INGLEWOOD, Calif.—On the eve of the vote in Crimea over whether to break away from the Ukraine and join Russia, the two countries engaged in hand-to-hand fighting in the Freestyle Wrestling World Cup in California.

The Russians dominated the Ukrainians on the mat Saturday, though the athletes insisted that international affairs was the last thing on their minds. They just wanted to win.

Ukrainian heavyweight Alen Zasieiev beat Arslanbek Aliev in a hard-fought match, the only win for his team. Afterward, he didn't want to talk about Crimea at all.

"First of all, my family lives in Russia," Zasieiev said in Ukrainian. "There's a lot going on but it's not between regular citizens. So hopefully it will get resolved peacefully."

Wrestlers and their coaches talked about the athletes who train together and gather at the mat as a family for friendly competition.

"In the wrestling world, we're all brothers," said Viktor Lebedev in Russian. "It's in my blood. I wrestle for my people, for the Russian Federation. I want to make it happen. We're going to win the World Cup."

The 57-kilogram wrestler's match against the Ukraine's Sergiy Ratushny was interrupted for an excruciatingly long time by a malfunctioning clock.

Ten teams were divided into two pools, with the Russian and Ukrainian teams landing in the same pool. The U.S. aced Iran later Saturday.

The wrestling World Cup is the first sporting event at the Forum since its recent renovation.