The Career Of Aleksandr Karelin

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Aleksandr Karelin is known to most of the world as the greatest and most feared wrestler of all time. The Russian great dominated the world of Greco-Roman wrestling for over a decade.

During the course of his career he earned a few nicknames such as The Russian Bear, Aleksandr The Great, as well as The Experiment.

Some of the incredible feats of Karelin’s career include an 887-2 career record, not losing a match for over a decade, and not having a point scored on him for 7 years.

Let’s take a full in depth look at the career of Karelin

The Early Stages:

Being the massive human being that he was, it’s only natural that he would compete in every sport possible.

Karelin at just 13 years of age would be 5 foot 10 inches tall and weigh over 170 pounds. Being as big and physically developed as he was at a young age he would dominate in the sport of wrestling from the very start.

Junior Level Career:

Karelin’s junior level career is not talked about too much, however he did not lose a match from 1982 until 1987.

He was a 2x junior world champion winning in 1985, and 1987 both at 130kg. In addition to that Karelin won the junior European championships in 1986.

His First Loss:

With Karelin’s career record of 887-2 his first loss came very early in his career. He would fall to Igor Rostorotsky at the USSR championships in 1987 with a score of 1-0.

Rostorotsky was a 2x world champion winning in 1985 and 1987. He won the world cup 3 times in 1984, 1986, and 1988.

He was also the favorite to win gold at the 1984 Olympic games however he was one of many Soviet wrestlers at the time to lose out on gold because of the boycott.

Karelin would get his revenge against Rostorotsky the following year at the USSR championships. He did this all while recovering from the flu and a concussion.

The World Championships:

Karelin was perfect at the world championships throughout the course of his career, never losing a match. He crushed his way to 9 world titles and dominated throughout the process.

Throughout the world championships (and cup) he dominated some of the best wrestlers that the world had ever seen.

Some of the wrestlers Karelin has beaten are:

Olympic champion Jeff Blatnick (United States)

Olympic champion Rulon Gardner (United States)

Olympic champion Hector Milan (Cuba)

5x world silver Mihaly Deak-Bardos (Hungary)

“He didn’t just dominate the world of Greco-Roman wrestling, for 13 years he terrified the world of Greco-Roman wrestling! -Philip Hersh

1988 Olympic Games:

PC: Imago/Colorsport (Aleksandr Karelin vs Bulgaria 1988)

After winning the world cup in 1987 picking up the first gold medal of his career he would be headed to the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul.

At the 1988 Olympic games he would cruise through all of his matches with ease to make it to the gold medal match where he would face Bulgaria’s Rangel Gerovski.

Karelin would actually be trailing in the bout until he executed a turn which he would later be known for, the reverse body lift.

Winning the Olympics at 21 years old would only be the start of his legacy.

The wrestlers Karelin defeated at the 1988 games were world champion Tomas Johansson of Sweden, Laszio Klauz of Hungary, Alexander Neumuller of Austria, Duane Koslowski of the United States, and Rangel Gerovski of Bulgaria in the finals.

1992 Olympic Games:

PC: Jan Collsiöö / Imago (Aleksandr Karelin vs Tomas Johansson 1992)

The ’92 games would be arguably the most dominant performance of Karelin’s career. He cruised his way to a second Olympic gold medal pinning four out of five of his opponents.

His victories at the Olympics in this cycle would include Canada’s Andrew Borodow, Finland’s Juha Ahokas, Cuba’s Candido Mesa, and Romania’s Ioan Grigoras.

In the gold medal match at the Barcelona Olympic games Karelin would face off against Tomas Johansson of Sweden. Karelin would be the favorite to win the match but Johansson would be one of the best wrestlers Karelin would ever face.

The way Karelin would dominate against the world champion and 3x Olympic medalist Johansson was a thing of beauty and in the Olympic finals he would ultimately end up getting the pin to win his 2nd Olympic gold.

1993 World Championships:

As much as we talk about him cruising through pretty much all of his matches, the level of injuries that Karelin sustained are not talked about as he would bounce back from them almost immediately, and with how far above the competition he was it would not matter.

This year at the world championships Karelin would face the Matt Ghaffari of the United States where he broke 2 of his ribs. He decided to continue the tournament in typical Karelin fashion and would pick up the 6th gold medal of his career.

1996 Olympic Games:

PC: Imago / Norbert Schmidt (Aleksandr Karelin vs Matt Ghaffari 1996)

Coming into the 1996 games there would be one goal for Karelin, and that would be to complete the 3peat and win his 3rd consecutive gold medal.

Up until this point in time there have only been 3 wrestlers to complete this feat, and only one Russian wrestler who was Aleksandr Medved.

Karelin would continue his reign of dominance as he pinned two of his opponents and would shut out his other three never really being in danger.

In the finals Karelin would see the United State’s Matt Ghaffari whom he had beaten before, this match would only end up being 1-0. However if you look at the match itself Karelin shut down every form of offense that Ghaffari would look to create and put together his own attacks that just did not materialize this match.

The Following Quad:

After the 1996 Olympic games it was apparent to most that the 2000 Olympics would be the last event for Karelin to try and become the first wrestler to win 4 Olympic gold medals.

Throughout the next three world championships Karelin would win with ease dominating names like Rulon Gardner, Hector Milan, Sergei Mureiko, Mindaugas Mizgaitis, and Mihaly Deak-Bardos.

The most famous match here would be the 1999 world finals in Athens where he faced Olympic champion Hector Milan of Cuba. This match was a thing of beauty even watching it 24 years later, the way Karelin was able to dominate someone as good as Milan with ease was just simply incredible.

This would be the final gold medal of Alesksandr Karelin’s wrestling career.

The Greatest Upset Ever:

PC: Imago / Bildbyran (Aleksandr Karelin vs Rulon Gardner 2000)

Karelin would cruise to the Olympic finals after wins over Mihaly Deak-Bardos, Sergei Mureiko, Georgiy Saladadze, and Dmitry Debelka.

Waiting for Karelin in the finals would be Rulon Gardner of the United States. After winning his pool and defeating Yuri Evseichik of Israel 3-2 he would wrestle the biggest match of his life against Aleksandr Karelin.

Coming into the gold medal bout pretty much everyone in the world wrote Gardner out, saying that he had no chance since Karelin did dominate him when they met at the 1997 world championships.

This time it would be a different story as Gardner held his own against Karelin and one slip up would end up costing Karelin a point and eventually the bout. Just like that the greatest wrestler of all time had been defeated.

Karelin would announce his retirement after this match, and would even be seen at the next Olympic games watching Gardner win bronze.

Life After Wrestling:

PC: Tony Rotundo (Aleksandr Karelin 2010)

Karelin would be at many events after his career had come to an end and even coach. He would begin his career in politics around the time his career was coming to an end in 1999.

He joined the United Russia political party and was appointed to the State Duma shortly after.

PhD In Suplex Defense:

Yes, that is a real thing. Aleksandr Karelin wrote a detailed thesis on how to defend a suplex. It talks about how the throw can, and should be executed, the training that is done and how counter moves are better than defensive moves, as well as a lot more intricacies of the positions that are encountered.

The PhD is titled: “Methods of execution of suplex throw counters”


Aleksandr is married to his wife Olga Karelin, and they have 3 children. Vasilisa, Ivan, and Denis.

Both of his sons Ivan, and Denis competed in wrestling but only Ivan stayed with the sport and competed in Greco-Roman wrestling at the super heavyweight division like his father.


Even 23 years after his career has come to an end Karelin is a household name in the sport of wrestling.

With this being said he has received a plethora of awards throughout his career and was inducted in the inaugural class of the FILA hall of fame in 2003.

Another award and arguably the best award he had received was being named the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of the 20th century by FILA as well.

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Akil Murugan
Akil Murugan
Senior Editor for Heavyweight Nation

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