Ildar Hafizov (left) and Alex Sancho (Photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Over the next six days, we will bring you weight class previews for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Each preview will include three Olympic weights. They will highlight notable past achievements of the competitors in each weight, the American entry, and what to look for during the competition. We'll get things kicked off with the first three Greco-Roman weights (60 kg, 67 kg, and 77 kg).
60 kg Greco-Roman
Meirambek Ainagulov (Kazakhstan) - 2x World Medalist, 3x Asian Bronze Medalist
Victor Ciobanu (Moldova) - 2018 World Silver Medalist, 2019 European Champion
Sergey Emelin (Russia) - 2018 World Champion, 2x World Medalist, 2018 European Champion
Abdelkarim Fergat (Algeria) - 3x African Champion
Kenichiro Fumita (Japan) - 2x World Champion, 2x Asian Champion, 2018 U23 World Champion
Kerem Kamal (Turkey) - 3x Junior World Champion, 2018 U23 World Bronze Medalist
Etienne Kinsinger (Germany) - 2016 Junior World Silver Medalist
Haithem Mahmoud (Egypt) - 2x African Champion
Armen Melikyan (Armenia) - 2019 U23 World Champion
Alireza Nejati (Iran) - 2019 World Bronze Medalist
Luis Orta Sanchez (Cuba) - 2x Pan-American Champion
Walihan Sailike (China) - 2018 World Bronze Medalist
Zholaman Sharshenbekov (Kyrgyzstan) - 2018 World Silver Medalist, 2018 Asian Silver Medalist, 2019 U23 World Silver Medalist
Elmurat Tasmuradov (Uzbekistan) - 2016 Olympic Bronze Medalist, 3x World Medalist, 5x Asian Champion
Lenur Temirov (Ukraine) - 2020 European Silver Medalist, 2018 World Bronze Medalist, 2012 Olympian
The American Entry
Ildar Hafizov - Hafizov will be wrestling in his second Olympic Games. He competed in 2008 for his native Uzbekistan, before gaining US citizenship. Hafizov has made a pair of world teams (2017 and 2019) while competing for the United States. In early 2020, Hafizov went to the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier and qualified the country for the Olympics after making the finals. Along the way, he picked up wins over two-time Pan-American champion Andres Montano Arroyo (Ecuador) and former Asian bronze medalist Marat Garipov (Brazil).
Hafizov's success at the continental championships allowed him to sit in the Olympic Trials finals and wait for an opponent to emerge. It ended up being 2019 World Team member Ryan Mango. Hafizov had little trouble with Mango and cruised to a 7-0 win in his first bout, before an 8-0 tech in the clincher. Since the Trials, Hafizov placed second at the 2021 Pan-American Championships.
Number of Senior World/Olympic Champions: 2 (Emelin, Fumita)
Number of Senior World/Olympic Medalists: 9 (Ainagulov, Ciobanu, Emelin, Fumita, Nejati, Sailike, Sharshenbekov, Tasmuradov, Temirov)
This weight class is extremely deep, with more than half of its participants already owning a world/Olympic medal. Even with seeding, we'll see some incredible matchups right off the bat. Speaking of seeding, we'll see who jumps up to take the fourth seed. Uzbekistan's Islamjon Bakramov earned the spot; however, he is not their entry, Elmurat Tasmuradov is. Though there are potential landmines around every turn, this weight class could be one where chalk prevails and the two top-seeds meet in the finals. Both are the only past world champions at the weight. If so, that would be a rematch of their 2019 world finals, who by Fumita, 10-5.
67 kg Greco-Roman
Karen Aslanyan (Armenia) - 2x European Bronze Medalist, 2013 Junior World Champion
Fredrik Bjerrehuus (Demark) - 2019 World fifth-place
Ismael Borrero Molina (Cuba) - 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist, 2x World Champion
Mohamed El-Sayed (Egypt) - 2x U23 World Champion, 4x African Champion
Mohammed Geraei (Iran) - 2019 U23 World Champion, 2019 Asian Champion
Julian Horta Acevedo (Colombia) - 2x Pan-American Silver Medalist
Balint Korpasi (Hungary) - 2016 World Champion, 4x World Medalist, 2017 European Champion
Souleymen Nasr (Tunisia) - 2x African Silver Medalist
Mate Nemes (Serbia) - 2019 World Bronze Medalist, 2021 European Champion
Han-Su Ryu (South Korea) - 2x World Champion, 3x World Medalist, 2x Asian Champion
Frank Staebler (Germany) - 3x World Champion, 5x World Medalist, 2x European Champion
Artem Surkov (Russia) - 2018 World Champion, 4x World Medalist, 2x European Champion
Ramaz Zoidze (Georgia) - 2018 U23 World Silver Medalist, 2x European U23 Champion
1) Borrero Molina
The American Entry
Alex Sancho - Longtime domestic contender Alex Sancho seems to be continuing to evolve and wrestling at his best at the proper time. Prior to making the Olympic team, Sancho had never made a Senior level world team. He does have some world-level experience as he was on the Junior World Team in 2014 and the U23 team in 2017. Though this was his first world/Olympic team, Sancho has been on the cusp for years. Three times he finished as a runner-up at the World Team Trials. On two occasions, those losses came to 2012 Olympian Ellis Coleman. Sancho finally got his revenge at the 2020 Olympic Trials by winning a pair of close matches against Coleman, 2-0 and 3-1.
Last year, Sancho got the call to travel to Canada to qualify 67 kg for the Olympics. He did his job and breezed by Enyer Feliciano (Dominican Republic) and Miguel Lopez Salcedo (Mexico) to make the finals and lock up a place for the US at the Games. His most recent competition was the Poland Open, where he finished in seventh place.
Number of Senior World/Olympic Champions: 5 (Borrero Molina, Korpasi, Ryu, Staebler, Surkov)
Number of Senior World/Olympic Medalists: 6 (Borrero Molina, Korpasi, Nemes, Ryu, Staebler, Surkov)
Compared to 60 kg, this weight class is extremely top-heavy. Having five past world or Olympic champions will have that effect! Now the first round could get dicey as only two of those past champions have seeds (Borrero Molina/1 and Surkov/3). While these well-established veterans have experience on their side, could the Games serve as a changing of the guard at this weight? Are recent U23 world champions like Mohamed El-Sayed (Egypt) and Mohammed Geraei (Iran) ready to take the next step and threaten to win their first Senior-level medals? Provided there is proper separation in the brackets, I wouldn't expect any darkhorse to come out of nowhere and medal, based on the strength of the upper echelon of this weight. But, we likely seed an unseeded wrestler or two in the finals.
77 kg Greco-Roman
Jalgasbay Berdimuratov (Uzbekistan) - 2019 World Bronze Medalist, 2012 Asian Champion
Alex Bjurberg Kessidis (Sweden) - 2019 World Silver Medalist, 2020 European Bronze Medalist
Karapet Chalyan (Armenia) - 2019 World fifth-place, 2013 Junior World Champion, 2x European Bronze Medalist
Aleksandr Chekhirkin (Russia) - 2018 World Champion, 2014 European Champion
Mohammed Geraei (Iran) - 2x World Bronze Medalist, 2x Asian Silver Medalist
Rafig Huseynov (Azerbaijan) - 2019 World Silver Medalist, 2x European Champion
Alfonso Leyva Yepez (Mexico) -
Tamas Lorincz (Hungary) - 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist, 2019 World Champion, 4x World Medalist, 3x European Champion
Lamjed Maafi (Tunisia) - 2020 African Silver Medalist
Akzhol Makhmudov (Kyrgyzstan) - 2x Junior World Medalist
Aik Mnatsakanian (Bulgaria) - 2x World Bronze Medalist, 2019 European Bronze Medalist
Zied Ait Ouagram (Morocco) - 2x Olympian, 10x African Champion
Yosvanys Pena Flores (Cuba) - 2x Pan-American Champion
Yabiku Shohei (Japan) - 2013 Junior World Bronze Medalist
Bozo Starcevic (Croatia) - 2016 Olympian, 2013 European Bronze Medalist
Demeu Zhadrayev (Kazakhstan) - 2017 World Silver Medalist, 2018 Asian Silver Medalist
2) Bjurberg Kessidis
The American Entry
None. Jesse Porter won the Olympic Team Trials, but this weight was not qualified for the Games. Porter went to the Last Chance Qualifier in Bulgaria and went 1-1, falling short of the finals. Our 2019 World rep at the weight, Pat Smith, finished 23rd at the 2019 World Championships and third at the 2020 Pan-American Olympic Qualifier.
Number of Senior World/Olympic Champions: 2 (Chekhirkin, Lorincz)
Number of Senior World/Olympic Medalists: 8 (Berdimuratov, Bjurberg Kessidis, Chekhirkin, Geraei, Huseynov, Lorincz, Mnatsakanian, Zhadrayev)
This is probably the most wide-open of any weight we've covered so far. The Russian, Aleksandr Chekhirkin, is one of only two past champions in the bracket. He gets the nod for Russia, rather than two-time Olympic gold medalist Roman Vlasov. He'll get drawn into the bracket somewhere. The second world champion at this weight is Tamas Lorincz, who won the most recent World Championship in 2019. Lorincz also has the longest track record in this field and was an Olympic silver medalist in 2016. As the top seed, he'll have an excellent opportunity to get a step higher on the podium this time. If there's a young face that could break through and knock off some of the more established veterans at this weight, it could be Akzhol Makhmudov (Kyrgyzstan). American fans probably remember him as the finals opponent for Kamal Bey in the 2017 Junior World Championships. Though he lost that time, Makhmudov came back the following year and defeated Bey for Junior World bronze.