By William May
BELGRADE (September 19) – The Japanese men’s freestyle team, wrestling at the 2022 Senior World Championships in Belgrade, claimed a pair of champions for the first time since 1967.
Taishi NARIKUNI snared the 70kg title on the second day of freestyle competition at Belgrade’s Stark Arena and Rio 2016 Olympic silver medalist at 57kg Rei HIGUCHI upgraded to a gold medal at 61kg on the final day of competition in the Serbian capital. Japan also finished third overall in the final freestyle team rankings.
The freestyle golden double is also the first time in 43 years that Japan had a pair of world champions together in the same year when Yuji TAKADA and Hideaki TOMIYAMA both bagged gold medals for Japan in San Diego.
In the historical team rankings, the Japanese squad climbed to second place overall in the 1967 world championships in New Delhi, led by world champions Shigeo NAKATA at 52kg and Masaaki KANEKO at 63kg.
Also, since the break-up of the Soviet Union into 15 republics, Japan’s best team showing has been a fifth-place finish in 2018. Japan’s third-place showing in Belgrade is, thus far, unprecedented.
Narikuni marched through a Murders Row of top Asian rivals at 70kg on the first day of freestyle and pulled out an 11-10 win in the semifinals over Ernazar AKMATALIEV (KGZ) to advance to the 70kg final.
In the final against three-time NCAA champion Zain RETHERFORD (USA), Narikuni scored the first takedown and converted a tight ankle-lock into four 2-point turns and a 10-0 triumph at 2:19 of the first period.
Narikuni was suspended in 2017 for 20 months after taking drugs prescribed by doctors which contained a banned substance and was deemed a doping violation. After the episode, Narikuni called it an “honor” to overcome the suspension caused by the “accident.”
Narikuni has also suggested he would attempt to become a world champion in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. He added that he aims to compete in the Greco-Roman world championships next year at 67kg.
Meanwhile, Higuchi opened with a pair of technical falls at 61kg with an 11-0 triumph over European bronze medal winner at 65kg Islam DUDAEV (ALB) in the round of 16 and then stopped the 62kg European champion Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM), 10-0, in the quarterfinals.
Higuchi, then, rolled over 2018 U.S. collegiate champion Seth GROSS (USA), 15-7 in the semifinals and followed with a 10-0 technical fall over Tokyo 2020 bronze medal finalist at 57kg Reza Ahmadali ATRINAGHARCHI (IRI) for his first senior world championship title – but, at the non-Olympic weight category of 61kg.
Higuchi, who left the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with the silver medal at 57kg, said he plans to focus on getting his weight down to 57kg for the Japanese national championships at the end of the year and to make a run at a berth for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Outside of the two gold medal winners for Japan in freestyle, Yudai TAKAHASHI of the Nippon Sports Science University (NSSU) finished with the next highest ranking for Japan with a seventh place at 79kg.
57kg HASEGAWA, Toshihiro（Mie Kaiun） 8th place =32 entries
R1 – df. Kamil KERYMOV (UKR), 16-9
R2 – df. Beka BUJIASHVILI (GEO), 8-2
R3 – lost to Stevan MICIC (SRB), 1-7
61kg – HIGUCHI, Rei (Miki House) Gold medal=24 entries
R1 – bye
R2 – df. Islam DUDAEV (ALB) by TF, 11-0, 2:56
R3 – df. Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) by TF, 10-0, 1:02
SF – df. Seth GROSS (USA), 15-7
F1 – df. Reza Ahmadali ATRINAGHARCHI (IRI) by TF, 10-0, 2:41
65kg – YAMAGUCHI, Kaiki (NSSU Coach) 10th place=27 entries
R1 – df. Erik ARUSHANIAN (UKR) by TF, 12-2, 4:54
R2 – lost to Abbos RAKHMONOV (UZB), 5-5
70kg – NARIKUNI, Taishi (MTX GOLDKIDS) Gold=28 entries
R1 – df. Naveen NAVEEN (IND), 6-1
R2 – df. Syrbaz TALGAT (KAZ) by Fall, 5:21 (11-4)
R3 – df. Ilyas BEKBULATOV (UZB) by TF, 1:37 (11-0)
SF – df. Ernazar EKMATALIEV (KGZ), 11-10
F1 – df. Zain Allen RETHERFORD (USA) by TF, 10-0, 2:19)
74kg – TAKATANI, Daichi (Japan SDF) 10th=34 entries
R1 – bye
R2 – df. Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ), 6-6
R3 – lost to Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK), 1-3
C1 – df. Cesar BORDEAUX REGO ALVAN (BRA) by TF, 10-0
C2 – lost to Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR), 0-5
79kg – TAKAHASHI, Yudai (NSSU) 7th=32 entries
R1 — df. Assane Alexis BALLO (CIV) by Forfeit
R2 – df. Arman AVAGYAN (ARM), 7-6
R3 – lost to Ali Pasha UMARPASHAEV (BUL), 3-5
86kg – SHIRAI, Shota (Quintet) 15th=30 entries
R1 – df. Bobur ISLOMOV (UZB), 4-3
R2 – lost to Ethan RAMOS (PUR) by TF, 4:38, 0-11
92kg – TAKATANI, Sohsuke (ALSOK) 10th=23 entries
R1 – df. Jinmyeong KIM (KOR) by TF, 10-0, 2:56
R2 – lost to Miriani MAISURADZE (GEO), 1-2
97kg – ISHIGURO, Takashi (New Japan Pro Wrestling) 14th=23 entries
R1 – lost to Mucahit CELIK (TUR), 5-6
125kg – YAMAMOTO, Taiki (JSDF) 23rd=24 entries
R1 – lost to Daniel LIGETI (HUN), 0-7