BY MATT DIANO
In a demonstration of the unity shared by the international wrestling community, three of the world’s best—the United States, Iran, and Russia— assembled under the single roof of Grand Central Station on 42nd Street in Manhattan for an epic event to prove that if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) intends to follow through with the intentions of removing our great sport from the itinerary of the 2020 summer games, they are going to have a fight on their hands if we have anything to say about it. Ripe with celebrities, dignitaries, and fans alike in attendance, this one day event showcased that even when political rivals cannot agree on anything else, they all concur with the belief that undoing centuries of history is a decision that as a collective people, we simply cannot stand for. In the poetic words of Dylan Thomas, we will not go gentle into that good night, and the 32 athletes that took to the mat for the 2013 Rumble on the Rails more than proved that we are here to stay!
With regard to the results of the two duals, to say that it was a Jekyll & Hyde type performance for the Americans would not be an understatement. Pitted first against a contingent from the Islamic Republic of Iran, the United States would be close on several occasions, but victory just never seemed to be in the cards as the Stars and Stripes dropped the freestyle dual by a one-sided margin of 6-1.
Winning the lone match for the Red, White and Blue was the poster boy of the hour, Cornell University’s, Kyle Dake. With short time on the clock in the first period, three-time World Cup medalist Hassan Tahmasebi would get in deep on a low single against the Ithaca native. However, the excellent defense of Dake would enable him to fight off the takedown attempt and force the ball draw. After the Iranian successfully drew a red ball (giving him the advantage), again it would be the four-time NCAA champion proving impossible to score on, locking onto the crotch and using the hold to lift and expose his opponent to win the first period 2-0.
After a second straight scoreless period during regulation, it would be Dake picking a ball from the bag. Like Tahmasebi, Dake would make the most of his choice, plucking a blue ball to earn the right to try to end the match by finishing the leg clinch. This would be a privilege that Dake would not allow to go to waste, as he quickly transitioned from a single to a power double to deposit the Iranian on his back for a takedown.
Opening Wednesday’s festivities at 55 kg against Iran would be two-time U.S. National Freestyle Champion, Obe Blanc, who was opposed by 2011 World Bronze Medalist/2012 Olympian, Hassan Rahimi. Getting on the board first and winning the first period would be the former Oklahoma State Cowboy Blanc, countering a shot from his opponent to turn in and then push the Iranian off the mat with 18 seconds remaining on the clock for the only point of the initial period.
In the second, it would Rahimi’s turn to beat the buzzer, converting on a single-leg with 10 seconds to go in the middle stanza to prolong the bout with a 1-0 period win of his own. After relatively low scoring efforts by both men in the first four minutes, there would be some action in the decisive third period with Rahimi getting on the board first with a takedown, but then quickly seeing his lead disappear when Blanc countered a gut wrench attempt to score a two-point exposure to take the 2-1 lead. Knowing that even if he scored another takedown to tie the match on the scoreboard, he would still lose on criteria, Rahimi would step up in a big way, not only getting the TD but then adding a two-point gut to seize control of the bout. It would be these two points on the turn that would prove to be the difference as the visiting wrestler would prevail 0-1, 1-0, 4-2 to give his team the early 1-0 lead in the team race.
Iran would make it two in a row to kick off the dual when Masoud Esmailpour, another of the 2012 Olympians (seventh place) from this loaded roster, would upend 2011 World Team Member/2013 National Freestyle Champion, Reece Humphrey, in straight periods 1-0, 6-0. Finding himself in a very tight spot, caught in a bodylock position on the edge of the mat, it would be the 2013 World Cup Gold Medalist from Iran finding a way to turn defense into offense, working his way out of the disadvantageous predicament to circle in and force a pushout with 10 seconds remaining in the first period to win 1-0.
In the second, Esmailpour, who in addition to this year’s World Cup title, also won a crown at the Asian Championships in 2010, would dominate from the opening whistle, notching his first takedown of the bout approximately 25 seconds in to grab the 1-0 lead. After going out of bounds, the wrestlers would be returned to their feet. However, they would not remain standing for long as again it would be Esmailpour drawing blood, snapping down on the head and spinning around to increase the lead to 2-0. Unlike his first opportunity from par terre, this time the Iranian would have time to work, and work he did, locking up a tight gut and taking it over three times to earn the technical fall in the second.
The proverbial bleeding would not stop at 66 kg when former two-time World Champion (2009, 2011), Mehdi Taghavi would continue to bury the U.S. in a deeper hole when he bested Kellen Russell in two periods to put his countrymen one win away from locking up the dual. Unlike the first periods contested in the 55 and 60 kg bouts that enjoyed something of a feeling out process, 66 kg would witness fireworks from the start as Taghavi would hit a throw from his knees to score the opening two points of the bout. Russell, a two-time NCAA champion while wrestling for the University of Michigan, would then counter by coming out on top of the scramble to cut the deficit in half. Leading 2-1, Taghavi would add a little insurance, notching a TD to win the period 3-1.
Taghavi, who in addition to his pair of world titles has also represented his country at the past two Olympic Games (2008-10th; 2012-14th) would continue to assert his will in the second, getting penetration on the single-leg and finishing with 1:15 left in the second period to take the 1-0 lead. Taghavi would add one more takedown for good measure, striking with half a minute left to win the match 3-1, 2-0.
After fending off defeat with Dake’s aforementioned victory at 74 kg, the United States would be unable to feed off the momentum created by their phenom. Iran would capture the final three bouts of the afternoon, commencing at 84 kg when 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist Ehsan Lashgari would win a low scoring, but effective nonetheless 1-0, 1-0 decision over U.S. representative Keith Gavin, this year’s National Freestyle Champion.
Catching his American opponent getting a little too aggressive, it would be Lashgari, the medalist from the most recent summer games (who has also won three Asian titles in his decorated international career), securing the initial takedown of the match with 46 seconds remaining in the first period. The Iranian countered a Gavin shot to snap down and spin behind. This lone takedown would hold up as he would go on to win the period 1-0.
In something of a déjà vu moment, Lashgari would score again in the second period in exactly the same fashion, using the attacking style of the former NCAA champion from the University of Pittsburgh against him, again snapping and spinning around for the only takedown of period. Using the old adage that it is better to win than look pretty, Lashgari’s pair of takedowns may not have caused the crowd to rise to their feet, but it certainly would do damage as the victory officially put the dual to bed by serving as the fourth win for the Iranians.
Making it two-for-two in head-to-head battles against former Ohio State Buckeye J.D. Bergman would be 2013 World Cup 5th place finisher, Hamed Tatari. Having previously defeated Bergman en route to his top-5 finish at the World Cup, Tatari would surrender the first takedown of the bout on Wednesday, but would never lose faith in his abilities.
With Bergman leading 1-0, Tatari would respond in a big way, waiting until about 30 seconds were left in the period to even the score with a single-leg. With short time on the clock, Tatari would leave no room for chance, locking up and converting on a gut attempt to take the opening period of the 96 kg bout, 3-1.
Seemingly having his foe fatigued, Bergman would dive in on a single attempt with just over half a minute remaining in the second period. The aggressive move would unfortunately backfire as Tatari would be able to quickly sprawl and then fight his way around the corner to earn the takedown and the match by a score of 3-1, 1-0.
The dual against Iran would come to its conclusion with another U.S wrestler, Tervel Dlagnev, trying to gain redemption. Positioned last summer to win a bronze medal in his Olympic Games debut, the Lone Star State native would see his dreams crushed when he dropped the decision to Iran’s Khomeil Ghasemi. Having placed higher than Ghasemi at the recent World Cup (Dlagnev was second, the Iranian fourth), the rematch would begin on a high note for the American as he secured the first takedown of the match to lead 1-0. Dlagnev would maintain this advantage for the majority of the period, but on a day where nothing seemed to go right, Ghasemi would respond at the best possible moment, earning a TD of his own with less than five seconds remaining in the period to steal on the tiebreaking criteria.
Midway through the second period, the bull that is Ghasemi would strike, getting great penetration and then using his powerful legs to drive Dlagnev off the mat for the 1-0 lead. Identical to the strategy used by his nemesis in the first period, this time it would be Dlagnev attempting to steal a victory in the closing seconds. In deep on a low single with only a handful of ticks on the clock, the US grappler would come close, but would be unable to gain control as he would fall at the hands of the massive man from Iran, 1-1, 1-0.
As frustrating and humbling as the afternoon’s dual with Iran was, the nightcap would prove to be the polar opposite as all of a sudden, everything would seemingly just begin to fall into place. Ball draws would go the way of the host country, underdogs on paper would rise to the occasion and pull upsets, guys who maybe did not have their best performances would still find ways to win, etc. When all was said and done, the 6-1 defeat at the hands of Iran would be emphatically put in the rearview mirror as the Stars and Stripes would post their most convincing victory ever over the Russians, winning the first eight matches of the dual to close the show on a high note, 8-1 over the #1 wrestling country in the world. With the sun having set in NYC, it truly was the difference between night and day for the American contingent.
Well aware of the fact that his team was counting on him to get off to a fast start, 60 kg 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist Coleman Scott, who was the runner-up to Humphrey at last month’s U.S. Open would not let his country down. Scott transitioned from a duckunder to a single-leg with just under 1:00 remaining in the first to score the opening TD against Artas Sanaa, an eighth place finisher at the 2012 World Cup. Being patient, Scott would keep Sanaa’s leg extended high before eventually finishing the TD with short time on the clock to win the first period 1-0.
After wrestling a scoreless two minutes in the middle stanza , the Russian would win the ball draw and finish the takedown off the leg clinch to send the opening bout of the dual to a decisive third period. Again, taking his time and picking his spots, the former NCAA Champion from Oklahoma State would explode with 30 seconds remaining in the match, hitting a power double straight to Sanaa’s back to take the 3-0 lead. This lead would hold up as Scott would emerge with the 1-0, 0-1, 3-0 victory to get the United States off on the right foot in the team race against the European rivals.
Because it was agreed upon in advance that this would not be a traditional dual, up next would be another 60 kg bout between a pair of rising stars from their respective countries, two-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber from Ohio State and Opan Sat, the three-time European champion who is widely regarded as one of the top competitors in the world. (He is #1 in the FILA World Rankings). Coming out like a man on a mission would be the defending NCAA Champion from the Buckeye State, scoring two takedowns and a hand-to-hand turn to propel himself to the 3-0 lead. Rather than concede, Sat would come roaring back, hitting a three-point throw to tie the match. Neither man would slow down on the offensive end, with Sat eventually emerging with a 7-5 period win after the first two minutes.
Identical to what he did in the first stanza, the second would again see Stieber strike expediently, getting in deep and finishing a takedown from feet to back to jump out to the 3-0 lead. Knowing how dangerous Sat can be, Stieber would not give his opponent the opportunity to rally, countering the Russian by throwing him to his back for three more points off a whizzer to win the second period by 6-0 technical fall.
After lighting up the scoreboard for 18 tallies in the first two stanzas, points would be at a premium in the third as the period went scoreless. Perhaps because he had treated spectators to a show, luck would be on the side of the Monroeville, Ohio native when Sat drew a blue ball from the bag, giving Stieber the opportunity to make it 2-for-2 in three period affairs for the Americans if he could win the leg-clinch. To the credit of Sat, he would not go down without a fight, working himself into a position where he was wrapped around Stieber, making it nearly impossible for the U.S. wrestler to cut the corner and get behind. Hence, knowing that he would be unable to finish the TD, Stieber would do the next best thing, locking through the crotch and then taking the Russian across his back for a exposure. The Russian coaching staff would attempt to challenge the close call, but in the end, the initial ruling would stand, increasing the Red, White and Blue’s lead to 2-0 with the 5-7, 6-0, 3-0 victory by Stieber.
Moving on to 66 kg, it would be another decorated former collegian, Brent Metcalf, keeping the victory train chugging when he fought back from a 2-0 loss in the first period to take the next two by scores of 1-0 and 7-0 to get the better of 2013 World Cup top-10 finisher, Soslan Ramonov. The epitome of the ‘Iowa Style’ that calls for constant attacks that smother the opposition, Metcalf would continue to push the pace in the second period, firing off shot after shot to no avail. Clearly the aggressor, but unable to break through on the scoreboard, Metcalf would see his fate be put in the hands of the luck of the draw when the second ended scoreless. Seeing the blue ball come out of the bag would instantly energize the American, but he would not need the boost as he would win the period when he was awarded a penalty point for excessive cautions, as the Russian continued prevented him from establishing a lock. In the third period, all of the tireless work done by Metcalf in the first four minutes would pay dividends as he would control his visibly-winded Russian opponent in every position on the mat, finishing off the come-from-behind victory with the 7-0 technical fall.
At 74 kg, after watching Dake win in his bout against Iran, the crowd would be treated to a coming out party for the man that the Cornell star beat in the 2013 NCAA finals. 2012 Hodge winner David Taylor from Penn State would utilize his amazing mat skills in the first period, scoring the opening takedown and then using his scrambling abilities to expose Magomed Kurbanaliev on multiple occasions to reign victorious 6-2 in the opening chapter. As impressive as he was in the first two minutes, Taylor would be even more remarkable in the second, catching his opponent in a headlock and tossing him to his back for the very quick fall. Pin + win for the Magic Man made the score 4-0 in favor of the hosts. Kurbanaliev was an 11th hour fill-in for 2009 World Silver medalist, Rasul Dzhukaev.
Remaining at the 74 kg weight class, triumph would not come easy. But putting the dual on ice for the USA would be superstar Jordan Burroughs, the gold medalist at the last two major world events. Dropping the first period via 1-1 tiebreaker to virtual unknown Saba Khubezhty, Burroughs, who still has never lost in his senior freestyle career, would hit his stride over the course of the final four minutes, scoring on a combination of takedowns and pushouts to score 12 of the final 15 points of the bout to get his hand raised by a score of 1-1, 5-0, 7-3. Even in defeat, one cannot help but be impressed by the Russian, who pushed Burroughs to the limit, but simply did not have enough to knock the king off of his throne. The win by the former two-time NCAA champion from the University of Nebraska would be the fifth in a row for the U.S and would officially close out the men’s freestyle portion of the event.
Turning our attention to the fairer sex, it would not take 2012 World Silver Medalist Helen Maroulis long to prove that anything a man can do, a woman can do just as well, as she made fairly short work of her Russian opponent, Irina Kisel at 55 kg. A heavy favorite on paper, Maroulis, the 2013 World Cup Gold Medalist from Maryland would not be in a generous mood, scoring the only two points of the first period to put herself one period closer to notching yet another win for the “land of the free.” In the second, Maroulis would turn up the pressure to an even higher level, converting on a double-leg straight to Kisel’s back for the 3-0 lead. With her foe in trouble, the multiple-time national champion who missed out on going to London when she was defeated in the finals of the 2012 Olympic Team Trials, would turn the Russian two times, keeping her on her back for the fall at the 35 second mark. It should be noted that even without the fall, Maroulis was so dominant in that middle stanza that she still would have won by technical fall.
Wrapping up the action with a trio of Greco-Roman matches, the United States would go 2-1 in the most classic of the styles, with Kendrick Sanders and Ben Provisor each emerging victorious in their bouts and Jordan Holm falling in the final match of the night.
Opposed by Asker Orshokdugov, a wrestler who big things were expected from given his credentials as a medalist on the Cadet and Junior levels, Sanders would go on to win in straight periods, defending in the par terre position in the first period and then being awarded the second period via a caution and a penalty point when Orshokdugov was warned four times for moving before a lock had been secured.
Provisor, the representative for the United States at 74 kg at the London Olympics, would pull off one of the bigger upsets of the night when he defeated 2010 World Champion/three-time European Champion (2009-2011), Ambako Vachadze, in three periods, all of which had identical 1-0 scores. With goose-eggs being posted after 90 seconds of all three periods, Provisor and Vachadze would exchange wins in the first and second by defending the par terre position. In third 30 second par terre position, it would be the American who finally got something done from the top, earning an appreciation point (no exposure) for an attempted lift and throw. This single point would prove to be the difference maker as U.S. would keep the shutout intact.
On the cusp of going winless, a notion that is foreign (no pun intended) to any Russian wrestler, it would be Evgeni Saleev coming through for his country when he won his 84 kg bout 0-1, 1-0, 1-0 over 2013 U.S. National Champion, Holm. Another dark horse in this Russian lineup, if you search for Saleev’s resume on the FILA database, you won’t find much. But alas, true to the spirit that it’s not what you have done in the past that matters, it’s what you do now, the Russian would get perhaps the most significant victory of his career when the Americans got a slight dose of their own medicine. Having lost two periods because of improper leg-clinch and/or par terre procedure, the Russians would finally see a call go in their favor when Holm was cautioned and penalized when he jumped the whistle in the third period. This penalty point would be all that Saleev would require and he would make no real attempt from top, instead allowing Holm to get to his feet and then backing away to preserve Russia’s only win of the night.
Iran 6 United States 1
55 kg/121 lbs – Mehdi Taghavi (Iran) dec. Obe Blanc (USA) 0-1, 1-0, 4-2
60 kg/132 lbs – Masoud Esmailpour (Iran) dec. Reece Humphrey (USA) 1-0, 6-0
66 kg/145.5 lbs – Mehdi Taghavi (Iran) dec. Kellen Russell (USA) 3-1, 2-0
74 kg/163 lbs – Kyle Dake (USA) dec. Hassan Tahmasebi (Iran) 2-0, 1-0
84 kg/185 lbs – Ehsan Lashgari (Iran) dec. Keith Gavin (USA) 1-0, 1-0
96 kg/211.5 lbs – Hamed Tatari (Iran) dec. J.D. Bergman (USA) 3-1, 1-0
120 kg/264.5 lbs – Khomeil Ghasemi (Iran) dec. Tervel Dlagnev (USA) 1-1, 1-0
United States 8 Russia 1
55 kg/121 lbs (Women’s FS) – Helen Maroulis (USA) pin Irina Kisel (Russia) 2-0, 0:35
60 kg/132 lbs – Coleman Scott (USA) dec. Artas Sanaa (Russia) 1-0, 0-1, 3-0
60 kg/132 lbs– Logan Stieber (USA) dec. Opan Sat (Russia) 5-7, 6-0, 3-0
66 kg/145.5 lbs – Brent Metcalf (USA) dec. Soslan Ramanov (Russia) 0-2, 1-0, 7-0
66 kg/145.5 lbs (GR) – Kendrick Sanders (USA) dec. Asker Orshokdugov (Russia) 1-0, 1-0
74 kg/163 lbs – David Taylor (USA) pin Magomed Kurbanaliev (Russia) 7-2, 0:16
74 kg/163 lbs – Jordan Burroughs (USA) vs. Saba Khubezhty (Russia) 1-1, 5-0, 7-3
74 kg/163 lbs (GR) – Ben Provisor (USA) dec. Ambako Vachadze (Russia) 1-0, 0-1, 1-0
84 kg/185 lbs (GR) –Evgeni Saleev (Russia) dec. Jordan Holm (USA) 0-1, 1-0, 1-0