Cuban wrestler Mijain Lopez bites his gold medal at the awards ceremony for the men's Greco-Roman 130-kilogram class at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on Aug. 15, 2016. Lopez won his third straight Olympic gold. (Kyodo via AP Images)

Cuba's Mijain Lopez beat rival Riza Kayaalp for the gold medal in the Greco-Roman heavyweight division Monday at the Rio Games, joining Russian legend Alexander Karelin as a three-time Olympic champion in the discipline's marquee weight class.

Lopez was so dominant in throttling Kayaalp _ tossing the Turk on his back for a four-point score just 15 seconds in _ that it left some wondering who'd win a theoretical match between the two giants in their prime. 

As great as Lopez has been, it's hard to believe anyone could have beaten Karelin at his best.

Why?

Well, because no one ever did.

Karelin, known as "Alexander the Great," won 12 combined Olympic and world titles. Karelin went 13 years without an international loss until Rulon Gardner stunned Karelin _ then 34 _ at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Lopez has eight combined Olympic and world titles, and at 33 he likely has a few years of competition left in him. But Lopez has also suffered a pair of high-profile defeats _ losing to Kayaalp in the 2011 and 2015 world title bouts.  

So the nod would have to go to Karelin.

But as far as celebrations go? No one could top Lopez there.