Leading up to the final, Japan seemed to show a sign of vulnerability in the upper weights that the United States was hoping to exploit. But with the title on the line, the hosts pretty much plugged the holes. Unheralded Naomi RUIKE (JPN) came up big at 65kg, chalking up the victory that clinched a fifth straight title for Japan at the Women’s World Cup with a 7-3 win over the United States at Nakadai Sports Park Gym in Narita.
A day after the Japanese suffered losses in the last four weight classes in a 6-4 win over China, Ruike halted the trend by scoring two late takedowns in a 5-1 win over Forrest MOLINARI (USA).
“I really felt [the pressure], but I could hear the support from everyone on my team,” Ruike said. “That made me fight harder.”
As expected, the Japanese stormed out with five wins in the first six matches— including four by technical falls to enhance their chances in a possible tiebreaking situation—but any hopes of a late American comeback ended with Ruike’s win.
Ruike was trailing 1-1 in the second period on last-point criteria with Molinari, who finished fifth at the World Championships, but went ahead when she caught a heel and reeled it in for a takedown. In the waning seconds, she added 2 more points when she fought off a counter crotch lift and sent Molinari to her back.
“I thought I had no choice but to attack,” said Ruike, whose father was a doctor in the American military stationed in Japan and mother is Japanese (she uses her mother’s family name). “Without even thinking, I went for it. My desire to win was strong and that led to getting the points.”
Ruike, the silver medalist at the Asian Championships, was among the many collegians on a relatively young Japanese squad, which also included two high schoolers—both of whom won matches in the final.
All three American wins came from their reigning world champions, which was no surprise, including a victory by fall by Adeline GRAY (USA) in a rematch of the 76kg final at Nur-Sultan, where she set an American record by winning a fifth world gold.
That their teammates couldn’t break through in any of the other weight classes only further confirmed that Japan could never be taken lightly, Gray said.
“I really felt that going into this final that we had a chance to win,” Gray said. “It’s about momentum in these dual matches. You start to lose a couple of matches, you start to have a couple of moments and points go the wrong way. Japan’s great, and it’s hard to compete with greatness.”
For the Americans, it marks another year since they won their lone World Cup title in 2003.
“It was a bummer, that’s how I feel about it,” Gray said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been on the top of that podium, and I’ve almost memorized the Japanese national anthem by now.”
Former world champion Yui SUSAKI (JPN), who is preparing for the All Japan Championships in December to start a run at making the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, got the juggernaut going with a 10-0 technical fall at 50kg over Whitney CONDER (USA).
Haruna OKUNO (JPN) followed suit with her own 10-0 technical fall over Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA) in a replay of the 2018 final at the World Championships in Budapest.
World champion Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA) shrugged off her shocking loss the day before in the U.S. victory over Mongolia by forging out a 5-1 win over Akie HANAI (JPN) at 55kg.
That was just a bump in the road for Japan, which then got back-to-back technical falls from three-time world champion and Rio 2016 gold medalist Risako KAWAI (JPN) and high schooler and world junior champion Yuzuka INAGAKI (JPN).
Kawai took 4:20 to finish up an 11-0 win over Kelsey CAMPBELL (USA) at 57kg, while Inagaki needed two seconds less for her 10-0 rout of Desiree ZAVALA (USA) at 59kg.
“Everyone came together as one,” said Kawai, who served as team captain. “With this being the last match, teammates who had a match would cheer on the ones after them, and we could really hear the voices of those who didn’t have matches.”
Kawai’s younger sister Yukako, the world silver medalist at 62kg, was hardly challenged in posting a 7-0 win over Macey KILTY (USA), setting the stage for Ruike, a teammate at powerhouse Shigakkan University, to seal Japan’s 11th title in the 18-year history of the event.
With the team title decided, newly crowned world champion Tamyra MENSAH-STOCK (USA) took the opportunity to put on an exhibition of solid wrestling fundamentals in beating Naruha MATSUYUKI (JPN), 8-1, at 68kg.
At 72kg, world junior champion and U-23 silver medalist Yuka KAGAMI (JPN), who said she took personal the talk of Japan being understrength in the heavier weights, scored a late 2-point exposure off a single-leg attempt to beat Victoria FRANCIS (USA), 3-1.
Gray then capped the tournament with a late fall of Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN), although it was touch-and-go for most of the match between the Nur-Sultan finalists.
Gray scored on a stepout in the first period, but fell behind on criteria when she was forced out by Minagawa midway through the second.
“She keeps it close,” Gray said of Minagawa, who won her third career world medal in Nur-Sultan. “That’s one of the talents that Japan has, is that they’re always keeping matches close.
The five-time world champion then got the opening she needed, applying a whizzer and stepping over to put the Japanese on her back for a fall in 5:04.
“I’m just a little bigger and stronger than her, so once I get into the right position, she really can’t hang with me in those ‘Big Mama’ moves,” she said.
“It’s about her ability to keep that distance and keep attacking and keep me at bay. It makes it so that I have to kick it into that next gear and force her to make a mistake, and it’s hard to make Japan make a mistake.”
JAPAN 7, UNITED STATES 3
50kg: Yui SUSAKI (JPN) df. Whitney CONDER (USA) by TF, 10-0, 3:17
53kg: Haruna OKUNO (JPN) df. Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA) by TF, 10-0, 5:32
55kg: Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA) df. Akie HANAI (JPN), 5-1
57kg: Risako KAWAI (JPN) df. Kelsey CAMPBELL (USA) by TF, 11-0, 4:10
59kg: Yuzuka INAGAKI (JPN) df. Desiree ZAVALA (USA) by TF, 10-0, 4:12
62kg: Yukako KAWAI (JPN) df. Macey KILTY (USA), 7-0
65kg: Naomi RUIKE (JPN) df. Forrest MOLINARI (USA), 5-1
68kg: Tamyra MENSAH-STOCK (USA) df. Naruha MATSUYUKI (JPN), 8-1
72kg: Yuka KAGAMI (JPN) df. Victoria FRANCIS (USA), 3-1
76kg: Adeline GRAY (USA) df. Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN) by Fall, 5:04 (3-1)