López Defeats Rival Riza Kayaalp to Claim Third Straight Greco-Roman Gold Medal at the 2016 Rio Games

2016 Rio Games

It’s a three-peat for Mijaín López

The 33-year-old Cuban wrestler, widely regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, won his third consecutive Olympic title in Greco-Roman’s heaviest weight class after defeating longtime rival Riza Kayaalp of Turkey in the 130kg Gold Medal match at the 2012 Rio Games.

Mijaín López

It marked the third straight year that Lopez and Kayaalp met in the final round with a major global title on the line. They also faced each other in the Gold Medal matches at the world championships the last two years — Lopez won in 2014, Kayaalp won in 2015.

Their rivalry also includes a bout in the semifinals of the 2012 London Games, which was won by Lopez. He would go on to win the gold medal after defeating Estonia’s Heiki Nabi.

Mijaín López

Lopez got the scoring started early this time around, hitting a big four-point throw about 15 seconds into the match. The bout got chippy late, with Kayaalp connecting with Lopez’s head after the whistle blew. Kayaalp’s move briefly awarded two penalty points to Lopez, which would have given him an 8-0 victory by technical superiority, but the points were taken off the board. The match resumed with less than a minute to go, and Lopez ultimately emerged with a 6-0 win.

Lopez also won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.

López Defends His Greco-Roman Wrestling Title at the London Games

London Olympics 2012

It’s a tale of redemption for Mijaín López at the 2012 Olympic Games…

The 29-year-old Cuban wrestler took down Heiki Nabi of Estonia 2-0, 1-0 on Monday to claim his second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the men’s Greco-Roman wrestling 120 kg category at the London Games.

Mijaín López

But it was López’s semifinal against Riza Kayaalp of Turkey that proved to be the most highly anticipated match of the day.

The wrestling world was left in shock and disbelief when Kayaalp beat the seemingly unbeatable Lopez at the 2011 World Championships. López had won world titles in 2005 and 2007, claimed the gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and then went on to the next two world championships.

Mijaín López

But Lopez restored order to the heavyweight division he’s ruled for years by dropping Kayaalp in that semifinal match. He scored a couple of late points while on offense to win the first period. That set the tone heading into the second period, which also went to the “par terre” tiebreaker position. This time López  stayed on the bottom, keeping Kayaalp from scoring on him. Kayaalp flailed wildly as he attempted to pick López off the mat, but nothing worked.

Following that redemptive win over Kayaalp, López believed no one else could touch him… And that proved to be the case when he defeated Nabi in the final in similar fashion to take home the gold.

Mijaín López

“I think it was a really good fight,” said López, whose performance on Monday solidified his place as one of the great Greco-Roman heavyweights of all time.

With the victory, López becomes the third wrestler to win multiple gold medals at 120 kilograms, joining Russian legend Alexandre Karelin and Alexander Koltschinkski of the former Soviet Union.

Asked if he’d be back for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, López was noncommittal.

“I mean I am [almost] 30 already. I have three Olympics behind me. It is going to be a little bit more difficult, but life goes on,” said López.