Photo: Neal Simpson / Alamy

The Other Man Who Beat Aleksandr Karelin


Whenever someone talks about Aleksandr Karelin the career record of 887-2 is brought up a majority of the time. Pretty much everyone knows that one of the losses came to American Rulon Gardner in the Snyder olympic finals where Karelin lost due to breaking the clinch costing him the match deciding point.

The Rulon vs Karelin match is the first thing to come up if you search Karelin despite him having 887 wins and dominating the wrestling scene for 12 years. The other loss nobody really mentions anywhere which was intriguing.

After digging down the archives you can see that he lost at the 1987 USSR Championships 1-0. This is before Karelin became the Karelin that people consider the greatest wrestler of all time. What makes this even crazier is that the man he lost to, Igor Rostorotsky was the reigning European Champion at the time.

An interesting fact that came up right off the bat when looking into the career of Aleksandr Karelin were the injuries that he had suffered at such a young age. He broke his leg at 15 years old and his mom allegedly burned his wrestling uniform and refused to let him wrestle.

Karelin actually was not supposed to wrestle at the 1988 olympics due to suffering a serious concussion. He also won the 1993 world championships with 2 broken ribs which he suffered in the opening round to Matt Ghaffari who he would end up beating in the 1996 olympic gold medal match.

At the 1996 European championships before the olympic games Karelin tore his right pec and was not supposed to compete. He would win the tournament with ease and get surgery later. It becomes interesting while looking at this to see how much of a freak Karelin truly was and what his potential in the sport of wrestling may have been if he never got injured. Who knows he might have won 10 more medals or something insane like that.

Rostortsky was a 2x world champion winning titles in 1985 and 1987, he was also a 3x world cup champion claiming gold in 1984, 1986, and 1988. A big reason he is not talked about today is due to the Soviet boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles olympic games.

Being on of the wrestlers favored to win at the games Rostortsky was not even able to compete. Jeff Blatnick of the United States would end up winning gold.

Igor Rostortsky’s Accolades-

2x World Champion

3x World Cup Champion

2x European Champion

1x Junior World Champion

1x European Bronze Medalist

Once you actually look through history and how things have played out around the 1980-1984 time frame with the United States boycott for the Moscow olympics and the 1984 Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles a lot of the medals begin to come into question.

This goes both way against Americans and against the Soviets. Lee Kemp a 3x world champion who was untouchable at the time was not able to compete at the 1980 Olympic Games where he more than likely would have won gold.

Karelin was able to get revenge the following year in 1988 which is also the year that he would win his first of three olympic gold medals in Seoul. He would also be suffering from the flu and a recent head injury when he got revenge over Rostortsky at the 1988 USSR Championships.

We all know what happens after. “He didn’t just dominate the world of Greco-Roman wrestling. for 13 years, he terrified the world of Greco-Roman wrestling!” -Philip Hersh on the legacy of Aleksandr Karelin.

Karelin would go undefeated for the next 12 years until he was stunned by Rulon Gardner in the 2000 olympics. Karelin would announce his retirement from the sport of wrestling with 3 olympic gold medals, 9 world gold medals, and a lone silver.

Since September 25th of 2020 Karelin has. been a senator in the federation council for Russia. He is a member of the council’s committee on international affairs.

He still keeps active in the wrestling scene making regular appearances at tournaments and practices.

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Akil Murugan
Akil Murugan
Senior Editor for Heavyweight Nation

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