PARIS, France – The men’s freestyle team race between the United States and Russia went down to the final match of the entire World Wrestling Championships at the AccorHotels Arena on Saturday night.
The United States and Russia were tied with 53 points. The last match was the finals at 97 kg/213 lbs., where 2016 Olympic champion and 2015 World champion Kyle Snyder (Woodbine, Md./Titan Mercury WC/Ohio RTC) and 2016 Olympic champion and two-time World champion Abdusalim Sadulaev of Russia met for the first time.
Sadulaev who moved up a weight class this year to challenge Snyder. It is a matchup the wrestling world has dreamed about all year. United World Wrestling dubbed it the match of the century. In this case, it not only determined the king of the sport, but also which country would become World Team Champions.
The match met all expectations and more. Sadulaev scored first with a takedown but Snyder responded with a stepout point. Sadulaev got a step out point, but Snyder scored a takedown late in the first period to tie it up at 3-3.
In the second period, Sadulaev took the lead with a takedown, 5-3. Snyder closed it to 5-4 with another step out. As time was running down in the last 20 seconds, Snyder scored a spin behind takedown for a 6-5 lead. He was able to circle away from Sadulaev, and Snyder had won the Match of the Century, 6-5, and the USA beat Russia by one team point in the standings. It was a moment to cherish for all of USA Wrestling.
Snyder was joined as a 2017 World champion by Jordan Burroughs (Lincoln, Neb./Sunkist Kids/Nebraska RTC) at 74 kg/163 lbs. and James Green (Lincoln, Neb./Titan Mercury WC/Nebraska RTC) won a silver medal at 70 kg/154 lbs. on Saturday. Along with three medalists on Friday, the USA finished ahead of Russia.
“I am happy man. I would have been happy with that performance, even if I lost. I wrestled really hard. I am happy with that performance and am happy with that effort. I felt good. He felt smaller. I felt stronger than him. That is what made him tired. He was definitely smaller for the weight class. That was the first thing I thought of. I was hyped. This was the match I was least nervous for. I was excited. I am thankful for this challenge and opportunity. He is a great opponent. I wish we could continue to compete against each other. The match was fun for everybody,” said Snyder.
Snyder has become the face of the current USA team. Just 21 years old, he already has three World and Olympic titles. It is fitting that it was Snyder who won the clutch match to give the USA only its third-ever World Team Title in freestyle wrestling.
Snyder won his first two matches with 10-0 technical falls over 2014 Asian Games bronze medalist Mamed Ibragimov of Kazakhstan and then Naoya Akaguma of Japan, who was fifth in 2017 Asian Championships. In the semifinals, Snyder avenged a loss at the 2017 World Cup to Aslanbek Alborov of Azerbaijan, this time controlling the entire match in a 9-2 win.
Continuing his legacy as one of the greatest wrestlers in history, Burroughs won his fourth World title, to go along with a 2012 Olympic gold, with an exciting victory at 74 kg/163 lbs. over 2014 World champion Khetik Tsabalov of Russia, 9-6.
This was a classic battle with many twists and turns. Tsabalov struck first with a takedown, answered with a Burroughs takedown to make it 2-2. Tsabalov scored a takedown next, but Burroughs responded with a takedown and turn for a 6-4 lead. However, the Russians challenged it, and officials reversed the call, giving Burroughs just two points. The first period ended tied at 4-4.
In the second period, Burroughs broke the tie with a step out point to lead 5-4. A Tsabalov takedown made it 6-5 heading into the final minute. Burroughs saved the best for last, scoring a clutch takedown with 47 seconds left for a 7-6 lead. As the time ran out, Burroughs scored another takedown to close it out at 9-6.
Burroughs bounced back from his non-medal performance at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the first World-level event where he did not come home with a medal. This year has shown Burroughs grit and passion for the sport, as he focused on returning to the top of the podium.
Burroughs’ World gold medals came in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017, plus his Olympic gold medal in 2012. He won a World bronze medal in 2014, giving him six career World and Olympic medals.
As a five-time World and Olympic champion, Burroughs is tied in second in the USA Wrestling standings with Bruce Baumgartner, a three-time World champion, and two-time Olympic champion. The record holder is six-timer John Smith, a four-time World champion, and two-time Olympic champion.
“It was amazing. This moment has been in my mind. I have visualized this for a long period of time. Literally, as soon as I stepped off the mat in Rio, I remember doing an interview with USA Wrestling and saying I will be a World champion again. It came a lot sooner than a lot of people expected it to. For me, it is about just being in the moment. (Coach) Manning told me to be where your feet are. Don’t think about Rio, don’t think about Tokyo. Think about the opportunity you have in front of you. Very few people have won five World Championships. I am just trying to stay ahead of Snyder, right? I was trying to catch John, but now I am trying not to get passed by Kyle,” he said.
Green was defeated in the finals at 70 kg/154 lbs. by 2015 World champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Frank Chamizo of Italy, 8-0.
Chamizo displayed exceptional athletic skills, which led to scoring technique. Chamizo was put on a shot clock in the first period and was able to get a takedown to lead 2-0. In the second period, Chamizo added three more takedowns, never letting Green finish his attacks while adding to his lead.
Chamizo, who started his career competing for Cuba, is now a two-time World champion. Green became a two-time World medalist, with his 2017 silver and a 2015 bronze. Green was a four-time NCAA All-American for Nebraska.
“It was awesome (winning the team title). This is the first time since 1995. It was great to be a part of this team. I will always remember this, being in the moment, whether I took second or first. You always go in with a plan of what I am going to do. I kind of got out of my wheelhouse a little bit. He scored the first takedown, and it was me who was trying to get back into the match. It kind of got away from me. I have been getting better over the years,” said Green.
In his first bout, Green beat Colombia’s Pan American silver Nestor Taffur, 8-0. In the quarterfinals, Green edged 2015 European U23 champion Zurabi Erbotsonashvili of Georgia, 3-2. In the semifinals, Green beat two-time Junior World medalist Yuhi Fujinami of Japan, 5-3.
The other U.S. entry on Saturday was first-time Senior team member Zain Retherford, Benton, Pa. (Nittany Lion WC) at 65 kg/143 lbs., who went 1-1 and was ineligible for repechage. After a 10-0 technical fall over David Habat of Slovenia, Retherford dropped a heartbreaking 6-4 bout to Adam Batirov of Bahrain. When Batirov failed to make the finals, Retherford was eliminated. The two-time NCAA champion for Penn State placed 11th.
Over the two day tournament, the United States won six medals. Claiming a silver medal on Friday was Thomas Gilman (Council Bluffs, Iowa/Titan Mercury WC/Hawkeye WC) at 57 kg/125.5 lbs. and winning bronze medals were medalist J’den Cox (Titan Mercury WC/Missouri WF) at 86 kg/189 lbs. and Nick Gwiazdowski (Raleigh, N.C./Titan Mercury WC/Wolfpack WC) at 125 kg/275 lbs.
The last time the USA had six World medals in freestyle at the World Championships was in 1995 in Atlanta, Ga. with World champions Terry Brands, Kevin Jackson, Kurt Angle and Bruce Baumgartner, and bronzes by Zeke Jones and Melvin Douglas. The USA won the team title that year.
The USA has won two previous World Team titles in men’s freestyle, won in 1993 in Toronto, Canada and in 1995 in Atlanta, Ga. The USA also has a Women’s World Team title in 1999 and a Greco-Roman World Team title in 2007.
“It is hard to put in words. Winning an individual World title is an amazing experience. When you do it with eight athletes and a lot of people dedicated their lives and committing everything they do to this sport, it is pretty amazing. So many things have to come together for something like this to happen. I get to work with some great people, who happen to be great wrestlers too. It’s a blessing. The personal coaches, the RTCs, the USA Wrestling administrative staff, make the whole thing possible,” said Zadick.
The other individual champion was Zurabi Iakobishvili of Georgia, who scored a second-period takedown to edge Magomedmurad Gadzhiev of Poland in the finals, 2-1 at 65 kg/134 lbs. Iakobishvili won his first World medal, with a best previous effort being a European silver medal in 2015. Gadzhiev, a 2008 Junior World champion for Russia, has competed for Poland since 2014 and was a 2017 European silver medalist.
Add in the three women’s medals for the USA, a gold by Helen Maroulis, a silver by Alli Ragan and a bronze by Becka Leathers, Team USA left Paris with nine medals and two team trophies. The USA was also second place in the women’s division.
Before the finals, United World Wrestling presented its 2016 Best Freestyle Wrestler of the Year award to Geno Petriashvili of Georgia, with a check for $10,000.