by Oon Yeoh of JudoCrazy
Rafal Burza – Judo Canada
Not every exciting heavyweight is competing in Montreal. In particular, Guram Tushishvili of Georgia is not there and neither is his compatriot Levani Matiashvili. Still, there are three top players who will be able to give Riner a good fight: Lukas Krpalek (CZE), David Moura (BRA) and Hisayoshi Harasawa (JPN).
Krpalek will most likely top Pool A, while Riner should easily top Pool B. That means both men will meet in the semifinal. With Riner being that much bigger than Krpalek, who used to be a U100kg player, it’s Riner with the upper hand. We think Riner will get through to the final.
In Pool C, we have Moura and in Pool D, Harasawa. These players have fought twice in the past and both times Harasawa won (although this was back in 2015). Still, we think it’s Harasawa who will prevail.
A Riner vs Harasawa final, a repeat of the Rio 2016 final, is a tantalizing thought. It’s something judo fans have been waiting to see and they might get their wish come true in Montreal.
In Rio, Riner won through penalties as he was unable to throw Harasawa. That’s not likely to change. It’s equally unlikely that Harasawa will be able to throw Riner so we are probably looking at a shido match.
The difference with Rio is that the shido rules have changed since then. Back then it was possible to win by shido. Now, it’s not although hansoku-make is possible after three shidos.
If we had to guess, a Riner vs Harasawa match will go into Golden Score and the winner will be the one to avoid disqualification.
So, who has the advantage? Riner is a superior fighter but he hasn’t competed since late 2017. Although he has been training and attending international training camps, he is rusty when it comes to competition. That will work against him.
Harasawa doesn’t have a great track record. He is a top competitor, for sure, but since Rio 2016, he has managed to win only one IJF World Tour event, the 2019 Dusseldorf Grand Slam. What he has going against Riner is that having had experience dealing with Riner’s aggressive gripping style in Rio, he knows what he is up against and is less likely to succumb to any shido play by Riner.
If Riner relies on his well-worn shido play tactics against strong opponents, he might find it will not work so well against someone like Harasawa. But if he switches tact and tries to throw Harasawa, he is opening himself up for a counter. So, if it is Harasawa he is facing in the final, it will be a hard one for Riner.