Judo is a hugely popular sport in Azerbaijan, particularly after Elnur Mammadli’s -73kg gold medal performance at the Beijing Olympic Games.
So when local youngster Vugar Shirinli steps onto the tatami this morning in Baku for his first fight at a World Cup the likelihood is that he will be the focus of attention. Strictly speaking however it is his contest that will be of real interest to the home crowd.
For Shirinli, who last year was European Cadet champion at -55kg, is drawn in the first round against none other than three-time Olympic champion Tadahiro Nomura (JPN). Shirinli, although now a junior, was still competing at -55kg when in June he won gold at the EJU Top Juniors Tournament in Leibnitz and silver in Cetniewo in July this year. However, with the greatest of respect to his recent opponents, those wins were against boys and Nomura is a man. In fact it could be argued that he is The Man.
The World Cup in Baku provides Nomura (at 34 the oldest competitor in the category) with the possibility of four fights. It is hardly surprising therefore that Nomura’s opponents are all likely to be referred to as youngsters. In fact, Nomura is five months older than the grand-old man of -60kg European judo Nestor Khergiani (GEO).
The Georgians have sent their own youngster, 21 tear old Amiran Papinashvili, to Baku and he is drawn to face the winner of the Shirinli–Nomura match. Papinashvili, winner of the Tbilisi World Cup and silver medalist at the IJF Grand Slam Paris Tournament earlier this year, is a far more serious obstacle for Nomura to overcome than Shirinli. But giant slaying David and Goliath stories make for great reading and Shirinli’s coach will no doubt be telling his boy to go out there and seize his chance. After which the coach will retire to watch proceedings from the safety of his chair.