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Wrestling breakdown, Part 1: 2018 World champion Zaurbek Sidakov

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Highlighting the career of Russia’s 74 kilogram kingpin.

Zaurbek Sidakov United World Wrestling/Gabor Martin

In 2018, the freestyle World title race at 74 kg in Budapest was between two global superstars - Jordan Burroughs and Italy’s Cuban transfer, Frank Chamizo Marquez. If you need a refresher on the career of Jordan Burroughs, look no further.

Chamizo broke out on the international stage wrestling for his native Cuba at 55 kg, where he won World bronze in 2010.

Years later, Chamizo reemerged as a contender, representing Italy at 65 kg. He won the esteemed Yasar Dogu in 2014 before stunning the world, claiming 2015 World gold with a win over Olympic champion Asgarov and a pin over World silver Mohammadi on his way to the finals.

Chamizo went on to win 2016 Olympic bronze and 2017 World gold on his way up to 74 kg, home of Jordan Burroughs.

The two first met at the Beat the Streets charity exhibition in New York. Slippery mats may have put the legitimacy of the match in question, but Burroughs prevailed 6-5.

The rematch took place with World seeding on the line at the 2018 Yasar Dogu. Both wrestlers let it fly once again, but it was Chamizo who was awarded the match, a 10-10 victory on criteria. A potentially incorrectly scored sequence in favor of Chamizo once again cast controversy on the result.

When the brackets were drawn in Budapest, it seemed destined that Burroughs and Chamizo would clash in the semifinals. With Russia’s 2017 World silver medalist Khetik Tsabolov absent after going down at Russian nationals, it appeared whoever made the finals was a lock for a title.

Not many predicted that Burroughs and Chamizo would meet in the consolation bracket. In his first senior World appearance, Russia’s Zaurbek Sidakov defeated Burroughs, then Chamizo to make the finals where he won a 2018 World title.

For the American fan base, Sidakov came out of nowhere. But those in the know witnessed the domestic hammer’s rise to prominence in real time.

Zaurbek Sidakov Career Highlight

A huge thank you is in order to Seth Petarra, who always answers my constant questions about Russia and international wrestling. #1 source on those matters in North America.

Buckle up for a ton of match results, highlights, analysis, and Eastern European names.

North Caucasus: Strength through suffering

In the world’s wrestling capital, competition is fierce between regions.

Wrestling and MMA fans alike are well aware of the dominance of the Republic of Dagestan, but a total of 11 nations were represented in the 2019 Russian Freestyle Nationals.

Dagestan came away with the lion’s share of medals as usual, but North Ossetia-Alania held down second place as the only other region to win gold. A five or six medal gap between the two most dominant regions in Russia is typical.

For context:

North Caucasus
The majority of Russia’s wrestling talent comes from the Northern Caucasus.

Ossetian wrestler Zaurbek Sidakov was born and raised near the town of Beslan, a relatively quiet industrial-agricultural center north of the region’s capital, Vladikavkaz. Outside of the deep-rooted wrestling culture of the Northern Caucasus region, many point to the constant violent conflict plaguing the region as a factor in developing transcendent resilience among the populace.

In 2004, Chechen terrorists stormed Beslan’s School Number One and took over one thousand people hostage, demanding the Russian government’s withdrawal from Chechnya and recognition of Chechen independence.

There would be no peaceful resolution to the crisis. Russian forces used tanks, rockets and heavy weaponry to eliminate the terrorist threat in the school. Over 300 civilians were killed, nearly 200 of them were children. A 2008 article by Shaun Walker in The Independent further depicts the horrors of the Beslan School Siege.

Zaurbek Sidakov was just eight years old at the time. There is some confusion surrounding his place of birth, be it Beslan or neighboring Zilgi, Sidakov was exposed to an unbelievably cruel and volatile environment from a young age.

In this interview with Championat, Sidakov reported that his home village of Zilgi had no wrestling training, he often walked the 10 kilometer trip to find training partners in Beslan as a young boy. After the Beslan School Siege, Sidakov’s fearful parents forbid him from going back. But a tenacious Sidakov was eventually permitted to return, and he never left.

In Russia, champion wrestlers are kings. Unlike in the US, a World title can truly change your life financially, an Olympic title even more so. For these young wrestlers who come from nothing and watch their friends and family suffer, the sacrifice is worth it.

Hot and Cold: Domestic Phenom

A teenage, fresh-faced Sidakov announced himself as a domestic contender on the senior circuit the minute he emerged. Still junior-eligible, Sidakov won the Copa Brasil tournament before earning bronze at the prestigious Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix at 65 kg in 2015. The Yarygin is considered to be one of the toughest tournaments in the world, especially for foreigners traveling to Siberia in the dead of winter.

Sidakov’s streak cooled off at the 2015 Ali Aliev that summer, prompting a move to a more appropriate age group.

At the 2015 Junior World Championships in Brazil, Sidakov performed respectably, only losing to eventual finalist Yuhi Fujinami of Japan in the semifinals and defeating the tough Georgian Avtandil Kentchadze 9-4 for bronze. A familiar Aaron Pico won the other available bronze medal.

Brimming with confidence, Sidakov conquered a field riddled with hammers at the 2016 Ivan Yarygin up at 70 kg. Most notable was his finals victory over Russian Nationals finalist Khusein Suyunchev.

Once again, Sidakov’s momentum was halted. At the 2016 European Championships, Sidakov went down in the first round to the eventual champion and future World silver medalist, Poland’s Magomedmurad Gadzhiev.

Sidakov battled back, rattling off two wins in repechage, including one over 2013 World champion David Safaryan. In the bronze medal match, Sidakov fell to the Russian turned Belorussian, Azamat Nurykau. It would not be the last meeting between the two.

Just two months later, Sidakov defeated Cadet World silver medalist Radik Valiev for his first senior level Russian national championship.

Still junior eligible, Sidakov made another attempt at a 2016 European title. Given his great success on the senior level, it came as no surprise that Sidakov shredded the field on his way to the finals, winning by technical fall in his first three matches.

Fresh off a U23 European Championship silver medal, Azerbaijan’s Murad Suleymanov won a series of wild matches to meet Sidakov in the finals.

Zaurbek Sidakov vs. Murad Suleymanov

MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

It would be dishonest to portray this match as “technique vs. power.” Both wrestlers were distinctly athletic in their own right, and to some Suleymanov may well have been the cleaner technician in this instance. However, the difference maker for Suleymanov was likely his absurd physicality.

While Sidakov’s signature style was not fully developed at this point, he still largely relied on controlling the center of the mat and manipulating his opponent. Sidakov is excellent from underhooks, typically throwing his opponents by with one arm and shooting with the other as a leg becomes vulnerable off their retreat.

Otherwise, Sidakov is usually able to trouble his opponents enough in the handfight that they become preoccupied, opening up explosive shot attempts from the outside after faking an upper body entry.

But against the Azeri powerhouse, Sidakov was the one moved around in close. On the outside, Suleymanov could match his speed, making it extremely difficult to find a clean shot.

Of course, it didn’t help that Suleymanov took extended breaks of passivity, locking up the fingers and grabbing the singlet to slow Sidakov down when he held the lead.

After multiple cautions for inactivity, Suleymanov still had enough energy for a celebratory back tuck following his 9-4 European Championship win.

On the Cusp

Sidakov was crushed.

“After the failure at the European Championship in Riga I thought that I would never be called to the national team again.”

Speaking to Championat, Sidakov’s longtime coach Elbrus Dudaev offered insight as to why, despite his obvious talent, the young Ossetian continued to fall short.

“He doesn’t know what he’s capable of. This is not self-doubt, no. He just does not yet fully understand what he is capable of now...If they saw what work Sidakov did, what methods he used, how he pushed himself, they would look at the situation a little differently.”

Uncertain of the future, Sidakov got back to work and entered competitions at a furious pace. Coach Dudaev reported that, afraid Sidakov was going to hurt himself, he had to physically throw him out of the training hall on some days.

The gains did not come quickly.

At the 2017 Ivan Yarygin, Sidakov lost to fellow Russian Israil Kasumov 5-2 in the finals. Kasumov was a tough domestic competitor, coming off three national runner-up performances.

At the U23 European Championships, Sidakov once again made the finals, losing to Junior World bronze medalist Gadjimurad Omarov. Sidakov struggled to get to his offense, losing 1-1 on criteria.

Sidakov bounced back in October by winning the Armenian Stepan Sargsyan tournament, his toughest opponent being 2012 Junior World silver medalist Konstantin Khabalashvili. Soon after Sidakov made the final’s of Russia’s Prix of Vladimir Semenov “Yugra Cup,” where he was once again thwarted by Israil Kasumov.

At Russian Nationals in June, Sidakov lost to domestic threats Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov and Rasul Dzhukaev. Without major successes at international tournaments, Sidakov was now unranked.

It seemed that perhaps Zaurbek Sidakov may never reach his full potential. Everything changed at the November 2017 Alans International Tournament held in Vladikavkaz, the capital of his native Northern Ossetia.

Sidakov Breaks Through

In the semifinals, Sidakov met perhaps the most credentialed opponent of his career thus far.

One Frank Chamizo Marquez, in his first tournament back since winning a 2017 World championship at 70 kg.

Frank Chamizo might be the world’s most dynamic wrestler, it’s either him or his countryman Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez. An absolutely absurd scrambler, Chamizo’s poise and agility make him a dangerous counter threat for any wrestler thinking of shooting on him. If you pressure in off ties, you’re liable to be thrown on your head. From the outside, Chamizo’s fakes and motion are rapid enough to open up shot opportunities on anyone in the world.

Chamizo’s most obvious flaw is his frequent acceptance of the counter wrestler role, leading to periods of passivity where his opponent can work to find safe openings.

While Frank Chamizo certainly sounds like a nightmarish opponent, his style was not entirely unfavorable for Zaurbek Sidakov.

Be warned, this match is full of insanely interesting freestyle scrambling sequence, and we will be talking about all of them.

MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

The lanky Russian has always been perfectly content to spend long stretches of a match handfighting, he is not uncomfortable in a more patient match. Chamizo was not going to pressure him into taking poor attacks by digging in defensively.

Sidakov’s aptitude in close quarters paid dividends early, as he passed grips while fighting wrists and made it to the aptly named Russian tie, or the Russian two on one. Sidakov was able to pin Chamizo’s arm across his own chest and use his newfound leverage to step outside of the Cuban’s lead leg.

Dragging with the arm, Sidakov caused Chamizo to lower his stance and widen his base. With his opponent planted and the leg near, Sidakov released the tie and dropped for the single.

Frank Chamizo thrives with his opponents on his legs. Immediately, the two-time World champion whizzered with his left and dropped to his right knee, using his right hand to lift Sidakov’s trail leg as he pivoted away from the attack.

Sidakov did all he could to keep the right side of his hip and shoulder glued to the mat, narrowly avoiding being exposed for two points, With his head high and secured outside Chamizo’s hip, Sidakov worked back up with his single, cutting Chamizo back to his butt, perhaps shocking the more experienced wrestler.

Having just outscrambled the world’s most dangerous scrambler, the dynamic of the match changed dramatically for Zaurbek Sidakov. Now he pursued Chamizo aggressively, and when they entered a flurry situation on the knees, Sidakov did not hesitate to take a leg attack, confident he could win the exchange.

Chamizo fought back, squaring his hips with Sidakov and locking his hands through the crotch, taking the Russian through the air and exposing his back, tying the match 2-2.

Tenaciously, Sidakov did not disengage, Chamizo had left himself out of position in pursuing the counter. With Chamizo only supported by his right hand post, and his head directly in front of Sidakov, he was vulnerable. The Russian blocked the back of the neck and lifted with the attacking single leg, putting the reigning World champion on his back.
4-2, Sidakov.

Now Chamizo was awake, it was time to get to his best offense. Faking shots from the outside, Chamizo convinced Sidakov to commit to sprawling. As Sidakov returned to his feet, Chamizo briefly reached out to tie up, causing Sidakov to continue to rise in his stance, then instantly cleared ties and ducked back under for a deep double leg.

Sidakov hustled hard, digging his underhook and nearly countering Chamizo’s attempt to finish with an outside trip, but ultimately he had to concede the takedown. 4-4, Chamizo.

Now that Chamizo could not afford to give up a step out point, he pressured back in as Sidakov pushed forward with his underhooks. As he felt Chamizo step forward, Sidakov used his underhooking elbow to lift Chamizo’s arm and punched through, taking him to Chamizo’s back. Clean. 6-4, Sidakov.

Back on their feet, Chamizo on the attack, forcing Sidakov to the edge. As the Russian circled out, Chamizo dug an underhook to the retreating side and begin to drive in. Without pause, Sidakov secured his whizzer and turned in hard, hooking inside the near leg, driving Chamizo to the mat.

Hoping to disengage, Sidakov posted with his free hand and cartwheeled over Chamizo’s back, but the crafty Cuban trapped the whizzering arm mid-cartwheel and bumped in with his shoulder, circling in to drive Sidakov across his back. 6-6, Chamizo.

He’s a two-time World champion for a reason.

With little over 30 seconds remaining in the match, Sidakov went to his best move. He punched the right side underhook and reached across for the stepping leg, collecting the ankle and driving with the seatbelt grip across Chamizo’s back.

As Sidakov dropped levels to attack the other leg, Chamizo spun back into him and squared up with his whizzer. Sidakov locked his hands and stood with the leg, pulling it in close, looking across to Chamizo’s supporting leg and driving with all his might, reaching to block the opposite hip.

Chamizo once again displayed his wizardry in angling off and halting momentum, but it wasn’t enough. As both wrestlers reached the outer boundary of the mat, Chamizo’s hand and a small portion of his knee touched out of bounds.

After a lengthy review, one point was awarded to Sidakov.

7-6, final.

Contender

After defeating one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the world in the semifinals, who could await in the Alans finals but another returning World champion?

Magomed Kurbanaliev won a 2016 World title in the non-Olympic weight of 70 kg. Kurbanaliev’s resume boasted a 2013 World bronze medal, a European Championship, an Ivan Yarygin title and a 2012 Junior World championship, among other accolades.

MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

Sidakov performed brilliantly. He attacked aggressively off of his own ties and Kurbanaliev’s preferred positions.

When Kurbanaliev was in deep, Sidakov dove and attacked ankles fearlessly, with no regard for the safety of his own knees.

He was able to navigate everything Kurbanaliev threw at him for well over four minutes of wrestling.

With just over one minute to go, he held a 5-1 lead.

That was until a short flurry gave Kurbanaliev double underhooks and he threw Sidakov to his back, locking his hands and picking up an additional two points rolling Sidakov through with a gut wrench.

A six-point sequence.

At the 2017 Alans, Sidakov learned two things. He can compete and win against the world’s best, but he would have to fight hard for every second if he wanted to survive.

Check back later this week for Part 2 of the Zaurbek Sidakov breakdown.