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  • Photo: John Sachs

    Photo: John Sachs

    The History of the USA vs Iran in the Olympic Men's Freestyle Finals

    The gold medal match at the 2012 Olympics between Jordan Burroughs and Sadegh Goudarzi (Photo courtesy of John Sachs; Tech-Fall.com)

    The stage is set for the 86 kg Olympic finals in men's freestyle. One of the most anticipated bouts of the Olympics will indeed take place as both David Taylor and Hassan Yazdani have advanced to the gold medal match. Yazdani is seeking to earn his second gold medal, as he accomplished the feat in 2016 while competing at 74 kg. The Iranian also has world titles in 2017 and 2019 on his resume.

    The reason there's a gap between Yazdani's world championships is because of David Taylor in 2018. Four years after his decorated career at Penn State finished, Taylor finally made a world team. But even before making the world team, Taylor and Yazdani had history. At the 2017 World Cup, the two clashed and it was the Iranian who jumped out to a controlling lead. Taylor's relentless pressure forced Yazdani to wilt and he walked away with an upset victory.

    As luck would have it, the 2018 World Championships saw the two paired with each other in the opening round. Like their first bout, Yazdani struck first, but Taylor was unphased and battled back for the win. After that victory, Taylor rolled to a world championship, while Yazdani settled for bronze.

    The two have not met since 2018 because Taylor suffered a knee injury in the spring of 2019, which kept him from competing at world's that year. The loss to Taylor in 2018 is the most recent setback for the Iranian superstar. Coming into this tournament, there may have been some doubts about whether or not Taylor was back to his 2018 form. Three tech falls later and a 33-2 scoring advantage over his opponents leads one to believe, Taylor is pretty darn close to his world championship run. Two of David's three wins have come against past world medalists, as well.

    Though not quite as dominating on the scoreboard, Yazdani has held up his end of the bargain and made the finals without a significant challenge.

    Before getting to this clash of the titans, we thought it would be appropriate to look at the previous meetings between American and Iranian wrestlers in the gold medal match in the freestyle tournament at the Olympics. Going back to the 1940's it's only happened three times and each is notable in its own way.

    2012: 74 kg - Jordan Burroughs vs. Sadegh Goudarzi (Iran)

    You've got to go back in time to remember this match in its proper perspective. Jordan Burroughs was only a year and a half removed from a Hodge Trophy-winning senior season at Nebraska. He went out and won a world title immediately and defeated Sadegh Goudarzi in the finals, 3-2, 4-1. The two met earlier in 2012 at the World Cup and it was Burroughs who prevailed again. Even as the fresh young face of USA Wrestling, Burroughs wasn't the “GOAT” as we know him now. Winning at the Olympics wasn't a foregone conclusion. Well, to us, at least. He famously tweeted the night before he took the mat in London that “My next tweet will be a picture of me holding that gold medal!!!”.

    To make the Olympic finals, Burroughs had to get by a tough Matt Gentry (Canada) and a three-period brawl against then-two-time world champion Denis Tsargush (Russia). Waiting for him in the finals was Goudarzi. Though the score of the “matches” in the finals against Goudarzi were both 1-0, Burroughs was never in any danger against his Iranian counterpart. In both matches, Burroughs used his signature double leg to rack up takedowns late in the contest.

    The Olympic finals win over Goudarzi not only cemented Burroughs status as USA Wrestling's top star, but it also marked a turning point for the men's freestyle team. Five years later, the US team would top Russia and Burroughs would claim his fifth World/Olympic title. Burroughs' quiet confidence, mixed with professionalism, and Olympic resume would make him the closest thing that wrestling had to a crossover star among mainstream sports fans.

    1996: 100 kg - Kurt Angle vs. Abbas Jadidi (Iran)

    This is the match that helped spark a career in professional wrestling for Kurt Angle, because we all know that he won the Olympics with a “broken freaking neck.” As can be the case in some matches, the buildup and the hype surrounding it was actually more than the actual bout itself. Angle was a two-time national champion for Clarion (1990, 1992) and was coming off a world title in 1995. Abbas Jadidi was a world champion in 1993, but has that honor stripped from him after a failed drug test. He also had to endure a two-year suspension. Jadidi took bronze at the 1995 World Championships.

    The 1996 Games were hosted by Atlanta, so Angle had the home crowd behind him against a foe that was fresh off a suspension and who represented a country rich with wrestling tradition. It had all the makings of a classic.

    The match itself only turned out to see each wrestler earn a single point. Jadidi's point came from hand-to-hand exposure, while Angle's was from a takedown. As was dictated by the rules, at the time, the two engaged in a three-minute overtime period. Angle came closest to scoring as he had the Iranian's legs gathered, but his head buried in Jadidi's lap. Another wrinkle in the system was that since neither wrestler scored in the overtime, the decision was turned over to the judges. Despite, Jadidi's efforts to “help” the official raise his hand, Angle was deemed the victory and had his hand raised. Overcome with emotion, Angle hugged the referee before dropping to his knees in tears.

    Along with the usual emotions associated with such an incredible accomplishment, the Olympics occurred about six months after his coach Dave Schultz was murdered by John DuPont. Initially, Angle had trained at Foxcatcher, but he left after Dave's passing and wrestled under the newly-formed Dave Schultz Wrestling Club.

    1992: 62 kg - John Smith vs. Askari Mohammadian (Iran)

    In 1992, John Smith had already established himself as one of USA Wrestling's all-time greats, but winning gold at the 1988 Olympics, along with four times at the World Championships. Even so, he'd put himself in the most elite company by chasing his second gold medal, a feat that only one other American before him had accomplished (George Mehnert. Bruce Baumgartner would win his second in 1992 also).

    At the time, wrestling at the Olympics consisted of “pool” action. Smith actually dropped a match to Lazaro Reinoso (Cuba), but had more points than the Cuban, who also suffered a loss, so Smith advanced to the gold medal match. There he faced a returning Olympic silver medalist, Askari Mohammadian. The Iranian was coming up to Smith's weight class after falling to USSR legend Sergei Beloglazov, 5-1 in the 1998 gold medal match.

    Despite Mohammadian coming in undefeated through his pool and generally running through the competition, he was no match for Smith. Early in the bout, Smith set the tone with a takedown followed by hand-to-hand exposure. Shortly thereafter, Smith added another pair of points for exposure to lead 4-0. The final score would be 6-0, as Smith dominated his way to a second Olympic gold medal.

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