They call him “Yazdani the Greatest”. Hassan Yazdanicharati, a two-time World champion and 2016 Olympic champion, the modern leader of Iran’s freestyle wrestling efforts. In part 1 of this Yazdani career breakdown, we took a look at his age-group origins, all the way up to his Olympic title at 74 kg.
To summarize the larger technical breakdown, Yazdani is a wrestler who is outstanding in his physicality, using heavy handfighting and pummeling to set up his more high-percentage attacks. Yazdani mixes in the the threat of his snap-downs and double leg to alter his opponent’s stance, then digs up for his underhooks.
From the underhook, Yazdani can generate tremendous drive to push straight out of bounds, he can angle off to a knee tap, or he can clear and drop to the ankle. That’s his system – work snaps, work underhooks, then take attacks based on his opponent’s reactions.
Part 2 will focus on 2017 to the present. Ever-growing, Yazdani made the move up to 86 kg after the Olympic Games, a jump of over 20 pounds. Aesthetically, he appeared to fill out the weight nicely, but his very first competition at 86 was a disaster.
Hassan Yazdanicharati Career Breakdown
2017 Wrestling World Cup (Kermanshah, Iran)
The World Cup is my favorite freestyle competition of all time, the matchups are incredible, even on an “off year”, and dual meets bring out a special competitive spirit.
The pressure was on in Yazdani’s native Iran. The United States was absolutely surging in a year that would see them win the team title at the 2017 World Championship. Iran was in the opposite pool of the USA, Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, they need only get past Turkey, India, and Mongolia to make it to the gold medal match.
The team that made it through Pool A’s round-robin was going to be filthy.
Azerbaijan defeated Russia by criteria. The Russian squad was undeniably elite, but far from their best possible.
Georgia was nearly shut out by the American team, only Zach Rey fell to three-time World heavyweight champion Geno Petriashvili. At 86 kg, David Taylor put on a dominating 8-3 performance against 2012 Olympic bronze medalist and Beach Wrestling World champion Dato Marsagishvili.
Meanwhile, Hassan Yazdani defeated European Championship bronze medalist Serdar Boeke of via 11-1 technical fall in Iran’s 8-0 blowout against Turkey.
In round 2 the USA made a huge statement in their dominating victory against Russia. The highlight of the dual was at 86 kg, where David Taylor defeated the 2017 Russian National champion Vladislav Valiev by 14-4 technical fall.
#7 Vladislav VALIEV (RUS)
Azerbaijan dropped three weights in their win over the Republic of Georgia, while Iran pitched another 8-0 shutout against India, where Yazdani sat out in favor of Alireza Karimimachiani.
In round 3, Azerbaijan took the United States to the wire. Two-time European champion Giorgi Edisherashvili took out Tony Ramos, Logan Stieber barely edged U23 World silver medalist Ali Rahimzadeh 12-11, three-time World champion Haji Aliyev controlled Frank Molinaro 4-1, James Green teched Medved medalist David Suynyuchkhan, Jordan Burroughs earned a caution DQ against the wild man Murad Suleymanov, a U23 bronze medalist.
At 86, it was David Taylor vs. the Russian transfer Sharif Sharifov who held the 2011 World and 2012 Olympic champion, along with his 2016 Olympic bronze medal.
12-2 technical fall, David Taylor.
Up four matches to two, the US was in the driver’s seat, as Olympic champion Kyle Snyder was up to clinch the dual. The accomplished major tournament medalist Aslanbek Alborov shocked American fans with his 5-4 upset over Snyder. Alborov would win World bronze that year, while Snyder went on to upset Abdulrashid Sadulaev for the title.
While he didn’t get the win, by scoring one point in his loss to two-time World medalist Jamaladdin Magomedov, Nick Gwiazdowski preserved dual criteria and led the US to the gold medal match.
For Pool B’s third round, Iran won four out of five weights before hitting 86, where Hassan Yazdanicharati took the mat vs. Mongolia.
He faced a medal collector on the Asian circuit, 2015 World finalist Unurbat Purevjav.
Unurbat PUREVJAV (MGL)
A former 74 kg wrestler himself, Purevjav surprised Yazdani with his sound positioning and stingy pummeling.
It wasn’t until Yazdani switched his approach, frequently breaking his ties to hit low leg attacks, that he began to build momentum. With his finishes getting progressively cleaner, Yazdani was finally able to get to his gut wrench and take Purevjav back and forth for the tech.
Iran rolled at 97 and 125, it was on to the gold medal match vs. the United States.
The Iranian athletes were wrestling out of their minds.
At 57, 2013 World champ and 2016 Olympic bronze Hassan Rahimi shut out Tony Ramos.
At 61, 2013 and 2014 World medalist Masoud Esmaeilpour won a wide 6-2 match over Logan Stieber.
At 65, 2016 Asian champion Meisam Nasiri won a tight 5-4 battle with Frank Molinaro.
At 70, two-time Asian champion and 2016 non-Olympic World bronze medalist Mostafa Hosseinkhani held off James Green for a 2-0 victory.
Even at 74 kg, five-time World and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs had to scrap for a 3-2 win over 2015 Asian champion Peyman Yarahmadi.
Hassan Yazdani somersaulted onto the mat with all the momentum in favor of his home nation. The red-hot David Taylor met him in the center.
David TAYLOR (USA)
The strength of Yazdani must have been a shock, at first. Feeling the underhook, Taylor stepped back and attempted to plant his feet, only to be forced onto his heels and out of bounds.
In the first two minutes alone, Yazdani yielded pushouts on three out of five attempts from underhooks. Taylor had already received two cautions, he was at risk of facing the same fate as Murad Suleymanov.
Taylor had to adjust. Stubbornly holding the center, he forced Yazdani to begin his underhook series far from the edge. With room to maneuver, Taylor backed out of the underhook while pushing off on the lats of Yazdani. It did the trick, he had escaped. The second Yazdani appeared to stop chasing, Taylor was gunning for his legs, keeping the larger man tense and moving.
Beginning to tire, Yazdani took his time in the collar ties before looking to get back to his underhook. Taylor didn’t need to be asked twice, snapping off the ties and dropping to the ankle.
Whizzering and moving into a split, Yazdani clearly intended to hold off Taylor with as little motion as possible. The whizzer was lose, Taylor easily secured the waist, got height, and broke Yazdani down to his stomach. He was wilting, with time still left in the first period.
Even after the 30 second break, Yazdani was compromised. Getting to his underhook, the Iranian Olympic champion ran out of steam four steps into his charge, Taylor stepped back and shucked his opponent down, attempting to flurry for a go-behind. Catching an angle on Taylor’s leg as he turned, Yazdani rallied to rise into his underhook, pushing toward the edge. As they approached, Taylor reached inside and blocked the hip, dropped levels to escape then reshot on the leg as Yazdani fell into him.
Continuing the scramble with surprising agility, considering the circumstances, Yazdani circled away from the reaching arm and spun behind, dropping to the leg himself. Taylor rose to give up rear-standing, Yazdani sagged his weight to drag him out of bounds.
A furious 15 second exchange. It was courageous, but Yazdani was nearly zapped.
Looking to pound Taylor into the mat, he snapped with all his might, heading to front headlock before pursuing a decisive go-behind. Just as before Taylor rose and looked to turn in, Yazdani dropped to the leg, but instead of standing, he collapsed to his elbows and knees, clutching the ankle.
Taylor stepped over and locked through the crotch, and Yazdani released the grip. laying flat. 4-4, Taylor led on criteria.
With nearly two minutes to go, Yazdani pushed forward breathlessly, once again failing to support his weight due to the heavy hands of Taylor, he fell to his knees, and Taylor circled behind. 6-4.
Handfighting in the center, Taylor energetically timed the level change of Yazdani to drop to the ankle off his rising motion, Yazdani fell to his butt and desperately grasped a chest wrap. Taylor promptly collected both legs, pulled back the ankles and bore down on the Iranian, forcing him to his back.
After Yazdani was clearly pinned for four or five seconds, the referee reluctantly called the fall. Six months after winning the Olympic Games, Hassan Yazdanicharati was broken down and defeated.
What went wrong? For the most part, we can only speculate. Perhaps the extra weight wasn’t sitting right quite yet, Yazdani did look a bit sluggish against Purevjav. Ultimately, I attribute it to Taylor ability to compete in the handfight, the fact that Yazdani could not outhustle Taylor like he could most 74s and 86s, and that Taylor’s preferred leg attacks forced Yazdani to scramble and did not play into his counters.
Regardless, there was work to be done.
2017 World Wrestling Championship (Paris, France)
Yazdani attended one tournament before Worlds, the Islamic Solidarity Games. I’m not certain who he drew in his bracket, but he met 2016 Olympic silver medalist Selim Yasar in the finals.
#17 Selim YASAR (TUR)
A wrestler who likes to plant and keep matches slow, Yasar had no answers to the underhooks attacks and slide-by of Hassan Yazdanicharati, who threw him around the mat, gassed him out, and finished him off by technical fall.
Without the right opponent, it would be tough to see if Yazdani had truly moved past the meltdown at World Cup.
1/16 Final: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Azamat DAULETBEKOV (KAZ)
#12 Azamat DAULETBEKOV (KAZ)
The powerful Kazakh wrestlers are known for their physical style and strength in upper-body positions, early on Dauletbekov was able to counter Yazdani’s pressure and get to the legs, then countering a headlock attempt to score.
His attack persisted off subsequent attempts, but the Iranian could not be fooled twice. Anticipating the shot, he caught Dauletbekov with underhooks, blocked off the post arm and took his opponent across to his back for four, and what should have been a pin.
Dauletbekov waned quickly as Yazdani picked up momentum, soon he was giving up ground from underhooks, and the Olympic champion was back to his old ways. Knee taps, snaps into ankle picks, even a rare “head in the hole” finish lead Yazdani to the final gut wrench and technical fall.
1/8 Final: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Piotr IANULOV (MDA)
Piotr IANULOV (MDA)
The accomplished European had zero answer for the offense of Yazdani from ties and underhooks, he was utterly bullied.
10-0, technical fall.
Quarterfinal: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Aleksandr GOSTIYEV (AZE)
Aleksander GOSTIYEV (AZE)
A Russian transfer to Azerbaijan, Gostiyev would prove difficult to force out of position, if his nation’s reputation held up.
As some may have expected, Gostiyev refused to be manhandled, flurrying on the edge, and using his whizzer and fighting grips to stalemate Yazdani’s attacks for over two minutes.
Single attacks wouldn’t cut it.
Naturally, Yazdani chained his best offense, dropping to the ankle low, coming back up to the underhook and driving forward on an unstable Gostiyev, hitting the knee tap on the retreat. The threat of the leg attack completely changed Gostiyev, his stance was more fluid, making it significantly easier for Yazdani to move him from underhooks.
The match opened up, and Yazdani earned the technical fall with time to spare.
Semifinal: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Vladislav VALIEV (RUS)
#7 Vladislav VALIEV (RUS)
After being teched by David Taylor at World Cup, Vladislav Valiev was in fine form. taking out Selim Yasar on the way to the semis.
As known for his skill as his unitry, Valiev turned out to be one of the world’s toughest stylistic matchups for Hassan Yazdanicharati.
A deft handfighter, not only could Valiev stop Yazdani from settling into underhooks, he would be difficult to move out of position even with a solid tie. The Russian’s reattacks made naked shots from Yazdani extremely risky, and all the while Valiev would be right there in his face, boxing his ears off.
In one flurry after the next, Valiev worked on the head of Yazdani, quickly clearing off any nagging ties, and swiftly lowering his level and stifling the hands of the Iranian on any early stages of a shot attempt.
When Yazdani did snag the underhook, Valiev whizzered, backed off, limp-armed out then tied right back up inside the bicep or collar.
If there is one shred of evidence that Yazdani had improved after his meeting with David Taylor, it was this match. In the face of one of the most ferocious handfighting performances I’ve ever seen, Yazdani kept his pace and wore down the crafty specimen, drowning him in volume to get to his crucial stepouts.
Clearly frustrated by the constant snapping and pressure of Yazdani, Valiev even loaded up on a nasty headbutt.
But Yazdani stayed composed, holding on for the 4-0 victory.
Final: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Boris MAKOEV (SVK)
Wait, where’s David Taylor?
The former Penn State Nittany Lion did not make the World team, losing two matches to one against the now two-time World champion J’den Cox. Cox was taken out after an early four-point move by Boris Makoev. His style, hyper-defensive and slick, is not built to come back from that kind of deficit against an opponent of that caliber.
Boris MAKOEV (SVK)
A Russian transfer, Makoev’s career fizzled out relatively quickly. Looking back, the Cox win does feel like a bit of a fluke, despite the decent bracket Makoev worked through to get to the semis.
Makoev was active, looking for his leg attacks and keeping his feet moving when tied up, but he had nothing for Yazdani outside of some close defensive calls off short offense. The Olympic champion consistently threatened his slide-by, after working Makoev to the edge repeatedly.
There was nothing Makoev could do to prevent giving up ground, if he held tight he’d be hit with a slide-by, if he angled off and whizzered he’d be blown over with a knee tap.
Even when Makoev got to solid shots of his own, he was shut down with the whizzer and stalemated.
Yazdani continued to push, giving his opponent no time to think, and a beautiful, extended flurry off a shot saw him win the match clinching scramble.
Outside Valiev, it was a relatively tame World Championship run for a pound-for-pound talent. But in a year that he had been pinned and humiliated, it was a massive moral victory.
2018 Continental Tournaments
Yazdani rode that momentum into the Asian Championship, and the subsequent Asian Games (held every four years).
The standard continental championship inevitably yielded the better field.
In his first match, Yazdani was faced with a rematch against Azamat Dauletbekov. Interestingly enough, Dauletbekov scored early on Yazdani once again, from the same exact situation.
Rather than waiting on Dauletbekov to punish the underhook and looking to counter, as he did before, Yazdani took initative. He drowned the wrestler from Kazakhstan in shot offense, finishing him off in short order.
Next up was a promising prospect representing Uzbekistan, Javrail Shapiev. Last competing for Russia in 2015, Shapiev transferred and scored a silver medal at the prestigious Ali Aliev, Medved, and Intercontinental Cup tournaments.
But he was unable to stop the underhook assault of Yazdani, attempting to counter with lateral drops when he ran out of room on the edge. That strategy quickly backfired.
In the finals sat Uitumen Orgodol, a Mongolian with a knack for powering through over-under positions.
Uitumen ORGODOL (MGL)
Learning his lesson from the Dauletbekov matches, Yazdani emphasized his leg attacks, dropping to an ankle before overextending his underhook situations.
Six months later, after winning Asian Championship gold, Yazdani hit Orgodol once again at the Asian Games.
I can’t find video, but Yazdani winning by technical fall leads me to believe the match dynamics were similar. In the finals, Yazdani wrestled an American representing Lebanon, Michigan’s All-American Dominic Abounader.
2018 World Wrestling Championship (Budapest, Hungary)
Luck of the draw.
In the qualification round of the World Championship, Yazdanicharati was matched with David Morris TAYLOR (USA).
All this time after the World Cup fiasco, we could be sure Yazdani grew into the weight at this point. Of course, Taylor had time to grow as well. With J’den Cox up to 92 kg, Taylor had to beat a solid (before his unfortunate injury troubles), but incomparable talent in Nick Reenan to make the team.
Early on, it was all Yazdani once again.
Digging his underhook on the left side, he punched through and narrowed the base of Taylor, dropped to block the knee and ankle to tip him over. Feeling the momentum, Taylor quickly turned and got the quad pod before Yazdani could reach him, forcing his opponent to work the finish from rear-standing.
Whizzering and stepping over, Taylor switched off to attack the far ankle to look for a reversal on the edge. Taylor stepped out before he could complete the takedown, but it was a slick look.
But Yazdani was still finding his underhooks, and when he dug double, Taylor’s step out defense was not available.
Feeling himself, Yazdani worked his next best setup, snapping hard on the head and chasing the go-behind on Taylor.
But a prolonged scramble almost always favors David Taylor.
Managing to find the ankle amidst the chaos, Taylor sat up and turned in, tucking the leg under his body. Yazdani looked to lock through the crotch, but Taylor was in position to crack back and expose Yazdani’s shoulder-blades for at least two.
Despite being outmaneuvered, Yazdani did not relent. He pressured from the collar ties and searched for his underhooks, prompting a retreat from Taylor. Off the clearing of ties, Yazdani shot in on his trusty old long double. Basing up and turning Taylor toward the edge, he stifled a head pinch attempt to snag two out of bounds.
Offensively, Taylor wasn’t having success getting to Yazdani’s legs quite yet, but his counters and scrambles were keeping him in the match.
Up 6-2 heading to the break, Yazdani had to feel confident.
That’s when Taylor kicked up the pace. Hitting that same escape from underhooks as he did at World Cup, Taylor immediately dropped and intercepted Yazdani’s charge with a low single.
A scramble ensued, and despite Yazdani largely getting the better of it, Taylor persisted and outhustled the Iranian.
He didn’t quite hit the wall the way he did at World Cup, but his tank was depleted. Unable to keep up, Taylor continued to counter and score off his own attacks, prevailing 11-6.
Taylor torched the rest of the bracket, pulling Yazdani back into repechage.
Repechage: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Hajy RAJABAU (BLR)
Russian transfer Rajabov was on the receiving end of a 10-0 shutout technical fall when he matched up with David Taylor in the next round.
That year’s Medved champion and Yasar Dogu bronze medalist, Rajabov was no slouch.
Looking more energetic and wrestling with more pop than I’ve ever seen, Yazdanicharati manhandled the Russian, 10-0.
Repechage: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Yurieski TORREBLANCA QUERALTA (CUB)
A Pan-American force, Cuba’s Torreblanca never truly found success outside of his continental region.
Physically he could contend with Iranian, but the finesse, reattacks and changes of direction by Yazdani were too much for him to handle.
Bronze: Hassan Aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Dauren KURUGLIEV (RUS)
It’s a bit of an indictment on Dagestan’s Kurugliev that he didn’t beat David Taylor after accidentally scoring a flash knockout when spinning out (he kicked him in the face). However, for 86 kg, he’s a monster.
#4 Dauren KURUGLIEV (RUS)
While solid in his first layer of defense and crafty in a tight spot with arm spins and chest wraps, Kurugliev is not the type to win an extended scramble or flat outhustle an elite wrestler. We saw him lose in a match-deciding flurry against a relatively plodding competitor in Poland’s Baranowski.
Yazdani had little trouble moving him around, although the finishes were certainly tricky.
Kurugliev didn’t go quietly, but he didn’t do much to stand in the way of Yazdanicharati’s entries, giving up the 11-5 decision and falling to 5th place.
Bronze does not sit quite right with someone they call “The Greatest”.
2019 Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov Tournament
In the interest of time, the videos have been condensed to one, and there will be no match breakdowns, sorry!
Hassan Yazdanicharati made his first appearance in 2019 at the Dan Kolov Rankings Series tournament.
There he met:
- Michigian’s 5th place All-American, Dominic Abounader. He won by technical fall.
- Akhmed Magamaev, a Russian transfer to Bulgaria. He’s medaled at major tournaments like the Kadyrov Cup (yes there’s a relation), Medved, Intercontinental Cup, and won bronze at the 2017 Yarygin. Yazdani won by technical fall.
- Once again, Azamat Dauletbekov. Yazdani teched him.
- A Russian no-gi Grappling (UWW) World champion, Ruslan Abdulaev, who was teched.
- Boris Makoev, his 2017 World finals opponent. Tech.
- Ali Shabanov, a Russian transfer to Belarus with four World medals and many high profile victories. If you recall from part 1, Shabanov defeated Yazdani at the 2016 Grand Prix of Paris.
#9 Ali SHABANOV (BLR)
Yazdani teched him.
2019 World Wrestling Championship (Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan)
A bittersweet tournament, to say the least.
Yazdanicharati made it to the top of the podium, but the lack of David Taylor (who was injured at a charity exhibition), and the unbalanced brackets, made for a strange affair.
1/16 Final: Hassan aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Jaime yusept ESPINAL (PUR)
Jaime ESPINAL (PUR)
Despite what his Olympic silver medal might suggest, Espinal does not have a strong track record of defeating elite opposition, and that already spotty resume has increasingly deteriorated since the early 2010s.
Espinal repeatedly attempted to counter the Iranian where he was strongest, and it never worked. 10-0.
1/8 Final: Hassan aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Istvan VEREB (HUN)
Having won multiple European Championship medals over the years, Hungary’s Vereb was a bit more up to the task against Yazdani, or at least it would have seemed on paper.
In a complete physical mismatch, Yazdani mopped the mat with Vereb, snapping him on his face on more than one occasion.
Even when Vereb was close to scoring, Yazdani effortlessly powered up and reversed the position, pinning him with a crossface turk.
Quarterfinal: Hassan aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Artur NAIFONOV (RUS)
It’s a good sign that there’s an issue with the bracketing when the clear two top wrestlers at the weight hit in the quarterfinals.
North Ossetia-Alania’s Naifonov was on a serious hotstreak in 2019, beating Kurugliev at the Ali Aliev, then winning Russian Nationals over Vladislav Valiev and picking up a crucial Ziolkowski title to earn the spot for Russia.
#2 Artur NAIFONOV (RUS)
Naifonov has a classic Ossetian style, a more reserved approach to Yazdani’s typical arsenal, with the outside step single thrown in. He’s usually slick and physical enough to counter any extended aggression, but there’s no one that pushes forward quite like Hassan Yazdanicharati.
Naifonov’s defense largely looked spectacular, in a vacuum, but he couldn’t help but give up a ton of space and be pushed out of bounds when only able to defend on one leg.
On more than one occasion, they ended up in a whizzer situation on their knees off Yazdani’s underhook drive. Yazdani looked to step over and put a boot in, as he had done so many times at 74 kg.
Catching the ankle as he stepped around, Naifonov looked to pressure through Yazdani’s whizzer and roll him across to his back. Balancing on his head, Yazdani cartwheeled through, landed on his hip, then caught Naifonov’s hips before he could plant his weight.
Getting height, Yazdani covered and pinned the talented Russian.
Semifinal: Hassan aliazam YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Myles Nazem AMINE (SMR)
A round of applause is in order for Michigan’s Myles Amine.
Wrestling for San Marino, he rattled off four incredible victories to make it to the World semifinals in his first appearance.
#8 Myles AMINE (SMR)
After a huge upset over the familiar Ali Shabanov, Amine took out Torreblanca and 2014 World silver medalist Sosuke Takatani. His final victory was over Russian native Ahmed Dudarov, a Junior World silver medalist and 2019 Euro Games bronze medalist. Dudarov absolutely destroyed Pat Downey earlier in the tournament.
Amine gave it a go, taking shots from the outside on Yazdani, but he was snapped down and countered each time, leading to the technical fall.
On the other side of the bracket, India’s Deepak Punia beat essentially no one of merit on the way to the finals.
Injuries prevented him from competing in the gold medal match, the title was awarded to Hassan Yazdanicharati.
Redemption in Tokyo
As a Yazdani fan, I’m not going to feel he’s put the Taylor losses behind him until he either gets them back, or beats someone at a comparable level.
Naifonov is an incredible win, especially in the way it happened, but someone with a specific physical threat like Taylor is hard to come by.
Taylor appears to be healthy while gearing up for 2020, working out with TJ Dillashaw’s strength and conditioning coach Sam Calavitta, or “Coach Cal.”
Whether the US sends J’den Cox, David Taylor, Bo Nickal, Alex Dieringer, or Zahid Valencia, Yazdani will have a tough test in front of him. From Russia, I expect to see Naifonov again, but don’t be surprised if someone Magomed Ramazanov breaks through. Beach wrestling World champion Dato Marsagishvili of Georgia is an interesting test as well, but I’m unsure of his status moving forward.
If I got my wish, we’d have David Taylor vs. Hassan Yazdanicharati 3 in the 2020 Olympic finals.
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