This morning, four time world freestyle wrestling champion and two time Olympic medalist for the Russian Fedearation, Besik Kudukhov succumbed to injuries from a car accident, and passed away at the age of 27.
With Kudukhov's tragic death, the world of wrestling loses one of its giants. From 2009 to 2011, Kudukhov won three straight world championships at 60kg, and much of the wrestling world viewed him as the pound for pound greatest in the world. Kudukhov also might own the title as history's greatest wrestler to never win Olympic gold. As the defending world champion in 2008, he won bronze in Beijing at 55kg after suffering a shocking upset in the semifinals to the eventual silver medalist. In the 2012 London Games, he won silver after advancing to the gold medal finals only to lose to Azerbaijan's Toghrul Asgarov, who himself appears well on his way to a legendary career.
At his best, which was most of this century, Kudukhov moved about the mat with unequaled grace, equal parts bull and matador, capable of flattening opponents with irresistible aggression, or clinically dispatching them with subtle redirection. His most memorable moment probably came at the conclusion of his 2010 world finals match against Ukraine's Vasyl Fedoryshyn (below), where Kudukhov slips out of a leg clinch, and after a dramatic flurry, trips Fedoryshyn to his back to win the world championship.
Today, Olympic wrestling fans feel the pain of the loss of one of its true stars, and Kudukhov's native Ossetia mourns the departure of one of its favorite sons. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kudukhov's friends and family.
Update: a Russian tribute video to Kudukhov