While it came as no surprise, David Baev’s 2019 World Championship gold medal run at 70 kg marked the beginning of what could be a glorious middleweight reign. Seth Petarra has dubbed him “The Young King David Baev (YKDB)”, and I think that’s wonderful.
Prior to Worlds, 2015 & 2018 World champion Magomedrasul Gazimagomedov was ruled out of the picture after bumping up to 74 kg and failing to make the team. 2017 World champion Zurabi Iakobishvili was the next strongest contender for the title in 2019, but his form heading into Worlds did not inspire confidence in many. Despite Baev entering Worlds as an analysts’ favorite to win, he still managed to turn heads and surpass expectations.
Baev laid waste to the field, outscoring his five opponents 47-7, with 4 of the points scored against him coming from a single move.
It’s been anything but smooth sailing for the 21-year-old Ossetian, the path from Juniors to Seniors has been laden with World champions and domestic terrors.
Let’s walk through Baev’s journey to a #1 ranking, including a detailed account of his run at the 2019 World Championship.
Origin and Rise
Coming from the combat sports hotbed of the Northern Caucasus, Baev had exposure to wrestling almost immediately.
According to this WrestRus interview, Baev’s father competed as a boxer and wrestler, but did not meet any serious competitive goals himself. Baev is aware that his father wants to live vicariously through his sons (Baev has two brothers) in terms of athletic achievement. Oddly enough, Baev is happy to oblige.
“Apparently, he decided to realize his dream through me (smiling ).
Why do I want to become an Olympic champion? To give pride to my parents. My father and mother want this even more than I…I would like my father to be an Olympic champion.”
Perhaps once fully grasping this mindset around the age of 12 or 13, Baev reported he began to take training seriously, and the results followed.
At age 16, Baev made his major international competitive debut at the 2014 Cadet World Championship, where he won gold. In 2016, Baev bumped up in age groups and began to challenge himself at Junior and Senior-level tournaments.
The 2017 Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix served as a wake-up call for Baev, but it also demonstrated he was not far off from competing with the best seniors in the world. The Yarygin is historically the toughest international freestyle tournament of the season, excluding continental, World or Olympic tournaments. He defeated that year’s Ali Aliev Tournament runner-up, and that year’s Intercontinental Cup bronze medalist before running into a domestic power.
In the quarterfinals, he fell 6-2 to Alan Gogaev. The elder Russian boasts a 2010 Junior World championship and a 2010 Senior World silver medal to go along with his numerous major tournament and continental championship placements. He would go on to earn bronze at the 2017 Yarygin, losing only to Ilyas Bekbulatov, who has won five out of six tournaments he attended since 2017, including two Yarygin titles.
The point being, Baev was clearly a tier below the best in Russia.
In just five months, that changed.
2017 Russian National Championships and Beyond
Competing in the Republic of Ingushetia, Baev worked through two unremarkable wrestlers to find himself in the quarterfinals, where he met a decorated champion.
Magomed KURBANALIEV (RUS)
Magomed Kurbanaliev is a treasure, you might remember his amazing Alans match with 2018 & 2019 World champion Zaurbek Sidakov at the 2017 Alans, highlighted here in this Sidakov career breakdown.
He has a penchant for making matches exciting, dramatic, even weird, at times. But each time out, he draws out world-level wrestling exchanges from the best of the best.
In this match, Baev proved he belonged in that discussion.
Both men were sharp in their setups, mindful in their positioning, crafty in their defense. This is typical of Russian vs. Russian freestyle matches.
This match is special, however, in that both wrestlers opened up completely with their attacks, chaining them together without fearing the consequences. As most Russian wrestlers are trained to re-attack off an opponent’s shot on a hair-trigger, shots are usually set up meticulously, typically over long periods of time. A miscalculation could put you out of position and give your opponent a strong entry.
Kurbanaliev and Baev proved that you can stay on your offense, take real attacks, and still hold position tremendously. Baev matched Kurbanaliev’s physicality and at times proved to be the more powerful athlete between the two, the veteran forced to play with a more slick, reactive style.
After an absolutely insane first period, Baev found his attacks on the edge and took the lead on criteria, holding off Kurbanaliev for a 10-10 win and a trip to the semis.
Unfortunately, in another barnburner, Baev fell 13-17 against another rising age-level prospect in Magomad Dibirgadzhiev.
Baev bounced back and defeated the 2017 Yarygin bronze medalist to take bronze himself, but he was unable to contend for the Senior World team spot with that finish.
As always in wrestling, you get the next best thing. Still fairly young and age-group eligible, Baev represented Russia at the Junior World Championship and won gold, his second World title. He defeated the American Ryan Deakin in the finals. Deakin has had an outstanding career at Northwestern thus far, and beat World medalist James Green this year on the freestyle circuit.
Baev took another crack at making the senior team in 2018, but found himself behind the 2015 and eventual 2018 World champion at 70 kg, Magomedrasul Gazimagomedov. He wrestled back for bronze.
No longer junior-eligible, Baev performed well at the 2018 U23 World Championship, taking silver after losing to Taimuraz Salkazanov, a Russian transfer who took bronze this year up at 79 kg.
Baev proved himself still relevant by winning the 2018 Alans International Tournament, notching his second career victory over Magomed Kurbanaliev in the finals, outplacing international and domestic powers in James Green and Razambek Zhamalov in the process.
David Baev’s 2019
The tournament placement numbers alone may paint a confusing picture, but when you look strictly at match-ups, it’s clear Baev was on the cusp of World gold.
After dominating two-time World medalist James Green 10-2, Baev met Gazimagomedov once again in the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix semifinals.
He fought hard, but ultimately fell 2-2 on criteria. Even so, he proved himself just short of defeating the returning World champion at his weight.
Baev’s prospects looked a little less bright in the bronze match, however, when he lost 8-4 to his countryman Razambek Zhamalov.
Razambek ZHAMALOV (RUS)
Given their results at the toughest tournaments in the world, wrestlers like Zhamalov and Gazimagomedov were angling for #1 rankings at 70 kg. If you haven’t noticed, Russia is pretty tough domestically. If a wrestler manages to break out and make the World team at most competitive weights, they’re a title contender.
On that note, Baev took another domestic loss at the 2019 Ali Aliev in April to Cherman Valiev. Another young Russian upstart, Valiev won 2017 Yarygin silver to stake his claim as one of the best middleweight newcomers. He ended up taking bronze at the Ali Aliev, after losing to Razambek Zhamalov on the front side.
Russian Nationals were only two months away for David Baev. Gazimagomedov was out of the picture (up to 74 kg), but there were still at least two domestic threats at 70 kg that could keep Baev off the team for the third straight year. Something had to give.
2019 Russian National Championship
As luck would have it, Valiev and Zhamalov ended up on the same side of the bracket. Zhamalov punched his ticket to the finals, it was Baev’s job to make it to the rematch.
Standing in his way was Evgeniy Zherbaev.
Outside of the Yarygin and Russian Nationals, Zherbaev sticks to a steady rotation of slightly lower tier tournaments. Zherbaev has consistently medaled and won tournaments like the Dmitri Korkin and Mongolia Open, while failing to place at the Yarygin in two attempts. While Zherbaev was tough in his own domain, Baev was a level above, handling him on his way to the finals.
After an 8-4 loss in their last meeting, Baev had to play the rematch with Zhamalov just right.
Zhamalov preferred to keep the match slow and contested in collar ties, while it benefited Baev to change positions often and keep his opponent’s feet moving.
The more dynamic of the two, Baev knew he could capitalize on Zhamalov’s predictability. Reaching out to collar tie, Baev timed Zhamalov’s tie on the other side, stepping in and reaching under the extended arm of Zhamalov. Getting an outside grip on the lead leg of Zhamalov, Baev ran his feet, turned the corner and blasted Zhamalov toward the outer boundary. Just as Zhamalov planted to keep himself alive, Baev angled the hip high and sent Zhamalov tumbling across his back.
Now Zhamalov had reason to fear the collar ties, giving Baev the space to work his game.
He could club and fake, snapping down Zhamalov and cutting short lateral steps to attack low outside shots.
Up 5-0, Baev was comfortably in the driver’s seat. But, likely doubting his ability to continue putting up points on perhaps the toughest wrestler in the world at 70 kg, Baev played the outside and attempted to shuck off ties and disengage as Zhamalov advanced.
Baev’s attempts to push away kept his arms high, giving Zhamalov the opportunity to underhook and throw-by. To Baev’s credit, he does not hesitate to attack as soon as he feels he may be vulnerable and out of position. Attempting to fight through a bit of a panicked shot, Baev was exposed for two points on the edge. Soon after, Baev reacted to Zhamalov’s advances by shooting low again, leading to another scoring scramble by Zhamalov.
Even when Baev sat tight to hold position, Zhamalov was able to counter his reactions to underhook throw-by or collar tie slide-by. 5-6.
Baev’s mistake was sitting on his lead. That was never his style, he needed to move his feet and get Zhamalov reacting to him.
Getting back to his snaps, Baev chained leg attacks of go-behind attempts and got a clean bite on the leg of Zhamalov, fighting through the tricky hips of his Dagestani opponent to finish a crucial takedown. Better yet, the low leg attack left Baev in a lace position, and he was able to roll through for two more.
While it had to be obvious what Baev’s path to victory was at this point, he was surely exhausted. Zhamalov got back on his offense, hitting the same exact attacks to shrug to Baev’s back. But after the lead tightened to 9-8, Baev felt urgency in his defense, circling off when he changed levels defensively and keeping an angle on Zhamalov.
In spite of Zhamalov’s late, technical onslaught, Baev held on for a 10-10 criteria victory.
He was a Russian national champion for the first time. With no other contenders for the team in sight, Baev was headed to the World championship.
2019 World Wrestling Championship
Check out this preview of the 70 kg weight class written before Worlds
In Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, David Baev would take his talents worldwide.
At this point, his style was established. The Young King thrives while on his offense, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s constantly taking leg attacks.
Short offense is central core of his game. Snapping the head with both hands, hitting short drags off his opponent’s reaching arms, circling off after catching the “Russian” two-on-one grip, or digging for underhooks and throwing by to pick the ankle with his other hand, Baev developed a series of short attacks he could chain together seamlessly on anyone in the world.
Feeling the imminent threat of his short offense, opponents become more and more likely to change levels, take shots of their own or back toward the edge of the mat, only opening further scoring opportunities for Baev.
For the first time at the senior level, Baev could show off his tools against the rest of the world.
David BAEV (RUS) df. Andrei KARPACH (BLR)
Compared to Baev’s competition in Russia, his qualification round matchup was a warm-up.
Andrei Karpach has been active on the international scene, but his only major achievement to speak of is a 2018 European bronze medal. That’s nothing to sneeze at, of course.
The simplicity of Karpach’s style gave Baev regular entry opportunities, he was able to smack down the double reaching hands and shoot under to take an outside single with relative ease.
Baev was able to use his absurd grip strength and drive to run through his knee-pull single and finish on the boundary, much like he did against Zhamalov.
The straight reaches of Karpach had gotten him in trouble, leading the Belorussian to keep his elbows flared, hoping to catch the arms of Baev. All it truly did, was give Baev a window to fake at the hands and dig his underhook, opening up the throw-by.
Current Pitt head coach and multiple time US World team member Keith Gavin actually has some excellent breakdowns on the underhook throw-by, arm drags, and other favorite David Baev tactics. Here’s a short one:
The underhook throw-by would become the tool that carried David Baev through this tournament. Given the speed of his level changes and how much he can do with a shallow outside single, opponents are hesitant to make a move after Baev establishes a tie. Swiftly digging his underhook, Baev pulls the trigger immediately, punching high and forward on the underhook, throwing his opponent forward toward their lead leg, leaving the trail leg behind for Baev to pick.
Literally spamming the throw-by, Baev broke down Karpach’s position and picked him off his feet. Once Karpach felt the match slipping away, he began to attack, opening up the front headlock control and reattacks of Baev, leading to an easy technical fall, 10-0.
David BAEV (RUS) df. Zurabi IAKOBISHVILI (GEO)
If I hadn’t mentioned it yet in this article, the brackets at the 2019 World Championship were drawn poorly. Often, those poor drawings lead to unbalanced brackets, with most of the talent ending up on one side while the home country’s wrestlers had an easier path to the finals.
That’s how you end up with a second round matchup between the tournament favorite and the only returning World medalist from 2018. A 2017 World champion, at that.
Zurabi IAKOBISHVILI (GEO)
Iakobishvili is certainly credentialed, but his style is hard to get excited about. He’s the type of wrestler to wait until a couple of passivity calls are racked up, then take one or two committed attacks late to steal the match. It works well for him, but that style would never fly with David Baev.
While much less willing to engage, Iakobishvili was not impervious to the agile chain attacks of the Young King.
Even when in a four-point stance with his head up, Baev was able to move forward, draw the hands up, snap them down to the mat, step outside and get to his knee pull single.
Instead of driving in with his other hand clothes-lining, Baev picked up and collected the leg of the fleeing Georgian, locking his hands through the crotch from rear standing as Iakobishvili planted and attempted to fight hands.
After steadying himself, Baev scooped the leg back out, shelved it, and shot back in for the remaining ankle.
Even when down on the scoreboard, Iakobishvili refused to open up, drawing enough passivity calls to get him placed in forced par terre. Baev showed off the depth of his game and gut wrenched Iakobishvili from a static starting positioning, an incredibly difficult task, especially for freestyle wrestlers.
The rest of the match was controlled from the same position Baev found his opening score from. Iakobishvili couldn’t change his habits on the fly, and Baev was able to threaten outside singles every time Iakobishvili dropped his level and put his hands on the mat.
When Iakobishvili was finally forced to take his own shots, Baev was there to shuck him by and angle for reattacks. When the clock expired, Baev had outdone himself, 7-0 against a recent World champion and back-to-back medalist.
David BAEV (RUS) df. Ikhtiyor NAVRUZOV (UZB)
Ikhtiyor NAVRUZOV (UZB)
While it was ultimately fleeting and inconsequential, Navruzov’s big moment in this match does highlight a weakness in Baev’s game. For a wrestler with such a well-rounded and active style, this is essential intel.
While a bit past his prime, Navruzov is still a striking physical specimen, and while maintaining a purely defensive style, he was able to resist some of the traditional entries of David Baev.
Throw-by and outside step entires got him shallow bites, but more often than not Baev found himself running into a cement wall. He would have to commit to more low level leg attacks, putting him at risk for counters.
Perhaps not on his own terms, Baev followed the momentum of the powerful Navruzov’s snaps and dropped to his knees for low singles, quickly circling behind for both ankles and converting. Those straight drops seemed to be a good look for Baev, who was struggling to get clean attacks going up until that point. It didn’t hurt that Navruzov was flat footed and clubbing, making him a mark for quick, low attacks.
But Navruzov had a weapon perfect against a wrestler constantly dropping in their stance. Off a Baev level change fake, Navruzov snatched up the head, clamping down for his front headlock. Feeling the iron jaws of the Uzbek, Baev straightened up and back toward the edge, hoping to end this situation sooner than later.
Just as Baev looked to exit the boundary, Navruzov whipped him around, sat to his butt and ripped the headlock back, sending Baev straight back over his heels.
A four point move.
Against other wrestlers with strong front headlock games who could shut down the short offense of Baev like Navruzov could, this type of attack could prove effective. That is very situation specific, far from a glaring weakness.
Fired up by the score, Baev turned up the volume.
Committing to all of his level changes, Baev went hard for his leg attacks, quickly standing with the leg to avoid ending up underneath Navruzov again.
Even when Navruzov went back to the front headlock off Baev’s shot, he stood with the leg and kept Navruzov’s posture straight, largely neutering the attempted head pinch.
Ultimately, Baev put on a show and prevailed 11-5, but the early struggle was noteworthy.
David BAEV (RUS) df. Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL)
A consistent medal threat, Magomedmurad Gadzhiev was clearly in great form at 2019 Worlds. On his way to the semis, he took out two-time World medalist James Green (with a last second score) and 2018 World silver medalist Adam Batirov.
Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL)
While Gadzhiev’s style is basically just as boring as Iakobishvili’s, the Dagestan native’s familiarity with Baev led to another layer of gamesmanship in this match.
Gadzhiev stayed passive, but he couldn’t avoid meaningful contact forever. Eventually the underhook throw-by of Baev lead him to the ankle, but Gadzhiev was able to whizzer hard and kick out.
With the threat of the deep ties established, especially after Baev looked for his slide-by off the collar, Gadzhiev was much more wary of clinch entries off his wrists than shots.
That’s the look Baev needed, off the wrist fight, he stutter stepped to his left, Gadzhiev reactively began to circle to the right, and Baev swung low and outside for a single. Gadzhiev essentially stepped right into Baev’s hands.
Gadzhiev found brief success by once again turning to kick out, but Baev capitalized on every millisecond the Polish representative was out of position, darting back to the ankle before the exchange could end.
Testing the flexibility of Gadzhiev’s knee, Baev was able to circle behind while painfully cranking the leg to finally convert on what would have been a crucial takedown. The exchange seemed to have been blown dead due to potential danger before Baev could officially score.
It was still 1-1 with under one minute to go, criteria favored Gadzhiev.
Baev wasted no time, combining his chained attacks with misdirection to throw Gadzhiev into confusion, and out of position.
He swung low to his right off the wrist, began to rise to his feet before abruptly looking to superduck under and behind Gadzhiev. The sudden motion spurred Gadzhiev to action, and the reactive level change by the Dagestani put him on his knees, a mark for Baev’s short offense.
Instantly Baev was on the head and circling, hitting his outside step and reaching for his knee-pull single as Gadzhiev rose back to his feet. Sliding down the knee and collecting the ankle, Baev turned the corner and disrupted the base of Gadzhiev, knocking him to his butt. Baev covered the hips, locked his hands and planted Gadzhiev flat on the mat with authority.
This takedown could not be denied. 3-1, Baev.
The icing on the cake? Gadzhiev had no choice but to attack with 30 seconds remaining, allowing Baev to easily counter and score again, with what would have been his third hard-earned takedown.
David BAEV (RUS) df. Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ)
Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ)
Finally, the coronation.
Against the hometown kid, David Baev took the mat with regal confidence.
To reach the finals, Kaipanov only had one opponent of note to go through, current #14 Younes Emamichoghaei of Iran. While Emami is tough, Kaipanov has had his number as of late, it was as close to a softball as you can get in the World semifinals. I had mentioned the representatives from Kazakhstan had markedly easier brackets in many divisions, this is one such example.
But Nurkozha Kaipanov is no ordinary Kazakh. A newcomer to the international scene, Kaipanov has made a quick fan of me with his crazy hips and exhilarating scrambles. An exceedingly difficult wrestler to score on with leg attacks, Baev’s upper body short offense would have to be on point.
Proving his balance and poise, Kaipanov responded to the slide-by attempts of Baev with some collar shrugs of his own, sending the message that he was not to be trifled with from short offense or upper body positions.
Stuck on bottom of front headlock, Baev tried to mix it up (in the World finals?!), channeling his inner Abdulrashid Sadulaev and rolling across his back while blocking what would be the posting arm of Kaipanov.
Feeling the hips of Baev turn to the sky, Kaipanov was on him instantly, grabbing onto the head and looking to grapevine the legs. He could pin the Russian for a World title right then and there.
For one moment, Baev was in serious danger.
Thankfully, the momentum of Baev’s maneuver was still fresh, he had enough space on his side to continue to squirm and find his way to a hip, grabbing a single on Kaipanov and turning in. With Baev’s head stuck underneath his hips, Kaipanov threatened for another exposure, but the young Russian based on his own head and gripped the inside of the leg of Kaipanov, keeping his base stable enough to avoid exposing, collecting two points of his own instead.
From there, no more new tricks, it was all business.
Showing off his par terre offense once again, Baev attacked a high gut wrench and angled himself underneath Kaipanov, prying him off the mat to roll through for a two-point exposure.
Next, the exact tactics that took him through his first match of the tournament, push off the reaching hands and duck for the outside single. This time Baev finished with vicious intent, immediately redirecting and clothes-lining Kaipanov, violently slamming his back to the mat for four points. Another gut wrench made it a 10-2 match.
Smelling blood, Baev dropped off the collar tie and got right back to his outside single, once again redirecting and finishing on the head. David Baev put Kaipanov on his back for the technical fall and earned his crown.
Is the Young King headed for Tokyo in 2020?
As 70 kg is a non-Olympic weight class, the question for David Baev is, up or down?
At 65 kg, one of the greatest wrestlers in Russia, 2019 World champion Gadzhimurad Rashidov is waiting at the top.
At 74 kg, back-to-back World champion and P4P #2 Zaurbek Sidakov rules. That’s not to mention all the talented wrestlers moving into those weights for 2020, like Gazimagomedov at 74 kg and 2016 Olympic champion Soslan Ramonov at 65 kg.
I had heard that Baev walks around not far above 70 kg, so for his size, 65 kg would be the logical move. But Baev has long expressed a desire to continue getting bigger and stronger, and there are reports from the Ossetian coaches that Ramonov will be at 65, and Baev will be at 74.
Ivan is one of the most reliable sources around when it comes to Russian wrestling. I buy it.
Which means, the contenders for the 2020 Russian World team at 74 kg will be: Zaurbek Sidakov, David Baev, Magomedrasul Gazimagomedov, and Magomed Kurbanaliev.
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