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World Champs in Rio: Abdulrashid Sadulaev (Russia)

By Seth Petarra , 08/01/16, 7:30PM EDT


Photo: Tony Rotundo (

Photo: Tony Rotundo (

In the span of only three years Abdulrashid Sadulaev has propelled and cemented himself as the arguably the #1 pound for pound wrestler with his only competition for the top spot being 74 KG kingpin 4x world/Olympic Champion Jordan Burroughs. What makes this even more astonishing is that Sadulaev has reached this lofty status all before turning 21. While it’s not totally unheard of guys doubling up from junior worlds and medalling at the seniors as was the case with Frank Chamizo and Togrul Asgarov, to go straight from cadets into the senior ranks not only successfully but to dominate world class opponents is truly something else. For reference, Sadulaev’s very first senior level tournament was the Ali Aliyev which was after his title winning performance down at 76 KG at the cadet world championships, but at the Ali Aliyev  he took third  after losing to fellow countryman, 2013 Univeristy world runner-up, 2013 Senior world rep, 2016 European Champion, and that 2012 Junior world bronze medallist Shamil Kudiyamagomedov in what would be the first of many matches of their long rivalry. Sadulaev would rebound at the Ali Aliyev though and pick up a big win over 2012 Junior world champ Javad Ebrahimi. So already at his first senior level tournament while still Cadet eligible, Sadulaev had defeated the junior world champ up a weight, pretty impressive stuff from anyone, even more so a 16 year old.

    Sadulaev would come back down to the cadet level to compete at the world championships in 2013 now firmly established as an 84 KG wrestler, and teched or pinned everyone there including a tech fall win in the semis over 2015 Junior world champion Nurmagomed Gadzhiev. Sadulaev would bump up again to the senior level to compete at the Baku Grand Prix. Sadulaev would take a loss to eventual champion Gamzat Osmanov, but would rebound taking out 2013 world rep for USA and undefeated NCAA Champion his senior year in 2008 for Pitt Keith Gavin, and in his bronze medal match Sadulaev would yet again pick up a huge win over 2010 Yarygin runner-up, 2016 Yasar Dogu champ, and 2016 European runner-up Alexander Gostiev to pick up a bronze medal.

Photo: Tony Rotundo (

So in the limited amount of time that Sadulaev had at the senior level in his two tournaments while having just completed cadet eligible, he had already beaten a junior world champ, a Yarygin and European runner-up and Yasar Dogu champion, and an undefeated 2008 NCAA Champion. Still it was expected Sadulaev would still have some time until he would make a senior world team, having to toil away for 2-3 years at the junior level and then have take a year or two to fully adjust to the senior level, and with 2010 world bronze and 2009 European champ Soslan Ktsoev, 2013 University world runner-up Shamil Kudiyamagomedov, 2012 Yarygin bronze medallist Dauren Kurugliev, 2010&2011 European champ and 2012 Olympian Anzor Urishev, Sadulaev’s was far from a favorite to lock up the spot in 2014, and having not wrestled most of the aforementioned guys yet with the exception of a loss to Kudiyamagomedov it would be crucial that he improved rapidly from his Baku Grand Prix showing in 2013 if he wanted to be the man to take home a title in Tashkent in 2014.

    Sadulaev would start off his year competing at the prestigious Ivan Yarygin memorial, and if there were any questions wondering if he was ready to compete with or beat the best guys at his weight domestically they were quickly dispelled as Sadulaev showed a glimpse of things to come as he looked absolutely stellar in picking up the title at 86 KG. Sadulaev began his run to the title with a quick tech fall win over Shamil Katinovasov in what would could honestly be considered a warm-up match for him, as his next 4 matches would be a gauntlet of herculean proportions. Sadulaev would beat 2013 Kadyrov runner-up and 2012 Yarygin bronze Dauren Kurugliev 4-0 to advance to the quarter-finals where he would wrestle 2x European Champion Anzor Urishev who he would beat 4-2 to punch his ticket into the semi-finals. In the semi-finals he would have 2010 world bronze and 2009 European champion Soslan Ktsoev 4-2 to cement his spot in the finals against his old foe Shamil Kudiyamagomedov. Shamil was coming off a less than ideal 2013 where he was runner-up at University world games to Gheorghita Stefan and at his first trip to the world championships would lose in the second round to eventual bronze medallist Ehsan Lashgari meaning that he failed to place.It was pretty obvious then Kudiyamagomedov had a lot to prove with his 2014 Yarygin and what better way to do it then with a win over the red hot Sadulaev to prove that he was still the top man at 86 KG. This was not to be as Sadulaev was not to be denied and picked up a back and forth 13-7 win over Kudiyamagomedov and the top spot domestically at 86 KG going into Russian Nationals.

Photo: Tony Rotundo (

Sadulaev still sought to sharpen up his skills prior to the European Championships, so he ventured over to Turkey to compete in the Yasar Dogu and picked up his title with wins over Phil Keddy, Clayton Foster, Ahmet Bilici in a wild 10-7 match, and Jalal Zaman as well. For Sadulaev the Dogu while challenging in certain match-ups really served more as a warm-up to the European Championships.

    Word hadn’t really gotten out yet on just how freakishly good Sadulaev was, but it was at the European Championships where everyone around the world at the weight where put on notice. Sadulaev teched 2013 University world champion Gheoghita Stefan in his second match, then teched 2011 world bronze and 2012 Olympic bronze and #1 going into 2013 worlds Dato Marsagishvili, and in his semi-finals match he would continue the trend with a tech fall over 2013 world bronze medallist Istvan Vereb to punch his ticket into the finals where he would meet the Belarusian stalwart Murad Gaidarov. Gaidarov, 2003 world runner-up, 2008 Olympic bronze, and 5x European medallist(3 silvers, 2 bronze) was gave Sadulaev his toughest match of the tournament, managing to keep it down to only a 5-2 loss. Gaidarov was mainly able to do this by his sheer refusal to take any commited attacks and doing his best to choke Sadulaev unconscious whenever he got the chance to snap him down off a front head. Where Sadulaev had youth, great leg attacks and stellar transitions into par-terre, Gaidarov boasted a skill set of grizzeled experience, a long checkered past of fouling  opponents, and a mean front head where his focus was more to choke guys and stall then to actually muster any significant offense, But alas Sadulaev was just too good for the deranged dagestani ex-compatriot to best.

    Even after winning the Yarygin and European championships, Sadulaev still had one more thing to do before he was destined to be the man to represent Russia in Tashkent at 86 KG and that was win Russian Nationals. Sadulaev would breeze through his first two matches until his quarter-finals match with Duaren Kurugliev which he won in a smart 4-0 match, then in the semis he was pushed to the very brink in a 4-3 win over Soslan Ktsoev which would set-up a rematch of the Yarygin finals against Shamil Kudiyamagomedov. Unlike their match in Krasnoyarsk, this match would be much lower scoring but in Sadulaev’s favor picking up a 3-1 win over Kudiyamagomedov and ensuring him to be the man to take back a gold medal to Russia at 86 KG in Tashkent.

    Sadulaev would compete one more time before the world championships at the Ziolkowski Open and on his way to picking up the title picked up another win over Javad Ebrahimi this time to the tune of a 9-3 decision, a 3-2 win over 2015 Grand Prix of Paris runner-up Radoslaw Marcinkiewicz, an 8-3 win over 2014 Grand Prix of Paris runner-up Zbigniew Baranowski, a 8-3 semi-final win over 2015 Medved runner-up Alexander Husthyn, and a 12-4 finals win over Istvan Vereb.

    It was now finally here, the world championships in Tashkent and it was time for Sadulaev to show the world just how damn good he was. He would start off by besting 2009 junior world champion Selim Yasar(Koloi Kartoev) 9-2, then in his next match teched Dzhambul Tsitadze 11-1. Having grown sick of even the sheer notion that his opponents should be able to score any type of points on him, Sadulaev tore through 2010 world champion and one of the few men to beat the legend Buvaisar Saitiev, Mihal Ganev 10-0, and in the semis he would thrash Aslan Kakhidze 10-0 as well, to set up a match with the returning world runner-up Reineris Salas Perez. Sadulaev again proved that he simply had no time or patience for close matches and completely blew Salas Perez out of the water with a 10-0 tech fall off the strength off one of hands down the most beautiful firemans carrys ever hit in a world finals match, 2 exposures from the firemans and some gut wrenches to seal the deal and his world title. Abdulrashid Sadulaev had won the 86 KG world title at the age of 18!

    Sadulaev would start off the year with a title at the Alexander Medved Invitational going unscored upon and picking up wins over 2010 world 5th Piotr Ianulov, 2016 Medved runner-up Richard Perry, and a pin win over Alexander Husthyn in the finals. Sadulaev continued his tear across the Europe at the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan. Sadulaev tech Radoslaw Marcinkiewicz, Tudor Zuz, 2015 Junior world champion Nurmagomed Gadzhiev, and in the finals tech fall Piotr Ianulov in under 2 minutes using a stellar left collar tie right reverse grip snap to a knee pull single that he finished and immediately transitioned into 4 tight gut wrenches to seal the deal and yet another European title for him.

Sadulaev would compete at Russian Nationals so to determine who would wrestle in Vegas even though it was a sure bet to be Sadulaev, but in the name of sportsmanship Russia saw it fit for him to prove yet again that he is far superior to his Russian peers with the exception of Kudiyamagomedov. Sadulaev would go unscored upon on his way to the title, picking up a 5-0 win over 2011 junior world runner-up George Rubaev in the first match, then tech falling unheralded Vyacheslav Sugako in his next match, setting up a quarters against Anzor Urishev who he bested 7-0 to reach the semis where he would beat surprise semi-finalist Akmed Magomedov 3-0 to make yet another finals match against Kudiyamagomedov. Sadulaev would blank Kudiyamagomedov 4-0 and pick up yet another Russian National title.

    Sadulaev entered the 2015 world championships as a clear favorite to repeat and win another world title. Sadulaev breezed through his first four matches with 3 techs and 1 pin including tech falling Asian runner-up Uitemen Orgodol and 2010 world champ Mihail Ganev. It was not until the semi-finals that Sadulaev would be challenged by someone close to his level in the form of 2014 junior world champion Alireza Karimachiani, who scored a pushout and a shot clock violation point of Sadulaev but Sadulaev adapted and was able to pick up a 6-2 win over Karimi to ensure his second world finals. Sadualev would meet Selim Yasar in the finals, and thump him with a dominant 6-0 win with the only reason Yasar not being quickly dispatched being his outright refusal to press the action against Sadulaev.

    Sadulaev would compete at the end of the year in the Alrosa Cup and pick up a huge tech fall win up at 97 KG over 2x world 5th Elizbar Odikadze. Sadulaev showed no ill effects from the move-up and absolutely thumped a opponent who has notched wins over Khetag Gazumov, Sharif Sharifov, Reza Yazdani, and Shamil Akhmedov.

    Sadulaev was slated to compete at the 2016 Yarygin but a injury prevented him from competing there and at the European Championships, but his back-up Shamil Kudiyamagomedov won both events with ease. Sadulaev would return at U-23’s and dominate on his way to the finals where he would face 2015 Georgian National runner-up Irakli Mtsturi and after giving up an early 4 on a timely armspin by Mtsturi would score 15 unanswered points on his way to the tech fall win. Sadulaev would compete at the Ziolkowski and run roughshod over the competition over the competition besting Istvan Vereb, Alexander Husthyn, Omarghadsi Magomedov, Zbigniew Baranowski, and Sebastian Jezierzanski.

Going beyond his results, what makes Sadulaev just so good is just so well rounded he is. Exceptional from ties(a particularly strong left underhook), great leg attacks and finishing ability, disgustingly good defense, great exposure ability, underrated upper body chops, great conditoining, great reattacks, and some of the most refined if not the most refined transitions into par-terre offense i’ve seen, the chinks in Sadulaev’s metaphorical armor are so sparse and far and few between that when one finds one it should be on par with other great scientific discoveries such as discovering Penicillin or Australopithecus. Sadulaev can stand somewhat straight legged at times feeling out opponents, open hands finger fighting looking to get to his ties and when he is reaching the opportunity is there at times for arm spins off of it, except Sadulaev, like the russian T-800 has already identified this issue in his programming and fixed it, Sadulaev keeps such stellar positioning and is so hard to move around and get angles on that finishing leg attacks on him has yet to happen for anyone since 2014. One bad habit that can be taken advantage that the S-800 has yet to correct for some reason is that when Sadulaev gets in on a front head he will go chest wrap and try to simply float or jump behind and when he goes to float behind there if guys can keep squared up they have an opportunity to get in on a leg attack and reload, but unlike Ali Shabanau, Sadulaev is aware of this and makes sure to have his feet on the mat at all times when going from front head into a go behind but even Sadulaev is not entirely mistake free.

Abdulrashid Sadulaev Library of Matches

Abdulrashid Sadulaev Library of Matches