Tashkent 2022: Veteran Nagase or newcomer Lee?

The -81kg category is probably the toughest of the men’s categories with at least four top contenders: Olympic Champion Takanori Nagase (JPN), reigning World Champion Matthias Casse (BEL), former World Champion Saeid Mollaei (AZE) and World Silver Medalist Tato Grigalashvili (GEO).

Japan is sending two players in this division, the other being Sotaro Fujiwara, a World Silver Medalist. Although he doesn’t have the accomplishments of Nagase, who also has a World title in addition to his Olympic gold, he is still a threat to the other three top players mentioned above. At one time or another he has beaten Casse, Mollaei and Grigalashvili.

There is also a dark horse in the form of 20-year-old Lee Joonhwan (KOR) who, fresh out of the junior division, won his first two Grand Slams (in Tbilisi and Ulaanbaatar) this year. Along the way, he defeated Grigalashvili and Nagase, which was really a shocker.

The smart money is on Nagase, who despite being 28-years old already, is still at the peak of his prime. But an underdog like Lee could provide a surprise.