WRESTLING Preview: U.S. men try to defend 2018 title at Freestyle World Cup in Yakutsk

Opening Ceremony of the 2018 UWW Men's Freestyle Wrestling World Cup (Photo: UWW)

The United States finally won the men’s Freestyle World Cup in 2018 after a 15-year drought, and will try to win again in the 2019 edition in Yakutsk, Russia (yes, it’s in Siberia).

Last year’s triumph, however, did not include a win over either of the U.S.’s traditional rivals in the sport: Russia or Iran. Both pulled out of the event, held in Iowa City, Iowa, in disputes with United World Wrestling. Iran had won the prior six in a row.

For 2019, however, the top teams are all in. There are two groups of four that will wrestle in a round-robin format on Saturday and part of Sunday. The top teams in each group will meet for the championship; the second-ranked teams for the bronze medal and so on. The groups (and their 2018 World Championship team ranking):

Group A: Russia (1), Cuba (4), Japan (5), Turkey (8)
Group B: United States (2), Georgia (3), Iran (6), Mongolia (7)

The U.S. is sending a young team to Yakutsk, devoid of any of its first-line Olympic or World Championships medal winners. The only member of a prior U.S. World Championships team will be Zane Retherford at 65 kg.

There are five past NCAA champs on the team, including Nico Megaludis (61 kg; Penn State); Retherford (Penn State), Isaiah Martinez at 74 kg (Illinois); Kyven Gadson (97 kg; Iowa State), and Tony Nelson (125 kg; Minnesota).

The U.S. has been a major force in this tournament, which started in 1973. Only six teams have won the title, with the U.S. second with 15 (USSR: 16). Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the titles have gone to the U.S. (10), Iran (8), Russia (6), Azerbaijan (2) and Cuba (1).

NBC’s Olympic Channel has coverage on Saturday at 3:30 a.m. Eastern time and of Sunday’s championship final at 4 a.m. Eastern. Look for results here.

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