Rıza Kayaalp secures historic 12th European gold to equal record of wrestling legend Aleksandr Karelin

Türkiye’s Rıza Kayaalp has secured a record-equalling 12th Greco-Roman gold medal at the European Wrestling Championships at the Arena Zagreb in Croatia – the same number as Russian great Aleksandr Karelin.

Kayaalp was crowned champion of the super-heavyweight 130-kg division following a closely contested bout against Sabah Saleh Shariati of Azerbaijan on Saturday, 22 April, which ended 2-1 in Kayaalp’s favour.

The pair were joined on the winners’ podium by Norway’s Oskar Marvik and Iakobi Kajaia of Georgia who respectively beat Lithuanian Mantas Knystautas and Alin Alexuc Ciurariu of Romania for the bronze.

Kayaalp’s path to his 12th European title was secured with victories against Serbian Boris Petrusic in the qualifiers, followed by Norway’s Oskar Marvik in the quarterfinals and Lithuanian Mantas Knystautas in the semi-finals, taking him into the finals to face Shariati.

The incredible record of the ‘Russian Bear’, Aleksandr Karelin

The 33-year-old Turk’s triumph in Arena Zagreb means he has matched the incredible 12 European titles record of Aleksandr Karelin – the triple Olympic champion, who is widely regarded as the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of the modern era.

Nicknamed the ‘Russian Bear’, Karelin was a giant of a man, whose career representing first the Soviet Union and later the Russia on the international stage, saw him dominate Greco-Roman wrestling for more than a decade.

Aleksandr Karelin at the Olympics


Born in Siberia in 1967, Karelin won his first European title in 1988. The young USSR champion went on to also become Olympic and World champion. His wrestling record by the time he retired in 2000 was 887 wins and two losses (both by a single point), winning 12 European golds, 9 world championship titles and 3 Olympic golds, in the process as well as creating innovative wrestling techniques, such as the Karelin Lift.

In a statement after his victory on Saturday, Kayaalp, a three-time Olympic medallist himself, spoke of his pleasure at equalling the great wrestler’s European record:

“I came here with the goal of breaking this record and offering it as a gift to our people. Our team had a different objective, but it was an honour to match the record set by the legendary Russian wrestler, Alexander Karelin, who boasts 12 European Championships.

“We aim to surpass this record next year, and with 13 titles in the challenging branch of Greco-Roman wrestling. It’s no small feat. It may sound easy to say, but believe me, it takes incredible dedication and hard work.”

Rıza Kayaalp in world top 3 for over a decade

To date, the Yozgat born wrestler has won five world championships, as well as silver (2016) and two bronze medals (2012 & 2020) at the Olympics.

Kayaalp, who is a graduate of Aksaray University’s Physical Education and Sports Academy, put himself on the map by winning a gold medal in the 120 kg division of Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2009 Mediterranean Games.

Rıza Kayaalp winning his 12th European title

Embed from Getty Images

Two years later, he beat Mijaín López in the final of the 2011 World Wrestling Championships in Istanbul, Turkiye, who has remained his greatest rival for more than a decade.

Like López, Kayaalp stepped up to the 130kg weight in 2014. The Turkish wrestler has been on the winners’ podium, with either a gold, silver or bronze medal, for all the major international tournaments – Olympics, World Championships and European Championships – ever since.


Main image, top, Riza Kayaalp of Turkiye celebrates winning against Sabah Shariati of Azerbaijan in the final round of the men’s Graeco-Roman 130kg category of the European Wrestling Championships in Zagreb, Croatia, 22 April 2023.  Photo © ANTONIO BAT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (13883391c) and