How Do Reigning World Champions Fare In Men's Freestyle?

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Leading into the World Championships, I became curious about the performance of reigning world champions. How many get their national anthem played the following year? How many earn back-to-back medals? Is it common for them to not compete the following year? Is it normal for them to not earn another medal? I could think of examples for each scenario off the top of my head, but I like to see the data completely laid out in front of me.

The data set used goes back to the last weight change when UWW went to eight weight classes for men’s freestyle. I did use non-Olympic Worlds in the data set for 2016. 


2014201520162017 
57Yang (DNC)Khinchegashvili (1st)Khinchegashvili (3rd 61)Takahashi (3rd) 
61Aliev (1st)Aliev (3rd 57)Stieber (DNP)Aliev (DNP 65) 
65Ramonov (3rd)Chamizo (3rd)Ramonov (DNC)Iakobishvili (3rd 70) 
70Tsabolov (DNC)Gazimagomedov (DNC)Kurbanaliev (DNC)Chamizo (5th 74) 
74Tsargush (DNC)Burroughs (DNP)Yazdani Charati (1st 86)Burroughs (3rd) 
86Sadulaev (1st)Sadulaev (1st)Sadulaev (2nd 97)Yazdani Charati (3rd) 
97Gadisov (2nd)Snyder (1st)Snyder (1st)Snyder (2nd) 
125Akguel (1st)Akguel (1st)Akguel (2nd)Petriashvili (1st) 
Medals5/86/85/86/822/32
Titles3/84/82/81/810/32

This is a small data set of just 32 world champions, but I thought it was the most relevant with the weight classes being consistent. 22 of 32 world champions during this period were able to earn a medal in the following year. 10 of 32 were able to go back-to-back, winning consecutive world titles. 6 of the 10 not earning a medal the next year didn’t compete due to injury or they simply didn’t make their team the following year. The four competitors who returned but didn’t earn a medal were Jordan Burroughs (USA), Logan Stieber (USA), Haji Aliev (AZE), and Frank Chamizo (ITA). Seeing that list should put into perspective how difficult it is to medal at the world championships. Chamizo and Aliev did move up a weight when they missed out on medals following their championship performances.

The 2019 World Championships will feature 10 reigning world champions for the first time since 1996. With more wrestlers having the opportunity to wrestle in their optimum weight class, I would expect a better conversion rate over the next Olympic cycle. This would be the year I would expect that to not come to fruition as there is great incentive to vacate non-Olympic weights. That doesn’t hold up going into the 2019 World Championships as 8 of the 10 reigning world champions are going to be in Nur-Sultan to defend their titles at their 2018 championship weight. 

David Taylor (USA) will miss the 2019 World Championships due to injury and Magomedrasul Gazimagomedov (RUS) failed to make the Russian team as he moved to the Olympic weight class of 74kg. This is about par for the course when you look at the returning world champions over the four-year span of complete data. 6 of the 32 world champions in the data set did not return to defend their championship the following year. Injuries came into play for some of these athletes, but Russia showed their depth by having 5 of the 6 reigning champions not return to defend their titles. An interesting note here is that Kyle Dake is back to defend his title at 79kg. Many believed his plan was to drop to 74kg and challenge Jordan Burroughs for the spot at the Olympic weight. Injury prevented that from happening and will put him back in the field at 79kg. 

Haji Aliev (AZE), Soslan Ramonov (RUS), Frank Chamizo (ITA), Jordan Burroughs (USA) and Abdulrashid Sadulaev (RUS) are examples of how difficult it is to run off several world titles in a row. They all won multiple world titles in the five-year span, but all had a hiccup along the way between titles. Aliev, Chamizo, and Sadulaev made weight changes that were certainly factors. Especially for Aliev, who had to drop 57kg during the Olympic year. As if it wasn’t already the feature storyline heading into the 2019 championships, Kyle Snyder (USA) could join this group by unseating Sadulaev to return to the top of the podium.

57Uguev
61Bonne Rodriguez
65Otoguro
70Gazimagomedov (DNC)
74Sidakov
79Dake
86Taylor (DNC)
92Cox
97Sadulaev
125Petriashvili

Looking at the returning World Champions, what are your predictions for them in Nur-Sultan?

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