Wrestling breakdown: Two-time World champion Zaurbek Sidakov loses at Russian Nationals

Behind the great Abdulrashid Sadulaev, North Alania-Ossetia’s Zaurbek Sidakov was considered by many to be the #2 pound-for-pound wrestler in the world today. However,…

By: Ed Gallo | 3 years ago
Wrestling breakdown: Two-time World champion Zaurbek Sidakov loses at Russian Nationals
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Behind the great Abdulrashid Sadulaev, North Alania-Ossetia’s Zaurbek Sidakov was considered by many to be the #2 pound-for-pound wrestler in the world today.

However, in his return to action at the 2020 Russian National Championships, he suffered a competitive upset loss to a fellow World champion in Khetik Tsabolov. As seen in this Sidakov career breakdown, Tsabolov had defeated Sidakov in the 2018 Ivan Yarygin finals, with Sidakov taking his revenge that same year in the Russian National Finals.

Sidakov’s 2018 win over Tsabolov was an absolute barnburner.

Following that match, Sidakov went on to defeat the esteemed Jordan Burroughs and Frank Chamizo on his way to World gold. Sidakov had a repeat performance in 2019, defeating Burroughs in the semifinals and Chamizo in the gold medal match.

Sidakov had many close calls along the way, but he always seemed to be able to take control of a match when it mattered most. This was the key ingredient to his two-year undefeated run.

That run ended earlier this month in an early round matchup with Khetik Tsabolov at the 2020 Russian National Championships.

Zaurbek Sidakov vs. Khetik Tsabolov 2020

Russia’s depth is staggering. At the contentious Olympic weight of 74 kg, they have the returning champion Sidakov, Tsabolov – a 2014 World champion and 2017 silver medalist, 2016 World champion Magomed Kurbanaliev, and U23 World champion Razambek Zhamalov, to name a few.

Sidakov typically does his best work with shrugs, the slide-by and underhook throw-by from tie-ups, but can dive on an outside single and create meaningful exchanges from basically any situation. Against American contenders, who are often less savvy in utilizing freestyle counters to leg attacks, he can get away with that much more. Against a seasoned Russian veteran like Tsabolov, Sidakov knew he would have to be more careful.

Tsabolov has one of the best high-crotch attacks in the world, but he’s physical and competent in most positions. As mentioned, his counters during scrambles are a huge factor.

Because Tsabolov can get his highest-percentage attacks off from looser ties, he worked to deny Sidakov any solid grips, pressuring up on his elbows and underhooking when possible to neuter his game. This forced Sidakov’s hand early on, pressuring him into taking lower level leg attacks.

Sidakov established collar and wrist control, prompting Tsabolov to reach with his own collar tie. Pulling down on the tie, Sidakov encouraged Tsabolov to plant on his lead leg, creating the entry for his head-outside single.

Different from a penetrating high-c, Sidakov hits his knees early in the shot and attempts to extend to reach the leg. While this puts Sidakov in a worse position to begin the scramble, it lowers the risk of being caught out of position taking a higher-level attack from further away.

Tsabolov circled away from the attack, but Sidakov was already past his hands – meaning that Tsabolov would have to opt for blocking the hips, attacking the ankles, or looking for a chest wrap.

As Sidakov built up to get height for his finish, it provided Sidakov the window to attack the far ankle while draping over Sidakov’s back.

Sidakov looked to crack down and put his own shoulder on the mat to place Tsabolov on his butt, but Tsabolov capitalized on that momentum and pulled on the shoe of Sidakov while rocking back with force. This caused Sidakov to roll through completely, yielding 2 points for Tsabolov for exposure and 1 point for Sidakov for the “reversal”, having established control after the score.

The threat of the counter was now fully established.

Sidakov has had problems with counter wrestlers in the past – Azamat Nurikov, a Dagestani competing for Belarus, gave him a serious scare at the 2019 European Games in this fashion.

With Sidakov more hesitant to shoot, Tsabolov had time to get off attacks of his own.

Tsabolov repeatedly clubbed the head and controlled wrists, looking to shoot that high-crotch across to the far leg.

Sidakov was fairly sharp with his ability to downblock and kick back, but eventually the added threat of the swing single and the improving timing of Tsabolov allowed him to get off a clean attack. Tsabolov quickly turned the corner and covered the free leg before Sidakov was able to finish his rubber-knee defense.

Sidakov found his own scores from Tsabolov’s passivity, the match was still in reach for him with under one minute to go. These are the situations where Sidakov has traditionally pulled through. He had the clutch last-second scores vs. Jordan Burroughs, the insane defensive stand he took vs. Tsabolov in their last meeting, that ability is what made him a World champion.

Right on cue, Sidakov began to flurry, chaining attacks and level changes until a shot off a duck-under attempt finally got him to the legs.

Tsabolov kicked his free leg forward to stay out of reach and sat back on Sidakov’s shoulders, making it more difficult for him to attempt to build up and finish. Reaching back, Tsabolov controlled the attacking wrist of Sidakov to keep the position static.

This was crucial, as it bought him time to prepare his counter.

Swimming away, Tsabolov turned chest-down and attacked the far ankle, posting with his free arm and his head as Sidakov began to get height. Sidakov was completely flat and on both knees, his base wasn’t entirely stable. Once again using Sidakov’s momentum and countering during his attempt to finish, Tsabolov curled his head and rolled through to his right – using both hands to pull back on the foot of Sidakov and using his legs to push Sidakov’s upper body in the opposite direction.

Some are calling this a “Winn-Dixie Roll”. It certainly looks similar to what Jason Nolf hit in this amazing breakdown by the great Dan Sweeney.

Essentially, Tsabolov pulled the lower body and pushed the upper body, using the motion of the roll to rock Sidakov to his back. The roll put Tsabolov in a position to build and get height over Sidakov, and he was able to retain control of the legs and punch through the crotch to knock Sidakov over yet again for another exposure.

Sidakov put himself in position to win the match, but instead Tsabolov’s counters created an insurmountable six-point deficit with only 20 seconds on the clock.

Some are saying that Sidakov looked “off” in this match. Tsabolov was Sidakov’s last loss before this, and was inches from defeating him in their rematch at the 2018 Russian National Championships. Sidakov has since had his closest matches (besides Burroughs) with those who can match his positioning and counter his leg attacks. This was just an outstanding performance by Khetik Tsabolov.

Sidakov wrestled back for bronze and defeated another World champion in Magomed Kurbanaliev in a dominant 9-1 showing – proving he was in great form for this tournament. Tsabolov himself had only defeated Kurbanaliev 8-7 in their semifinal match.

Tsabolov, on the other hand, suffered an upset in the finals at the hands of the young phenom Razambek Zhamalov, 5-1.

The Russian team selection process isn’t entirely based on tournament performance in the leadup to competition – they still may select Sidakov for the Olympic team, and it’s likely that there will be more wrestle-offs in the future to solidify that selection. If United World Wrestling does follow through and hold a World Championship tournament in December, it’s possible they may send Tsabolov or Zhamalov. The United States will not be sending a team.

If you’re interested in the rest of the 2020 Russian Nationals results – including performances by Sadulaev, Rashidov, and other pound-for-pound elites, check out this in-depth recap by Seth Petarra.

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