Kyle Dake already had his place in history.
Starting as a true freshman, Dake won four consecutive NCAA Division 1 titles, moving up in weight each year.
But as early as his junior season, the Cornell wrestler’s sights were set on international glory. He made a third place run at the 2012 Olympic Trials Challenge Tournament, pinning his rival David Taylor.
He inched closer in 2013, winning the challenge tournament but falling to the reigning Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs in two matches for a spot on the team.
Injuries kept Dake out of action for the majority of the next year, but he returned and performed admirably in 2015, reaching Burroughs just to fall short yet again.
The pressure of the Olympic year sent an undersized Dake up to 86 kg, where he made his best run yet, winning one out of three matches against J’den Cox.
Back down at 74 kg, Kyle Dake won his first match against Jordan Burroughs in 2017. Silencing the doubters after a rough Olympic tournament, Burroughs stormed back and retained his spot.
Since graduating college, Dake had been kept away from the biggest stage in wrestling by a five-time World and Olympic champion in Jordan Burroughs, and now two-time World champion and Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox.
To that point, the prevailing narrative deemed Dake a victim of circumstance.
In Part 1, we gave context to the stellar opponents Dake defeated and struggled against.
His resume was truly impressive in that period, but the strongest motif was disappointment.
Dake’s performances against the elite were scrappy, his highlights were death-defying defensive wonders. What did his future hold? He was too big for 70 kg, and 86 was as deep competitively as it was out of his reach physically.
Opportunity knocked. In 2018, United World Wrestling added two additional weight classes to World Championship competition. 61 kg and 70 kg had already been set for non-Olympic years, but the options at the upper weights were unreasonably spaced. To cover the gap of nearly 25 pounds between 74 kg and 86 kg, a weight-class set at 79 kg (174 pounds) was established. Between 86 and 97 (a similar gap), 92 kg was introduced.
Nations with deep rosters like the United States and Russia benefit tremendously, a greater share of their elite talent could be put to use in winning World medals.
Wearing the weight substantially better than he did at 86, Dake set out for his seventh attempt at representing the United States at a World or Olympic tournament.
2018 Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix and World Cup
Already anticipating a place on the 2018 World team, Dake got to work testing himself against international competition. What better place than the most prestigious in-season tournament around?
Hosted in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia in January, the Yarygin draws top-shelf Russian, Eastern European and West-Asian talent year after year. The bitter cold and sheer competitive intensity makes it one of the toughest environments for foreigners to wrestle in.
There would be no easy matches. Right off the bat Dake hit the Russian Alan Zaseev.
Alan ZASEEV (RUS)
Like many Russians, Zaseev was an expert in using short drags and slide-bys from the collar ties, every engagement in that domain is a risk.
It took less than a minute for Dake to learn what Zaseev was all about, the Russian abruptly pulled the wrist, passed the arm through by grabbing the tricep with his other arm, then quickly stepped outside to get an angle on Dake’s exposed hips.
Instead of shying away from engaging, Dake got to his offense. Getting control inside Zaseev’s elbow, Dake raised the arm of his opponent and shot under for a single to the trail leg, swiftly building his base and lifting to straighten up his opponent and narrow his base.
Most Dake performances against elite opposition involve one or two calculated attacks, then a lot of savvy defense. This time, Dake knew he was in a shootout, he fought fire with fire.
Stuffing a Zaseev shot in front headlock, Dake held on as Zaseev hooked over the arm and pressured in, hoping to turn through and force Dake to his back.
Instead he got a taste of the Functional Patterns strength and conditioning program. The first #DakeBomb of 2018.
Zaseev only grew more aggressive, Dake got to his shots but Zaseev pulled out all the stops to counter him, even attempting a Kolat flip.
The Russian found his scores, but Dake was able to hold onto his lead and win 9-7.
After fighting tooth and nail to get past Zaseev, Dake had to deal with a 2013 World bronze medalist.
#7 Rashid KURBANOV (UZB)
Match footage is unavailable, but Dake handled him with surprising ease, cruising to a 10-0 technical fall to make the finals.
His first two opponents were talented and credentialed, but four-time Yarygin champion Akhmed Gadzhimagomedov was in a class of his own.
Akhmed GADZHIMAGOMEDOV (RUS)
In a way Gadzhimagomedov and Dake were alike. A career 74 kg wrestler, Gadzhimagomedov was largely dominant, but ahead of him were terrors like Denis Tsargush, Aniuar Geduev, Khetik Tsabalov, Magomed Kurbanaliev, and Zaurbek Sidakov.
Gadzhimagomedov is exactly the kind of monster that could finally get a crack at a World title with the addition of 79 kg.
He dominated Kyle Dake in the 2018 Yarygin finals.
Gadzhimagomedov stayed one step ahead the entire match. His entries came just as Dake settled his feet, he was ready to counter Dake’s offense, he never found himself out of position. He stayed poised and pulled the trigger at exactly the right moments.
Even when Dake did get to the legs, Gadzhimagomedov was as stingy and disciplined defensively as anyone Dake had ever seen in the US. By the time Dake realized he could have success with upper body setups before getting to his shots, it was too late.
He fell 8-2.
The US Open loomed, but there was still one major competition ahead before Dake could worry about making the team. The Wrestling World Cup.
One of freestyle’s only dual meet style events, the World Cup hosts teams in two pools. The teams in their respective pool square off in dual meets (one match per weight class), and the teams with the best record from each pool meet in the finals. It’s a wonderful event, even if every team doesn’t always send their best.
There are usually at least two representatives present per weight, so one wrestler doesn’t have to compete in every dual. At 79 kg the United States looked to Kyle Dake as their sole operator. He didn’t disappoint.
Dake kicked off the World Cup with an 11-0 win over India, finishing quickly to conserve his strength.
Next was Japan, who sent out a far more credentialed opponent – 2014 World silver medalist Sosuke Takatani. Dake approached with caution, at the end of the first period there had been zero offensive scoring.
Frustrated, Takatani finally entered on a committed shot, straight on. Dake flexed his hips back and reached over the arms of Takatani, locking his hands together underneath the chest. Those who saw his huge chest wrap against Jordan Burroughs knew what was coming. Dake arched his back and lifted, the feet of his opponent dangling off the mat.
Popping his hips and completing the arch, Dake tossed Takatani over his head for four points. Returning to their feet, Takatani drove in, with Dake still controlling the chest wrap. As they hit the outer boundary, Dake sat back and ripped the lock again, sending Takatani feet to back a second time.
9-0 in a matter of seconds. Japan challenged and lost, giving Dake the point he needed for a technical fall.
Another quick tech over an overmatched Georgian and the United States won their pool, heading to the gold medal dual against Azerbaijan. The Azeri rep was another convert from 74 kg, two-time World and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Jabrayil Hasanov.
#8 Jabrayil HASANOV (AZE)
The “national style” of Azerbaijan is largely defined by their strength and skill from the front headlock position. They can threaten with short offense to hit go behinds, close in for a head pinch or chest wrap, or crush with pressure and sap energy while they hold position.
You don’t want to get stuck under any wrestler from Azerbaijan, but Hasanov represented this style better than anyone.
So of course, Dake was caught in front headlock within 20 seconds.
Hasanov pressured on the shoulder and neck by going “head in the hole”, threatening to essentially choke Dake as he walked his feet toward the ankle. Fortunately, the official recognized the choke and blew the position dead before Hasanov could capitalize.
From then on Dake realized he would have to contend with Hasanov level change for level change, he’d aggressively trade snapdowns and ensure he earned Hasanov’s respect. But it wouldn’t be enough to shut down his offense, Hasanov was able to shuck off the ties of Dake and truck forward to shoot him out of bounds. The physical Azeri was even more of a powerhouse up in weight.
But eventually, Dake found his timing. He could anticipate the clubs of Hasanov and work off the wrists and elbows to get off clean leg attacks, turning the corner quickly or finishing high to avoid getting stuck underneath. Aggravated by the finesse and elusive tactics of Dake, Hasanov made the match as ugly as possible, swiping at Dake’s eyes on numerous occasions while reaching for collars and posting on the head.
At one point, Hasanov went thumb-deep.
Although partially blinded, Dake stayed collected and finished the match, 5-3.
2018 US Open – Slaying “The Lion”
In addition to new weight classes, 2018 marked the debut of “Final X’”, a standalone event to hold the final wrestle-offs during non-Olympic years.
Returning World medalists automatically sat in waiting for that best two out of three series, their challengers would be the champions of the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. At those weights, winning the US Open gave you a bye to the Challenge Tournament finals, but at weights without a returning World medalist, a US Open title meant a ticket to Final X.
This meant that at 79 kg, a new weight, the door was wide open for someone to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity.
While the field was tough, it didn’t hold a candle to the brackets Dake had conquered at both 74 and 86 kg. He outscored his opponents 31-0 on his way to the finals, where he met Alex Dieringer.
Already a three-time NCAA champion and Hodge Trophy winner, Dieringer had finally announced his presence on the international stage, earning a place among the world’s elite at 79 kg. Just two months prior, he too defeated Jabrayil Hasanov at the International Ukrainian Tournament.
Dake had numerous victories over Dieringer, most recently at the 2017 Grand Prix of Paris, but this would be their most contentious match yet.
Used to handfighting with the world’s best, Dake used his pressure early to encourage Dieringer to reach for his collar on the advance, giving him a clear window to level change for his single.
Dieringer’s aggression was tempered, he was more careful tying up with Dake, and time burned off the clock. With only one minute remaining, he made his move. Dieringer pulled on the head, passed the elbow as Dake postured back up then reached to tap the far leg, then pivoted for a committed attack to the near leg.
It was a layered, complicated maneuver, executed in a flash.
Dake hopped, did splits, pulled the knee, brought out all of his defensive tricks to keep Dieringer from finishing, but at the boundary the younger wrestler switched off to a double and lifted out of bounds for two. Cornell challenged and failed, giving Dieringer the 3-2 lead.
With short time on the clock, Dake got right back to the elbow pass entry, driving Dieringer out of bounds for one with the single. 15 seconds remaining.
Dieringer would not go out quietly, and he used heavy snaps to manipulate Dake’s posture and reactions, getting deep on a head outside single, he dropped to the mat and looked to hop over cross body.
Locking through the crotch, Dake timed the hop and exposed Dieringer’s back for two. Dake’s US Open title gave him a bye to Final X, Dieringer would have to make it through the World Team Trials if he wanted another shot at Dake.
2018 Final X
Reportedly injured, Dieringer would not win the Challenge Tournament. He was upset in the finals by a surging college phenom, Arizona State’s national champion Zahid Valencia.
It would be the first meeting between Dake and the prodigious Sun Devil, a 2017 Junior World silver medalist.
In Match 1, Valencia wrestled out of his mind. Knowing Dake’s defense would require nuance to crack, he used committed fakes to draw reactions before taking his true, driving shots.
But finishing on Kyle Dake takes something special. On his butt with Valencia controlling both legs, Dake locked up a steel grip on a chest wrap, lifting Valencia off the ground and creating space for him to get his hips back and legs underneath him. It was an incredible feat of strength.
“Fool me once…” thought Dake, I assume. Next time he saw a strong fake from Zahid, he was on the move, working off the head and reaching arms to chase the go-behind, hitting a huge return to slam Valencia to the mat.
Athletic, technical scrambles persisted, but Dake was consistently able to get to his chest wrap and crotch lock off the shots of Valencia, scoring once and shutting down the rest. Match 1 ended 4-0 for Kyle Dake.
The dynamic of Match 2 was largely similar. Early on, Zahid used his secondary attack to blast through to the legs of Dake, but this time he was able to score on the edge. He continued to fake, but was much more defensively responsible, recovering his stance before Dake could punish.
Ultimately Dake’s superiority in the same positions saw him through, he was able to flatten Valencia’s shots using the chest wrap, then switch off to the crotch lock to expose. Continuing to show his freestyle savvy, Dake followed it up with a tight gut wrench around the waist.
Valencia was in rare form, but Dake was far too powerful and experienced. He won 4-3 and made his first World team. Off to Budapest.
2018 World Wrestling Championship
On top of his strong World Cup and Yarygin Performances, Dake won the 2018 Yasar Dogu tournament in Turkey, pinning Jabrayil Hasanov in the quarterfinals. His stellar 2018 earned Dake a bye to the 1/8 final, where he found himself in an “easy” match, relative to the World level.
1/8 Final: Kyle Douglas DAKE (USA) df. Martin OBST (GER)
Representing Germany was Martin Obst, whose best achievement to date was earning a silver medal at the 2018 European Championship.
The physicality of Dake and handfighting ferocity took over early, Dake was able to quickly throw Obst out of position and get to his attacks.
Fighting his way to rear standing, Dake showed off his beautiful transition game by hitting four-point gut wrenches on the edge and converting rear-standing into “big move” situations.
Off Obst’s attacks, Dake’s chest wrap to crotch lock combo served him well.
11-0 technical fall, on to the quarters.
Quarterfinal: Kyle Douglas DAKE (USA) df. Davit KHUTSISHVILI (GEO)
Similar to Obst, Georgia’s Khutsishvili had a standout 2018, earning a bronze medal at the Waclaw Ziolkowski Memorial, a Ranking Series tournament. Otherwise, he doesn’t stand out in terms of credentials.
While Khutsishvili was much stronger than Obst, Dake had no problem redirecting his pressure from the collar ties to hit his singles straight on or swing to the side. Once he found his finishes, Dake was unstoppable from the gut wrench.
Semifinal: Kyle Douglas DAKE (USA) df. Akhmed Shiabdinovitch GADZHIMAGOMEDOV (RUS)
After being shut down 8-2 at the Yarygin in January, Dake had a score to settle with the crafty, agile Russian.
He knew Gadzhimagomedov would get to his attacks eventually, and that counter opportunities would be available. What threw him off last time out, was timing. If Dake didn’t settle into positions, it would be much easier to react quickly to the Russian’s offense, and even if he didn’t stop him in his tracks, he’d be ready for action.
Feeling confident from an underhook, Gadzhimagomedov punched it and reached to block the knee with his other arm, running Dake toward the outer boundary.
Securing a tight whizzer, Dake waited for his moment. He waited for the last possible step, for when his foot would land right before the edge, to plant and turn, ripping Gadzhimagomedov forward with the whizzer, pulling the opposite arm across from the tricep, and blocking his lower body with his hips. A whizzer hip toss, as wrestlers say.
Dake’s timing defensively was on point, but there was no need to wait on Gadzhimagomedov. Dake flurried with snaps and posts, faking shots and creating anxiety. Feeling Dake’s momentum building, Gadzhimagomedov took a shot and ended up extended. His form was perfect at the Yarygin, but he had been comfortable then.
Just as he planned, Dake went straight to the crotch lock and lifted through to expose the Russian.
Learning his lesson, Gadzhimagomedov kept the pace high in the handfight but refrained from shooting, he wasn’t going to find any clean entries. What he could do, was look to throw Dake off his game, posting on his face and clubbing hard. As it often happens in Kyle Dake matches, he was poked in the eye.
With the tech fall within reach and additional motivation provided, Dake shot hard from the outside to the single, running into the cement hips of Gadzhimagomedov. Sliding up from the leg, Dake secured an underhook, chased the angle then locked his hands across the back.
Squeezing tight and blocking the near leg, Dake lifted Gadzhimagomedov off the ground and hit his arch, tossing the Russian over his head for four. Technical fall.
Final: Kyle Douglas DAKE (USA) df. Jabrayil HASANOV (AZE)
With his toughest international rival vanquished, Dake’s finals match featured a man he had already defeated twice in 2018.
The gameplan was already in place, stay tough in the handfight and get off to an angle when the shot is there
Hasanov proved stubborn as ever in collar ties, but Dake got to work with his snaps, and for one moment Hasanov stood up straight, right in front of Dake.
Instantly Dake was on his leg, he turned the corner with power, stood and shelved the leg. Hasanov nearly turned the tables on the edge by catching an underhook, but Dake utilized an inside reap off the whizzer to force his opponent out of bounds, similar to an uchi mata.
That one point made all the difference, and combined with a point for passivity, Dake had the only offense of the match. Hasanov could not break Dake’s position or force him underneath to work front headlock, it was over.
2-0, Kyle Dake was a World champion in his first appearance.
2019 World Wrestling Championship
Injuries kept Kyle Dake out of action for the early stages of 2019. As the returning World champion he was guaranteed a spot in Final X at 79 kg, but his rehab was taking longer than anticipated.
Dake was granted a medical extension, World Team Trials Challenge Tournament winner Alex Dieringer would have to wait until a special date for his next chance at Dake.
Interestingly enough, Dake was granted permission to compete at the Grand Prix of Spain before facing off with Dieringer. It makes sense that you’d want to shake the rust off before wrestling someone like Dieringer, but the logistics of being too injured to wrestle-off but still being able to travel and compete overseas…it doesn’t exactly make sense.
Regardless, Dake made the trip and won gold, defeating Dauletmurat Orazgylyov, a 2018 Yarygin bronze medalist and 2018 U23 World bronze medalist.
Dieringer had only grown stronger, earning bronze at the 2019 Yarygin and taking gold at two Rankings Series tournaments, the Dan Kolov and the Yasar Dogu. Some rankings experts saw Dieringer as the #2 wrestler in the world at 79 kg, right behind Dake.
The special wrestle-off was anticlimactic. Dake controlled the match and stayed stubborn as ever defensively, picking his spots to win two straight close matches over Dieringer. Perhaps their least exciting encounters.
Regardless, Dake was on his way to Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan for his second World tournament.
Gadzhimagomedov was out of the picture for the Russian team in 2019, but there were plenty of challenges ahead.
1/8 Final: Kyle Douglas DAKE (USA) df. Oibek NASIROV (KGZ)
First up was a 2019 Asian Championship bronze medalist, Nasirov of Kyrgyzstan.
Dake’s hands-down style worked like a charm, Nasirov shot straight into his underhooks, setting up attacks from front headlock. Dake’s head pinch was tight, but Nasirov stepped over and recovered his balance, Dake only exposed his own back.
But once the action began to flow, Dake took over. He stepped over Nasirov’s gut wrench and reversed, then got to his own gut series. His reattacks were sharp, considering his fantastic position with double underhooks off every shot.
Dake got rolling and finished him off, 12-2 technical fall.
Ever-evolving, Kyle Dake tested out a new gameplan, once that both confused and enthralled the world’s wrestling audience.
With his hands by his waist or on the mat, Kyle Dake sought to protect his head from snaps or clubs by weaving it side to side like a boxer. My interpretation of this strategy was that if Dake kept his arms low, he could intercept any shots, but his head would be there for the taking. To deal with his increased vulnerability in the handfight, he would simply move his head out of the way.
A novel concept for a wrestler, but this is Kyle Dake – the man who believes red light exposure is a crucial part of his success.
To honor this new, rhythmic Kyle Dake, I strongly encourage you to move through the final section with this tune on loop:
Quarterfinal: Kyle Douglas DAKE (USA) df. Gadzhi NABIEV (RUS)
“Sweet Pea” Dake’s next victim was Russia’s Gadzhi Nabiev.
#6 Gadzhi NABIEV (RUS)
A U23 World runner-up, young Nabiev was a fitting successor to Akhmed Gadzhimagomedov at 79 kg. Russians are typically masters of drawing out sloppy offense with their sharp, calculated short offense and handfighting.
Lord only knows what was going through the mind of Nabiev when Kyle Dake stubbornly refused to let Nabiev get anywhere near his head.
The song still better be playing!
Eventually, Nabiev gave up on snaps and posting on the head, instead engaging in over and underhook situations with Dake, the more powerful wrestler from those positions. Without the proper setups to his leg attacks, Nabiev was vulnerable to the chest wrap and crotch lock counters of Dake, shutting down his offense.
Nabiev found the collar ties later in the match, but Dake had already established head position and was able to evade and get stability with underhooks, from where he could push Nabiev or drop to the legs.
The shots of Nabiev became desperate, leading to easy Dake go-behinds. At the end of the day, Kyle Dake is elite in every position, and without layered setups that leave him vulnerable, or supremely athletic attacks on top of that like Jordan Burroughs, you’re not scoring.
Semifinal: Kyle Douglas DAKE (USA) df. Rashid KURBANOV (UZB)
Having defeating Kurbanov by technical fall in 2018, Dake didn’t have to make too many technical adjustments.
But Kurbanov had an adjustment of his own – cheat his ass off.
After a dominant first period that saw Dake stuff and counter the attacks of Kurbanov, the advanced tactics began.
Outside of the usual eye pokes and heavy slaps, Kurbanov showed a brand new look.
He reached inside of Kyle Dake’s mouth, pulled out his mouthguard and threw it.
No really, he did.
When asked why he seems to be a magnet for fouls, Dake responded:
“I’ve got the most punchable face.”
He prevailed 6-1 for a World finals rematch with Jabrayil Hasanov.
Finals: Kyle Douglas DAKE (USA) df. Jabrayil HASANOV (AZE)
Cue “Can’t Be Touched”.
Never before had it been so important for Dake to protect his head. Hasanov made his swipes, but the elusive circling and slipping of the American were working perfectly, the tie-ups were simply harder to come by.
With his hands low, Dake consistently gained the advantage off Hasanov’s attacks, which now came from the outside given his frustration in the handfight. Off underhooks and fending off Hasanov’s momentum, Dake was able to switch off and rettack as he pleased.
Hasanov resorted to stalking and clubbing, and although Dake was always fleet of foot, his new outfighter mentality led to him literally running circles around the stocky brawler.
Hasanov began divebombing from the outside, timing Dake’s fancy footwork from a more upright stance and latching on to a leg. But sloppy shots from the outside have always been Dake’s favorite to counter, the chest wrap was there, and Hasanov shut down to avoid the crotch lock.
At the end of the day, it was a combination of vintage and “Roy Jones” Dake tactics that led him to victory. 4-2, back to back World titles.
As the reigning World champion in a non-Olympic weight, Dake will become the challenger yet again as he moves down to 74 kg.
Alex Dieringer has moved up to 86, their rivalry is likely over.
But after three years of separation from one another, it will likely be Kyle Dake and Jordan Burroughs battling for the spot for the fourth time. For more on Burroughs, check out this breakdown.
Reigning two-time World champion Zaurbek Sidakov (profiled here in two parts) has defeated Burroughs in 2018 and 2019, leading to bronze medal finishes for the American in both years. Two-time World champion Frank Chamizo is always a threat, but Burroughs has established his superiority in that rivalry.
Given Burroughs’ age and statements throughout the last few years, this is likely his last Olympic cycle. Their rivalry was explored in detail in Part 1, will Kyle Dake finally win a series over Jordan Burroughs? Will young talents like Isaiah Martinez or Jason Nolf break through instead?
If Dake does make the Olympic team, he is in for an elite monstrosity representing the Russian Federation. It may be Zaurbek Sidakov, it could be World champion and P4P force Magomed Kurbanaliev, it could be 2019 World champion David Baev, or Khetik Tsabalov, or any number of other North Caucasian killers waiting in the wings.
On the Olympic year, talent condenses due to fewer weight classes and every team goes all out to field their best possible squad. Whether it’s Kyle Dake or Jordan Burroughs representing the United States, we’ll be in good hands, but the battle should be fierce.
Stay tuned as we continue to break down the careers of the top contenders for 2020.
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