American David Taylor, aka 'Magic Man,' wins gold in Tokyo Olympics 86kg freestyle wrestling

CHIBA, Japan — They call him “Magic Man.”

Now you see him, now you don’t. And now he has a gold medal.

It's an apropos nickname, because David Taylor’s efficiency on the mat during his four matches at the Tokyo Olympics could be equated to a disappearing act — in the best way — and helped him claim the top podium spot for the United States in 86kg freestyle wrestling.

"I've won a lot of medals in my career," Taylor said following the medal ceremony. "This one feels a little bit heavier." 

He needed all of 10 minutes and 49 seconds – none of his matches lasted the full six minutes thanks to three technical falls before the finals – to face Hassan “The Greatest” Yazdanicharati in the championship match.

Yazdanicharati, the top-seed in the field, is a two-time world champion whose kryptonite appears to be Taylor’s sorcery. Taylor entered 2-0 against the Iranian, having defeated him at the 2017 World Cup and the 2018 World Championships.

David Taylor celebrates after defeating Hassan Yazdanicharati in the freestyle 86kg final.

In the trilogy of "Magic Man" against "The Greatest," Taylor scored a dramatic 4-3 victory over Yazdanicharati at Makuhari Messe Hall on Thursday to clinch gold. Taylor had won by a combined 33-2 margin on his way to the gold-medal bout.

The blowouts weren’t anything knew. He won plenty that way earlier in his career. The closer matches were where he fell short. And he knew facing Yazdanicharati wasn't going to be pretty. 

“To be able to do both in this tournament – dominate people and then find a way at the end – feels pretty good,” he said.

Yazdanicharati had taken early leads in their first two fights, and he led 1-0 at the three-minute break and then 2-0. A Taylor takedown tied it there before Yazdanicharati took a one-point lead and Taylor was assessed with a caution. But with 20 seconds left, Taylor managed to take him down to make it 4-3 and make it three straight wins over Yazdanicharati. 

“I’ve said this … you want to be the best in the world? You need to take people down twice," Taylor said. "You need to get two takedowns. One takedown doesn’t do it. I think tonight was a good example of that.”

He hurt his knee in 2018 and said his rehab process allowed him to develop more strength in his lower-half. He always had endurance, but the training then led to more explosion.

“I could sense him getting tired," Taylor said. "He wanted to win as bad as I did. I just had to find a way to get it done. I don’t really remember it. I just remember creating a flurry.”

They went to the floor. The clock read 14 seconds, and his hope was that they didn’t go back to their feet. To not "get it done" wasn't an option. 

“I was going to rip my arms off if I had to,” he said.

After the match, Yazdanicharati could be heard wailing in agony on his way to the changing room. A loss like that would have crushed him too, Taylor mentioned. He plans on seeing him again in two months at world championships in Oslo, Norway.

Leading into the Games, opponents scored all of two points on Taylor in his last nine matches, which included shutting out the field at U.S. trials and at the Pan American Championships. The gold also meant the former Penn State All-American is undefeated in his last 52 international matches.

“This gold medal, it’s a lot of people," Taylor said. "It’s my family – the dedication and sacrifices they made when I was a kid. My wife, my coaches along the way. These aren’t just won by one person. They should be split-up among a lot of people.”

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.