Saturday, April 29, 2017

Budapest will be Riner's toughest World Championships

Teddy Riner has been unbeatable since 2010 when he lost to Daiki Kamikawa (JPN) by decision in the Open category of the 2010 Tokyo World Championships. Since then, nobody has come close to defeating him.

Japan's Ryu Shichinohe nearly scored against Riner with ouchi-gari in the final of the 2014 Chelyabinsk World Championships but for most of the match he was unable to cope with Riner's high right hand grip. This was also the case in the 2015 Rabat World Masters and 2015 Astana World Championships.

Two players gave Riner a pretty good fight in the 2016 Rio Olympics: Israel's Or Sasson and Japan's Hisayoshi Harasawa. Sasson, who has good drop techniques managed to get underneath Riner with a drop sode and actually launched Riner but did not have enough control to rotate him. Harasawa had some difficulty with Riner's high right arm and got an early penalty for that. But he quickly overcame the fear of the right arm and fought Riner well for the rest of the match, although he was unable to score.

Both Harasawa and Sasson do not seem to fear Riner, which stands them apart from the rest of the players in the heavyweight category. Brazil's Rafael Silva, for example, always fights Riner with a scared look on his face. Perhaps justifiably so but that's why he'll never beat Riner. Shichinohe also has that fear which is why Harasawa has a better chance against Riner.

Harasawa doesn't seem to fear Riner.
Harasawa's challenge is that he is an uchimata man and that technique is unlikely to work against Riner who is bigger and taller than Harasawa. If these two meet again, the match is likely to be determined by shido -- either hansoku-make after three shidos or a shido win in Golden Score.

Sasson doesn't fear Riner and can drop underneath him.
Sasson, in contrast, might actually have a chance to throw Riner if he is able to maintain a strong grip on Riner while dropping. Easier said than done of course. But if there's any throw that's gonna take Riner over, it will probably be a drop technique.

Georgia's Levan Matiashvili created a bit of a splash last year when he gave Riner a tough time in three international competitions. He lost each time but he fought the good fight and showed no fear of Riner's high right arm. His good performance against Riner got everyone guessing whether 2017 might be his breakthrough year but he has since been eclipsed by Guram Tushishvili who just won the 2017 Warsaw European Championships, defeating the much larger Adam Okruashvili in the final.

Tushishvili has drop techniques but has yet to fight Riner.
Like Israel's Sasson, Tushishvili is a drop seoi-nage man. He is relatively small for a heavyweight (having just moved up from -100kg and -90kg before that) but his athleticism might make up for his lack of weight and size. He has never fought Riner though and will probably have some difficulty with Riner's right arm the first time they fight. For him to have a chance of beating Riner in Budapest, he will need to get in at least one fighting experience with Riner. Although Riner doesn't compete much, he is bound to compete in one or two of the IJF World Tour events leading up to Budapest. So, that will be Tushishvili's chance.

Very athletic but doesn't have drop techniques.
Another very athletic heavyweight is Lukas Krpalek, who has just moved up from -100kg. Krpalek has long been touted as a potential challenger to Riner precisely because of his athleticism. But Krpalek's shortcoming when it comes to Riner is that he doesn't really do drop techniques. Leg techniques are unlikely to have much impact on Riner although one could imagine Krpalek catching Riner on the ground. Krpalek is extremely good at newaza and would not hesitate to take the fight to Riner on the ground. But odds are Riner will throw him before that happens.

Strong fighter but techniques unlikely to work on Riner.
Japan is sending Takeshi Ojitani for the heavyweight division in Budapest as well (the other being Harasawa), so Riner may end up fighting him too. Like Tushishvili, Ojitani has never fought Riner before and that will be a disadvantage. Ojitani is also a leg technique man and not particularly adept at drop techniques. His osoto-gari, as powerful as it is, is unlikely to pose much of a threat to Riner. (It's worth noting that both Riner and Ojitani are schedule to compete at the 2017 Ekaterinburg Grand Slam. Matiashvili will be competing there as well.)

In summary, the ones that I think will give Riner a really hard time are Harasawa and Sasson, who do not fear him; and Tushishvili, who might be able to drop underneath him. The ones who are unlikely to prevail are Krpalek and Ojitani although they won't be pushovers for Riner. Still, it's clear that Budapest will be Riner's toughest World Championships to date, with some players actually having the potential to give him a run for his money.

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