Kyle Snyder (left) and Abdulrashid Sadulaev (Photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
After winning the 2015 World Championships and 2016 Olympics at 97 kg, Kyle Snyder was well on the way to having an argument as the top pound-for-pound wrestler in the World. In early 2017, news broke that multiple-time World champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev would move up from 86 kg to challenge Snyder at 97 kg. Snyder won their first meeting in the finals of the 2017 World Championships. However, Sadualev would win the rematch and has had the better results since. The following looks at the history between the two and looks forward to a potential match at the current Games.
The 2017 match was wild from the start. Snyder tried to establish a physical edge and pushed Sadulaev to the boundary. However, the Russian had other ideas. He dropped under that pressure and finished a shot on the edge to take a 2-0 lead. Snyder got on the board with a step out. Sadulaev then got in on a standing single, but he was forced to settle for one point and a 3-1 lead as they went out of bounds.
Snyder went ahead 3-3 on criteria as he scored his first takedown by spinning behind before the end of the first period. About a minute into the second, Sadulaev got in on a shot and appeared to secure a step out. However, he continued to track it down and collected the second leg for a takedown and a 5-3 lead. With 40 seconds left in the match, Snyder cut the lead to 5-4 as he forced a double attempt off the mat. He continued to come forward with pressure, which forced Sadulaev into a lackluster effort. Snyder spun behind for the takedown and held on to the 6-5 lead to win the World title.
The rematch came in the finals of the following year's World Championships, and this match was much less of a rollercoaster. Sadulaev shot in on a single and appeared to be stuffed. However, he reached back, trapped Snyder's arm and turned it into a pinning combination. The fall came only 1:12 into the match.
Obviously, Snyder was looking for yet another rematch against Sadualev, but his 2019 campaign got off to a rough start. He dropped his first match at the Ivan Yarygin against Rasul Magomedov. Snyder did bounce back with gold medal performances at the Kolov-Petrov, Pan American Championships/Games and Yasar Dogu before returning to the World Championships. Another match against Sadulaev was expected for the finals, but Snyder suffered an upset against Sadulaev's longtime friend and training partner Sharif Sharifov.
The Ohio State product fought his way back for bronze to become a five-time World/Olympic medalist. About a month later, Snyder announced his move to the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. He settled for bronze at the 2020 Matteo Pellicone after losing to Iran's Mohammad Hossein Mohammadian and finished sixth at the 2020 U.S. Nationals after suffering an injury.
Snyder was expected to have a tough test against fellow World champion J'den Cox at the Olympic Trials. However, Cox did not make it past the weigh-in. Snyder would go on to defeat Gabe Dean (at an NLWC event), Nate Jackson and Scottie Boykin before knocking off former Ohio State teammate Kollin Moore at the Trials to make his second Olympic team.
Since winning the 2019 gold, Sadulaev has entered four tournaments. As one might expect, he won all four of the events, including the 2020 European Championships, the 2020 Russian Nationals, the 2020 Individual World Cup and the 2021 Ali Aliev Memorial.
In Seth Petarra's most recent International Men's Freestyle Rankings on InterMat, Sadulaev held the number-one spot. It would seem fair to call him the favorite heading into the tournament. As of Wednesday afternoon, the DraftKings sportsbook had the Russian wrestler listed as -250.
On the other hand, Snyder was ranked third in that release, behind both Sadulaev and Iran's Mohammadian. DraftKings has the same top three as Snyder is listed at +450 behind the reigning champion and Mohammadian (+400).
The lack of the expected match between Snyder and Cox at the Trials has left many unanswered questions. While Snyder has taken a few more losses than fans have been accustomed to, he has also been able to blitz competition when he had a clear advantage. There are also questions swirling around Sadulaev. He suffered through the coronavirus and admitted he "really underestimated the disease." Sadulaev returned to action at the Ali Aliyev this past June. While he did score a victory over Vladislav Baitcaev, who is currently ranked fourth, he scored only one match-termination victory in his four matches.
At this point, Sadulaev is the favorite to return to the top of the podium and best Snyder in a potential rematch. A match with Cox at the Trials would have said a lot about where Snyder is these days. However, that did not happen. He has the skills, experience and physicality to defeat Sadulaev in the rubber match. That being said, it will certainly be an uphill climb.