A Tradition as Old as Time
So, what’s on the line in a Mongolian wrestling match? Well, in the small competitions that pepper the sprawling Mongolian countryside over the summer, the stakes are often little more than local bragging rights. At the Naadam festival, however, which features anywhere from 512 to 1024 of the best wrestlers in the country, the implications are much higher.
Competitors at Naadam compete to attain rank. At the national level, the lowest of these ranks—which is still a substantial honor to receive—is called Falcon of Nation. This rank is achieved by surviving to the fifth-last round. The next ranks are the similarly triumphant-sounding Hawk of Nation, Elephant of Nation, and Garuda of Nation, which competitors attain by making it to the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals respectively. The next rank is called Lion of Nation; an honor that can only be earned by winning at Naadam. Yet this is not the ultimate rank that a Mongolian wrestler can achieve.
Higher still on the Mongolian wrestling hierarchy is the title of Giant, which can only be attained by winning multiple Naadam tournaments. Win twice, and you achieve the lifetime rank of Giant of Nation. Earn four Naadam wins, and you will forever be known as Wide Giant of Nation. Win five times, and earn the revered and permanent title of Undefeatable Giant of Nation.
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Well, as cool as it is, for a wrestler to earn the title of Giant is also a very rare occurrence. Since 1921, only 20 competitors have managed to do so. But these 20 wrestlers earned their chapters in the history book of a tradition as old as time.