David Taylor, the two-time NCAA wrestling champ from Penn State, meets 2016 Olympic champion Hassan Yazdani of Iran in an epic gold-medal final at the Tokyo Olympics. The match is scheduled to begin at about 7:20 a.m. EST Thursday.
It's "Magic Man" vs. "The Greatest" for gold in the 86kg freestyle wrestling competition. And Taylor just might have the edge.
Yazdani is the defending Olympic champ at 74kg, a world champ in 2017 and '19 and a giant in his country, where he is known as "The Greatest." Wrestling fans in Iran also call Yazdani "Fearless" and "The King," having made him among the nation's most popular sporting heroes.
But every hero has a foil, and Yazdani's foil is Taylor. The 2018 world champion has won 51 consecutive international matches and is 2-0 vs. Yazdani. Taylor defeated Yazdani 8-4 at the 2017 World Cup and 11-6 at the 2018 world championships, after which Taylor sustained a knee injury that kept him out of the 2019 tournament. Yazdani stepped in to win his second title and hasn't lost since.
"The truth is that I hope I am worthy of these nicknames," Yazdani said in an interview with the Tehran Times. "Each one is valuable for me, and so I hope I can live up to the nicknames and the expectations of my great fans. I always want to keep their hope, so I accept them all and just hope that I am worthy."
Taylor, who competes for the Nittany Lions Wrestling Club, has been dominant in Tokyo, outscoring his three opponents by a combined score of 43-2. Yazdani, the 86kg top seed, has won by more reserved scores of 3-1, 4-1 and 3-1.
Taylor is competing in his first Olympics. He was a four-time All-American at Penn State, twice winning the Hodge Award as the top collegiate wrestler, from 2011-14. He also won two titles at the Pan-American Games.
"I've dreamed of nothing but a gold medal, I'm going to go out and earn it every single second," Taylor said in an interview with Penn State's athletic communications staff. "Back home at Penn State, we've got these young killers. They bring the fire every single day and you've got no choice. They keep me young, excited, hungry. They help me prepare every step of the way; I am challenged all the time. I believe in myself. I want to be here."
Here's a good look at the two previous matches between Taylor and Yazdani. Note how Yazdani took leads in both bouts but could not counter Taylor's conditioning and late aggressiveness.