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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Tokyo Watch - 50 Profiles in 50 Days: Haji Aliyev (Azerbaijan)

    Haji Aliyev celebrates after winning the world title in 2015 (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    As of today, we under 50 days from the start of wrestling at the Olympic Games. Over the next 50 days, we'll bring you one profile per day of a decorated international contender. Make sure you get to know the wrestlers that Team USA will compete against in Tokyo.

    6/13/21 - Ningning Rong (China)

    6/12/21 - Bajrang Punia (India)

    6/11/21 - Frank Staebler (Germany)

    6/10/21 - Geno Petriashvili (Georgia)

    A talented competitor who would routinely go down to the wire against the very best but falter late during 2011-13, returning 57 KG Olympic bronze medalist #6 Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan transformed himself into one of the premier pound-for-pound talents with three world titles from 2014-2017. Now established as a dangerous veteran at 65 KG, Aliyev will be a major threat to medal in Tokyo if he's at his best.

    #6 Haji Aliyev (AZE)- Three-time 61 KG world champion ('14, '15, '17), 2016 57 KG Olympic bronze medalist, three-time European champion ('14, '18, '19), 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games champion, 2019 65 KG European Games champion, 2020 65 KG Individual World Cup bronze medalist.

    Key Wins: #1 Gadzhimurad Rashidov (2017 61 KG world championships finals), Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez (2014 61 KG world championships, 2017 61 KG world championships), Alexander Bogomoev (2015 61 KG Baku GGP, 2012 60 KG World Cup), #2 Vazgen Tevanyan (2019 65 KG European championships), #11 Ilyas Bekbulatov (2018 65 KG European championships finals), Masoud Esmaeilpourjoubari (2017 61 KG Islamic Solidarity Games, 2012 World Cup), Vladimir Khinchegashvili (2019 65 KG European Games finals).

    Key Losses: #1 Gadzhimurad Rashidov (2019 65 KG world championships), #2 Vazgen Tevanyan (2021 65 KG European Olympic Games Qualifier finals), #4 Ismail Musukaev (2020 65 KG Individual World Cup semifinals), #5 Takuto Otoguro (2019 65 KG world championships repechage), Vladimir Khinchegashvili ( 2008 54 KG Cadet European championships finals, 2013 60 KG European championships, 2016 61 KG European championships, 2016 57 KG Olympics), Alejandro Valdes Tobier (2018 65 KG world cup, 2018 65 KG world championships), Alexander Bogomoev (2015 61 KG European Games), Bajrang Punia (2019 65 KG Indian Pro League), Alec Pantaleo (2021 70 KG Ziolkowski)

    2010-2013

    Starting his senior level career at only 19 years old, in 2010, after a runner-up finish at the 2008 54 KG Cadet European championships to Vladimir Khinchegashvili of Georgia, Haji Aliyev would register an eighth-place finish at the Senior European championships notching a win over Tim Schelicher (GER) and losing in the quarterfinals to future rival Andrei Perpelita (MDA). A 17th place and eighth-place finish at the loaded Baku Golden Grand Prix and Dan Kolov tournament would knock Aliyev back down to the Junior level, where he would finish as runner-up at the 2011 Junior European championships to Oemer Uzan of Turkey. Aliyev did conclude his 2011 with a strong runner-up finish at the Ramzan Kadyrov Cup to 2009 Yarygin runner-up #12 Akhmed Chakaev of Russia.

    2012 would see a turn of fortunes for Aliyev as he continued to improve, taking bronze at the prestigious International Ukrainian Tournament and absolutely went off at the World Cup, beating the likes of 2010 Asian champion Masoud Esmaeilpourjoubari (IRI) and 2011 57 KG Russian Nationals bronze medalist Alexander Bogomoev (RUS). Aliyev followed up his impressive World Cup showing with a bronze medal at the Grand Prix of Germany and a title at the Baku Golden Grand Prix over 2010 World Military champion Agaguseynov Mustafaev (AZE). 2013 was a mixed bag for Aliyev as while he was able to take bronze at the Yasar Dogu and World University Games along with a runner-up at the Baku Golden Grand Prix, but he failed to place at the European championships and finished in 30th place at the world championships after a contentious 9-7 loss to Masoud Esmaeilpourjoubari (IRI).

    2014-2017

    2014 would see a significant change in Haji Aliyev's career, the transition from contender to champion in the most dominant year of his career. Aliyev won his first title of the year at the Dan Kolov over Muenir Recep Aktas (TUR). Earlier in the tournament, he tech falled returning world runner-up Vladimir Dubov of Bulgaria. Aliyev's European title run would be even more impressive as he beat two future world medalists in Vasyl Shuptar (UKR) and #3 (61) Beka Lomtadze (GEO) to make the finals, where he'd take on the reigning world champion Bekhan Goygereev of Russia. Goygereev was seen by many as the next superstar, pound-for-pound talent, dominating his way through the world championships with five tech falls and a pin in the finals and most impressively beating four-time world champion Besik Kudukhov at Russian Nationals. Aliyev overcame an early Goygereev surge to overtake the match and win 12-5 for his first European title.

    Aliyev's dominant run would continue leading up to the world championships as he moved up to 65 KG for the Grand Prix of Germany, where he took out returning world champion Devid Safaryan (ARM) 7-2 in the finals. Aliyev's first Baku Golden Grand Prix title would come by way of a dominant tech fall over returning world runner-up Vladimir Dubov of Bulgaria, which gave him four gold medals on the year going into the world championships. Powering his way through the finals, Aliev would outscore his competition 39-4 to get the chance to get his rubber match against returning world bronze medalist Masoud Esmaeilpourjoubari (IRI), who led the series 1-1 after his win at the 2013 world championships. While Esmaeilpourjoubari was game throughout, Aliyev would not be denied and won his first world title with a wild 12-7 victory.

    2015 saw Haji Aliyev move up to 65 KG for the first part of the year, taking bronze at the Grand Prix of Paris with a loss to Masoud Esmaeilpourjouybari (IRI) and eighth in a loaded Medved field from a loss to 2001 54 KG world bronze medalist Alexander Kontoev (BLR). Aliyev would return to 61 KG for the World Cup. He'd go 3-1 with his loss coming to 2013 University World Games runner-up Behnam Ehsanpour (IRI). The European Games would be Aliyev's final competition gearing up for his second world title, but tragedy would strike in the semifinals as he was upset by Alexander Bogomoev (RUS) 5-2 and would have to console himself with a bronze medal over Muenir Recep Aktas (TUR). Haji was a man on a roll in Las Vegas at the World Championships, but he'd cash in the finals where he'd score a dominant 10-0 first period tech fall over Nomin Batbold (MGL). Batbold had a sensational run to the world finals beating the likes of Reece Humphrey (USA), #3 (61) Beka Lomtadze (GEO), Vasyl Shuptar (UKR), and Bajrang Punia (IND) in an electrifying fashion. And Haji Aliyev tore through him like tissue paper. If 2014 wasn't enough proof, the 2015 World Championships were a christening for Aliyev as a premier pound-for-pound talent. A second Baku Golden Grand Prix title and revenge over Alexander Bogomoev was icing on top of the cake for Haji Aliyev as he finished off another spectacular year.

    2016 would see Haji Aliyev have to make a serious transition. Azerbaijan hadn't qualified 57 KG yet for the Olympics and 2012 60 KG Olympic champion Toghrul Asgarov had qualified at 65 KG, so the choice for Aliyev was to either torture himself to make 57 or give up tons of size to Asgarov and try and be the 65 KG rep. Haji's first competition of the year was at the Yasar Dogu up at 65 KG, where he ran into an absolute buzzsaw in 2015 65 KG European games bronze medalist Mustafa Kaya (TUR), a highly physical bull of a wrestler at 65. Haji had no answer for Kaya's physicality and was teched by the talented Turk and finished the Yasar Dogu in 5th place. Returning to 61 KG, Aliyev would seek his second European title and stave off reigning 57 KG world champion Vladimir Khinchegashvili in a much-anticipated matchup. Aliyev and Khinchegashvili met in the semifinals and while Aliyev threatened Khinchegashvili early, it would be Khinchegashvili who would be able to score late and pull out a 4-2 win and Aliyev would be relegated to a bronze medal.

    While Haji had been wrestling up at 61 KG preparing for the weight cut down to 57 KG, 2014 Junior world runner-up Mirjalal Hasanzade had qualified Azerbaijan for the Olympics at 57 Kg with a runner-up finish to Ivan Guidea (ROU). A title at the Grand Prix of Germany at 61 KG would be Aliyev's final warmup before Rio, where he would enter a loaded field that boasted 3 other world champions and eight World/Olympic medalists, including Aliyev. An opening-round tech fall against Jun Sik Yun (KOR) put Aliyev into the quarterfinals against the reigning 57 KG world champion Khinchegashvili. While Aliyev was able to keep the match close early, Khinchegashvili made the necessary adjustments in the second period and exploited Aliyev's depleted gas tank, from the weight cut, and held onto a 5-3 win. With Khinchegashvili making his second straight Olympic finals with an 8-4 semifinal win over Vladimir Dubov (BUL), Aliyev was pulled into repechage. Aliyev overcame an early deficit against future two-time world medalist #5 (61) Nurislam Sanayev (KAZ) to win 10-8 and boosted his record to 3-0 against Vladimir Dubov (BUL) with a pin to win Olympic bronze.

    Starting 2017 off back up at 65 KG, Aliyev had an excellent World Cup going 4-0 with marquee wins over Olympian Frank Molinaro (USA) and 2010 World silver medalist Alan Gogaev (RUS). A dominant title run at the inaugural Islamic Solidarity Games included a win over longtime rival 2014 world runner-up Masoud Esmaeilpourjouybari (IRI) made it, so Aliyev had plenty of momentum behind him looking for his third world title. Winning #3 would be no easy feat as the field was beastly with returning Olympic champion Khinchegashvili , 2016 World champion Logan Stieber (USA), 2014 World bronze medalist Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez (CUB), 3x European champion Cengizhan Erdogan (TUR) and young Russian phenom Gadzhimurad Rashidov. While a much anticipated fifth match between Khinchegashvili and Aliyev in the finals was the talk of the town of Pairs, Gadzhimurad Rashidov would be the man to stand opposite Aliyev in the finals after upset wins over Khinchegashvili and Cengizhan Erdogan (TUR). Aliyev, off the strength of a dominant run that included wins over future U-23 world champion Rinya Nakamura (JPN) and 2014 world bronze medalist Bonne Rodriguez, was in his best form and dominated Rashidov off reattacks and sealed his third world title with an impressive pin late in the match.

    Haji Aliyev at the 2017 World Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)


    2018-2021

    2018 would mark Aliyev's full-time transition up to 65 KG, which he began by competing in the Indian Pro League. After a successful run in India, Aliyev competed in a loaded field at the International Ukrainian Tournament, where he would face returning world runner-up Magomedmurad Gadzhiev (POL) and get another chance at Vladimir Khinchegashvili (GEO). Haji would make the finals facing Magomedmurad Gadzhiev, who, like he had in his semifinal match against Khinchegashvili, was able to use superior defense to take a close win over Aliyev for gold. A mixed bag at the World Cup in Iowa City would see Aliyev fall to a pair of world medalists in Alejandro Valdes Tobier (CUB) and Stieber (USA) and only take a 1-2 mark going into the European championships.

    Returning European champion Ilyas Bekbulatov looked in peak form and the favorite to not only win Euros, but as the man to beat at the World Championships. Bekbulatov was hot off a dominant showing at the Yarygin where he trounced world champions Nachyn Kuular (RUS) and Stieber and beat 2016 world bronze medalist Akhmed Chakaev (RUS) in the finals. A technical savant who could stop a match at any moment, Bekbulatov would be a tall task for Aliyev and anyone at 65 KG to deal with. And after a first period 5-0 lead for Bekbulatov, it looked like Aliyev had bitten off more than he could chew. But showing the resolve and ice in the veins that got him three world titles, Aliyev clawed back in the second period and rattled off 8 points to beat the Russian dynamo Bekbulatov 8-7 for his second European title.

    A default in the finals of the Medved after wins over 2017 61 KG Russian Nationals bronze medalist Islam Dudaev (RUS) and Joey McKenna (USA) put Haji Aliyev as one of the premier contenders for his first 65 KG world title and 4th overall world gold. But an opening-round matchup against returning world bronze medalist Valdes Tobier would spell disaster for Aliyev as the powerhouse Cuban was able to shutdown Aliyev's offense in a 2-0 loss.

    After a rough showing in Budapest to end 2018, Haji Aliyev started off 2019 in a loaded field at the Indian Pro League, where he took on returning world runner-up Bajrang Punia (IND) and 2016 Olympic champion Soslan Ramonov (RUS). Aliyev would fall to Punia and Ramonov but would go into the European championships as the favorite to win his third title. Taking gold with wins over #2 Vazgen Tevanyan (ARM) and Kuular, Aliyev was on a hot streak and the favorite to win the European Games and his fourth European title. Finally getting his fifth matchup against Khinchegashvili, one that had been denied him at the 2017 world finals, Aliyev dominated the Georgian lightweight great in the finals, winning his first European Games title and fourth European title with a 10-2 victory.

    In what was a terrible "random draw," Aliyev drew two-time 61 KG world runner-up Rashidov in the opening round in a rematch of their 2017 world finals match. Though it was a close match throughout, a controversial score on the edge for Rashidov won him the match 4-2 and relegated Aliyev to repechage where he would meet the returning world champion #5 Takuto Otoguro (JPN). In a true barn burner, Aliyev and Otoguro traded blows back and forth, but it would be Otoguro who would capitalize on a last-second score to win 10-8 eliminate Aliyev from the competition.

    Haji Aliyev's only competition during the shortened 2020 COVID season would be at the Individual World Cup, where he would meet returning world bronze medalist #4 Ismail Musukaev (HUN) in the semifinals. Leading the explosive Russian ex-pat 1-0 through the first period, Aliyev would make a costly mistake on a chest wrap and give up a big four-pointer to Musukaev and exposure. Aliyev would score 5 points on the retreating Musukaev but fell 7-6 and drop into the bronze medal match where he defeated Ilman Mukhtarov (FRA) 10-4. Starting 2021 at the World Qualifier, Aliyev would reach the finals and qualify for Tokyo opposite #2 Vazgen Tevanyan (ARM) in a rematch from the 2019 European championships won 1-0 by Aliyev. Tevanyan had grown leaps and bounds since then and absolutely dominated Aliyev 9-0 to go along with his wins over fellow World/Olympic medalists Vladimir Khinchegashvili (GEO) and Magomedmurad Gadzhiev (POL). A final competition before Tokyo up at 70 KG in Poland saw Aliyev go head to head with the US's best and, in one of the matches of the year, drop a 6-5 decision to Alec Pantaleo (USA). Aliyev rebounded with a 2-1 win over 2017 65 KG world champion Zurab Iakobishvili (GEO).

    Haji Aliyev is one of the great lightweights of the past 20 years, but his career , even by his own admission, is coming to an end. Saying that he has been struggling with rib injuries and motivation issues, Aliyev wants to capitalize on one final run and breakthrough for gold in Tokyo in a loaded field. Here's hoping that the three-time world champion can make good on it and cement himself as an all-time great.

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