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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo/Sam Janicki

    Photo: Tony Rotundo/Sam Janicki

    Wolnik 7 Preview

    Kyle Snyder (left) and Jason Nolf (Nolf Photo/Sam Janicki; Snyder Photo/Tony Rotundo)

    After the action-packed Alrosa Cup that was highlighted by reigning Olympic champion Zaurbek Sidakov (RUS) successful in his rematch against #2 Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov (BLR), Russia is back with another elite wrestling event only four days later, in the form of Wolnik 7. The Wolnik series of events have been an ongoing series in Russia headed by Zaur Kurbanov and feature domestic and international talents. The Wolnik series uses a modified rule system to encourage scoring, with the differences being a 15 point tech fall and match termination being caused by two four-point throws.

    After Wolnik 6 in October that saw elite competitors the likes of #5 (92) Vladislav Valiev (RUS), #7 (86) Javrail Shapiev (UZB), #3 (79), Gadzhi Nabiev (RUS), #4 (79) Radik Valiev (RUS), #7 (65) Akhmed Chakaev (RUS) and #10 (97) Alikhan Zhabrailov (RUS) compete, Wolnik will have their biggest international competitor compete in the form of 3x World/Olympic champion #2 (97) Kyle Snyder (USA). Snyder, competing along with his Nittany Lion Wrestling Club teammate Jason Nolf (USA), will take on European champion and 3x Russian Nationals champion #10 (97) Alikhan Zhabrailov (RUS), while Nolf will face off against 2017 world runner-up #18 (74) Khetag Tsabolov (SRB). Rounding out the card will be a rubber match between two-time world bronze medalist #7 (65) Akhmed Chakaev (RUS) and three-time Russian Nationals medalist Nachyn Kuular (RUS) at 70 KG.

    97 KG- #2 Kyle Snyder (USA) vs. #10 Alikhan Zhabrailov (RUS)

    In one of the most interesting matches of the event, 2020 Olympic and World silver medalist #2 Kyle Snyder (USA) will face off against European champion #10 Alikhan Zhabrailov (RUS). Both men are extremely talented competitors, but are stuck behind seven-time World/Olympic champion #1 Abdulrashid Sadulaev (RUS), with Snyder being the second man to Sadulaev internationally and Zhabrailov domestically. This match presents a big opportunity for both men, as Snyder looks to cap off his year strong after the bitter defeat to Sadulaev in both the Olympic and World finals, while Zhabrailov looks to get the biggest win of his career against the former 3x World/Olympic champion Snyder.

    Kyle Snyder (USA) should be the favorite in this match as Zhabrailov has struggled in the past against physical wrestlers the likes of #2 (92) Magomed Kurbanov (RUS) and #14 (97) Alireza Karimimachiani (IRI), who bullied him from control ties like underhooks, front headlock or collar ties. Snyder should be able to follow and improve upon the template set by Kurbanov and Karimimachiani, but needs to be careful for the low shots and far side fireman's carry of Zhabrailov as the Chechen has excellent timing and is impeccable at shutting down opponent's offense once he gets a lead.

    74 KG- #18 Khetag Tsabolov (SRB) vs. Jason Nolf (USA)

    Former Russian standout #18 Khetag Tsabolov (SRB) looks to regain momentum after a disastrous quarterfinals loss at the World Championships to #15 Azamat Nurikov (BLR) left him off the podium. Tsabolov has had a tumultuous past year, transferring to Serbia after finishing as the Russian Nationals runner-up in 2020 to #6 Razambek Zhamalov (RUS), where he upset Olympic champion #1 (P4P) Zaurbek Sidakov (RUS) and #8 Magomed Kurbanaliev (RUS). Tsabolov's performances while competing for Serbia have been lackluster as he's failed to place at the European and World championships and failed to qualify for the Olympics after having taken losses to #10 Avtandil Kentchadze (GEO), #15 Azamat Nurikov (BLR) and #17 Soner Demirtas (TUR). The match against Jason Nolf represents an opportunity for Tsabolov to regain his footing against an NCAA legend who has yet to quite find his footing internationally and is looking for his first standout international win.

    Jason Nolf (USA) was a legend for Penn State finishing his career as a 4x NCAA finalist and 3x NCAA champion. While Nolf was renowned for his offensive diversity and ability to dominate the elite of his weight class collegiately, Nolf has yet to break through internationally as he has been stuck behind the likes of US middleweight standouts three-time World champion #3 Kyle Dake (USA), six-time World/Olympic champion #1 (79) Jordan Burroughs (USA), #2 (79) Alex Dieringer (USA) and Isaiah Martinez (USA). While Nolf was able to take third at the US Olympic trials this year, he failed to place in his sole international competition of the year by losing in the opening round of the Ziolkowski memorial to two-time Asian champion Daniyar Kaisanov (KAZ).

    Nolf/Tsabolov is a very intriguing bout for what it means for both men. Nolf is given the shot against a divisional elite who has suffered with consistency issues, but shown himself capable of dominating the best in the world, while Tsabolov gets a chance at redemption after having fallen from the heights of the top pound-for-pound. While Tsabolov does have a history of slow starts in matches and being flat-footed, when he does attack, he has an absolutely incredible timing and finishing ability on a head outside single and fireman's carry and boasts a match ending leg lace that has put away even the best. Defensively Tsabolov is no pushover, as he's an incredible scrambler and has a notoriously tight shin whizzer that he's choked out opponents with in the past. Nolf looked much improved in his match against #1 (79) Jordan Burroughs in what was a losing effort; he still managed to show improved leg attack selection and finishing ability while standing up to the physicality of the American all-time great. This should be Tsabolov's match, but expect to see Nolf contend with him throughout.

    70 KG- #7 (65) Akhmed Chakaev (RUS) vs. Nachyn Kuular (RUS)

    A standout rubber match between two lightweight standouts, #7 Akhmed Chakaev (RUS) is coming off a win at Wolnik 6 over Gitinomagomed Gadzhiev (AZE), while Kuular is coming off a runner-up finish at the Military World Championships to #16 Arman Andreasyan (ARM). The two men share a history with each other, as Kuular took their first match last year at the 2020 Yarygin over an injured Chakaev, with Chakaev returning the favor this year at Russian Nationals. Chakaev, a true veteran of the sport at 34 years old, with two world bronze medals to his name, has had a solid year but one defined by him falling to the next generation of talent as he took losses to #5 Kurban Shiraev (RUS) and #5 (65) Zagir Shakhiev (RUS) at Russian Nationals and the Russian World Team Wrestle-Offs.

    Three-time Russian Nationals medalist Nachyn Kuular (RUS) has had issues with consistency as well this year at 65 KG failing to place at Russian Nationals after a loss to Chakaev in the round of 16 and then taking an unexpected loss at the Yarygin to Dasha Sharastepanov (RUS) and then medical defaulting out. Kuular has since made the move up to 70 KG, where he's finished with a silver medal at the World Military Championships to #15 Arman Andreasyan (ARM).

    Chakaev should be seen as the frontrunner of this match as the Chechen has one of the most powerful underhook series in the world that he'll use to great effect against the counter-minded Kuular. Kuular himself is a great upper body technician, especially off of body locks. Both men also have strong leg attacks, with Chakaev favoring a head outside low single and Kuular's preference being an outside step high single. Expect a very close match between the two, with Chakaev coming out the victor.

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