2022 Senior World Championships

Belgrade Bracket Breakdowns: Women's Freestyle 62, 65, 68, 72, 76 KG

Belgrade Bracket Breakdowns: Women's Freestyle 62, 65, 68, 72, 76 KG

International women's freestyle analyst Olivia Lichti dives into the brackets for the five heaviest women's freestyle weights and offers her medal picks.

Sep 9, 2022 by Olivia Lichti
Belgrade Bracket Breakdowns: Women's Freestyle 62, 65, 68, 72, 76 KG

With the chaos of COVID-19 and the Olympic Games’ postponement, it’s been three long years since wrestling had a typical World Championships. Thankfully, this year’s tournament promises plenty of intriguing storylines and ample opportunity for the American women to further prove themselves on the world stage. Don’t miss the women’s freestyle competition, which will take place from September 12-15. 

Here's a breakdown and medal predictions for the five heaviest weight classes: 

62 kilograms

Although 62kg is one of the deepest weight classes in Serbia, 19-year-old Nonoka Ozaki will be a runaway favorite to win gold. In her first Senior international competition last year in Oslo, she took home a bronze medal, losing a close first-round match to 2020 Olympic silver medalist Aisuluu Tynybekova. She avenged that loss at this year’s Asian Championships, building a 9-1 lead before Tynybekova pulled out due to an injury. 

However, Ozaki’s biggest win to date came in the finals of this year’s Japanese World Team Trials: she defeated 2020 Olympic Champion Yukako Kawai, 3-1, to book her ticket to Serbia. Ozaki won a U20 World title in August and is poised to pick up her second belt of the year in Belgrade. 

Ozaki’s path to gold won’t be easy; she’ll need another win over Tynybekova amongst other top

competitors. One of her most intriguing matchups will be against Mongolia’s Tserenchimed Sukhee, who has had a fantastic season in 2022. Sukhee won a World title at 60kg in 2014 but struggled to perform when she shifted down to 57kg. Now back at 62kg, she impressed by winning Ivan Yarygin and Yasar Dogu titles this year, accumulating dominant wins over Olympic medalists Sakshi Malik, Taybe Yusein and Marwa Amri. If she can perform at the same level she did in the first couple months of 2022, she’ll absolutely be a medal threat. 

Sukhee and Tynybekova aren’t the only World Champions in the 62kg bracket: last year’s 59kg World champion Bilyana Dudova has bumped up to the Olympic weight in preparation for Paris 2024. It wasn’t easy for her to make the Bulgarian World Team. 62kg had long been occupied by 2018 World Champion and 2020 Olympic Bronze medalist Taybe Yusein. Dudova won the latter two of their three matches this season, and albeit not without some National Federation drama — thus earned the World Team spot at her new weight. She hasn’t competed much at 62kg but will undoubtedly challenge for a medal. 

Where Kayla Miracle fits into this puzzle is difficult to pinpoint. Miracle’s been a mainstay in the international middle tier over the past few years, but has reached a new level since the Olympic Games. There’s a big chunk of the field that she’s never competed against and seeing her matched up against figures like Sukhee, Dudova, and Tunisia’s Marwa Amri will be good tests for her. She’s certainly in contention for a medal but will need some big wins, starting with projected quarterfinal opponent Marwa Amri. 

A dark horse with some impressive recent results is Canada’s Ana Godinez, who won a U23 World title in 2021 and a Pan-Am title this year. She’s shown impressive talent and massive potential despite only starting wrestling at age 16. Others to watch are age-level World Champion Sonam Malik of India, consistent veteran Lais Nunes of Brazil, and Ukraine’s Ilona Prokopevniuk, a three-time U23 World medalist. They’re all fringe contenders for podium spots in this deep weight. 

Though she isn’t totally battle-tested yet, Nonoka Ozaki really seems like the leader of the next generation of Japanese prodigies and will be exciting to watch in Belgrade. She’ll be on the same side of the bracket as Tynybekova, so unseeded Sukhee and Dudova’s draws will heavily influence the podium makeup. There’s a lot of women deserving of winning World medals here and it’s inevitable someone incredibly talented will go home empty-handed. 

Medal Predictions: 

Gold — Nonoka Ozaki (Japan) 

Silver — Bilyana Dudova (Bulgaria) 

Bronze — Aisuluu Tynybekova (Kyrgyzstan) 

Bronze — Tserenchimed Sukhee (Mongolia)

65 kilograms

The 65kg World title spot is vacant for taking in Belgrade: last year’s champ Irina Ringaci has moved up to the Olympic weight of 68kg. In her absence, the prime contender will be returning World Finalist Miwa Morikawa of Japan. Morikawa will be searching for her first Senior and second overall World title. She’s coming off of a fairly dominant performance at the Asian Championships, where she picked up three technical superiority wins and a decision to win gold. 

Morikawa is the only returning medalist from 2021, but several others own hardware from championships past. France’s Koumba Larroque will be competing once again at 65kg after making her debut down a weight class at last year’s Worlds. Much of her career has been spent flirting between 68kg and 72kg, but she’s admitted she sits quite light for those categories. Larroque  has a World silver and bronze from 68kg and has a legitimate shot to upgrade to gold in Belgrade. 

Other World medalists include Elis Manolova, who picked up a bronze in 2019, and 2018 62kg World Bronze Mallory Velte. Velte picked up silver medals at the Yasar Dogu and the Dan Kolov in 2022, but the highlight of her season was undeniably Final X: she took out 2021 World bronze Forrest Molinari to make the team. Such a victory proves that she can compete with the best at her new weight class. 

Also keep an eye on 2016 Olympic Bronze medalist Sakshi Malik. She’s up from her preferred weight of 62kg where she won the Commonwealth Games and Bolat Turlykhanov this year, but could still threaten for a medal. 

Two European champions are also amongst the strongest contenders for medals: defending champion Tetiana Rizhko of Ukraine and 2020 Champion Mima Hristova of Bulgaria. Rizhko’s been great over the past year, picking up a Matteo Pellicone gold in addition to some solid age-level results. She’s part of the new generation of talented Ukrainian women and seems poised for a Senior-level breakout performance. Mima Hristova spent most of her career at 58kg/57kg but has vastly improved since bumping up to 65kg/68kg. She represented Bulgaria at the Olympics at 68kg and took bronze at the 2020 Individual World Cup. She’s on the outside fringe of medal contenders, but with a good draw could find her way to a podium spot. 

One last dark horse is Jia Long, who represented China in Tokyo at 62kg. She’s only competed at three international tournaments but owns wins over Kayla Miracle, Tserenchimed Sukhee and nearly snuck one out against Aisuluu Tynybekova. We haven’t seen much of China over the past couple years but she could be one to watch. 

Medal Predictions: 

Gold — Miwa Morikawa (Japan) 

Silver — Koumba Larroque (France) 

Bronze — Jia Long (China) 

Bronze — Tetiana Rizhko (Ukraine) 

68 kilograms

There’s a case to be made that 68kg is the deepest weight in Belgrade. It’s headlined by returning Olympic champion and World bronze medalist Tamyra Mensah-Stock. Though she hasn’t competed much in 2022, she looked great at her sole international outing: the Zouhaier Sghaier in Tunis, Tunisia, where she took gold with unquestioned dominance. 

Tamyra’s primary challengers are both returning World champions. Kyrgyzstan’s Meerim Zhumanazarova was a revelation in 2021, picking up a bronze in Tokyo and winning a World title in Oslo. Her Olympic medal was the first won by a Kyrgyzstani woman in any sport, and she won her World finals match by fall in about a minute. Adding a U23 Asian title and a Yasar Dogu silver medal solidified her as the top seed and ensured her separation from Mensah-Stock. 

The other returning champ is Irina Ringaci, who won her title at 65kg but has successfully transitioned up a weight class. She won Dan Kolov and European titles at 68kg and looked quite dominant doing so. Ringaci switched weights with the intention of becoming the first Moldovan Olympic medalist in Paris 2024 and has a prime opportunity to cement herself as a medal threat here.

The fourth title challenger will be Nigeria’s Blessing Oborodudu, who surprised many last year by winning an Olympic silver medal. She’s continued to perform at a high level this season, winning the Yasar Dogu with a win over Zhumanazarova in addition to Commonwealth Games and African titles. Her sole loss on the year was to Ringaci in the Pellicone semifinals. Oborodudu is 33 years old but is entering the peak of her career; her strong performances have made her a beacon for the growing Nigerian women’s wrestling program. 

Although Oborodudu has the potential to medal, she has the misfortune of a really tough draw. She’s slotted to face Ringaci — who pinned her in mere seconds at the Pellicone — in the quarterfinals, and the winner of that match should have Tamyra in their semis. Should she lose to Ringaci and Ringaci lose to Tamyra, she won’t even have a chance for repechage. 

Japan’s entrant last year, Rin Miyaji, was unheralded coming into Oslo but picked up an extraordinary upset when she pinned Mensah Stock early in their semifinal bout. However, she won’t be back for another shot to medal as she lost in the Japanese World Team trials to 2022 U20 World Champ Ami Ishii. Ishii hasn’t wrestled at the Senior level internationally, but Japan’s track record with young talent should be enough to pinpoint her as one to watch. 

Another internationally-proven competitor is China’s Feng Zhou. Zhou has the distinction of a win over Mensah Stock  dating back to the 2020 Matteo Pellicone, where she overcame an 8-0 deficit to win on criteria (though Tamyra did get decisive revenge with a 10-0 victory in Tokyo). Unfortunately, she’s seeded seventh and slotted to face Tamyra again in the quarterfinals, which will make reaching the podium immensely difficult. 

Also keep an eye on 2019 World Champion Linda Morais of Canada, who has spent the last two years competing at 57 and 59 kilos; she’s definitely small for this weight class but did pick up a Commonwealth Games silver medal. Ukraine’s Alla Belinska wrestled at the Olympics at 76kg but is back down to her optimal weight here. She’s had some good results this year,  including a Matteo Pellicone title and a victory over Irina Ringaci. 

Unfortunately, there are a lot of women who are well-deserving of podium spots but will be edged out due to this bracket’s sheer depth. This’ll be one of the most competitive weight classes and Mensah-Stock will need to perform at her best to bring home top honors. 

Medal Predictions: 

Gold — Tamyra Mensah-Stock (USA) 

Silver — Meerim Zhumanazarova (Kyrgyzstan) 

Bronze —  Irina Ringaci (Moldova) 

Bronze —  Alla Belinska (Ukraine) 

72 kilograms

There’s one question everyone’s waiting to have answered about 72kg: just how good is Amit Elor? Under the tutelage of renowned coach Valentin Kalika, she’s won three age-level World titles and made a Senior World Team. The 18-year-old dominated everyone domestically (although some of her main competitors, like Kennedy Blades and Kylie Welker, were not present) but hasn’t competed at any international Senior tournaments yet. Her lack of experience against anyone in this bracket makes it tough to prognosticate how she’ll do, but the rumors surrounding her and glimpses of excellence she’s shown makes it seem like she might already be capable of medaling in Belgrade. 

Although the hype is high around Elor, she’ll have to contend with returning World champion Masako Furuichi of Japan. Furuichi is a two-time World medalist and has five total World titles to her name between all age-levels. As talented as she is, she’s not as far removed from the field as some of the other Japanese women. Furuichi has the #3 seed and is the favorite as of now to win her second title in Belgrade. 

Two other 2021 World medalists are also returning: finalist Zhamila Bakbergenova of Kazakhstan and third-place Buse Tosun of Turkey. Bakbergenova is the star of Kazakh women’s wrestling right now; she’s been lights out this year, winning Yasar Dogu, Bolat Turlykhanov and Asian titles. She has previous wins over Furuichi and pushed her in last year’s finals; she’s undeniably a title contender. 

Buse Tosun defeated Kylie Welker en route to her World Bronze last year and has performed well in 2022, winning Zouhaier Sghaier and Mediterranean Games titles. She’s a former U23 World Champion and has long been a consistent medal threat at 72 kilos. She’s on Furuichi’s side of the bracket and has a promising path to bronze based on the current seeds. 

Also looking to sneak on the podium will be U23 World champion Anastasia Alpyeyeva. Alpyeyeva has floated between 72kg and 76kg over the past year but seems best suited to the former. Despite failing to medal at Euros this year, she notably won took silver at the Pellicone at 76kg. As the #8 seed, she has the misfortune of likely facing hot-streak Bakbergenova in the quarterfinals; however, don’t rule out an upset in this match. 

A handful of other age-level World medalists are also in the mix. U23 World Finalist Kendra Dacher of France holds the #7 seed and is slotted to face Tosun in the quarterfinals. Germany’s Lilly Schneider made a U20 World final last year, as did India’s Bipasha up at 76kg. Alexandra Anghel of Romania has a U20 bronze and a U23 silver dating back to 2018, though she hasn’t made an impact on the Senior level as of yet. 

The biggest question, and the one that will most impact the podium, is how ready Elor is to compete on the Senior level. If she shows up strong in Belgrade, she could displace a lot of talent en route to her first Senior medal, though Furuichi, Bakbergenova and Tosun will all be significant challenges for her. 

Medal Predictions: 

Gold —  Masako Furuichi (Japan) 

Silver — Amit Elor (USA) 

Bronze — Zhamila Bakbergenova (Kazakhstan) 

Bronze — Buse Tosun (Turkey) 

76 kilograms

With serious title contenders hailing from every continent, 76kg has been widely heralded as the deepest women’s freestyle weight class . This year is no exception, though it is missing a few key players: three of last year’s four Olympic medalists will not be present in Belgrade. Olympic champion Aline Rotter Focken announced her retirement after the Games last year, Adeline Gray just had twins, and China’s bronze medalist Qian Zhou is not registered as of yet. 

Despite these absences, 76kg has retained most of its depth. Leading the field is Olympic bronze medalist Yasemin Adar of Turkey, who has won European and Mediterranean Games titles this year in addition to taking on leadership roles within the Turkish Wrestling Federation. Joining Adar at the top of the field is Estonian rival Epp Mae. Mae won her third total medal at last year’s Worlds — a silver —  and has long been a staple at women’s heavyweight. In their most recent showdown, Adar bested Mae 3-1 in the European finals; the gap separating these two top contenders is very slim. 

Four other previous World medalists are also registered for this weight class. Canada’s Justina Di Stasio owns a World bronze at heavyweight dating back to 2017, but has since also won a World title down at 72kg. She hasn’t had as much time to shine on the World stage as Olympic champion Erica Wiebe regularly bested her for the Canadian lineup spot. Regardless, she’s repeatedly proven she can succeed on this level. Additionally, bronze medalists Martina Kuenz of Austria and Samar Hamza of Egypt both have tons of experience and quality wins to their name. 

If there’s one woman to bet heavy on, it’s Aiperi Medet Kyzy, who took bronze in Oslo and won a U23 World title last year (coincidentally also in Belgrade). Medet Kyzy has been on another level in 2022: she’s earned two Ranking Series titles, U23 and Senior Asian gold medals, and has yet to lose a match. She’s only 23 and is a key part of the wildly successful Kyrgyzstani trio of Aisuluu Tynybekova and Meerim Zhumanazarova. 

Although Japan has been historically weaker at the upperweights, they’ve got a pretty strong entrant in three-time age-level World champion Yuka Kagami. Kagami has two U17 and a U20 title to her name as well as a U23 World Silver. She’s only 21, with minimal Senior-level experience, but she did take second  at the Asian Championships this year (losing only to Medet Kyzy). Some predict that Kagami is capable of becoming the first Japanese woman to win a heavyweight Olympic medal since 2004, though it remains to be seen whether she can get through the long list of experienced competitors in Belgrade. 

The final group of notable athletes is the impressive young talent coming from the Americas. Defending continental champ Dymond Guilford has had a great season, winning the American World Team spot over a plethora of talented competitors. Additional Pan-Am talent includes Cuban Milaimys Marin Potrille, who won 2019 U20 and U23 World titles at age 18, U23 World Finalist Tatiana Renteria from Colombia, and this year’s Pan-Am Silver Medalist Genesis Valdez of Ecuador. These women all have the potential to contend for medals and could notch some significant upsets in Belgrade. 

Ultimately, this bracket will come down to whether the old guard can maintain their international dominance or if the younger crop is ready to cause upsets. Watch for women like Medet Kyzy, Kagami and Guilford to take down some of this weight’s most seasoned veterans. 

Medal Predictions: 

Gold —  Aiperi Medet Kyzy (Kyrgyzstan) 

Silver —  Epp Mae (Estonia) 

Bronze —  Dymond Guilford (USA) 

Bronze — Yasemin Adar (Turkey)