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  • Photo: Photo/Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Photo/Tony Rotundo

    Five questions heading into Freestyle World Cup

    This weekend, the U.S. will host the 2018 Freestyle World Cup. Due to a variety of factors, Iran and Russia will not compete in the event. The U.S. has not won the dual-meet tournament since 2003, but the squad is a heavy favorite this year. The event will likely have a big impact going forward as the field will feature multiple world medals and future contenders. The following is a look at the five biggest questions heading into the event.

    What do the new UWW rankings really mean?

    For 2018, UWW debuted a new ranking system. Wrestlers are given points based on their finish in a selected number of ranking events. So far the reviews have been mixed and some of the top competitors have spoken out against the system. The World Cup will feature multiple ranked wrestlers. However, since the event is not a ranking event, even knocking off the number-one wrestler in the world will not help you move up the rankings. If multiple ranked wrestlers fall this weekend, the dissatisfaction with the ranking system might rise and lead to future changes.

    Japan's Yuki Takahashi defeated Thomas Gilman to win a world gold medal (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    Will the World Cup determine the favorite at 57 kilograms?

    World silver medalist Thomas Gilman will get a chance to avenge the loss he suffered in the finals of the 2017 World Championships. In the second session of the opening day, gold medalist Yuki Takahashi will be there waiting. The field also features 2017 bronze medalist Erdenbatyn Bekhbayar (Mongolia) and 2017 U23 world champion Reineri Andreeu Ortega (Cuba). 57 kilograms is clearly the deepest weight at the World Cup, and the wrestler with the best record could end up becoming the favorite to win the upcoming 2018 World Championships.

    Cuba's Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez placed fifth at the Rio Olympics (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    Is this a changing of the guard for Cuba?

    Despite being a country roughly the size of Ohio, Cuba has regularly been an impact player in the wrestling world. While Cuban teams have lacked depth in the past, they always seem to have some stalwarts that keep the team in contention. Now, some of those stars are starting to get up there in age. World medalists Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez (61 kilograms) and Livan Lopez Azcuy (74 kilograms) are 34 and 36 years old respectively. Many other members of the Cuba World Cup lineup are also on the older side of 30. While some of these names might move on, there is plenty of talent coming down the pipeline including the previously mentioned U23 world champion at 57 kilograms.

    Do the new weight classes make the U.S. the 2018 World Championships favorite?

    For years there was a log jam behind Jordan Burroughs at 74 kilograms. He routinely defeated some of the country's best wrestlers in the trials. Then former 74-kilogram stars Kyle Dake and David Taylor moved up to 86 kilograms, but then a similar log jam developed behind J'Den Cox. Even with this lineup issue, the U.S. was able to break through and win the 2017 World Championship as a team.

    Now, thanks to the addition of weight classes, the U.S. can field a World Cup lineup that features Burroughs (74 kilograms), Kyle Dake (79 kilograms), David Taylor (86 kilograms) and J'den Cox (92 kilograms) at the same time. If that lineup is able to make it through the trials process, it would be hard to imagine that the team would not be the favorite in 2018. This weekend's World Cup should provide a very nice preview, even without a pair of top teams competing.

    Japan's Yuhi Fujinami reached the semifinals of Worlds before losing to James Green (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    Can Yuhi Fujinami push Jordan Burroughs?

    Last year at the World Championships, Fujinami made an unlikely run to the semifinals at 70 kilograms. Along the way, he knocked off two-time Asian champion and world medalist Mostafa Hosseinkhani (Iran). Fujinami dropped a two-point match against James Green (USA) in the semifinals, but he wrestled back in the repechage and took bronze. It was an impressive senior level debut for the two-time junior world medalist. Obviously, he will be a heavy underdog against the five-time world champion. However, his style and naive confidence could make this an exciting second session match.

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