I posted this on the USAW forum, and figure it will generate some good discussion over here as well. Vak aka Zapp thinks Sat is too high for never having wrestled at a World Championships, I assume most people will agree with him, I'm just personally really high on Sat.
This is really hard to rank with so many big names going down in Istanbul, especially at 96kg. Kudukhov is the clear #1, after that it's a matter of personal preference. Here's my take:
Besik Kudukhov (4x World champ, Olympic bronze)
He has the longest current winning streak after Makhov and Tsargush lost at 2011 Worlds. There was at least a debate last year as to who was the best pound for pound freestyler, now there is no debate. Kudukhov hasn?t lost since 2008 and it hasn?t been from a lack of competition, he knows how to get his hand raised as best exemplified by the 2010 World finals and 2011 Russian Nationals. He played it safe as always, but still impressively didn't give up a point from the quarterfinals through to his third straight World title.
Victor Lebedev (2x World champ, World bronze)
I wouldn?t have put him in the top 5 last year since he relied on too many clinches and ball draws to win the Worlds, but he has made tremendous improvements and really separated himself from the competition at 55kg.
Mehdi Taghavi (2x World champ)
So boring. He?s really good though and after winning two titles in three years at one of the two tougher weight classes, I have no choice but to rank him highly. If he opens up like Lebedev did this past year, then he?s capable of moving up.
Reza Yazdani (World champ, 2x World bronze, 3x Asian champ)
He pretty much rolled through the toughest weight at the 2011 Worlds, so while I consider Gazyumov and Gatsalov?s performances to be an aberration, you still have to put Yazdani ahead of them. More high-scoring periods than the wrestlers ahead of him, so with a repeat performance at London he's going to be at least 2nd considering how tough 96 kilos is to win.
Jordan Burroughs (World champ)
I would like to see Burroughs succeed after his first major tournament before he?s a lock at this spot, but he was so successful with a diverse set of leg attacks against great competition that it?s hard to keep him out of the top 5 right now. Tsargush was ranked anywhere from 3rd to 5th last year, so Burroughs absolutely deserves to be here. If he wins the Olympics in similar fashion next year then he may challenge Kudukhov for the top position.
Opan Sat (2x European champ)
He would almost certainly be a 2x World champ at this point if it weren?t for p4p #1 Kudukhov manning this weight class for Russia. Sat has been very consistent and dominant against international competition and continues to give Kudukhov fits. I think it?s pretty telling of Sat?s abilities that even after winning two consecutive World titles, the Russians still had Kudukhov enter Nationals as opposed to Tsargush and Makhov.
Khetag Gazyumov (World champ, World/Olympic medalist)
Last year he was considered #1 or #2 pound for pound after upending all-time great Gatsalov at Worlds. Gazyumov had an awful tournament at Worlds losing to Sheikhau who is quite good but a bit over-the-hill to be beating Gazyumov. If he had struggled all year then I would be more worried but Gazyumov looked tough in every other 2011 tournament he entered. I still think he?s a strong gold medal threat at the 2012 Olympics, more so than whomever Russia sends.
Sharif Sharifov (World champ)
Sharifov was on fire all summer and especially at the World Championships. I?ve never seen him wrestle that effectively before, which is why I?m not sure I can rank him any higher until he proves he?s not a Ganev. It?s also my opinion, which I?m aware isn?t shared by many on this board, that while 84kg is so deep that it?s tough to win, I don?t consider it to be very top heavy (like 66kg or 96kg). A very exciting and high-scoring wrestler by the way.
Beylal Makhov (3x World champ)
I guess we have to put a heavyweight here. I?ve never been that impressed with Makhov?s technique, but he?s so enormous and physical for the weight class that he?s very hard to beat. Shemarov matches up well against him for some reason, partly because he?s phenomenal at doing nothing. I?m ranking Makhov as the top heavyweight ahead of ridiculously lucky Shemarov, ridiculously unlucky Dlagnev and 2x Olympic champ Taymazov because I think that the injury setback may have influenced his training/performance. Next year, no one is going to be surprised if he rolls through Europeans and enters Worlds as the favorite yet again. Another possibility is that the weight cut has become too difficult, and Makhov will only regress from here forward, tough call.
Denis Tsargush (2x World champ)
While he?s been exposed as a cheater, Tsargush showed enough skills from an early age that maybe this was the motivation that he needed to open up his offense. He?s a 2x World champ who ran into a buzzsaw in Burroughs. Whether he can upend Jordan or not, I?m confident we?ll see a much better Tsargush at the Olympics, the Russian team will accept nothing less.
Others: Yonemitsu, Hasanov, Kumar, Balci, Gatsalov, Varner, Goudarzi, Aldatov, Sokhiev, Dlagnev, Taymazov, Otarsultanov
All these wrestlers are in the category wherein if they make the 2012 Olympic finals (another in some cases) then they would have strong cases to crack the top ten.