Susaki Rallies to Top Irie, Earns Shot at 2nd Straight World Title

By United World Wrestling Press

Practice at Waseda University at times includes setting up a match-like situation in which one wrestler is down 4-0 with 30 seconds left. Such preparation proved crucial in Yui SUSAKI's earning a shot at defending her world title.

Susaki rallied from a four-point deficit--albeit not with 30 seconds remaining-- scoring the winning takedown with 15 seconds left to defeat Yuki IRIE 6-4 in a special playoff for the women's 50kg spot on Japan's team to the world championships in Budapest in October.

"My feeling right now is that I'm glad I earned the spot on the world championships team, and that this year I will win a second straight world title," Susaki said.

World freestyle bronze medalist Yuhi FUJINAMI and young brothers Takuto and Keisuke OTOGURO also emerged victorious among the 10 playoffs held on Saturday in Wako, Saitama Prefecture, just north of Tokyo.

Under the Japan Wrestling Federation criteria, winners of both the All-Japan Championships (Emperor's Cup in December) and All-Japan Invitational Championships (Meiji Cup in June) earned automatic tickets to the world championships; in weight classes with different winners, the two clashed in a winner-take-all playoff at the Wako Municipal Gym.

The 19-year-old Susaki, who won the 48kg world gold last year in Paris, was dealt a stunning loss by technical fall by Irie in the Emperor's Cup semifinals. She avenged that defeat with a victory by fall in the final at the Meiji Cup, setting up the featured showdown of the playoffs.

Irie went with what worked in the first meeting and scored two takedowns off single-leg attacks in the first period to take a 4-0 lead.

"At first, I gave up four points, it was just like when I lost at the Emperor's Cup, the same way of giving up points," Susaki said. "When she scored the first two, it made me anxious. But I could change my mood thinking of my strengths, and my desire to get to the world championships. So I was able to solidly come back and come away with the win."

With Irie on the activity clock halfway into the second period, she launched another deep single that Susaki somehow managed to squirm out of, escaping through the back door and scoring a takedown of her own. With :25 left, Irie was penalized a point for fleeing, cutting her lead to 4-3.

Yui SUSAKI (JPN), 2017 world champion. (Photo by Tateo Yabuki)

With the clock ticking down, Susaki launched a single-leg attack that put Irie onto her posterior, then tilted her far enough back to score 2 points, while also avoiding being flipped over herself. A rejected protest added the final point to give Susaki a 6-4 win.

"At the Emperor's Cup, I thought, I have to score, I have to score, and I became hasty and anxious," the Waseda freshman said.  "This time, I was able to flip the switch, determined that I definitely will go to the world championships. First I had to come back with two points, and that relaxed me. Compared with the Emperor's Cup, I believe I have made progress."

Takuya OTA, Susaki's coach at Waseda, said he told her at the break to wrestle her way and keep in mind to get close enough to shoot.

"In December at the All-Japan, she tried big moves and was stopped and she lost," said Ota, a freestyle bronze medalist at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. "I told her to first of all, get two points with a takedown and cut the lead.

"In the first period, she didn't keep the distance well, so I said you have get the distance you like and attack, attack. Her opponent made a mistake and Yui is strong in fighting to the end. That proved the difference."

It is at Waseda that Susaki did the last-30-second drills.

"I practiced this very situation in training. I thought to just stay calm and put everything on the line at the end. I believe that was the key to victory."

Yuhi FUJINAMI (JPN), 2017 world bronze medalist. (Photo by Tateo Yabuki)

Fujinami, the Paris 2017 bronze medalist at 70kg, had won the Emperor's Cup at 74kg, but had to take the playoff route to Budapest after skipping the Meiji Cup due to a fractured cheek bone suffered in May.

He showed no lingering effects of the injury in bulling to a 14-2 technical fall victory in 5:09 over Ken HOSAKA.

"It's a relief that I made it to this year's world championships," said Fujinami, adding he was not very satisfied with his performance. "My movement was really bad, and I won't be competitive at the world championships if I wrestle like this. I need to get my body in better shape."

Fujinami, a Yamanashi Gakuin University teammate of the Otoguro brothers, is still dealing with the move up to the heavier weight class, and will get his first big test at the Asian Games in Jakarta in August.

"It's physically stronger as expected, and it's an Olympic weight class, so everyone is, how should I put it, fights with desperation, and the level is high," said Fujinami, whose younger sister Akari recently won the 49kg title at the World Cadet Championships in Zagreb.

That was a title that had eluded Yuhi, who finished second at the world cadets in 2013, as well as second and third at the world juniors in 2015 and 2016, respectively. He will aim for his first world gold in Budapest.

Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) (right) and Keisuke OTOGURO (JPN) (left). (Photo by Tateo Yabuki)

The Otoguro brothers, who will both be making their debuts at the senior world championships, will be the second set of siblings on the Japan team along with sisters Risako and Yukako KAWAI.

Takuto Otoguro started the playoffs by routing Daichi TAKATANI at freestyle 65kg, scoring a takedown 15 seconds into the match before ending it in 1:55 with an 11-0 technical fall.

"Sometimes there's just happens to be a big margin in the score, but actually there is not much difference in ability," said Otoguro, 19, a two-time world cadet bronze medalist. "As matches go, I suppose it was a good match."

Otoguro's victory prevented Takatani from joining his older brother, former world silver medalist Sosuke TAKATANI, on the team to Budapest. Sosuke had already earned the spot at 79kg.

Next up was Keisuke Otoguro at 70kg, and while he was less dominant than his younger brother, he scored with two single-leg takedowns then held on for a 5-3 victory over Jintaro MOTOYAMA.

"I thought he would get a positive wave going," Otoguro said of his brother's victory, "and I wanted to keep it going for Yuhi, who was after me."

In other action, Atsushi MATSUMOTO, who switched back to freestyle after spending a year in Greco-Roman, earned a trip to a fifth world championships when he broke a 2-2 tie with three second-period takedowns to beat Takashi ISHIGURO, 8-2, at 92kg. 

"Last year, I was able to give Greco a shot, but I didn't have very good results," Matsumoto said. "I'm happy to get another chance at the world championships, using in freestyle the good things I got out of Greco."

Matsumoto switched to Greco after failing to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics. He returned to freestyle after rule changes in Greco put more emphasis on mat wrestling, the weakest part of his game. 

In other freestyle playoffs, Asian bronze medalist Takeshi YAMAGUCHI rallied from a 6-2 deficit to defeat Naoya AKAGUMA, 14-8, at 97kg. Yamaguchi, who competes for a team sponsored by a pro wrestling organization, started his comeback with a 4-point back drop right out of the UWF. 

"I had an image of it in my mind from watching it," Yamaguchi said.

At 125kg, Taiki YAMAMOTO earned a second trip to the world championships by topping Nobuyoshi ARAKIDA, 4-1, clinching the victory with a 2-point lift to counter a single leg attack with :05 left.

The two Greco-Roman bouts saw the majority of points come on passivity calls, as Takayuki INOGUCHI edged Katsuaki ENDO, 2-1, at 63kg, and Yuya MAETA scored a takedown in the final minute for a 3-2 win over Takahiro TSURUDA at 82kg.

In the other women's playoff, world junior and U23 champion Ayana GEMPEI avenged a semifinal loss to Ayaka ITO at the Meiji Cup by forging out a 4-2 win at 65kg, earning her first ticket to a senior worlds. 

Earlier this year, Gempei won another special playoff for Japan's 68kg berth at the Asian Games, after world and Olympic champion Sara DOSHO withdrew due a shoulder injury suffered at the Women's World Cup. 

Playoff results

65kg: Takuto OTOGURO df. Daichi TAKATANI by TF, 11-0, 1:55
70kg : Keisuke OTOGURO df. Jintaro MOTOYAMA, 5-3
74kg : Yuhi FUJINAMI df. Ken HOSAKA by TF, 14-2, 5:09
92kg: Atsushi MATSUMOTO df. Takashi ISHIGURO, 8-2
97kg: Takeshi YAMAGUCHI df. Naoya AKAGUMA, 14-8
125kg: Taiki YAMAMOTO df. Nobuyoshi ARAKIDA, 4-1

63kg: Takayuki INOGUCHI df. Katsuaki ENDO, 2-1
82kg: Yuya MAETA df. Takahiro TSURUDA, 3-2

Women's Wrestling
50kg: Yui SUSAKI df. Yuki IRIE, 6-4
65kg: Ayana GEMPEI df. Ayaka ITO, 4-2

World Championships team
(to be confirmed)
57kg: Yuki TAKAHASHI
61kg: Kazuya KOYANAGI
65kg: Takuto OTOGURO
70kg: Keisuke OTOGURO
74kg: Yuhi FUJINAMI
79kg: Sosuke TAKATANI
86kg: Shota SHIRAI
92kg: Atsushi MATSUMOTO
97kg: Takeshi YAMAGUCHI 
120kg: Taiki YAMAMOTO

55kg: Shota TANOKURA
60kg: Shinobu OTA
63kg: Katsuaki ENDO
67kg: Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA
72kg: Takahiro INOUE
77kg: Shohei YABIKU
82kg: Yuya MAETA 
87kg: Masato SUMI
97kg: Yuta NARA
130kg: Arata SONODA

Women's Wrestling
50kg: Yui SUSAKI
53kg: Haruna OKUNO
55kg: Mayu MUKAIDA
57kg: Katsuki SAKAGAMI
59kg: Risako KAWAI
62kg: Yukako KAWAI
65kg: Ayana GEMPEI
68kg: Rio WATARI
72kg: Naruha MATSUYUKI
76kg: Hiroe MINAGAWA