To this day there are some wrestlers that we still talk about even though most of us nowadays have never even seen them wrestle in person. Guys like Alexandr Karelin, Aleksandr Medved, and John Smith have built up lasting legacies that have solidified them as an all time great.
Throughout history there have been many wrestlers who may have had the same amount or more skill than some of these all time greats but the only reason they are not called an all time great is because they do not have an Olympic Gold Medal. The Olympic Gold is the epitome of this sport and many others, it is the highest you can achieve and once you have done so you can finally say you were the best in the world. Whether these guys did not claim golds because they could just not figure it out when it mattered, they were behind another legend, or injuries plagued their career their skill speaks for itself.
Today we will be looking at 4 handpicked wrestlers that we feel best suit this category. All of these guys with the exception of 1 are multiple time world champions. Let us get into it.
#4 Reza Yazdani (Iran)
Nicknamed “The Leopard of Juybar” , Reza Yazdani at his peak was one of the greatest wrestlers the world has ever seen, and this includes guys like Sadulaev, Medved, and Saitiev. Injuries however were the downfall of his career and they hit very hard.
Yazdani was able to win 2 world championships throughout his short time in 2011 and 2013. He was a unanimous favorite to win the 2012 Olympics in London at 96kg. When we say unanimous we mean that Jake Varner of the USA was the eventual champion after Yazdani was injured in the semifinals. Yazdani had teched the American that same year and you can check the video below.
He was able to win the World Championships in a 2013 comeback but that was really the end of his career. He was not a bad wrestler on the senior level after that but he was nothing that would ever contend for a gold medal on the World or Olympic stage again.
The question will always stand on would Varner have won in 2012, would Snyer have won in 2016, and would Sadulaev have won in 2021. Who knows, but anyone who has watched Yazdani in his prime knows exactly how good this man was, and it was scary.
#3 Riza Kayaalp (Turkey)
By far the third greatest Greco Roman wrestler of all time. Does not help that the two greatest wrestlers of all time were in his weight class. Kayaalp is a 3x Olympic Medalist and on those 3 runs in London, Rio, and Tokyo he claimed Bronze, Silver, and Bronze in that order.
If you have been around wrestling for a while you already know who beat him in those 3 runs. It was none other than 4x Olympic Champion Mijain Lopez-Nunez. All in competitive matches except for the 2016 Olympic Final where Lopez was able to break it open early with a 4 point throw and hold on for a 6-0 victory.
Riza Kaayalp has a legacy that is going to be “tainted” a bit, and that is mostly due to accusations that two of the titles he won over Lopez were bought and the country was paid off. Is this true, there is no 100% way of knowing but to say that it is out of the question who really knows except Lopez and his coaches.
No matter this Riza has dominated anyone else he has come into contact with throughout his career and he will forever go down as a legend. He is currently 32 years and Lopez 39. Will Lopez come back for the 5 peat? I do not think anyone knows the answer to that question at this point in time.
If Lopez does not come back it seems like Kayaalp would come back to Paris and leave after most likely claiming a gold and announcing his retirement. Heavyweight in greco has been dominated by legends for the past 34 years from Karelin, Gardner, Boroev, and now Lopez and Kaayalp holding their own in this field.
No matter if Riza can finally claim Olympic Gold or if he has to call it a career before Paris due to age or some other factor the world will remember him as an all time great.
#2 Osman Duraliev (Belarus)
From the beginning you may have been wondering who was the one wrestler who was not a multiple time world champion. It is none other than Osman Duraliev of Belarus, if you have ever been in the archives of wrestling you may have heard this name beside another legend Aleksandr Medved.
Possibly the greatest rivalry in wrestling history between Medved and Duraliev. Duraliev does not have a single gold medal to show in his entire career and is still considered an all time great by many, let that sink in. This more just speaks to how good Aleksandr Medved was as the greatest freestyle wrestler of all time.
Duraliev has 6 silver medals to his name for worlds and the Olympics from 1967-1972. Cannot stress this enough that every single one of these finals were to none other than Aleksandr Medved. Duraliev was one of the most dominant wrestlers of all time except for these matches and by the way it is talked about by most of these older people we have talked to this is by far the greatest rivalry of all time.
Duraliev passed away April 25th 2011 in Istanbul, he was 72 years old.
#1 Besik Kudukhov (Russia)
A legendary career cut way too short. He was tragically killed December 29th 2013 in a fatal car accident. Just about a week ago was the 8th anniversary of his passing as one of Russia’s most beloved wrestlers ever.
If you follow any of these guys you can see everyone posted about it and over thousands of people were talking about Besik and his everlasting legacy. Russian legends such as Arsen Fadzaev, Buvaisar Saitiev, and Abdulrashid Sadulaev all publicly spoke about it as well.
On the wrestling side of things Besik was a 4x World Champion winning in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011. He was a bronze medalist in Beijing and a silver medalist in London. Looking at his performance up until then it seemed as if he was destined for this gold medal in Rio until he tragically passed away.
“Besik’s death is a huge loss for the world sport, not only for the Russian sport” – Russian HC Magomed Huseynov
Besik by far had more potential than anyone on this list and accomplished just as much in a shorter period of time and that secures him the number one spot on this list.