Abdulrashid Sadulaev (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Good news for wrestling fans ... not-so-good news for wrestlers: Abdulrashid Sadulaev, 2016 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling for Russia, appears to be sticking to the oldest and greatest sport for the foreseeable future.
Sadulaev, fresh from winning gold at 97 kilograms/213 pounds at the 2019 European Wrestling Championships in Bucharest, Romania by defeating Alexander Gushtyn of Belarus, said that he has no plans to launch a professional career in mixed martial arts.
"I will never join the MMA," Sadulaev said in an interview with the Russian news agency TASS Wednesday. "I do have many friends fighting in the MMA tournaments. I am watching their fights and I get emotional."
"However, I am enjoying my sport, which is spectacular, courageous and without insults," the 22-year-old Sadulaev continued. "Moreover, the sport of wrestling is what I am good at and I earn enough for my living."
There's little arguing Sadulaev's mat success. The wrestler known as "the Russian Tank" won the gold medal in men's freestyle at 86 kilograms/189 pounds at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. In addition, he is a three-time World Champion in 2014, 2015 and 2018, earning silver at the 2017 Worlds. With his win this week, Sadulaev is now a three-time European champion, winning gold in 2014, 2018 and 2019.
One of Sadulaev's wrestling rivals is Kyle Snyder, three-time NCAA heavyweight champ for Ohio State (2016-18) and Olympic gold medalist in men's freestyle at 97 kilograms/213 pounds at the 2016 Rio Games. The two have met on the mat twice. At the 2017 World Championships, Snyder earned a 6-5 decision over Sadulaev; one year later at the Worlds, the Russian Tank got revenge, pinning the former Buckeye big man at 1:11 of their rematch.
Thanks to Sadulaev's impressive mat credentials - and the fact that so many MMA champs were once wrestlers -- there's been much speculation in wrestling and MMA online forums as to a possible pro MMA career for Sadulaev. There's even a one-minute video posted last October by the website Russiawrestling.com showing Sadulaev sparring and working out with the headline "UFC are you ready for the Russian Tank."
In fact, Sadulaev may have helped fuel that speculation with this message posted at the MMATeamDagestan Twitter account last fall: "Abdulrashid Sadulaev: 'After the Olympics in #Tokyo2020, we will talk about the transition to MMA.'"
In other words, wrestling and MMA fans who want to see Sadulaev as a mixed martial arts fighter should not abandon all hope just yet based on this week's TASS interview ... but wait until after August 9, 2020, the date for the Closing Ceremonies of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, to see if Sadulaev is ready to hang up his singlet. Then again, The Russian Tank will be just 24 years old ... and may decide he has plenty of years ahead of him as a freestyle wrestling superstar.