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Ever wondered who are the gladiators of the modern age?

From bone-crushing grips to the artistry on the mat, these 15 wrestling virtuosos set the gold standard.

Strap in for a tour through the pantheon of grappling giants, one legendary hold at a time.

Best Wrestlers:

  1. Aleksandr Karelin
  2. Dan Gable
  3. John Smith
  4. Saori Yoshida
  5. Bruce Baumgartner
  6. Buvaisar Saitiev
  7. Cael Sanderson
  8. Jordan Burroughs
  9. Rulon Gardner
  10. Kaori Icho
  11. Abdulrashid Sadulaev
  12. Artur Taymazov
  13. Yojiro Uetake
  14. Aleksandr Medved
  15. Carol Huynh
Wrestling

#1 Aleksandr Karelin

  • 🌍 Nationality: Russian
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: September 19, 1967
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Greco-Roman Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: 3Γ— Olympic Gold Medalist (1988, 1992, 1996), 1Γ— Olympic Silver Medalist (2000), 9Γ— World Champion, 12Γ— European Champion

Widely known as “The Russian Bear,” Aleksandr Karelin was a dominant Greco-Roman wrestler, whose strength and unique Karelin Lift made him nearly unbeatable for over a decade. He was famed for his exceptional work ethic and intensity in training, which translated into an undefeated streak in international competition for 13 years.

Karelin’s impact on wrestling is profound, inspiring future generations with his dedication and discipline. Outside of the mat, he is involved in Russian politics, contributing to the sports and youth policy development. Karelin’s presence extends beyond wrestling, as he became a symbol of strength and perseverance.

#2 Dan Gable

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: October 25, 1948
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler, Wrestling Coach
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (1972), 2Γ— NCAA Division I Champion (1968, 1969), World Champion (1971), Outstanding Wrestler of NCAA Tournament (1970)

Dan Gable, the embodiment of American wrestling, is famous for his intense physical conditioning and mental toughness, earning him the nickname “The Machine.” Gable’s astounding NCAA and Olympic records set a high bar for what determination can achieve. Despite facing personal tragedy with the murder of his sister during his youth, he channeled his adversity into monumental focus and success.

As a coach, Gable’s legacy further flourished, leading the University of Iowa to 15 NCAA team titles. His methodology and approach to coaching changed the landscape of collegiate wrestling. His motivational speaking and wrestling clinics continue to impact athletes across the country.

#3 John Smith

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: August 9, 1965
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler, Wrestling Coach
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: 2Γ— Olympic Gold Medalist (1988, 1992), 4Γ— World Champion (1987, 1989, 1990, 1991), 2Γ— NCAA Division I Champion (1987, 1988)

John Smith is synonymous with innovation in wrestling, particularly known for perfecting the “low single” leg attack. His competitive career is among the most distinguished in American wrestling history, with six consecutive world-level gold medals. Often hailed as the best U.S. wrestler of all time, Smith transitioned from athlete to coach without skipping a beat.

As the head coach of Oklahoma State University’s wrestling team, Smith has built a powerhouse program, emphasizing skill and psychological readiness. His influential coaching style and his significant contributions to wrestling have earned him a legendary status in the sport.

#4 Saori Yoshida

  • 🌍 Nationality: Japanese
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: October 5, 1982
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: 3Γ— Olympic Gold Medalist (2004, 2008, 2012), Olympic Silver Medalist (2016), 13Γ— World Champion

Saori Yoshida stands as one of the most accomplished female wrestlers in history, known for her unparalleled technique and agility on the mat, which brought her an unprecedented 16 consecutive international titles. Her commitment and longevity in the sport exemplify the zenith of athletic excellence, capturing the hearts of fans worldwide.

Despite suffering a rare defeat in the 2016 Olympic finals, Yoshida’s humility and grace in the face of loss only enhanced her stature. Off the mat, she serves as an ambassador of the sport, and her influence on women’s wrestling in Japan and globally has been transformative, paving the way for future generations of female athletes.

#5 Bruce Baumgartner

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: November 2, 1960
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: 2Γ— Olympic Gold Medalist (1984, 1992), 1Γ— Olympic Silver Medalist (1988), 1Γ— Olympic Bronze Medalist (1996, 2000), 3Γ— World Champion

Bruce Baumgartner is one of the United States’ greatest heavyweight wrestlers, boasting consistent international success across four Olympic Games. His powerful style and commanding presence on the mat overwhelmed opponents, solidifying his reputation as a wrestling titan. Baumgartner’s competitiveness and sportsmanship exemplified the spirit of the sport.

Post-retirement, he continues to contribute to wrestling and the broader sports community in administrative roles, including athletic directorship. His dedication to promoting wrestling and nurturing athletes’ development remains a vital part of his enduring legacy.

#6 Buvaisar Saitiev

  • 🌍 Nationality: Russian
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: March 11, 1975
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: 3Γ— Olympic Gold Medalist (1996, 2004, 2008), 6Γ— World Champion, 6Γ— European Champion

Buvaisar Saitiev, often celebrated as one of the best freestyle wrestlers ever, is known for his exceptional adaptability and creativity on the mat. His diverse range of techniques and ability to read opponents made him a formidable competitor. Saitiev’s career is marked by a combination of tactical brilliance and artistic expression in wrestling.

A true maestro on the mat, Saitiev has inspired countless wrestlers with his innovative style. His influence on the sport and its tactics continues to resonate in the wrestling world. Off the mat, Saitiev has maintained a low-profile life, with his achievements speaking volumes about his contributions to wrestling.

#7 Cael Sanderson

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: June 20, 1979
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler, Wrestling Coach
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (2004), 4Γ— NCAA Division I Champion (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002), Undefeated college wrestling record (159-0)

Cael Sanderson redefined collegiate wrestling with an undefeated record and four NCAA titles, earning a mythic status in the process. His tactical precision and calm demeanor challenged the bounds of the sport’s potential. His transition to freestyle wrestling culminated in an Olympic gold, cementing his status as a wrestling legend.

Beyond his wrestling career, Sanderson has been equally impressive as the head coach of Penn State University’s wrestling team, leading them to multiple NCAA team titles. His innovative coaching has transformed the program into a modern-day dynasty, influencing the sport’s evolution at the collegiate level.

#8 Jordan Burroughs

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: July 8, 1988
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (2012), 5Γ— World Champion, 2Γ— Pan American Games Gold Medalist, 4Γ— NCAA All-American

Jordan Burroughs, known for his explosive double-leg takedowns and incredible work rate, is a role model for aspiring wrestlers globally. His high-intensity matches and ability to perform under pressure have brought him to the pinnacle of freestyle wrestling. His famous winning streak and clutch performances have solidified his elite status.

Burroughs has become an ambassador for wrestling through his positive image and engagement with fans on social media. His dedication to family and his faith are central elements of his public persona, making him a well-respected figure both in the sport and in his personal life.

#9 Rulon Gardner

  • 🌍 Nationality: American
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: August 16, 1971
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Greco-Roman Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (2000), World Wrestling Championships Bronze Medalist (2001), Olympic Bronze Medalist (2004)

Rulon Gardner, known for his monumental Olympic upset, earned the nickname “The Miracle on the Mat” when he defeated the previously unbeatable Aleksandr Karelin at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. His defensive strategy and exceptional determination were his greatest assets in his wrestling arsenal.

His success story is one of overcoming insurmountable odds, not just in wrestling but also in life, surviving a snowmobile accident and a plane crash. Gardner’s legacy is not just defined by his victories but also by his resilience and the ability to inspire others with his story of perseverance and triumph.

#10 Kaori Icho

  • 🌍 Nationality: Japanese
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: June 13, 1984
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: 4Γ— Olympic Gold Medalist (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016), 10Γ— World Wrestling Champion

Kaori Icho is renowned for her unmatched achievements in women’s freestyle wrestling, making history as the first wrestler to win four consecutive Olympic gold medals. Her exceptional technique, agility, and tactical intelligence in matches set her apart from her competitors.

More than her imposing record, Icho’s quiet strength and respect for her sport have elevated women’s wrestling globally. Despite facing coaching controversies through her career, she remains a symbol of excellence and an inspiration to female athletes. Her legendary status cements her as a groundbreaking figure not only in her sport but also in the wider context of Olympic history.

#11 Abdulrashid Sadulaev

  • 🌍 Nationality: Russian
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: May 9, 1996
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: 2Γ— Olympic Gold Medalist (2016, 2020), 5Γ— World Wrestling Champion

Abdulrashid Sadulaev, also known as “The Russian Tank,” is celebrated for his incredible power and speed on the mat. His dominance in the light-heavyweight category is marked by his robust defensive capabilities and relentless attacking style.

Undefeated for years, his first notable loss at the 2018 World Championships served only to fuel his return to glory. Sadulaev is not only a force in wrestling; he is a national hero whose commitment to his craft and his homeland continues to inspire young athletes. His stoic demeanor and quiet leadership continue to redefine excellence in freestyle wrestling.

#12 Artur Taymazov

  • 🌍 Nationality: Uzbekistani
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: July 20, 1979
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: 3Γ— Olympic Gold Medalist (2004, 2008, 2012), Silver Medalist (2000), 2Γ— World Wrestling Champion

Artur Taymazov stands out because of his sheer dominance in the heavyweight freestyle wrestling category. With an impressive combination of size, strength, and quickness, Taymazov became one of the most decorated Olympians in the sport.

Despite his successes, his career has been marred by the retesting of stored samples, leading to the stripping of two Olympic medals due to doping violations. Nonetheless, his performances on the mat during his active years left an indelible mark on the sport, and he has since delved into politics, serving as a member of the Uzbek Parliament.

#13 Yojiro Uetake

  • 🌍 Nationality: Japanese
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: April 8, 1943
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: 2Γ— Olympic Gold Medalist (1964, 1968), 3Γ— NCAA Collegiate Wrestling Champion

Yojiro Uetake is a legend in both international and collegiate wrestling. His impeccable record at Oklahoma State University is still revered today. Noted for his precise technique and balance, Uetake set the standard for technique-oriented wrestling.

His success in collegiate wrestling paved the way for international recognition, where he would assert his dominance at the Olympics. He is also credited for bolstering the popularity of wrestling in Japan and the United States. After retiring, Uetake has dedicated himself to coaching, passing on his expertise to future generations, further solidifying his legacy in the sport.

#14 Aleksandr Medved

  • 🌍 Nationality: Belarusian
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: September 16, 1937
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: 3Γ— Olympic Gold Medalist (1964, 1968, 1972), 7Γ— World Wrestling Champion

Aleksandr Medved, known as the “Bear,” made a titanic impact in freestyle wrestling with his formidable physical style and endurance. His career, spanning over three Olympic cycles, established him as one of the most enduring champions in wrestling history.

Medved’s legacy transcends his numerous accolades. His commitment to the sport’s development is evidenced by his work in promoting wrestling and mentoring young wrestlers long after his retirement. Medved’s contributions helped shape the sport in his country and inspired wrestlers around the world, making him a true ambassador of wrestling.

#15 Carol Huynh

  • 🌍 Nationality: Canadian
  • πŸŽ‚ Date of Birth: November 16, 1980
  • πŸ€Όβ€β™‚οΈ Position/Role: Freestyle Wrestler
  • πŸ† Career Highlights: Olympic Gold Medalist (2008), Olympic Bronze Medalist (2012), 2Γ— Pan American Games Champion

Carol Huynh’s contributions to wrestling are remarkable, not only for her gold medal victory, which was Canada’s first in Olympic women’s wrestling, but also for her advocacy for the sport. Her dynamic wrestling style and tactical acumen made her a formidable force on the mat.

Huynh’s passion for wrestling extends beyond competition; she was a key advocate for keeping wrestling in the Olympics when it was at risk of being removed from the games. Her influence helped to ensure the sport’s future for generations to come. In addition to her athletic career, Huynh’s work in promoting women in wrestling and her support for Canada’s indigenous communities highlight her dedication to uplifting others.

Extend your wrestling journey beyond the ring with our curated list of the best wrestling podcasts, featuring interviews with many of the athletes mentioned.

Wrestling

FAQ

Who is the best Wrestling player of all time?

Aleksandr Karelin is considered the best wrestling player of all time. Here’s a link to our article on why we think Aleksandr Karelin is the best wrestler of all time. His unparalleled record and three Olympic gold medals affirm his dominance.

Who are the top 10 greatest Wrestling players of all time?

Aleksandr Karelin, Dan Gable, John Smith, Saori Yoshida, Bruce Baumgartner, Buvaisar Saitiev, Cael Sanderson, Jordan Burroughs, Rulon Gardner, and Kaori Icho are the top 10 greatest Wrestling players of all time. These individuals have amassed tremendous achievements and have profoundly influenced the sport.

Who is the most famous female Wrestling player?

Saori Yoshida is the most famous female Wrestling player. With 13 world championships and 3 Olympic gold medals, she has an exceptional track record, setting a high bar in women’s wrestling.

Meet Rev, one of our dedicated team members who embodies the essence of sports passion. When he’s not immersed in the world of sports content creation, Rev is busy honing his skills in esports and exploring the great outdoors through activities like hiking and basketball.

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