Iran to begin international wrestling season at Zagreb Open

Sports Desk


Hassan Yazdani will headline the Iranian freestyle wrestling team at the season-opening Zagreb Open, starting February 1 in the Croatian capital.

The five-day competition will be the first of the four UWW Ranking Series in 2023, setting the tone for an action-packed 12 months in the sport which will also feature the Paris Olympics qualifying events and September’s World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

A winner of eight world and Olympic medals – including the gold in Rio 2016 – Yazdani will be joined by superheavyweight young gun Amirhossein Zare’ in the Iranian six-man squad, with both heading to Zagreb on the back of a rather disappointing finish in last year’s UWW Worlds.

Yazdani fell to a fourth defeat against his old foe David Taylor and settled for the 86kg silver, while Zare’, entering the event as the defending champion, suffered a last-gasp setback against Turkey’s Taha Akgül in the 125kg semifinals before grabbing the bronze.

Wrestling fans will have to wait for another episode in the Yazdani-Taylor rivalry probably until September’s Worlds as Team USA has lined up Zahid Valencia and Mark Hall for the 86kg class in Zagreb.

Also representing Iran in Croatia will be Reza Atri, who won a world silver last year and will compete with nine other wrestlers, including Indian Ravi Kumar – a 57kg silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics – for the ultimate prize of the 61kg weight class.

Two-time world bronze medalist Younes Emami will be the Iranian in the 74kg contests – also featuring Russian-born Slovakian Tajmuraz Salkazanov, who came short against American Kyle Dake for the world gold last September.

Reigning Asian champion Ali Savadkouhi will be looking to build on his memorable victory over Jordan Burroughs in December’s Freestyle World Cup – a first triumph for the Iranians in 14 bouts against the American great – when taking part at the 79kg competitions, while Amir-Ali Azarpira will be the one to watch at the 97kg event.

Last year was a glittering one for Iranian Azarpira as he claimed the world junior silver in August and then came out on top for a second world under-23 gold in October before making his seniors’ international debut in style at the FS World Cup, which saw him outclass 2022 world silver winner Batyrbek Tsakulov of Slovakia by a fall victory.

The Iranian prodigy was left out of the final against USA, but will be eager to lock horns with American sensation Kyle Snyder in Zagreb, as he looks to throw the gauntlet to his compatriot Kamran Qassempour – dominant force of the 92kg category over the past two years – ahead of the World Championships and Paris Olympics.


Greco-Roman contests


Iranian fans will get to see more of their Greco-Roman wrestlers at the Zagreb Open as the country has announced an 18-man team to compete across nine weight classes.

Pouya Dadmarz – last year’s world U23 champion – and Mohammad-Mehdi Javaheri will be two of the seven 55kg contestants, while in a crowded 60kg contests, Amir-Reza Dehbozorgi – world junior champion in 2021 – and Mehdi Mohsennejad will be seeking glory.

Iman Mohammadi will take part in the 63kg contests on the back of last year’s world junior and U23 golds, with Aref Mohammadi also competing in the class.

Danial Sohrabi also walked away with a world under-23 gold last October and will be joined by fellow 67kg Iranian Reza Abbasi in Zagreb, with Amir Abdi and Sajjad Imentalab among the 72kg competitors.

Two experienced Iranians Mohammad-Ali Geraei and Amin Kavianinejad will participate in the 77kg bouts, while Pejman Poshtam – world bronze winner in 2021 – will be looking to make up for his below-par run in the latest World Championships last year at the 82kg battles – along with Alireza Mohammadi.

Nasser Alizadeh and Hamid Badkan (87kg) as well as Ali-Akbar Yousefi and Amir Qassemi Monjezi (130kg) will be the other members of the Iranian Greco-Roman team in the Croatian capital.

Some 600 wrestlers will compete across freestyle, Greco-Roman, and women’s competitions, with each gold medalist receiving 1,500 Swiss Francs in prize money.