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How David Taylor won his first world title, and which current Nittany Lion helped

Reigning world champion and former Penn State great David Taylor will captain one of the first teams in the American Wrestling League dual on Friday night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Taylor drafted a team that included former Nittany Lions Zain Retherford and Nico Megaludis.
Reigning world champion and former Penn State great David Taylor will captain one of the first teams in the American Wrestling League dual on Friday night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Taylor drafted a team that included former Nittany Lions Zain Retherford and Nico Megaludis. Associated Press, file

BUDAPEST—The final portion of a magic show is called “the prestige”— often reserved for the most impressive feat of the performance. For David Taylor, known by fans as “The Magic Man,” the prestige involved him turning grit into gold.

In front of a capacity crowd, the former Nittany Lion overwhelmed Turkey’s Fatih Erdin with a 12-2 tech fall to win his first world title at the Senior World Championships in Budapest.

“I’ve visualized this so many times,” said Taylor, who was draped in an American flag after the victory. “I didn’t make a team for a long time. If you don’t make a team you can’t be a world champion, but it made me a better wrestler. I went from thinking maybe I was in the mix with guys, to really starting to believe I could wrestle, beat guys and score a lot of points. To be able to do that on this stage, I’m extremely thankful for my partners.”

In the gold medal match, Taylor was quick to establish himself as the aggressor, shooting relentlessly at Erdin as he racked up a 6-2 lead by the break. Even Erdin’s points were the result of Taylor pushing the pace. When Taylor launched into his opponent’s legs at the 4:55 mark, Erdin dodged him and virtually fell into a 2-point takedown.

As action resumed after the break, Taylor charged and executed an ankle pick for another 2-point takedown, followed by another that opened Erdin up for a high gut wrench. With that sequence, Taylor earned the technical fall.

Despite the margin of victory, Taylor was complimentary of his opponent. “He’s good. He’s beaten a lot of good people,” Taylor said of Erdin. “He earned the No. 1 seed in the bracket. I had to go through the toughest road possible, but he was ready. He was prepared. He fought me in positions I knew he was going to fight, but I just had to continue wrestling.”

To win the gold, Taylor had to navigate a grueling path. His first match of the tournament was against Olympic gold medalist Hassan Yazdani (Iran), known in his home country as “The Greatest,” who he beat 11-6 after trailing early on.

“I don’t think I could’ve drawn a bracket that was tougher than the one I had, in terms of the opponents I had to wrestle,” Taylor said. “Drawing Yazdani first—he’s the toughest competitor I’ve ever wrestled against. He just doesn’t stop. He’s just relentless. He’s done that for years. It’s a shame we had to wrestle the first round.”

The first-round win was followed by a systematic dismantling of Belarus’ Hajy Rajabau (10-0) and Cuba’s Yurieski Torreblanca (8-0). The win over Torreblanca was his third against the Cuban, but in their last meeting at the 2018 Yarygin Grand Prix, Taylor won with a slight 4-4 decision on criteria. On Saturday, Torreblanca was never close.

However, the most impressive match leading up to the finals was an improbable come-from-behind performance against Dauren Kurugliev (Russia), punctuated by a last-second takedown to give Taylor a 7-5 semifinal win.

Taylor attributed his success throughout the weekend to current Nittany Lion Bo Nickal, who traveled to Budapest to serve as Taylor’s training partner. “I’m so thankful for Bo,” Taylor said. “That guy is in college right now and he took time out of his schedule. He’s got his season coming up. He’s here helping me achieve my goals. I brought him with me and he was there for everything I needed.

“He’s like a little brother to me, so it’s special to be able to share this moment with him,” Taylor said. “He could give me every single feel I needed. I’m extremely grateful for Bo Nickal, and now I get to go home and help the Penn State team achieve their goals.”

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