Over a week since Worlds have finished, and I wanted to write my 2 cents on where we are at now with what I would say is the biggest rivalry in World Wrestling right now in Yazdani Vs Taylor.
I have some spare time so done this just to generate some conversation, debate and see others thoughts.
Let’s go back to 2017 when this all started.
The freestyle world cup was being held in Iran, Yazdani the year before had won Olympic Freestyle Gold at 74kg in dramatic fashion, and it was Iran’s first Freestyle gold in 16 years. Yazdani had moved up to 86kg for the first time since the Olympics, and this was his first tournament to test out his new weight. He had 2 other matches apart from Taylor during the 2 days, one against Turkey and the other against Mongolia, and in the style he had back then he absolutely ran through them with pace and techd both of them.
Now to the first match between these 2. Unlike Yazdani, Taylor at this point was not that well known on the international scene, and had not achieved any great accolades. Certainly nothing that would make folk feel that he could beat the Olympic Gold medallist in Iran.
A lot of people including wrestling media and such remember this match and say that Taylor was down 8-0 at one point and came from behind with the fall. The truth is that Taylor was only ever down 3-0 at the most going into the 2nd period. I think why so many people remember it incorrectly as it being so much more is that it certainly LOOKED and felt like it could have been that scoreline. For the best part of 2 minutes, Yazdani was ragdolling Taylor around the place with his underhook like an empty tracksuit, and Taylor got 2 cautions to his name, and was close to losing via DQ. But on points itself, Taylor actually managed to avoid what most people at this point would have been techd by, and survive going into the 2nd period which we all know he won by fall. I think at this point a lot of Iran, Yazdani, and his team attributed this loss to moving up for the first time at 86kg, clearly gassing and losing via fall because of this. Attributing this purely to the weight change and the gas tank and not giving credit to Taylor on this first occasion is what I feel led to what becomes the 2nd loss against Taylor in Budapest.
So moving on 1 year to Budapest in 2018 at the worlds. Taylor missed the 2017 worlds as he lost to Cox in the US trials, and from their first match to here, Yazdani had competed in many tournaments at 86kg and gone undefeated, winning everything in dominant fashion including the 2017 world championship. Any presumed weight issues back at the first Taylor loss look well and truly rectified. As crazy wrestling draws go, what should be the final ends up being the first match of these two at the 2018 worlds.
I really believe that going into this match the team around Yaz felt that now that he is accustomed to the weight that he will run through Taylor just like he does everyone else, not giving Taylor’s own style and his own work to nullify Yaz any analysis proves to be a downfall in Budapest. I know Yaz was motivated to avenge being pinned in his own country against the American, and he wanted to go out there and prove a point. In what becomes the highest scoring affair of their 4 matches so far, Yaz goes out and does his thing, but only gets a 6-2 lead at the end of the first period, after putting a lot of energy into trying to take Taylor out in the first. When we enter the 2nd period, it is clear Yaz is fading and Taylor is doing incredibly well off scrambles and keeps collecting points. Yaz concedes 9 points in the 2nd period, many off his own attempts to score. Now to Yazdani, the coaching staff, and many of his beloved Iranian fans it’s starting to be clear that this wasn’t simply a weight change and gas tank issue back in 2017. This wasn’t a fluke. There’s something in David Taylor and his skillset which means Yaz can’t just run through him. Now Iran needs to look at him more seriously. 2-0 is the score now.
A whole 3 years goes by before they meet again, with the pandemic, injuries, finally they meet in the Olympic final for the 3rd time. Both older and more mature. David Taylor hungry to achieve his dream of being an Olympic Gold Medallist. Hassan having the weight of millions of Iranians on his shoulders to not only become the first Iranian Double Olympic gold medallist in Freestyle, but also avenge the loss to the only man who seems to have his number. An expectation that seems to be beyond doubt to most of Iran.
Straight away it is much more clear that after the first two matches, Yazdani is no longer underestimating Taylor. A very different match takes place than those we have seen before, with almost no offence from Yazdani, trying to essentially just the shut match down and get some pushouts. Taylor does manage to find a takedown, but with 3-2 in favour of Yaz with 17 seconds ago, it seems that Yaz might secure his Olympic Gold in a very tight and cagey affair. Yazdani feels it’s done, but he makes a mistake and Taylor gets the last second takedown and takes Olympic Gold. Yazdani heartbroken, the fear of the backlash from fans back home in his mind, and all the hardwork seemingly to have gone to waste. 3-0 now against Taylor.
One of the big turning points in this rivalry I feel is how Iran received Yazdani after this 3rd loss. Outcry of sympathy, popularity rising even higher, sharing his heartbreak in Gold being taken out of his hands with seconds left instead of scolding him. I will be honest I thought he might take a break and not attend the worlds with less than 2 months between the 2. If Iran had turned his back on Yazdani after the 3rd loss, I think we would be 4-0 at this point in time.
Less than two months pass and this is the quickest turnaround of these two facing each other again. World championships so soon after Olympics due to the pandemic. A historical moment for wrestling. Taylor is attending as he is hungry for more gold. And Yazdani, is wanting to make up for what happened in Tokyo only 6 weeks prior.
Let’s make no mistake about it, credit to both these guys for continuing the hard grind after winning Olympic gold and silver, to come to Oslo. And for Yazdani to put it on the line, because 4-0 would have been devastating for him.
In their latest and fourth match, it was clear that the high scoring match from Budapest will no longer be the case from here on in. These are going to be chess matches from now on, with every tweak and adjustment made proving the decisive factor. Also emotionally, I could see in through the week Hassan was a lot more relaxed compared to Tokyo. In the match itself Yazdani finally looked to have a good balance going hard enough with the underhook to be able to last 6 minutes, but also not be too defensive to not have a big enough gap to fall back on like the case in Tokyo, and initiate takedowns. In the end a big cry of emotion as he finally got a score on the board against Taylor and became world champion for the 3rd time. In someways making up for Tokyo a few months prior, but more so doing so in a convincing fashion that made his fans proud. This was more than just revenge for Hassan, this was trying to make reality what he felt inside of himself. That there is not a massive gap between him and Taylor, and that 3-0 could easily have been flipped the other way or 2-1 either way. Every single match has been different, but every single match has been close. Whenever round 5 will be, it will still be very tough to call.
So where are we now? Please feel free to discuss, but here are my own take homes at the moment:
4 very different matches, but 2 things I feel has been consistent throughout:
-Yazdani in all four matches bosses Taylor around with the underhook, David still has not found an answer for this.
-Yaz is in the lead going into the second period every time, and Taylor makes his comeback to win in the 2nd. This is true of all the matches, except that in Oslo, Taylor could not manage to rally back, but this was his gameplan, he didn’t attempt one attack in the first period.
With all that being said what is likely to happen in round 5? If Yaz paces himself like he has done in the last two matches it is harder for Taylor to rely on compensating for however much he is down by in the first period, and doing the damage in the 2nd. Is Taylor willing to be more aggressive in the first period next time? On the other hand Taylor still managed twice to get under the legs of Hassan in the last two matches where Hassan was being more cautious and defensive, in Tokyo he was successful on both and won the match, in Oslo he failed on one of them and it proved costly. It could have been a very different match if Taylor finished that takedown.
A fascinating rivalry, and the scoreline of 3-1 does not give true context to the nature of how close this battle is. Sad and Snyder are 3-1, but I think 95% of folk would feel Sad wins the next how many encounters unless we see some drastic change. But this one is tough to call. The momentum is going with Yazdani, and Taylor can’t rely on him gassing anymore. Anything could happen next time.