Olympic champion Gable Steveson (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The inaugural and prestigious Intermat end of the year awards are upon us and that means getting to relive the best of 2021 for men's freestyle. The categories for this article came from a question from @AndrewA1994 on Twitter.
Most Improved: #4 (74) Taimuraz Salkazanov (SVK)
Already a 70 KG U-23 world champion in 2018 and a Senior World bronze medalist at 79 KG in 2019, Taimuraz Salkazanov had a compelling resume going into 2021, but hadn't yet proved himself as a true elite in the deepest weight class in the world at 74KG. Salkazanov's 2021 campaign started off on a rough note, being pinned against Alipasha Umarpashaev of Bulgaria in the Round of 16 of the European Olympic Qualifier. Umarpashaev wrestled a career-best tournament at the European Olympic Qualifier, beating Salkazanov and Olympic runner-up #2 Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov (BLR) but even with those wins still failed to qualify after finishing 5th after losses to #10 Avtandil Kentchadze (GEO) and Georgios Kougiomitsidis (GRE).
Going into the European championships against the likes of world champions #5 Frank Chamizo (ITA), #6 Razambek Zhamalov (RUS), and Khetag Tsabolov (SRB), along with 2018 world runner-up Avtandil Kentchadze (GEO), all on his side of the bracket, Salkazanov was given a snowball's chance in hell of placing, let alone winning the tournament.
Salkazanov's beginning of the European championships started off with a convincing 5-2 win over Marc Dietsche (SUI), but as comfortable of an opener as he had, he would be faced with a massive challenger in his Round of 16 match against two-time world champion #5 Frank Chamizo (ITA). Between Chamizo and Salkazanov, you could not find two more disparate wrestlers. Chamizo is an exceptional scrambler who scores effortlessly on his opponent's offense, while Salkazanov grinds his opponents down with impeccable handfighting and seals matches with a strong double leg, underhook knee pick or head inside single. With both men having scored a takedown and Chamizo leading 2-2 going into the final 15 seconds of the match, Salkazanov was able to perfectly time a knee pull single and turning the corner to finish a double leg transition to a powerful 4-point trap arm throw. Italy challenged the clutch takedown from Salkazanov, but Salkazanov was not to be beaten that day and walked away with the biggest win of his career by a 6-2 score over two-time world champion Frank Chamizo.
While his previous match against Chamizo was defined by an explosive match-ending takedown, Salkazanov's quarterfinal against 2018 world runner-up #10 Avtandil Kentchadze (GEO) would be a war of attrition. Down 5-0 to Kentchadze early into the 2nd period, Salkazanov became a man possessed. Kentchadze, assured of his own victory, was in no state of worry even as Salkazanov got two pushouts and a failed challenge call against Kentchadze. An aggressive Kentchadze kept charging forward, determined to pull ahead of Salkazanov, but the Slovakian matched his best offense with impeccable defense and grit. Salkazanov kept coming and kept coming, with Kentchadze having no answer for the continued pressure of the Slovakian. In the turning point of the match, Salkazanov breaks through Kentchadze to a body lock and runs the Georgian out of bounds for a stepout to make the score 5-4 and you see a wayward glance from Kentchadze to his coaches and a hurried gasp for breath of a man who knows his time has come. In the waning seconds of the match, Salkazanov made the score 5-5 with only 15 seconds left on the clock. Salkazanov, sensing that victory is at hands, continues to charge forward and runs Kentchadze towards the edge and with the fleeing Georgian called for passivity, Salkazanov would punch his way into the semifinals with a 6-5 win to get the chance to face Russian Nationals runner-up #6 Razambek Zhamalov (RUS).
Continuing the trend of his past matches against Chamizo and Kentchadze, Salkazanov fell behind Zhamalov 4-0 at the end of the first period. Having wrestled Zhamalov before at the 2020 Individual World Cup and knowing how the talented Chechen's mat control, Salkazanov knew he had to get on the attack right away and got in on an elbow post head-inside single within the first ten seconds of the match, but wasn't able to finish against the defense of Zhamalov. Timing a Zhamalov club, Salkazanov was able to time another head inside single and, with Zhamalov doing the splits, was able to secure a stepout and his first point of the match to make the score 4-1 with under two minutes left.
Hard handfighting continued between Salkazanov and Zhamalov and Zhamalov was able to set up an overunder body lock and walkout by Salkazanov for a step out to go up 5-1. With Zhamalov fading, Salkazanov was able to get in again on a head-inside single and converted this time for his first takedown of the match to cut the lead to 5-3. Another elbow-post double from Salkazanov was brought up to an underhook by Zhamalov and Salkazanov sprinted through him to the edge to earn a controversial takedown off a Zhamalov headstand counter. A failed Zhamalov challenge gave Salkazanov a 6-5 lead and a cool head to fend off a late charge from Zhamalov secured him the spot in the European finals. The gold medal was a foregone conclusion for Salkazanov in his finals match against Miroslav Kirov (BUL) as after a 2-0 feeling out opening period, Salkazanov exploded through an underhook knee pick for four and a gut wrench to go up 8-0. A head inside single finished the match 10-0 for Salkazanov and secured his European gold medal.
Having put together the tournament of his life at the European championships and cemented himself as a serious medal contender in the Tokyo Olympics, Salkazanov still had the task of qualifying for Tokyo at the World Olympic Qualifier. Zurab Kapraev (ROM) and a 6-4 revenge win over Alipasha Umarpashaev (BUL) put Salkazanov in the semifinals of the World Olympic Qualifier against past Russian National champion #2 Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov (BLR).
It isn't often at the highest level between two of the best in the world that you see a real clinic. Salkazanov was on the wrong side of a clinic in counter wrestling administered by Kadimagomedov. Overhook shucks, massive chest wraps and deft scrambling put together an absolutely punishing, one-sided 12-4 loss for Salkazanov and stomped his dreams of a medal in Tokyo into dust.
As his final warm-up competition before the Senior world championships in Oslo, Salkazanov competed at the Alexander Medved Prize Tournament. Making the semis, he faced off against 2019 Intercontinental Cup runner-up Magomed Dibirgadzhiev (RUS). A close match with Salkazanov leading late, a last-second ankle pick for Dibirgadzhiev would secure the victory for Dibirgadzhiev and continue Salkazanov's fall from grace after his European conquest.
Oslo would be a chance at redemption for Salkazanov and to prove he was better than just a flash in the pan from Euros. A rubber match against Alipasha Umarpashaev went the way of Salkazanov in a 3-0 clash to set up a quarterfinal bout against Russian standout #7 Timur Bizhoev (RUS). Bizhoev, an absolute master at neutralizing his opponent's offense with exceptional handfighting and mat control, on paper was a terrible matchup for Salkazanov, as he would prevent any chances of the talented Slovakian breaking his hands head defense and neutralized any of the big offensive flurries that Salkazanov had used to power his way through Euros.
Odds and predictions are but kindling to fuel the fire of a man hellbent on achieving a goal. Even with the supposed superiority of Bizhoev and trailing 2-1 with 5 seconds left on the clock stuck underneath Bizhoev in a front headlock, Salkazanov exploded through on a short duck, picking up and carrying Bizhoev out of bounds for an amazing comeback 2-2 win on criteria.
Late match heroics and heart-pounding comebacks weren't needed in his semifinals bout against #10 Avtandil Kentchadze (GEO) as three step-outs and a double leg at the end of the match sealed Salkazanov's second Senior world medal and his first finals appearance. Against Olympic bronze medalist and reigning two-time 79 KG world champion #3 Kyle Dake (USA), Salkazanov was outgunned throughout and an ankle pick to a navy finish to a pair of gut wrenches spelled the end of Salkazanov's gold medal chances as he fell to the American 7-2.
Salkazanov's spot as the most improved wrestler of the year not only comes from elite wins over World/Olympic medalists in #5 Frank Chamizo (ITA), #6 Razambek Zhamalov (RUS), #7 Timur Bizhoev (RUS) and #10 Avtandil Kentchadze (GEO), but his ability throughout the year to overcome setbacks and adversity and come back better from it. Coming off the high of his European title that was followed by a thrashing by Kadimagomedov and a close loss to Dibirgadzhiev, Salkazanov came back dialed in for world's and scored his most clutch comeback of his career against Bizhoev. And showing he's no longer just a close match, but a person who can really break away and beat the best in the world consistently is the reason why I picked Taimuraz Salkazanov as my most improved wrestler of the year.
Best Match of the Year: #8 Abdulmazhid Kudiev (RUS) vs. #16 Erik Arushanian (UKR), 65 KG U-23 European Championships Finals.
Before even entering the U-23 European championships, Kudiev and Arushanian had already cemented themselves as premier prospects at 65 KG. Arushanian made his name off a Junior world title at 70 KG over Vasile Diacon (MDA), before taking bronze at the Senior European championships in 2020 at 65 KG. While Kudiev lacked the international notoriety of Arushanian, his impressive bronze medal finish at Senior Russian Nationals that saw him upset two-time medalist #9 Murshid Mutalimov (RUS) and tech falling two-time 61 KG national runner-up Ramazan Ferzaliev (RUS) cemented his status as a legitimate contender.
Both Kudiev and Arushanian were dominant on their way to the finals, with both men winning all their matches by tech fall or pin. The match between the two would begin with a feeling-out process and as Arushanian got a passivity point against Kudiev, he perfectly timed the Russian's pressure to a high drag off a 2-1 to get the first takedown of the match and go up 3-0. Kudiev responded with a stepover on a failed Arushanian gut wrench to cut the score to 3-2 to end the first period.
The second period had no feeling-out process between the two as they clashed right off the whistle. Arushanian caught Kudiev charging in on a step-around knee block, threw off a shot and countered with a cross ankle pick to further his lead to 5-2 as he continued to exploit the unfettered forward aggression of Kudiev. A wild scramble ensued as Kudiev turned back into Arushanian and got up to his feet; with Arushanian having a single up in the air, he used a small cut back to get free before attempting a shot and giving up another takedown to make the score 7-2 Arushanian lead.
The second half of the second period would begin with Kudiev earning his first takedown of the match off an underhook throwby to a bodylock to cut Arushanian's lead to 7-4. Countering Arushanian's 2-1, Kudiev used a back-step single and was blown back up to his feet after no action. With his hips back and leaning forward, Kudiev pressed his way forward to an over-under bodylock, perfectly setting himself up for a HUGE headlock for 4 from Arushanian to push the Ukrainian's lead to 11-4. Kudiev jumping right back into the fray, uses a short outside step duck and locks up a his own headlock and sends Arushanian FLYING to answer back with his own 4 point move and cut the score to 11-8.
After both men's wild exchange trading headlocks, the match's pace started to slow in the final seconds and with Kudiev pressing in again for a bodylock, Arushanian timed a smart low double to extend his lead to 13-8. Kudiev, sensing the stakes at hand, pushed forward and used a misdirection duck to score the final takedown of the match to make the final score 13-10 Arushanian.
What earned Kudiev/Arushanian the distinction of match of the year was two things. One was that they're both elite wrestlers near the top of the weight class in an evenly matched contest. The second one is the quality of action that went down with both men absolutely going to war. From trading headlocks to Kudiev's late attacks and Arushanian's brilliant counters, the match had it all. Sure, you could have higher-ranked guys in higher stakes matches than the U-23 European finals, but when the bouts are 3-2 or 4-2 and the most you're getting is a passivity point and stepout based match, as good the guys may be, that's not what wins match of the year.
Wrestler of the Year: #1 (74) Zaurbek Sidakov (RUS)
Simply put, Sidakov was the best there was in the best weight class in the world all year. Coming into 2021 after a disappointing bronze medal finish at 2020 Russian Nationals from his upset loss to Khetag Tsabolov (SRB), Sidakov had to prove himself at Russian Nationals if he wanted to win his third World/Olympic title. Sidakov won close matches against #7 Timur Bizhoev (RUS) and #8 Magomed Kurbanaliev (RUS) to set up the highly anticipated finals match against returning national champion #6 Razambek Zhamalov (RUS).
The match against Zhamalov had been building up since the 2020 Russian Nationals. Zhamalov was the uncrowned king in Russia, a pound-for-pound talent with incredible wins over world medalists #2 Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov (BLR), #4 Taimuraz Salkazanov (SVK), #5 Frank Chamizo (ITA), #6 (70) David Baev (RUS), #7 Timur Bizhoev (RUS), #8 Magomed Kurbanaliev (RUS) and #9 Magomedrasul Gazimagomedov (RUS). The match meant so much for both men; the chance for Zhamalov to stake his claim as king of the hill against the reigning two-time world champion Sidakov and compete for Olympic gold and, for Sidakov, the chance to retake his spot in the top and further his argument as one of the greatest 74 KG wrestlers of all time with a third World/ Olympic title in Tokyo.
Leading Sidakov 2-0 after a stepout and a passivity point going into the final 30 seconds of the match, Zhamalov looked to have taken his spot as Russia's new leader at 74 KG. An extended shot from Sidakov was able to score a pushout with 10 seconds left on the clock to cut the lead to 2-1 for Zhamalov. Channeling yet another last-second come from behind win that defined his world title runs in 2018 & 2019, Sidakov managed to get a final pushout with 3 seconds left on the clock to take the 2-2 lead on criteria and fend off a hard-charging Zhamalov to win his third career Russian National title and reclaim his top spot at 74 KG and pound-for-pound.
Coming off titles at Russian Nationals in March and the Sassari tournament in June, Sidakov came into the Tokyo Olympics as the favorite to win gold for the Summer Olympics. Having already proven himself against Russia's best at 74 KG, Sidakov was well prepared for what was to come in Tokyo. With tech fall wins over Daniyar Kaisanov (KAZ) and Augusto Midana (GBS) and a 13-6 quarterfinal win over #20 Bekzod Abdurakhmanov (UZB) sandwiched between them, Sidakov was able to make the Olympic finals against an old foe in Belaruse's #2 Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov.
Kadimagomedov had been wrestling the best tournament of his life on his way to the Tokyo Olympic finals. An opening round 12-8 win over four-time world medalist Geandry Garzon (CUB) put him in the quarterfinals against reigning two-time 79 KG #3 world champion Kyle Dake (USA). Dake was seen as Sidakov's toughest challenge, outside of Russia, and given a very real chance to unseat the North Ossetian standout. Any chance Dake had of beating Sidakov was forgotten after the absolute thrashing that Kadimagomedov put on him, countering Dake time and time again for an 11-0 tech fall victory. Two-time world champion #5 Frank Chamizo (ITA) would be Kadimagomedov's final test before his chance at a rubber match against Sidakov, and a clutch reversal from Kadimagomedov earned him the 9-7 victory over Chamizo and a chance at Olympic gold over Sidakov.
The 7-0 final score of the Olympic Finals match between Sidakov and Kadimagomedov was deceptive because it doesn't accurately portray just how neck-and-neck the match was. Sidakov had transformed himself into Kadimagomedov's kryptonite since their last meeting at the 70 KG Russian Nationals in 2017. Sidakov did this by being able to constantly readjust himself when he is on a shot against Kadimagomedov and avoid the Belarusian's match ensign counters and force Kadi to take the initiative in the match where Sidakov held the upper hand. Considering they're both even on scrambling, Sidakov showing Kadimagomedov he could handle his best counters and still come out unscathed, puts the initiative on Kadimagomedov to go on the attack. A 3-0 lead for Sidakov off a passivity point and takedown extended to a 5-0 lead after exposure off a cradle against a Kadimagomedov and a focused Sidakov iced off his Olympic finals match with two step-outs to take the 7-0 victory and walk away with gold.
To cap off his history-making year, Sidakov competed in December at the Alrosa Cup in a rematch of the Olympic finals against #2 Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov (BLR). In what was a nearly identical match to their encounter in Tokyo, Sidakov won 6-1 this time, scoring a takedown and gut wrench along with two step-outs to Kadimagomedov's lone step out of the match.
Sidakov's ability to come up clutch time and time again against the cream of the crop at 74 KG has earned him the well-deserved distinction of wrestler of the year. While #1 (97) Abdulrashid Sadulaev (RUS) may have more World/Olympic titles, then Sidakov with seven compared to Sidakov's three, but when you look at the superior quality of competition of Sidakov beating the likes of Zhamalov, Chamizo, Kadimagomedov, and Burroughs in the past quad over Sadulaev's competition of Snyder and Sharifov gives him the right to the top spot over Sadulaev.
Performance of the Year: #2 Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov (BLR) Olympic Finals Run at 74KG.
Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov has been a persistent force but has never been able to put together a full run at a World/Olympic championships until 2021. A Russian Nationals title in 2017 at 70 KG and a European title in 2020 at 79 KG were his career-best highlights going into 20201 with wins over the likes of #1 Zaurbek Sidakov (RUS), #1 (70) Magomedmurad Gadzhiev (POL), #5 (86) Magomed Ramazanov (RUS) and #9 Magomedrasul Gazimagomedov (RUS) to bolster his credit as a bonafide title contender.
Except, Kadimagomedov never put it all together with his sole world championships appearance for Russia being soiled by a quarterfinals loss to Yakup Gor (TUR) that eliminated him and for Belarus as the #1 wrestler in the world in 2020 at the 79 KG Individual World Cup, he had to settle for bronze after a loss to #5 (79) Akhmed Usmanov (RUS). Kadimagomedov had developed the unwanted reputation of a high-class choke artist, flying close to the sun but always crashing back down.
2021 was a year of unprecedented consistency for Kadimagomedov and save for an early hiccup at the European Olympic Qualifier that saw him eliminated in the quarterfinals by Alipasha Umarpashaev (BUL), Kadimagomedov was a changed man through and through. The European Olympic Qualifier was the first view of what Kadimagomedov would bring to the table in Tokyo. Wins over 2014 65 KG world bronze medalist Mihail Sava (MDA), 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Soner Demirtas (TUR) and #12 (79) Arsalan Budazhapov (KGZ) were nice, but the real target was in the semifinals against reigning European champion #4 Taimuraz Salkazanov (SVK). Salkazanov had just come off the tournament of his life at the European championships with wins over past world champions #5 Frank Chamizo (ITA), #6 Razambek Zhamalov (RUS), and #10 Avtandil Kentchadze (GEO).
Sure, Kadimagomedov was a live wire and could be dangerous to Salkazanov, but the winning machine with ice in his veins that was Salkazanov that pulled off upset after upset in Warsaw wasn't supposed to be fazed by a choke artist like Kadimagomedov. This was Salkazanov's time and Kadimagomedov was wasting it.
The match that unfolded between Salkazanov and Kadimagomedov was a masterclass. A far cry from the close quarter triumphant slugfests that carried Salkazanov to European gold, this match belonged solely to Kadimagomedov, who flawlessly played the role of matador to the bull that was Salkazanov. Rib cracking chest wraps flung Salkazanov across the mat and deftly timed overhook shucks sent the Slovakian standout crashing to the mat while Kadimagomedov barely broke a sweat. After all was said and done, the man who was but an afterthought held the world at attention with a 12-4 dismantling of the lauded Salkazanov.
Tokyo defied all expectations for Kadimagomedov. Put on the same side as two-time world champions Kyle Dake (USA) and Frank Chamizo (ITA), Kadimagomedov was discounted from the start. There's no way he can defend Dake's upper body power and strength; he'd be lucky to make it out alive. Chamizo won't fall for his counters; Kadimagomedov can't scramble with him.
Pressure can change a man in ways he cannot foresee. Some shatter under the weight of uncertainty and loss of control, while others transform and become something more, something greater than before. Kadimagomedov was a man defined by the latter and nowhere was this more clear than his absolute thrashing of Kyle Dake. Unfazed by the aggression and power of the American legend, Kadimagomedov was ahead at every turn and diffused the man formerly known as Kid Dynamite for an 11-0 tech fall victory. Frank Chamizo was a different puzzle for Kadimagomedov to solve and while the Cuban fought tooth and nail against the Belarusian, Kadi would show out again, outscrambling the scrambling savant Chamizo for a last-second exposure and the 9-7 win to make the Olympic finals.
Against top-ranked Zaurbek Sidakov, Kadimagomedov was a game but outmatched opponent, no longer the matador as he was against Salkazanov and Dake or the gunslinger quick to draw as he was against Chamizo. Against the caliber of Sidakov, Kadimagomedov was brought back down to Earth and made human again in a 7-0 loss and relegated to Olympic silver.
Even ending his year without gold, Kadimagomedov's career transformation in 2021 makes him deserving of the performance of the year. In the toughest weight class in the world, Kadimagomedov's ability to outclass and dominate a pound-for-pound standout the likes of Kyle Dake and to still maintain the composure to outscramble Frank Chamizo to a clutch win make for me the biggest career turnaround and performance of the year.
Upset of the Year: #1 Hassan Yazdani Charati (IRI) over #2 David Taylor at the 86 KG World Championships Finals
As a man with the modest title of "The Greatest," Hassan Yazdani Charati of Iran has a prestigious reputation to maintain. A 3x World/Olympic champion with an Olympic title in 2016 at 74 KG and world titles at 86 KG in 2017 and 2019, Yazdani should have clearly been seen as the consensus best 86 KG in the world, hands down. There was no question that he was indeed The Greatest, right? Even for all that he had done, Yazdani's performance. through the 2017-2021 quad were always defined by David Taylor, even in his absence.
The 2017 world championships saw Yazdani lauded for his dominance over the field, but critics were quick to point out his inability to beat David Taylor at the World Cup and took to appointing Taylor, the uncrowned king of 86KG. 2018 saw the rematch between Yazdani and Taylor in the opening round of the World Championships and it would again be Taylor triumphing over Yazdani, this time on his way to claiming world gold. 2019 saw Taylor absent from the world championships as he was sidelined with a knee injury. It wouldn't be until their rubber match in Tokyo this year that Yazdani would get his chance at revenge, and leading Taylor throughout, the Iranian was struck with tragedy as Taylor capitalized on a clutch late double leg to secure Olympic gold and shatter Yazdani's dream of a second Olympic title.
The world championships in Oslo saw Yazdani and Taylor on a collision course for each other. Both men dominated their respective brackets to set up their final meeting of the quad and the world watched with bated breath. Would it be Taylor who would claim the last title of the quad as his, or would it be Yazdani who would finally fulfill his title as the greatest? A focused and driven Yazdani was in the driver's seat throughout the whole match, denying Taylor any chance or establishing an offensive rhythm and bullying the American across the mat. Yazdani's fourth world title and closure against Taylor were achieved by a 6-2 victory. Yazdani wins the honor of upset of the year for reversing three past losses to Taylor and re-establishing himself as the king of the 86 KG weight class.
Breakout of the Year: Gable Steveson, 125 KG Olympic Champion.
Gable Steveson has had the wrestling world's attention at every stage in his career. Three age-group world titles, an NCAA title, a Final X runner-up finish in 2019. Wrestling with technique surpassing even the best lightweight wrestlers in the world combined with once-in-a-generation raw power and athleticism. When Gable finally made the Olympic team by beating two-time world bronze medalist #9 Nick Gwiazdowski (USA) in two straight matches, all eyes were on him to breakthrough in Tokyo and cashed in on the massive potential he had.
Gable's run to the Olympic finals redefined the state of the heavyweight division. What had been a two-person race between three-time World/Olympic champion #3 Taha Akgul (TUR) and three-time world champion #2 Geno Petriashvili (GEO) was broken wide open by Gable. In a true passing of the guard moment, Gable dominated the reigning Olympic champion #3 Taha Akgul (TUR) in an 8-0 shutout and followed it up with a 5-0 win over world bronze medalist #10 Lkhagvagerel Munkhtur (MGL). Awaiting him in the finals was reigning three-time world champion #2 Geno Petriashvili (GEO), who overcame adversity time and time again to pull away as the clear winner of the quad from 2017-2019. What ensued was an amazing match that saw Gable dominate early, but Petriashvili pulled back later with a pair of exposures to take an 8-5 lead in the closing moments of the match. Sensing the importance of the moment he was in, Gable went to another level and scored two back-to-back takedowns over the Georgian legend along with a failed challenge from Petriashvili to walk away with the 10-8 victory and Olympic gold. Gable's career-defining performance that saw him unseat the two kings of the heavyweight division rightfully earned him the award for breakout of the year.
Comeback of the Year: Gable Steveson's 125 KG Olympic Finals Match against #2 Geno Petriashvili (GEO)
Gable Steveson had his sights set on taking the title of king of the heavyweight division in Tokyo and having already beaten the reigning Olympic champion #3 Taha Akgul (TUR), he only had one man left standing in his way. Three-time world champion #2 Geno Petriashvili (GEO) had established himself as the premier heavyweight of the quad with world titles in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and, time after time, set the standard for heavyweight.
In a battle of heavyweight supremacy to lay claim to the most coveted title in wrestling, Gable was the one to strike first, running out a decisive lead over Petriashvili with incredible takedowns that showcased the speed and technical mastery of a man half his size. Petriashvili, as game as they come, regained control of the match and pulled ahead with a pair of counter exposures to take the 8-5 lead with short time left in the match. In an absolutely unreal turn of events, Gable was able to earn two takedowns with less than seconds on the clock to take the 9-8 victory that was 10-8 after a failed Petriashvili challenge. Steveson's ability to overcome massive adversity and pull off a career-defining upset win in the closing seconds of a match against the caliber of an opponent like Petriashvili rightfully earns him the award of comeback of the year.