#WrestleTokyo Olympic Games Preview: 125kg

By Eric Olanowski

TOKYO, Japan (July 22) -- A pair of under 21-year-old phenoms head into the Tokyo Olympic Games looking to disrupt a heavyweight pecking order that's stood tall since the '14 World Championships.
Taha AKGUL (TUR) and Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) head into Tokyo as the betting favorites to vie for 125kg Olympic gold. The pair of dominant big men have claimed every world or Olympic title since the '14 World Championships and every continental gold medal since the '12 European Championships. Collectively, they own an Olympic gold medal, Olympic bronze, five world titles and eight European golds.

But rising 21-year-old stars Amir ZARE (IRI) and Gable STEVESON (USA) will look to keep their red-hot streaks alive and insert themselves into the conversation as the world's best big men.
The American has yet to face off against either heavyweight legend, while Zare scored a stunning 15-11 win over Petriashvili at the Iranian Pro League in late '19. The Iranian trailed the Georgian 11-2 but scored 13 unanswered points and picked up the massive victory, 15-11. 

Since then, Zare passed his last two international tests with flying colors. The Mazandaran native grabbed seven combined wins at the '20 Matteo Pellcione and the '21 Poland Open and picked up signature wins over London Olympic champion Bilyal MAKHOV (RUS) and two-time world medalist Nicholas GWIAZDOWSKI (USA).
Steveson made his senior-level international debut earlier this year at the Pan-American Championships. He easily won gold, and though the competition level was down significantly, he outscored his opponents 50-0 en route to his first international gold medal.

In addition to Petriashvili and Akgul, Yusup BATIRMURZAEV (KAZ) and Oleksandr KHOTSIANIVSKYI (UKR) also sit in a seeded position.

Batirmurzaev is seeded second. The 25-years-old from Sulak, Dagestan, heads into Tokyo riding six consecutive senior-level podium finishes. He kicked his streak with a '20 Asian gold medal. His success continued into the Matteo Pellicone, where he reached the finals but fell to Amarveer DHESI (CAN). Then, the Russian-turned Kazakh won a ticket to Tokyo for Kazakhstan by claiming gold at the Asian Olympic Qualifier in his home country. He also won bronze medals at the Poland Open Ranking Series event and the Ali Aliyev.

Another guy who can cause a shakeup at 125kg is fourth-seeded Aleksander KHOTSIANIVSKI (URK). Despite being 0-3 against Akgul, the '19 world bronze medalist has beaten Petriashvili. He picked up his victory over the reigning three-time world champion at the '18 International Ukrainian Tournament.

A heavyweight darkhorse to keep an eye on is China's Zhiwei DENG (CHN). The 33-year-old from Qingdao, Shandong Province, captured a silver medal at the 2018 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary and became China's first-ever freestyle world medalist. He followed that up with a bronze-medal finish at the '19 World Championships. 

Prior to Deng's world-medal winning performance in '18 World, China had reached the bronze medal match four times and failed to win a bronze in each of those four matches. 

No. 3 Taha AKGUL (TUR)
Zhiwei DENG (CHN)
Amir Hossein ZARE (IRI)
Amarveer DHESI (CAN)
Lkhagvagerel MUNKHTUR (MGL)


Snyder Takes Olympic Loss to Sadulaev in Stride

By Ken Marantz

CHIBA, Japan (August 7)---The competitor in Kyle SNYDER (USA) hated the defeat. The wrestler in him loved the battle.

Snyder took his loss to rival Abdurashid SADULAEV (ROC) in the final of the freestyle 97kg class on Saturday night at the Tokyo Olympics in stride, already looking forward to the next chance for the two titans to clash.

"It is still exciting," Snyder said. "I love competition, I love wrestling, and I'm thankful to be able to compete." About facing Sadulaev again, he said, "I'd love it."

In the third meeting between the two since they both won gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics in different weight classes, Sadulaev beat the American for the second time with a 6-3 victory at Makuhari Messe Hall A to add a second Olympic gold to his four world titles.

Sadulaev, who had an activity point and a stepout in the first period, built up a 6-0 lead with a pair of tilts in countering Snyder's single-leg takedown attempts. On the first one, the wrestler known as The Russian Tank at one point lifted a prone Snyder completely off the mat, but not enough for a throw and instead settled for angling him over.

"There are definitely some positions that I have got to get better in," Snyder said. "That is what I'm thinking about. I have got to finish those attacks, so that is what I'm going to do. We had an idea of what it would be like."

Snyder, a two-time world champion, never gave up the fight, and came back to score a takedown and stepout in the final minute before Sadulaev ran out the clock.

"I'm a competitor so I hate to lose," Snyder said. "It's the spirit of Jesus that is strong in me. I'm not that strong as a guy, but Jesus is really strong and his spirit keeps me moving forward."

In the series dubbed "Snyderlaev" that drew worldwide attention, Snyder came out on top in their first clash in the final at the 2017 World Championships in Paris, Sadulaev's first after moving up to 97kg. Sadulaev had won the gold in Rio at 86kg, while Snyder had triumphed at 97kg.

Sadulaev gained his revenge at "Snyderlaev II" at the World Championships the next year in Budapest. He has not tasted defeat on the mat since that loss in Paris.

While it is uncertain what Sadulaev's plans are at the moment, Snyder would welcome a "Snyderlaev IV" at this year's World Championships in Oslo in October. Anyway, he intends to be there.

"Lord willing, I will be at the world championships," he said.

Like all American wrestlers, Snyder needs to constantly earn his spot on the national team to major tournaments. Having set the record as the youngest-ever US champion at both the worlds and Olympics, he knows there are always new faces coming along ready to knock him off.

"Guys are getting better and better," he said of prospects for U.S. wrestling. "Everybody is doing the right stuff. We have great coaches, support staff and training environments.

"I'm really happy for all my teammates who did a great job here, and all the coaches because they work so hard. I think we're going to dominate and keep getting better."

With Snyder's silver, the United States finished the Olympic wrestling tournament with nine medals overall, the most of any nation, including three golds.