Heading into the 2019 World Wrestling Championship, Gadzhimurad Rashidov was considered by many to be the uncrowned king at 65 kg — the toughest weight of the tournament by far. It was a testament to what the 24-year-old Dagestani has been able to do in a relatively short career.
Beginning his freestyle wrestling training at 6-years-old under his father, Rashidov moved away as a teen to train at the academy of 1997 Kuramagomed Kuramagomedov.
The switch paid off, and in 2011 Rashidov won his first Cadet World championship over future Olympic champion Hassan Yazdanicharati. Even from an early age, the style of Rashidov captivated audiences. You’d be hard pressed to find a wrestler as graceful as Rashidov, one who can find comfort in rhythmic, nearing slow-motion patterns before blitzing in aesthetic, coordinated flurries. His lights-out defense and efficient leg attacks both from space and off short offense made him frustratingly difficult to predict, let alone score upon.
A repeat gold medal performance in 2012 signaled that it was time for Rashidov to challenge himself outside of his age group.
Rashidov performed admirably at the senior level at the prestigious Ali Aliev Tournament, where he earned bronze at 55 kg in 2012 after losing to another hungry youth wrestler in Ismail Musukaev – a name you’ll be hearing a few times in this article.
Perhaps not quite ready for the best seniors in Russia, Rashidov took a year off, then stayed in his age group and competed at the Junior World Championship the next two years. Bronze performances in the 2014 and 2015 Junior Worlds showed Rashidov was far from a finished product, and at the senior level he was promising but inconsistent, failing to medal at the 2014 Ali Aliev and losing in the bronze match at the 2015 Ivan Yarygin.
He needed more seasoning, but with the Olympic year approaching, Rashidov once again headed out to the toughest regular-season tournament around – the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix.
Gadzhimurad Rashidov’s Senior-Level Career
2016 Ivan Yarygin
Rashidov started his run by defeating Viktor Rassadin, who would reach the finals of the Russian National Championship just a few short months later. Most of Rassadin’s success has come at the Dmitri Korkin tournament, which typically attracts a handful of domestic hammers. Today Rassadin is still around the same caliber, keeping his Korkin medal-streak alive.
Viktor RASSADIN (RUS)
He followed that win with another over a rising domestic contender, the Siberian Khoresh-Ool Donduk-Ool (incredible name.)
While Donduk-Ool really broke through in 2015, ranked #15 as of October, he was active and medaling at the Dmitri Korkin as well as competitive tournaments in Northeast Asia for years.
Rashidov’s bid for gold ended in the semifinals against an established veteran in Aleksandr Bogomoev, the World Championship representative for Russia in 2014 and 2015.
#7 Aleksandr BOGOMOEV (RUS)
Bogomoev was not yet a major World title threat, but he was exactly the type of wrestler Rashidov would have to beat, routinely, if he wanted to make the Russian World or Olympic team.
To finish out his tournament Rashidov held off 2013 Korkin champion and 2014 Yarygin silver medalist Vladimir Flegontov to win bronze. He clearly had room to grow, but it was Rashidov’s best senior-level performance yet.
2016 European Championship
Continental championships vary in their difficulty, Euros are typically the toughest, sometimes behind the Asian Championship depending on the weight and who shows up. Most of the time it is safe to assume a field like the Yarygin, flooded with Russians, is more difficult than a continental tournament where each country can only send one wrestler per weight.
Rashidov dispatched a field of solid but unremarkable wrestlers on his way to the European title, his most impressive wins coming over current #20 Georgi Vangelov and Ukraine’s Andrey Yatsenko, a perennial tournament threat who finally broke through in 2017 with his World bronze performance at 57 kg.
Rashidov’s well-timed bursts of agility overwhelmed Yatsenko, who could not find finishes on his own attacks due to the incredible positioning of the Russian.
Rashidov appeared to be in position to contend for the Russian team, but losses to the soon-to-be Olympic champion Vladimir Khinchegashvili and 2013 World champion Hassan Rahimi took some air out of his sails.
The 2016 Olympic team selection process for Russia was infamously suspect. Despite several strong choices, the Russian Federation sent Viktor Lebedev, who was defeated at Russian Nationals. You can read more on Lebedev in this Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez career breakdown.
2017 Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix
Older, stronger, and up to 61 kg, Gadzhimurad Rashidov wrestled with purpose in 2017.
His first victim was the American Cody Brewer, a four-time Division 1 All-American for the University of Oklahoma. It was a dominating 12-1 technical fall, the first in a series of wins over high-profile Americans in Rashidov’s career. He would soon earn the nickname, “The All-American Killer.”
Next Rashidov would add an impressive scalp to his collection in dominant fashion – 2013 World champion Bekkhan Goygereyev.
Bekkhan GOYGEREYEV (RUS)
In the finals he met his countryman Akhmed Chakaev, it would be the beginning of a contentious rivalry between the two. Chakaev had just returned from the 2016 non-Olympic World Championship, the alternative tournament for 61 and 70 kg. He won bronze after losing to four-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber.
A master of counters, especially the chest wrap, Chakaev won on criteria, 2-2 in the Ivan Yarygin finals to send Rashidov home with bronze.
Rashidov used his U23 eligibility to face slightly more forgiving competition at the European Championship, cleaning up with ease in preparation for the Russian team selection.
2017 Russian Nationals
Part of what makes winning in Eastern Europe so difficult is that you’re often running into the same athletes at every major competition.
On that note, at the 2017 Russian National Championship, Gadzhimurad Rashidov’s three major challenges were all rematches.
First up was Bekkhan Goygereyev, who was much more competitive than at the Yarygin. Rashidov got by with a 2-1 decision.
Then it was time for revenge – Rashidov hit Akhmed Chakaev, the last man to defeat him.
#10 Akhmed CHAKAEV (RUS)
Their last match was low scoring, but both men were able to get to their offense this time out.
The power and counters of Akhmed Chakaev clashed with the finesse and footwork of Gadzhimurad Rashidov in this instant classic.
Ultimately it was Rashidov’s superior positioning in high-energy exchanges, the small details, that allowed him to get to underhooks, cut to leg attacks, or circle out away from the boundary and score.
Rashidov had hustle in every flurry to avoid a big move from the larger man Chakaev, but when the dust settled it was an electric 11-8 victory that sent Rashidov to the finals. There he had a tight battle with Viktor Rassadin, defeating the four-time Korkin champion 3-3 on criteria for a national title and a trip to France for Worlds.
2017 World Wrestling Championship
It was Rashidov’s first trip to senior Worlds, and he intended to make it count. These moments are fleeting in Russian wrestling, the depth of each weight threatens to banish elite wrestlers to the domestic circuit every year. World champions do battle for spots on their team on a regular basis, it’s a ruthless scene.
While Rashidov was just 22, this truly could have been his one and only chance.
Qualification Round: Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS) df. Jozsef MOLNAR (HUN)
With no major tournament medals to his name, Hungary’s Molnar was but a warm-up match for the Russian representative.
Pressuring on the inside, Molnar did his best to keep the match slow and away from open exchanges where Rashidov could outmaneuver him, but even there Rashidov was able to make short drops and shrug his way to quick go-behinds. From there, he got to work with his gut wrench. Rashidov is an interesting par terre player, while he can lock his hands for a tight gut and look to swing his way through, he often opts to get a tight waist with one hand, then use the other to block the elbow while he pressures over it. It’s not as useful for continuous scoring, but it works very well in transitions for one exposure as opponents are usually basing out with their arm to avoid going over.
Technical fall, on to the next.
1/8 Final: Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS) df. Logan Jeffery STIEBER (USA)
One of only four four-time Division 1 NCAA champions in history (Pat Smith, Cael Sanderson, Kyle Dake), Logan Stieber’s transition to freestyle was a bit rocky. He suffered criticism due to the vulnerability of his high-volume shooting, which left him exposed to savvy counters on the international circuit. But by 2016 he had found his groove, competing at 61 kg at the non-Olympic World Championship. He defeated men like Akhmed Chakaev and future World champion Beka Lomtadze on his way to a World championship.
But just one year later, he was no match at all for Rashidov.
Just as American fans feared, Stieber’s attacks left him out of position and Rashidov countered beautifully and with impeccable timing, hitting go-behinds or gaining underhooks off shots to find placement for his own offense.
It took Rashidov little more than one period to thrash the collegiate great.
1/4 Final: Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS) df. Vladimir KHINCHEGASHVILI (GEO)
Rashidov’s revenge tour didn’t end at Russian Nationals. After suffering a tough loss to the 2016 Olympic champion at the World Cup, Rashidov was ready to claim his place among the elite when he faced “King Vlad”.
#9 Vladimir KHINCHEGASHVILI
With five World or Olympic medals to his name, Khinchegashvili is truly wrestling royalty.
To beat a fellow patient, flurry-based wrestler in King Vlad, Rashidov had to work off his own half-shots and short offense to incrementally advance his position, working his way to the edge of the mat, to front headlock, or to underhooks.
When Khinchegashvili made his move, chasing the back after a nice slide-by, Rashidov showed off his incredible scrambling and captured the lead leg, getting height and sitting back in to put the two-time Olympic medalist on his back.
With short time left in the match and a sizable lead to make up for, Khinchegashvili realized the stout defense of Rashidov would prevent him from stringing scores together in any conventional sense. Instead, Khichegashvili attempted to throw by off his whizzer, then cartwheeled across the back of Rashidov, releasing his grip and recovering in rear standing, where he immediately planted his feet and arched to attempt to expose Rashidov on a throw
These are the kind of late-match heroics you can expect from a decorated champion, the jaw-dropping maneuvers that earn someone a nickname like “King Vlad”. Fortunately for Rashidov, the sequence was only ruled two points for the Georgian, and Rashidov was able to hang on for a trip to the semifinals.
1/2 Final: Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS) df. Cengizhan ERDOGAN (TUR)
A few years removed from his time as a World medal contender, Turkey’s Erdogan found his way to the semifinals off a fairly forgiving draw.
Cengizhan ERDOGAN (TUR)
The lanky Turk attacked often, giving Rashidov plenty of opportunities to post, circle off and reattack. Even when Erdogan was able to get a slightly advantageous position, Rashidov’s hips and elusive feet guided him to safety, or even to counters.
This might be the fastest Rashidov has ever looked on the edge, perhaps due to the athletic disparity in that area. In that initial sequence, the way he covered distance off the arm drag verged on teleportation.
Final: Haji ALIYEV (AZE) df. Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS)
Sometimes at this level you run into a four-time World and Olympic medalist. You saw it in the Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez breakdown, every once and a while Haji Aliyev shows up to spoil your fun.
#4 Haji ALIYEV (AZE)
A master of getting to short outside single shots without much resistance, Aliyev tested Rashidov’s defense from the opening moments of the match.
Incredible flurries highlighted the first few minutes, short posts and quick outside steps gave both men beautiful reattacking angles, but each time the two world-class athletes were able to circle out and square up.
In fact, the vast majority of the match continued in this fashion. While low-scoring, it was a display of athletic, well-timed setups and god-tier defense from both.
With one minute left, Aliyev snapped Rashidov down then hit a misdirection shot to the left, catching the ankle of the Russian, squaring back up to cover the hip and drive him over. The second Rashidov bellied down to concede the shot, the Azeri champion locked tight around the waist of Rashidov, arched and popped to his left, exposing for two more points off the gut wrench.
In dire need of a big move with less than a minute on the clock, Rashidov clamped through the neck of Aliyev and locked up tight, sitting through to his butt to attempt a feet-to-back head pinch. It was a desperation move, Aliyev moved laterally so that the pressure was only coming from the upper body of Rashidov and covered up, planting the Russian on his back.
Clearly defeated, Rashidov quickly conceded and Aliyev stuck him for the fall.
Rashidov put together a truly impressive tournament and cemented himself as an elite at the weight, but he was still just short of beating the Haji Aliyev’s of the world.
He had come a long way, but there was still much work to be done.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll witness how Gadzhimurad Rashidov became the “World Champ Killer”.
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