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|Henson vs. Abdullaev is the new “Bout of the Week” on USA Wrestling Members-Only website|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
USA Wrestling has updated its new "Bout of the Week" which has been posted as a video file on-line on TheMat.com Audio/Video website .
The feature this week is the Sammie Henson vs. Namik Abdullaev men's freestyle match at 54 kg/119 lbs. in the gold-medal finals at the 1998 World Freestyle Wrestling Championships in Tehran, Iran
This match pits two of the top lightweight wrestlers in the world, when both were at the peak of their wrestling abilities. These athletes wrestled a number of times prior to this showdown, and have wrestled a number of times since, including a match earlier in the 2006 season. The Henson vs. Abdullaev rivalry continues strong even today.
Both wrestlers were very good early in their careers. Sammie Henson made his mark on U.S. wrestling as a high school wrestler, who qualified for the Olympic Trials in Greco-Roman and beat some of the nation's top athletes on the Senior level. He had already been a Junior National champion and was a top college recruit, but his rapid success in Greco-Roman was a bit ahead of his time.
Henson started his career at the Univ. of Missouri, where he was fifth at the 1991 NCAA Championships. He continued his Greco-Roman improvement. In 1990, while just a few years into his college career, Henson won the U.S. National Greco-Roman title.
Henson transferred to Clemson Univ., where he won two NCAA Div. I national titles (1993, 1994). About that time, Henson decided to switch over to freestyle wrestling, and pursue his Olympic dreams in that style. Henson was in a very competitive weight class in the U.S., led by the dynamic Zeke Jones, a 1991 World champion and 1992 Olympic silver medalist, plus stars such as Eric Akin and Lou Rosselli (who ultimately won the spot on the 1996 Olympic Team).
In 1997, Henson moved to No. 2 behind Jones, who qualified for his final World Championships that year. Going into the 1998 year, with Jones out of the picture, the weight class was up for grabs, It was Henson who went out and took over, winning both the U.S. Nationals and the World Team Trials.
Abdullaev grew up in the Soviet system, and won an Espoir World title for the Soviet Union in 1991. After the breakup of the Soviet Union into independent republics, Abdullaev competed for Azerbaijan. In his first season representing the new nation, he was the European champion and won a silver medal at the World Championships in 1994 at the age of 23.
Continuing his rapid rise in wrestling, Adbullaev won the European title again in 1995 and was fourth at the World Championships. In 1996, he showed that he had arrived, taking a silver medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games, losing a controversial finals match to superstar Valentin Jordanov of Bulgaria. The next year was a bit of a disappointment for Abdullaev, who slipped to eighth at the 1997 World meet.
Henson got on a roll at the 1998 World Championships, working through the field on his side. He beat Vasili Zeiher of Germany, Amiran Kartanov of Greece and Amulen Mamyrov of Kazakhstan to qualify for the semifinals. Henson reached his first World finals with a 4-3 win in the semifinals over Tchechenool Mongush of Russia.
On the other side, Abdullaev worked through a talented field, beating Zuunbayan Tumendemberel of Mongolia, Gholam Reza Mohammadi of Iran and Armen Simonyan of Armenia to get into the gold-medal match.
Going into the 1998 World Championships, Henson and Abdullaev had met a few times already. Henson won their battle at the 1997 Uzbekistan Cup and Abdullaev won their match at the 1998 Kiev Grand Prix.
The finals battle was close, with Henson winning a 3-1 victory for the World gold medal. This made major news worldwide, because it was only the second time in 20 years that a U.S. sports team had competed in Iran. Henson received a tremendous ovation from the Iranian fans.
"I never imagined the Iranians were like this," said Henson. "You are the best fans in the world. I really respect you."
Henson and Abdullaev would meet in a gold-medal finals at the highest level of wrestling just two years later, at the 2000 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Again on different sides of the bracket, they made their way to the Olympic gold medal match. This time, it was Abdullaev who won the gold medal, beating Henson, 4-3 in the finals, a match which included some grabbing of the singlet by Abdullaev that was not penalized by officials.
Abdullaev continued to compete at the World level for his country afterwards, while Henson dropped behind Stephen Abas within the U.S. program. Abdullaev was second at the 2002 World Championships, but did not medal in the 2003 and 2005 World Championships, nor at the 2004 Olympic Games. Henson returned to the top spot in the United States in 2005, but was unable to win a medal at the World meet in Hungary that season.
These athletes met again recently at the 2006 Uzbekistan Golden Grand Prix, with Henson winning a first-round match, 1-2, 2-1, 5-1. Henson went on to beat two-time World champion Dilshod Mansurov of Uzbekistan in the finals there. Even though both Henson and Abdullaev are 35 years old during the 2006 season, it would not be surprising to see them wrestle a few more times before they are retired.
This popular feature will be changed on a regular basis, allowing members to enjoy many of the greatest matches in wrestling history.
Posted in the archive section of the Members Only web page is the Jacob Clark vs. Brad Vering match at 84 kg/185 pounds at the 2006 U.S. National Championships in Las Vegas, Nev. Many other entertaining and historic matches are in the archive section for the Bout of the Week.