Matches between the Soviet Union and the United States always seemed to mean a little more given the geopolitical backdrop. So dominant was the USSR while they existed that any time an American could defeat his Soviet opponent, it was a big moment. The depth of the USSR in that era was staggering such that even an unknown wrestler would be feared if he was wearing the CCCP. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, many wrestlers who once would have competed under the same banner fill brackets at the biggest international events, making it even more difficult to win a medal. While that makes standing on the podium even more of an accomplishment, winning a gold medal between 1951 and 1991 almost always meant going through the Soviet representative. All of Team USA’s legends who competed in that era clashed with the USSR, though many of those matches are not featured on video anywhere due to the times involved. Still, we were able to piece together five great matches that feature incredible wrestlers from the two countries. Four of the five are between two wrestlers who both won world or Olympic gold during their careers. The exception is a classic Karelin match simply because watching him work is always worthwhile. Enjoy!
Dan Gable vs. Ruslan Ashraliev – 1972 Olympics, 68 kg
The Soviets famously scoured the country for a man who could beat Gable and Ashraliev was their last chance to do so at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. To that point, Gable had not surrendered a single point, had pinned three of his opponents, had a 20-0 win, and a 6-0 decision over the eventual silver medalist Kikuo Wada (JPN). Ashraliev would move up to 74 kg after this tournament, finish second at the 1973 World Championships, then win world titles in 1974 and 1975. Gable, of course, had won a 1971 World Championship gold and was wrestling in his last world-level championship event.
Kenny Monday vs. Arsen Fadzaev – 1989 World Championships, 74 kg
Monday made his first world/Olympic team in 1988, winning gold at the Olympics in Seoul by defeating 1987 world champion Adlan Varaev (USSR) at 74 kg. Fadzaev won gold in that same tournament at 68 kg, his fifth consecutive world-level crown at the weight class not counting the 1984 Olympics which the Soviets boycotted. Moving up to take on Monday was a bold move and the two clashed with the title on the line. The Soviet would go on to add three more world-level golds after this match while Monday would finish second in 1991 and 1992.
Bruce Baumgartner vs. David Gobedishvili – 1990 World Championships, 130 kg
Big Bruce won the first of his 13 world-level medals in 1983, then followed that up with a win at the 1984 Olympics with no Soviets in the field. In 1985, Gobedishvili emerged to win his first world gold in his first trip to the event while Baumgartner took bronze. The Soviet was not invincible, however, losing to Bruce in the 1986 World Championships gold medal match at 130 kg. Gobedishvili avenged that loss in the 1988 Olympic final which made the battle between the two at the 1990 World Championships a clash between the last two Olympic champions. Baumgartner would also beat David in the 1992 Olympic Games after they were drawn into the same pool.
John Smith vs. Sergei Beloglazov – 1989 World Grand Championships
Beloglazov had wrapped up his world-level championship career with his second Olympic gold in 1988, to go alongside his six world titles. All but one of those wins was at 57 kg, though he did claim gold in 1982 up at 62 kg. Smith won his first World Championship gold in 1987, at 62 kg, and backed it up with an Olympic crown in 1988 as well as world gold in 1989 before this event. The World Grand Championships was an All-Star match in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with prize money at stake. Smith would go on to extend his streak to six world-level championships in a row.
Aleksandr Karelin vs. Craig Pittman – 1989 World Championships
Karelin never lost to a wrestler from another country while wrestling for the USSR, his defeat at the hands of Rulon Gardner (USA) in the 2000 Olympics came while wrestling under the Russian flag. After making his debut in terrifying fashion at the 1988 Olympics, which was the first of 12 world-level championships for Karelin, Aleksandr was at the peak of his powers in Martigny, Switzerland. Pittman, who would finish seventh in his only World Championship appearance, was a Marine at this time, but suffered the same fate as so many who battled one of history’s most dominant forces on the mat.