Junior worlds in 2017 and was second at U23s last year. He will be randomly drawn in, and this weight has some wonky results, but he is still a good bet to medal.
As a whole, Pat Downey has a losing record on the senior level, which does not mean he cannot medal, but going in it is difficult to picture him doing so without getting a favorable draw or producing some upsets.
Maybe the easiest weight to project. Snyder and Sadulaev are the two best guys, and they're on opposite sides of the bracket. The winner in the gold medal match gets 25, and the loser gets 20, so a win by Snyder replicating his 2017 victory
Team Score Prediction
With the way the team scoring works now, two golds are worth the same as five guys losing in the bronze medal match. Remember that each win in the quarters is worth 10 points, and each win in the semis is also worth 10 points. So after day one, the maximum possible score is 40 points, meaning both of a country's wrestlers made the finals.
After Day One: Russia 40, USA 10
I feel pretty confident Uguev and Fix can both make it to the semis, and think Uguev will be in the finals. I feel less confident that Rashidov is a lock to make the finals, but in my opinion he is the first or second best guy in the bracket. At least one of Daton or Zain will get USA points on the first day.
After Day Two: Russia 70, USA 66
Not sure I can pick both Rashidov and Uguev to win, so this represents them finishing second. I see Baev making the finals, and Sidakov making the semis, with points from Khugaev and Zhabrailov coming the next day. Burroughs and Cox should both be in the finals, with Gwiz making the semis, and Green wins some matches.
After Day Three: Russia 122, USA 129
The scores are no longer rounded as I think Green and Zhabrailov get a few points each. I've got Baev winning, Sidakov getting bronze, and Khugaev finishing fifth, while Burroughs and Cox win gold, with Gwiz taking yet another bronze.
As for the guys finishing off the tournament, it's going to be Sadulaev in the finals and Naifonov in the semis. On the US end of things, Dake and Snyder both make the finals.
Final: Russia 142, USA 134
I do think the Stars and Stripes take a lead into the final day, but once they calculate the 7th through 10th place finishers, Idrisov and Nabiev will pick up some points. Additionally, Naifonov and Sadulaev win their medal matches, with just Dake winning his. I hope I'm dead wrong here, but I've got Graff and Downey getting zero, allowing Russia to sneak it out in the end.
As mentioned above, the head-to-heads at 74 and 97 represent as much as a 30 point total swing, plus picking up some points from those guys who don't medal will be huge. USA has more high end firepower once again, but it is Russia's depth that I see ultimately carrying them to the team title.