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Gela Zaalishvili sets Tbilisi Arena on fire

Gela Zaalishvili sets Tbilisi Arena on fire

26 Mar 2023 20:10
IJF Media team by Jo Crowley and JudoInside
JudoHeroes & IJF Media / Copyright:

The heavyweight title at the Grand Slam in Tbilisi went to Georgia. Gela Zaalishvili achieved to win the third gold medal in one day. On the last day of the tournament, the home nation struck back. The last match of the whole tournament, the +100kg final was loud.

Zaalishvili could have been forgiven for some hesitance, wishing to stay safe and not disappoint the crowd but he was happy to engage from the beginning. Ertug had a mountain to climb but had shown through the day that he can throw at any time. The Georgian backed off a little as both seemed to feel the danger. The referee was left with no choice but the apply the rules and did so with each fighter holding 2 shido even before half the time was gone.

The next exchange saw Zaalishvili launch a huge obi-tori-gaeshi attack that would have obliterated most but Ertug escaped and then attacked himself but without real impetus. With half a minute remaining though, he tried again and more forcefully but Zaalishvili loves nothing more than to use his opponent’s power against them and he drove Eetug back for a waza-ari and held that score for the remaining seconds with a great reception he received from the crowd.

Cuba’s newest world champion, Andy Granda enjoying his well-earned bye in the first round before taking a win over Cypriot Antoniou. That set up a quarter-final with Gamzatkhanov (AZE) which he won in only half the allotted time.

In the semi-final Granda met Zaalishvili, a home crowd favourite and the highest seed of his own quarter of the draw. There’s was a hard fight with the spectators getting louder with each half minute that passed. That extra volume may have been the key! With 47 seconds left on the clock the Cuban initiated just the very start of a technique but Zaalishvili had been waiting for it and picked up his opponent, spinning him through the air and on to his back for Nippon. Granda had to drop down to fight for bronze while Zaalishvili grinned his way off the tatami ready to prepare for the final later in the day.

The bottom half of the draw was a different story. Fizel of Slovakia dealt with the Ukrainian judoka who had knocked Odkhuu (MGL) out of the running. In the semi-final he had to contend with the powerful Turk who had played a fantastic hand against Georgia’s Olympic silver medallist in a battle of 3 waza-ari scores, 2 of them sealing victory for Ertug. Ertug went on to take Fizel apart to join Zaalishvili in an all-power final, one that could end the tournament in Georgian colours. Ertug deleted Tushishvili from the medal record but could he beat a second Georgian on their home turf?

For the bronze medals Fizel faced Bakhtiyorov (UZB) and Lee (KOR) faced world champion Andy Granda. The first of those contests was an incredibly fast display of why it’s important to absorb the rules fully. Both tried to attack and both tried to win but both offered small infringements of the rules repeatedly. Details matter and in the contest which lasted only 1 minute and twelve seconds, the winner was from Uzbekistan and his advantage was a better applied knowledge of the rules.

Granda (CUB) and Lee (KOR) began similarly but after the first penalty was assigned to each, the pace rose somewhat, however their left vs right stances made both reluctant to give up the sleeve hand and it took some time to see full engagement.

Granda is the world champion, we could remind everyone of that but in the end it was him who made the note, doing so with a perfectly placed o-uchi-gari that toppled Lee convincingly. The Cuban is back on the podium and with high quality judo but the gold was for Gela Zaalishvili.

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