Abdulrashid Sadulaev

Kyle Snyder, Abdulrashid Sadulaev
United World Wrestling

Kyle Snyder fueled by ‘Miracle’ scenes for Russian Tank showdown

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Kyle Snyder rewatched last year’s world wrestling championships final — where he was pinned in 68 seconds by Russian rival Abdulrashid Sadulayev — about five or 10 times, but not once in the six weeks leading up to a potential rematch at worlds on Sunday.

“I don’t want to watch myself get thrown on my back any more,” he said last week by phone from Germany, before traveling to Kazakhstan for the competition. “I have everything I feel like I need from the film.”

There wasn’t a whole lot to learn, technically, from a 68-second bout. Even if they are some of the most memorable 68 seconds in recent wrestling history.

Snyder-Sadulayev II at the 2018 Worlds was called the Rematch of the Century. In 2017, Snyder handed Sadulayev his first defeat in four years at the senior international level in the world final, a 6-5, last-minute comeback win. They were both Rio Olympic champions, but Sadulayev, nicknamed the Russian Tank, then moved up in weight to take on Snyder at 97kg.

But Snyder did change his mindset after last year’s loss, his first at an Olympics or worlds after earning titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

“Up until this year, I just thought that I could wrestle hard enough that I could beat people. It worked out well for a lot of tournaments,” said Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion in history at age 20. “I’ve prepared and learned more about Sadulayev and a couple more guys in my weight class that present some difficult challenges that I just want to understand more. I do well when I have something to focus on. I think that loss last year probably sparked this way of thinking.”

Sadulayev wrestles Snyder differently than he wrestles everybody else. Snyder learned this in the film room. They are about the same height, listed at 5-foot-11. Snyder posted a pre-match photo of them, at the same eye level, three weeks ago with the caption, “Lord willing, we stand here again.”

He tagged Sadulayev in it and said that the man from Dagestan commented back that he knows the fans are looking forward to their third installment.

“We’ve had a couple Instagrams back and forth, but no contact outside of that,” since the 2018 Worlds, Snyder said last week. “I’m sure I’ll see him next week in the hotel. So maybe a few awkward elevator rides.”

Snyder said that Sadulayev beat him last year by wrestling higher in his stance. Snyder was taken up out of his normal stance, and Sadulayev got to his leg for the pin.

“He does that because one of my best attributes is my hand fighting and my overall pace and staying in a stance low,” Snyder said. “If I get him down into his stance, he won’t be as comfortable.”

Snyder’s coaches told him for years to tailor training for specific opponents, but he more or less kept an approach of focusing on his own strengths. “It makes my mind clear when I don’t game plan,” he said. Now, he heeds the coaches.

“If I did a live go 100 percent, last year I wasn’t thinking at all how I would wrestle somebody I was competing against at worlds,” he said. “Now, I even have my partners give me different feels for different guys that I know are going to wrestle a specific way.”

He’s watched Sadulayev from afar. The Russian Tank looks as strong as ever.

Snyder changed his mental prep in another way recently. He supplemented daily Bible reading and his latest book, “Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity,” with scenes from “Miracle,” the Disney film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

“I like the way the coach [Herb Brooks] talks about beating the Russians,” Snyder said. “The No. 1 thing is taking the action to them and being offensive, and I think about the comparison to the way I need to wrestle Sadulayev, if we wrestle again.” 

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Abdulrashid Sadulayev pins Kyle Snyder in Rematch of the Century

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Kyle Snyder called out Abdulrashid Sadulayev in the spring, saying he could beat the Russian more soundly than in the 2017 Match of the Century. That Sadulayev was getting bad advice from those who told him he could beat Snyder if he entered the world championships in the 97kg freestyle division again this year.

Turns out, Sadulayev’s advisers were right.

The Russian Tank pinned Snyder for gold in the Rematch of the Century at wrestling worlds in Budapest on Tuesday. It was over in 70 seconds.

Sadulayev took control with a single-leg shot at 40 seconds, quickly took Snyder down and, after 20 seconds of jostling, used his 215 pounds on top of Snyder to get the American’s shoulders on the mat.

“Ended quickly,” Snyder said. “That stunk. Everybody knows Sadulayev’s a very talented wrestler. He hit me in a good move, and it worked out well for him. … This one doesn’t even really hurt too much right now.”

Snyder, 22, lost on the global championship stage for the first time. In 2015, he became the youngest American to win a world title. In 2016, he became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. In 2017, he beat Sadulayev in the worlds final 6-5, overcoming a two-point deficit in the final minute in a battle of Olympic gold medalists.

Former Russian freestyle coach Magomed Guseynov was proven prophetic Tuesday.

“Sadulayev wasn’t prepared well last time,” he told United World Wrestling before worlds. “[Sadulayev] is 10 times better than Snyder. … Being a coach with 47 years of experience, I guarantee that Sadulayev won’t give him a chance to score a single point. Sadulayev will wrestle as if Snyder is an amateur.”

Sadulayev, a 22-year-old from Dagestan, was undefeated at the senior international level from November 2013 up to that 2017 World final. He beat four Rio Olympic 86kg opponents by a combined 28-1.

Sadulayev was more impressive than Snyder in Monday’s early rounds, winning all four matches by the 10-point mercy rule. Snyder’s closest match was his semifinal, a 3-0 win over two-time world medalist Pavlo Oliynyk of Hungary.

In other divisions Tuesday, three-time world champion Adeline Gray beat Olympic gold medalist Erica Wiebe of Canada to reach Wednesday’s 76kg final. Gray took 2017 off to recover from injuries after surprisingly missing the medals at her first Olympics in Rio.

Helen Maroulis, a 2015 and 2017 World champion and Rio gold medalist, opens her bid Wednesday to tie Tricia Saunders for the U.S. female record of four combined Olympic and world titles.

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J’den Cox, Kyle Dake earn first wrestling world titles

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J’den Cox had enough of bronze. Kyle Dake, an NCAA wrestling legend, considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year.

Both Cox and Dake broke through for their first wrestling world titles in Budapest on Monday, giving the U.S. three male world champions in one year for the first time since 1995.

Cox, bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics and 2017 Worlds, dumped Belarusian Ivan Yankouski 4-1 in the 92kg final. A half-hour earlier, Dake completed an unscored upon run through the 79kg division, beating Olympic bronze medalist Jabrayil Hasanov of Azerbaijan 2-0.

Both Cox and Dake won their titles at non-Olympic weights. It’s likely that Cox drops back down to 86kg, where David Taylor just won the world title, for the Tokyo 2020 trials. Dake’s road might be even tougher if he goes down to 74kg, land of five-time Olympic and world champion Jordan Burroughs.

Since Rio, Cox underwent surgery for the torn meniscus that he competed on at the Olympics, won his third NCAA title, mulled and ruled out playing college football for Missouri, moved up from 86kg to 92kg, relocated to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and shaved his head.

“I expected this outcome,” Cox said. “I did the work.”

Dake, 27, reached the pinnacle of international wrestling five years after completing an unrivaled NCAA career at Cornell. Dake, nicknamed “Kid Dynamite,” is the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt.

From 2013-17, Dake was runner-up at Olympic or world championships trials four times. Three times, he ran into Burroughs in world trials finals. He considered retiring after losing in the 2016 Olympic Trials 86kg final to Cox.

Dake made his first world team this year, helped some by the tournament moving from eight weight classes to 10. He didn’t have to face Burroughs or Cox at trials.

“Motivating, having guys like that who are just half a step, quarter of a step, eighth of a step ahead of you, that you need to go catch puts a fire under your belly,” Dake said. “I challenge [Olympic and world 97kg champion] Kyle Snyder [in practice]. I challenge J’den. I challenge those guys. I go down [in weight]. I’ll wrestle Jordan.”

And Dake proved he belonged in Budapest as the first U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in at least 30 years. Helen Maroulis, who wrestles later this week, also notched the feat at the 2015 and 2017 Worlds.

Worlds continue Tuesday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, with the most anticipated match of the tournament — Snyder versus Russian Olympic champ Abdulrashid Sadulaev in the 97kg final, a rematch of the 2017 final dubbed the “Match of the Century” won by Snyder.

Also Monday, 2017 World silver medalist Thomas Gilman dropped his 57kg bronze-medal match 5-4 to Süleyman Atlı of Turkey.

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