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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