Mijain Lopez is the Greatest Wrestler of All Time
Today, we saw history. The greatest wrestler of this or any other generation supplanted Aleksandr Karelin as the best to ever do it. With his third Olympic gold medal, Mijaín López Núñez of Cuba stamped his mark on history.
Sometime around the turn of the century, it became agreed upon that Karelin was the greatest wrestler of all time. He represented the Soviet Union, the "Unified Team" and Russia at the Olympics, but no matter the singlet, the result was the same: gold after gold after gold.
Along came Rulon Gardner, and the streak of 12 consecutive world and Olympic medals was snapped. That left Karelin with three Olympic gold medals and one silver. While we know Karelin has a bigger war chest, Lopez is not so far behind.
The Cuban giant has eight world or Olympic titles to Karelin's 12, and a troika of silvers under suspicious circumstances. Does it seem strange that a Cuban who grew up poor in the city of Pinar del Río would lose a couple matches to a Russian? Especially considering the Russian's historical relationship with Cuban wrestlers. Or that his two losses to Turkey's Riza Kayaalp were by close margins, in the years immediately prior to the Olympics?
López would go on to destroy Kayaalp and Khasan Baryoev in Olympic finals, which is when his star shines the brightest. And that's what it's all about, performing your best on the sport's biggest stage.
Karelin gave up more points in his first Olympic final (5-3) than López has given up in all of his Olympic finals combined. He has not given up a point in the past two Olympics, which is even more impressive considering that he has wrestled under multiple sets of rules.
Beyond that is the level of competition. Kayaalp is probably the third greatest heavyweight ever, and López dominated him in a way that would shame Karelin's 1-0 win over Matt Ghaffari in Atlanta. López also has to deal with the 15 form Soviet Socialist Republics on a yearly basis. While Karelin still had to win Soviet nationals yearly, that is a far cry from seeing them at the world championships or Olympic Games.
Ultimately, this is a matter of opinion, a water cooler debate for the ages. If there was an all-time wrestling pay per view, Karelin/López would be my main event. While Karelin's reverse lift is iconic, there's no way he could ever get it on López. And the Cuban can gut wrench anyone, yes including the Russian Bear. You may have your own thoughts on this, but for my money, Mijaín López Núñez is the guy I would bet the farm on in any Olympic year.
Olympic Wrestling Previews:
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Women's Freestyle: 48KG | 53KG | 63KG | 75KG
Greco Roman: 59KG | 75KG | 85KG | 130KG
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