By Gary Abbott
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It was a long time coming. And the victory was very sweet, thank you.
The United States won its 14th career World Cup title and its first since 2003, with an impressive 6-4 win over Azerbaijan in the gold-medal finals.
Since 2011, when things get tough, the USA has counted on Jordan Burroughs and he has delivered. Some things never change.
With the dual meet tied at 2-2 after four matches, the dominant American freestyle wrestler of his generation stepped up on the raised mat to face 2013 Junior World bronze medalist Gasjimurad Omarov of Azerbaijan. The USA needed a big win.
The 2012 Olympic champion and four-time World champion knew what was at stake. Leading 3-0 after the first period, Burroughs came out in the second, secured another takedown and somehow found a way to crunch Omarov to his back, adjusting to secure the pin in 3:15. The crowd went wild and Burroughs celebrated with all of his passion. The USA never trailed from that point on.
“It’s been a long time. I’m not a pinner. It’s an art form to be able to pin. I couldn’t see the ref because of the way my head was positioned, and I was like, ‘please slap the mat before this guy gets off his back because this is a big moment for me.’ I don’t get guys on their backs a lot. All I know is to squeeze as hard as I can and hope to hear a whistle and people cheering” said Burroughs.
Burroughs ran his World Cup record to 27-0. In his sixth World Cup, where he has been perfect, his American team got the opportunity to step on the top of the championship podium for the first time in his career and the first time in 14 years since the last win, which was in Boise, Idaho in 2003.
Five other U.S. athletes won their matches, and each were very important in their own way. Also having their hands raised during the finals dual were Kendric Maple (61 kg), Logan Stieber (65 kg), Kyle Dake (79 kg), David Taylor (86 kg) and Kyle Snyder (97 kg).
Azerbaijan struck first in the dual, as three-time European champion Giorgi Edisherashvili edged 2017 World silver medalist Thomas Gilman, 8-7. Down 8-3, Gilman powered back late in the match with a pair of takedowns, just coming short of a comeback.
Maple got the USA back on track, looking sharper on his feet, hitting two takedowns and a turn in a 6-2 win over Afghan Khashalov. Maple, an NCAA champion at Oklahoma and 2017 U.S. Open champion, showed great poise in his first major event such as the World Cup.
2016 World champion Logan Stieber had a big-time win at 65 kg, beating three-time World champion Haji Aliyev, 6-3. Stieber led 2-1 at the break, scoring on a slick counter takedown. In the second, Stieber added a double leg takedown for a 4-1 lead. When Aliyev answered with a takedown to close it to 4-3 and was pressing for another score, Stieber nailed a counter duck under takedown at the buzzer for the win.
“I’ve been lucky. I’ve wrestled a lot of the world’s best. I was really happy to have a chance to wrestle Aliyev and the other two guys. For the team, it’s pretty simple. If each individual does its job, then it’s no problem. It was a good win for me and a good win for the team,” said Stieber.
Azerbaijan would not let up the entire match, as Joshgun Azimov edged two-time World medalist James Green, 4-4 by criteria at 70 kg. Green led 2-0 at the break after a takedown. Azimov hit a clutch takedown and turn to lead 4-2. A stepout, followed by a caution and one against Azimov made it 4-4, and Green couldn’t get behind for a winning takedown at the end.
Then Burroughs stepped up, and the rest of the talented American team followed its leader.
Kyle Dake came up big at 79 kg with a tight 5-3 win over Olympic medalist and two-time World medalist Jabrayil Hasanov. Trailing 2-1, Dake forced a stepout, scored a takedown on a deep shot, and got a penalty point and caution for four straight points and the win.
David Taylor finished his 2018 World Cup undefeated and with four technical falls, when he powered through Aleksander Gostiev of Azerbaijan, 12-2. Taylor wore down Gostiev, with repeated attacks. Up 8-2, with Gostiev looking spent, Taylor got a takedown and a turn at the buzzer for the final four points of a much needed technical fall.
Down 5-2, Azerbaijan would not go away. 2017 World bronze medalist Aslanbek Alborov was sharp against Olympic and World bronze medalist J’den Cox of the USA, emerging with a 4-4 criteria win at 92 kg. Alborov had two takedowns, the difference in the tiebreaker.
Needing a sixth win to clinch the dual, 2016 Olympic champion and two-time World champion Kyle Snyder did what he does under pressure. He wins.
Snyder was all over Roman Bakirov at 97 kg, getting a takedown and multiple tilts for a 12-3 lead at the break. Another powerful Snyder takedown closed out a 14-3 technical fall. Team USA had its sixth win, and the celebration began in the arena, and with those watching worldwide on NBCSN and Trackwrestling.
“It was another opportunity to seal it up for the United States. I would always pick myself to go out there and wrestle when it comes down to a team win. We have a lot of good guys, but I feel real confident in my ability to wrestle under those kinds of circumstances,” said Snyder.
Like Taylor, Snyder won all four of his 2018 World Cup matches with technical falls.
Azerbaijan showed continued pride in their program by finishing with a win at heavyweight. Scoring a takedown in the final few seconds of the bout, two-time World medalist Jamaladdin Magomedov of Azerbaijan edged 2017 World bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski, 4-3.
Although it did not go perfectly, and not every one of the Americans was happy with their last match, the World Cup has returned the USA, the nation which invented this event way back in 1973.
National Coach Bill Zadick was an active athlete back when the USA was winning the World Cup often, and appreciated the heart his team showed all weekend.
“It means a lot. It was a significant performance and something you key in on because of the prestige that it brings. You know it’s always going to be a super strong competition. It’s a really fun competition because it’s a different format than we’re used to. It means a lot and even more because of an environment like this. This is a place where wrestling is important to people,” said Zadick.
The USA won its first World Championships in 22 years with the team title at the 2017 Worlds in Paris. Today, the USA won its first World Cup in 15 years here in Iowa City. Now the trick will be to repeat, something this team of stars is looking forward to moving ahead.
In one of the most exciting duals of the weekend, Japan claimed third place in a 6-4 win against Cuba. Ahead 5-1, Japan lost three straight matches to allow Cuba to close their team lead to 5-4. A 6-5 victory by heavyweight Taiki Yamamoto of Japan over Yudenny Alapajon Estevez of Cuba sealed the deal from Japan.
Taking fifth place was Georgia after a 6-4 win over Mongolia. Kazakhstan easily won the seventh-place bout, stopping India 10-0..
FREESTYLE WORLD CUP
At Iowa City, Iowa, April 8
1st place – United States 6, Azerbaijan 4
57 kg/125.5 lbs. – Giorgi Edisherashvili (Azerbaijan) dec. Thomas Gilman (USA), 8-7
61 kg/134 lbs. – Kendric Maple (USA) dec. Afghan Khashalov (Azerbaijan), 6-2
65 kg/143 lbs. – Logan Stieber (USA) dec. Haji Aliyev (Azerbaijan), 6-3
70 kg/154 lbs. –Joshgun Azimov (Azerbaijan) dec. James Green (USA), 4-4
74 kg/163 lbs. – Jordan Burroughs (USA) pin Gasjimurad Omarov (Azerbaijan), 3:15
79 kg/174 lbs. – Kyle Dake (USA) dec. Jabrayil Hasanov (Azerbaijan), 5-3
86 kg/189 lbs. – David Taylor (USA) tech. fall Aleksander Gostiev (Azerbaijan), 12-2
92 kg/202.5 lbs. – Aslanbek Alborov (Azerbaijan) dec. J’den Cox (USA), 4-4
97 kg/213 lbs. – Kyle Snyder (USA) tech fall Roman Bakirov (Azerbaijan), 14-3
125 kg/275 lbs. –Jamaladdin Magomedov (Azerbaijan) dec. Nick Gwiazdowski (USA) 4-3
Classification Points – USA 26, Azerbaijan 17
Final records – USA (4-0), Azerbaijan (3-1)