Gray and Adar, Otoguro and Punia Among Match of the Year Award Winners

By Eric Olanowski

CORSIER-SUR-VEVEY, Switzerland (December 27) -- United World Wrestling designated a freestyle, Greco-Roman, and women’s wrestling match for the 2018 Matches of the Year.

The 25-point shootout in the 65kg gold-medal bout at the World Championships between Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) and Bajrang PUNIA (IND) was voted the Freestyle Match of the Year. 

The two wrestlers went back-and-forth in a high-scoring affair that was filled with tons of action. 

The first period saw several wild exchanges, which resulted in four takedowns, a four-point throw, and a step out, giving Otoguro the 7-6 lead heading into the second and final period.

The pair of rising stars remained offensive after their 13 point opening period and tacked on 12 addition points in the second period for a match total of 25 points. 

Otoguro, at just 19 years old, was not going to be denied a gold medal and pulled away for a 16-9 victory, becoming Japan’s youngest freestyle world champion ever. 

The Greco-Roman Match of the Year was the 72kg Asian Championship finals between Akzhol MAKHMUDOV (KGZ) and Demeu ZHADRAYEV (KAZ). 

Makhmudov, a two-time junior world medalist, introduced himself to the senior level by forging an 8-6 win over 2017 world runner-up Demeu ZHADRAYEV (KAZ) in the 72kg finals of Greco-Roman Asian finals in his home country of Kyrgyzstan. 

"The biggest help for me was that the Kyrgyz people screamed for me to be strong and also to do better," Makhmudov told the Kyrgyz media of the thunderous roar from the crowd. "When I heard it, I thought, 'I can die here on the floor but I will still win. This win will be for them.'"

The women’s wrestling Match of the Year was the 2018 Klippan Lady Open 76kg finals between four-time world champion Adeline GRAY (USA) and then-reigning world champion Yasmin ADAR (TUR). 

Gray struck early with a head outside single and grabbed the 2-0 advantage after the first 20 seconds of the bout. Adar rebounded with her patented arm spin and took the 4-2 lead into the closing period. 

The American came out firing in the final period and scored her second takedown of the match, but still trailed 4-4 on criteria. Adar regained the 6-5 outright lead with 90 seconds remaining, stepping over a Gray gut wrench attempt for the two-point exposure. 

Gray closed out the Klippan Lady Open finals with a takedown with less than a minute remaining to steal the match, 7-6. More importantly, Gray regained supremacy of the 76kg weight class after sitting out the entire 2017 season. 


Otoguro, Azizli, and Rong Appointed Breakout Performers of the Year

By Eric Olanowski

CORSIER-SUR-VEVEY, Switzerland (December 24) -- Takuto OTOGURO (JPN), Eldaniz AZIZLI (AZE), and RONG Ningning (CHN) were appointed the 2018 Breakout Performers of the Year after they reached the top of the podium at the 2018 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. 

Otoguro, just 19 years old and three years removed from winning the 2015 cadet world title in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, won the 65kg freestyle world title, becoming Japan’s youngest male freestyle world champion ever. Otoguro’s World Championship performance broke a Japanese record that stood in for 44 years. 

Otoguro, who averaged over 13 points a match, advanced to the finals with an impressive 15-10 win over Russian National champion and the favorite to win the weight coming into Budapest, Akhmed CHAKAEV (RUS). In the finals, Otoguro defeated India’s rising star, Bajrang BAJRANG (IND), 16-9. 

In Greco-Roman, Azerbaijan’s Eldaniz Azizli shutout Zholaman SHARSHENBEKOV (KGZ), 10-0 in the 55kg gold-medal bout. Azizli, in his first World Championships appearance, scored four technical superiority wins and averaged nearly nine points a match. 

China’s Rong Ningning held on to defeat Bulgaria’s Bilyana Zhivkova DUDOVA, 3-3 and won her first world title. The 2018 World Championships were Rong’s second World Championship appearance, but her Budapest gold medal was her first career world medal. She finished last year, which was her rookie campaign, in fifth-place. 

In addition to her world title run, Rong also won gold medals at the Asian Championships, the China Open, the Poland Open, and the Ivan Yarygin, while also finishing in second and third place respectively at the U23 World Championships and the Alexander Medved Prizes. 

The next award to be released will be the Outstanding Performances award, which will come out on Thursday.