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|2007 World Championships preview at 55 kg/121 lbs. in men's freestyle wrestling|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
This could be one of the most entertaining freestyle weight classes to watch at the 2007 World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan.
The weight class of 55 kg/121 lbs. features reigning World gold medalist Radoslav Velikov of Bulgaria, who has wrestled well again this season.
The weight class also includes two of the bright young superstars in freestyle wrestling in Russia's Besik Kukukhov and Henry Cejudo of the United States.
Kudukhov was second to Velikov in last year's World Championships in Guangzhou, China, while Cejudo won a silver medal at the 2006 Junior World Championships.
Kudukhov beat Velikov in the first round of the 2007 European Championships en route to winning the gold medal. Velikov came back to win a bronze medal.
Cejudo actually beat Kudukhov a couple of years ago in the New York AC Holiday International, but Kudukhov has beaten Cejudo this season.
Cejudo also lost to Velikov earlier this year, but expect the talented 20-year-old American to be in the mix at his first World Championships. Cejudo, who won the 2007 Pan American Games, has gained valuable experience while competing in a number of overseas tournaments this year. The kid is very hungry and driven to win a World medal this year and gain momentum for a run at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team.
American Sammie Henson, who won a bronze medal in the 2006 Worlds, is not competing this season. But Henson has not ruled out wrestling next year. 2004 Olympic silver medalist Stephen Abas of the U.S. has been hurt this year and also could return for a run at the 2008 Olympics.
Namig Abdullayev of Azerbaijan, who beat Henson in the 2000 Olympic finals, also won a bronze medal in this division last year. He could be a force in this tournament, especially with the hometown crowd backing him.
Another young wrestler to keep an eye on is Cuba's Andy Moreno, who lost close matches to Cejudo at the Pan American Games and Pan American Championships this year.
Japan's Masashi Saito won this year's Asian Championships at 55 kilos.
Expect Velikov, Kudukhov and Cejudo to battle it out for the top spot here. Kudukhov looks like the favorite right now after winning the Europeans. It will be interesting to see how the draw shakes out and at what point in the tournament these wrestlers will meet each other.
RECENT WORLD AND OLYMPIC RESULTS
2006 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Radoslav Velikov (Bulgaria); Silver - Besik Kudukhov (Russia); Bronze - Namig Abdullayev (Azerbaijan); Bronze - Sammie Henson (USA); 5th - Sub Kim-Hyo (Korea); 5th - Adkham Achilov (Uzbekistan); 7th - Vinod Kumar (India); 7th - Vinod Kumar (India); 8th - Taghi Dadashi (Iran); 9th - O Son Nam (North Korea); 10 th - Amiran Kartanov (Greece)
2005 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Dilshod Mansurov (Uzbekistan); Silver - Radoslav Velikov (Bulgaria); Bronze - Hyon Guk Jon (North Korea); Bronze - Bayaraa Naranbaatar (Mongolia); 5th - Namig Abdullayev (Azerbaijan); 5th - Tomohiro Matsunaga (Japan); 7th - Jae-Hoon Jan (Korea); 8th - Gevork Markaryan (Ukraine); 9th - Zalimkhan Kutseev (Russia); 10th - Ghenadie Tulbea (Moldova)
2004 Olympic Games
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Mavlet Batirov (Russia); Silver - Stephen Abas (USA); Bronze - Chikara Tanabe (Japan); 4th - Amiran Karntanov (Greece); 5th - Li Zhengu (China); 6th - Kim Hyo Sub (Korea); 7th - Oleksandr Zakharuk (Ukraine); 8th - O Song Nam (P.R. of Korea); 9th - Velikov Radislav (Bulgaria); 10th - Dilshod Mansurov (Uzbekistan)
2003 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Dilshod Mansurov (Uzbekistan) dec. Ghenadie Tulbea (Moldova), 7-4; Bronze - Oleksandr Zakharuk (Ukraine) dec. Mohammed Aslani (Iran), 5-2, ot, 6:22; 5th - Stephen Abas (United States); 6th - Amiran Kartanov (Greece); 7th - Tanabe Chickara (Japan); 8th - Ramazan Demir (Turkey); 9th - Bauyrzhan Orazgaliyev (Kazakhstan); 10th - Bayaraa Barabbaatar (Mongolia)
2002 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Roberto Montero (Cuba) dec. Namik Abduallayev (Azerbaijan), 4-1; Bronze - Oleksander Zakharuk (Ukraine) dec. Adcham Achilov (Uzbekistan), 3-1; 5th - Martin Berberyan (Armenia); 6th - Chikara Tanabe (Japan); 7th - Oularbek Tuganbay (Kyrgyzstan); 8th - Zunbayan Tumendemberel (Mongolia); 9th - K. Kumar (India); 10th - Ercan Cetin (Turkey)