China Hoping Rong Shift Turns Out to be Right Move to Upend Host Japan

By Ken Marantz

NARITA, Japan (Nov. 15)---A strategic move may have deprived the Women’s World Cup of a classic clash of titans, but in the end, could pay off with a more exciting competition overall.

The Chinese team said Friday that RONG Ningning (CHN) will compete at 59kg for the two-day team competition in Narita, east of Tokyo, instead of 57kg---preventing a rematch with Risako KAWAI (JPN) of this year’s final from the World Championships in Nur-Sultan, which the Japanese won for her third world gold.

“I just follow what the coach wants,” Rong, who was the 2018 world champion at 57kg, said through an interpreter. 

Host Japan, aiming for its fifth straight title and 11th overall, and China will face each other in the third session on the opening day Saturday at Narita’s Nakadai Sports Park Gym. Ukraine, the other entry in the three-nation group, will face both over the first two sessions.

China, which won the last of its six titles in 2013, will send out a formidable lineup that includes, in addition to silver medalist Rong, four bronze medalists from Nur-Sultan. Not to be overlooked is Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medalist SUN Yanan (CHN), who finished fifth at 50kg this year.

Rong’s shift to 59kg will likely pit her against high schooler Yuzuka INAGAKI (JPN), one of seven recently crowned world U-23 champions on the relatively young Japanese squad. 

China’s strategy appears to be to go with its strengths and play for a split of 57kg and 59kg, rather than opt for a lineup that increases the possible risk of losing both.  

“I’m really confident for this World Cup, because I could see everyone on our team is already prepared and they will perform at their best,” Rong said. 

As for avenging the loss to Kawai, Rong said that can wait. She anticipates their paths crossing again, perhaps back in Japan at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.  

“I’m really looking forward to facing her and getting revenge,” Rong said. “So next year I will wait and prepare.”

SUN Yanan (CHN) could meet rival Yui SUSAKI (JPN) when China wrestles Japan on Saturday at 17:00 (Photo: Tony Rotundo). 

Another Chinese wrestler looking for revenge will be Sun. She will likely get another shot at young star Yui SUSAKI (JPN), who missed out on a shot at a third senior world title in Nur-Sultan at 50kg when she lost a national team playoff to Yuki IRIE (JPN). 

In 2017, Susaki defeated Sun 9-4 in the quarterfinals at the Asian Championships, then again 4-2 at the Women’s World Cup in the championship round. 

“I’m really looking forward to competing with Yui,” said Sun, who edged Irie in a wild 13-12 quarterfinal win in Nur-Sultan. “I think she is a very talented and excellent wrestler.” 

A year ago at the Women’s World Cup in Takasaki, Japan, Sun lost by fall to Irie as Japan went on to win 6-4 in the final. This time, Sun will be looking to give China the early momentum.

“Because it is a team competition, each of us has to do our best to protect our zone and give the advantage to our teammates,” Sun said. “Everyone has this responsibility.”

In other weight classes, Masako FURUICHI (JPN) moved down to 68kg, leaving fellow 72kg world bronze medalist Paliha PALIHA (CHN) at the weight class, which could mean to likely clash with high schooler and world junior champion Yuka KAGAMI (JPN) at that division.

If the match comes down to the final bout at 76kg, it’s anybody’s guess which team will come out on top should it looks to shape up as a showdown between familiar foes Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN) and ZHOU Qian (CHN).

Zhou defeated Minagawa 7-1 at last year’s World Cup, but the Japanese reversed that outcome in the quarterfinals in Nur-Sultan, winning 3-1 en route to capturing the silver medal for her third career world medal.

Ukraine, which finished fifth in the team standings in Nur-Sultan to earn its place in the field in Narita, has opted for a young squad, leaving out its two world silver medalists, Iryna KOLIANDENKO (65kg) and Alina MAKHYNIA (72kg).  

Tamyra MENSAH-STOCK (USA) is one of three American world champions that'll wrestle at the Women's World Cup. (Photo: Gabor Martin)

U.S. Relying on Triple-Threat of World Champions
Outside of Japan and China, the only nation to have won a Women’s World Cup title in its 17-year history is the United States. 

That was back in 2003, but with three reigning world champions in its lineup, the Americans are hoping to make a run at finally breaking up the Asian stranglehold.

“We feel confident in who we are,” USA coach Terry STEINER said. “We also know that every team here has some great athletes on their team. It’s about performing when we’re supposed to perform.”

The group is a tossup between three evenly matches countries, with Russia and Mongolia also in the pool. Russia finished second in the team standings behind Japan in Nur-Sultan with two champions and five medals overall, three points ahead of the United States. Mongolia was seventh.

“We just have to be ready tomorrow to compete hard,” Steiner said. “If we compete hard, I think we’ll end up where we want to be. But Russia and Mongolia aren’t going to lay down either. So, one match at a time, and we just have to focus on wrestling our style of wrestling.”

For newly crowned 68kg world champion Tamyra MENSAH-STOCK (USA), the team aspect and representing her country adds excitement to an already blood-pumping sport.

“I love wrestling for my country,” she said. “Since I’m not in the army, I try to figure out some way to represent my country, and I feel like this is the next best thing. 

“It’s very exhilarating and exciting, and I love going out there, showing that I’m USA, and showing people that, hey, a lot of USA people are not that bad---look at Tamyra Mensah-Stock, she’s such a sweetheart, but when she gets on the mat, whoa, can she go!” 

Mensah-Stock, who will be competing in her third World Cup, said she doesn’t feel added pressure by coming in this time as a world champion. 

“Not pressure on myself, or even a little bit more pressure, but more ‘expectation,’” she said. “For me, that’s not really pressure. That’s just going out there and saying, hey, Tamyra, [in September] you proved yourself by winning a world title.

“It felt absolutely amazing. And people were already gunning after me to begin with. It’s not any different. I’m just going to go out there and prove I can work harder than ever. I just have to bring out the ‘other’ Tamyra Mensah-Stock.”

Newly crowned world champion Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA) will wrestle at 55kg at this weekend's World Cup. (Photo: Kadir Caliskan)

Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA), who won her first major medal when she took the gold in Nur-Sultan at 55kg, could face a showdown with bronze medalist Olga KHOROSHAVTSEVA (RUS). The Russian lost in the quarterfinals to Nanami IRIE (JPN), whom Winchester beat 5-3 in the final.

Another intriguing matchup could come at 76kg between Adeline GRAY (USA), who won her fifth world gold in Nur-Sultan, and Ekaterina BUKINA (RUS), the Rio 2016 bronze medalist who suffered a heartbreaking 6-6 loss in the first round to Epp MAEE (EST).

The effervescent Mensah-Stock also seems to serve as mood-maker for the U.S. team, and she sees it as her role of keeping the team on a even keel.

“I’m just going to cheer for my team and make sure they have the right mindset,” she said. “Because I feel I bring calmness and I help make it a little less stressful. I know some of the girls are feeling that stress, because for some of them, this is their first World Cup. 

“I want to help them out the best I can. I don’t know what they’re going to bring to the table---I don’t know what I’m going to bring to the table---but I’m hoping I can bring my A-game.” 


Japan Notches 5th Straight Title as Lesser Knowns Also Step up in Final Against U.S.

By Ken Marantz

NARITA, Japan (Nov. 17)---Leading up to the final, Japan seemed to show a sign of vulnerability in the upper weights that the United States was hoping to exploit. But with the title on the line, the hosts pretty much plugged the holes. 

Unheralded Naomi RUIKE (JPN) came up big at 65kg, chalking up the victory that clinched a fifth straight title for Japan at the Women’s World Cup with a 7-3 win over the United States at Nakadai Sports Park Gym in Narita.

A day after the Japanese suffered losses in the last four weight classes in a 6-4 win over China, Ruike halted the trend by scoring two late takedowns in a 5-1 win over Forrest MOLINARI (USA).

“I really felt [the pressure], but I could hear the support from everyone on my team,” Ruike said. “That made me fight harder.”

As expected, the Japanese stormed out with five wins in the first six matches--- including four by technical falls to enhance their chances in a possible tiebreaking situation---but any hopes of a late American comeback ended with Ruike’s win.

Ruike was trailing 1-1 in the second period on last-point criteria with Molinari, who finished fifth at the World Championships, but went ahead when she caught a heel and reeled it in for a takedown. In the waning seconds, she added 2 more points when she fought off a counter crotch lift and sent Molinari to her back.

“I thought I had no choice but to attack,” said Ruike, whose father was a doctor in the American military stationed in Japan and mother is Japanese (she uses her mother’s family name). “Without even thinking, I went for it. My desire to win was strong and that led to getting the points.”

Ruike, the silver medalist at the Asian Championships, was among the many collegians on a relatively young Japanese squad, which also included two high schoolers---both of whom won matches in the final. 

Adeline GRAY (USA) stuck Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN) in a rematch of the 76kg world finals from Nur-Sultan. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

All three American wins came from their reigning world champions, which was no surprise, including a victory by fall by Adeline GRAY (USA) in a rematch of the 76kg final at Nur-Sultan, where she set an American record by winning a fifth world gold.

That their teammates couldn’t break through in any of the other weight classes only further confirmed that Japan could never be taken lightly, Gray said.

 “I really felt that going into this final that we had a chance to win,” Gray said. “It’s about momentum in these dual matches. You start to lose a couple of matches, you start to have a couple of moments and points go the wrong way. Japan’s great, and it’s hard to compete with greatness.”

For the Americans, it marks another year since they won their lone World Cup title in 2003.  

“It was a bummer, that’s how I feel about it,” Gray said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been on the top of that podium, and I’ve almost memorized the Japanese national anthem by now.”

Yui SUSAKI (JPN) smiles after kicking off the gold-medal dual with a 10-0 win over Whitney CONDER (USA). (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

Former world champion Yui SUSAKI (JPN), who is preparing for the All Japan Championships in December to start a run at making the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, got the juggernaut going with a 10-0 technical fall at 50kg over Whitney CONDER (USA).

Haruna OKUNO (JPN) followed suit with her own 10-0 technical fall over Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA) in a replay of the 2018 final at the World Championships in Budapest. 

World champion Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA) shrugged off her shocking loss the day before in the U.S. victory over Mongolia by forging out a 5-1 win over Akie HANAI (JPN) at 55kg.

That was just a bump in the road for Japan, which then got back-to-back technical falls from three-time world champion and Rio 2016 gold medalist Risako KAWAI (JPN) and high schooler and world junior champion Yuzuka INAGAKI (JPN).

Kawai took 4:20 to finish up an 11-0 win over Kelsey CAMPBELL (USA) at 57kg, while Inagaki needed two seconds less for her 10-0 rout of Desiree ZAVALA (USA) at 59kg.

“Everyone came together as one,” said Kawai, who served as team captain. “With this being the last match, teammates who had a match would cheer on the ones after them, and we could really hear the voices of those who didn’t have matches.”

Yukako KAWAI (JPN) looks to finish a single leg on junior and U23 world silver medalist, Macey KILTY (USA). Kawai won the match, 7-0. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

Kawai’s younger sister Yukako, the world silver medalist at 62kg, was hardly challenged in posting a 7-0 win over Macey KILTY (USA), setting the stage for Ruike, a teammate at powerhouse Shigakkan University, to seal Japan’s 11th title in the 18-year history of the event.

With the team title decided, newly crowned world champion Tamyra MENSAH-STOCK (USA) took the opportunity to put on an exhibition of solid wrestling fundamentals in beating Naruha MATSUYUKI (JPN), 8-1, at 68kg.

At 72kg, world junior champion and U-23 silver medalist Yuka KAGAMI (JPN), who said she took personal the talk of Japan being understrength in the heavier weights, scored a late 2-point exposure off a single-leg attempt to beat Victoria FRANCIS (USA), 3-1.

Gray then capped the tournament with a late fall of Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN), although it was touch-and-go for most of the match between the Nur-Sultan finalists. 

Gray scored on a stepout in the first period, but fell behind on criteria when she was forced out by Minagawa midway through the second.

“She keeps it close,” Gray said of Minagawa, who won her third career world medal in Nur-Sultan. “That’s one of the talents that Japan has, is that they’re always keeping matches close.

The five-time world champion then got the opening she needed, applying a whizzer and stepping over to put the Japanese on her back for a fall in 5:04.

“I’m just a little bigger and stronger than her, so once I get into the right position, she really can’t hang with me in those ‘Big Mama’ moves,” she said. 

“It’s about her ability to keep that distance and keep attacking and keep me at bay. It makes it so that I have to kick it into that next gear and force her to make a mistake, and it’s hard to make Japan make a mistake.” 

FENG Zhou (CHN) celebrates after pinning ENKHSAIKHAN Delgermaa (MGL) in their battle at 68kg. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

China makes quick work of Mongolia for bronze medal
China, the runner-up the past two years, denied Mongolia a fourth straight bronze medal by storming to a 7-3 victory in the third-place playoff, in which seven of the 10 matches were decided by fall or technical fall.

After FENG Zhou (CHN) put the Chinese ahead 5-3 with a victory by fall at 68kg, WANG Juan (CHN) clinched the deal by topping Davaanasan ENKH AMAR (MGL), 9-2, at 72kg.

“I didn’t feel so much pressure,” Wang said. “My teammates before me wrestled well, which brought me so much confidence.”

Wang, who finished fifth at the 2018 World Championships, took a proactive approach as she held a 5-2 lead going into the final minute. Instead of protecting the advantage, she added to it with a takedown and gut wrench.

“When I have a chance, I continue to try for points,” Wang said.

LEI Chun (CHN), winner of the recent Tokyo 2020 test event who was making her first appearance of the tournament, started China off with a 10-0 technical fall at 50kg, which world bronze medalist PANG Qianyu (CHN) matched by the same score at 53kg.

At 55kg, Bolortuya BAT OCHIR (MGL), who knocked off both Winchester and her fellow world bronze medalist in the group matches, chalked up a third win by outlasting CHEN Jiawei (CHN), 12-10

FENG Yongxin (CHN) gave the Chinese another technical fall victory at 57kg, and ZHANG Qi (CHN) followed with an 8-2 win over world bronze medalist Shoovdor BAATARJAV (MGL).

A technical fall by Gantuya ENKHBAT (MGL) at 62kg and a fall by Purevsuren ULZIISAIKHAN (MGL) at 65kg keep Mongolia’s hopes alive, but Zhou put the pressure on with her victory by fall. 

After Wang’s victory, QIANDEGENCHAGAN Qiandegenchagan (CHN) capped the dual in her lone match of the tournament by taking just 23 seconds to win by fall over Ariunjargal GANBAT (MGL) at 76kg.

Alla BELINSKA (UKR) clinched the dual for Ukraine with a fall over Russia's Evgeniia ZAKHARCHENKO. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

Ukraine pulls surprise, overcomes Russia for 5th place
In an entertaining clash for fifth place, Ukraine pulled off a surprising victory over Russia, defeating its giant neighbor on classification points after the match ended tied 5-5.

It seemed fitting that Alla BELINSKA (UKR), who had been Ukraine’s lone shining star in the competition, clinched the victory for her side when she scored a victory by fall over Evgeniia ZAKHARCHENKO (RUS) at 72kg.

Belinska, the only Ukrainian to post a win against Japan and China in the group matches on Saturday, ended the tournament undefeated when, with her leg being held in the air, she back-tripped Zakharchenko to the mat, applied a headlock and finished her off at 1:34. 

That gave Ukraine a 5-4 lead, but with a fall and a injury forfeit already on the board, her pin assured that Ukraine could not be overcome, regardless of the outcome of the 76kg bout. 

Rio 2016 bronze medalist Ektarina BUKINA (RUS) won the final match by technical fall, but that still left Russia on the short end of a 25-19 score on classification points.

“The coach said there must be a fall, and I have to do what the coach says,” Belinska said with a smile, adding it was satisfying to defeat the powerful Russians. “On our continent, this is a fight on principle. Russia is a very good team. We are a young team, but we wanted to win.”

Earlier, Solomiia VYNNYK (UKR) added to the Ukraine tally at 53kg with one of the wilder victories of the tournament, prevailing in a 16-14 shootout with Milana DADASHEVA (RUS).

The Russian was leading 11-10 when Vynnyk went ahead with a 4-point throw, then added a 2-point roll. Dadasheva cut the gap over the final minute, but came up short in the 30-point match.


50kg: Yui SUSAKI (JPN) df. Whitney CONDER (USA) by TF, 10-0, 3:17
53kg: Haruna OKUNO (JPN) df. Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA) by TF, 10-0, 5:32
55kg: Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA) df. Akie HANAI (JPN), 5-1
57kg: Risako KAWAI (JPN) df. Kelsey CAMPBELL (USA) by TF, 11-0, 4:10
59kg: Yuzuka INAGAKI (JPN) df. Desiree ZAVALA (USA) by TF, 10-0, 4:12
62kg: Yukako KAWAI (JPN) df. Macey KILTY (USA), 7-0
65kg: Naomi RUIKE (JPN) df. Forrest MOLINARI (USA), 5-1
68kg: Tamyra MENSAH-STOCK (USA) df. Naruha MATSUYUKI (JPN), 8-1
72kg: Yuka KAGAMI (JPN) df. Victoria FRANCIS (USA), 3-1
76kg: Adeline GRAY (USA) df. Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN) by Fall, 5:04 (3-1) 

3rd-Place Playoff

50kg: LEI Chun (CHN) df. Namuuntsetseg TSOGT OCHIR (MGL) by TF, 10-0, 1:41
53kg: PANG Qianyu (CHN) df. Anudari NANDINTSETSEG (MGL) by TF, 10-0, 5:52
55kg: Bolortuya BAT OCHIR (MGL) df. CHEN Jiawei (CHN), 12-10
57kg: FENG Yongxin (CHN) df. Battsetseg ALTANTSETSEG (MGL) by TF, 10-0, :55
59kg: ZHANG Qi (CHN) df. Shoovdor BAATARJAV (MGL), 8-2
62kg: Gantuya ENKHBAT (MGL) df. KANG Juan (CHN) by TF, 12-2, 2:15 
65kg: Purevsuren ULZIISAIKHAN (MGL) df. WU Yaru (CHN) by Fall, 2:03 (10-4) 
68kg: ZHOU Feng (CHN) df. Delgermaa ENKHSAIKHAN (MGL) by Fall, 1:15 (8-0)
72kg: WANG Juan (CHN) df. Davaanasan ENKH AMAR (MGL), 9-2
76kg: QIANDEGENCHAGAN Qiandegenchagan (CHN) df. Ariunjargal GANBAT (MGL) by Fall, :23 (4-0)

5th-Place Playoff

(Ukraine wins on classification points, 25-19)
50kg: Mariia VYNNYK (UKR) df. Daria LEKSINA (RUS), 8-7
53kg: Solomiia VYNNYK (UKR) df. Milana DADASHEVA (RUS), 16-14
55kg: Olga KHOROSHAVTSEVA (RUS) df. Anastasiya KRAVCHENKO (UKR) by TF, 13-2, 2:36 
57kg: Olena KREMZER (UKR) df. Marina SIMONYAN (RUS) by Fall, 2:43 (6-3)
59kg: Liubov OVCHAROVA (RUS) df. Sofiia BODNAR (UKR), 6-1 
62kg: Tetiana RIZHKO (UKR) df. Uliana TUKURENOVA (RUS) by Forf.
65kg: Natalia FEDOSEEVA (RUS) df. Oksana CHUDYK (UKR), 5-3 
68kg: Anastasiia BRATCHIKOVA (RUS) df. Alina RUDNYSTSKA LEVYTSKA (UKR), 4-1 
72kg: Alla BELINSKA (UKR) df. Evgeniia ZAKHARCHENKO (RUS) by Fall, 1:34 (4-0)
76kg: Ekaterina BUKINA (RUS) df. Romana VOVCHAK (UKR) by TF, 10-0, 3:55