We Must Break You is the weekly round-up of news regarding the Iowa wrestling program, a breakdown of the rankings, and a look ahead to the weekend's action. Feel free to send any links, tips, suggestions, complaints, or bribes to firstname.lastname@example.org
PROGRAMMING NOTE: The Big Ten Tournament is this weekend, with Session I (First round, Quarterfinals) kicking off at 10am on Saturday and Session II (Semifinals, Wrestlebacks) getting started at 6pm. Sunday's action gets going with Session III (Consolation semifinals, 7th place match) at 1pm and Session IV (1st, 3rd, and 5th place matches) at 3pm. There's no TV (or internet stream) coverage of Saturday's action or Session III on Sunday, but Session IV will be LIVE on BTN. TheOpenMat will be streaming live audio coverage of all four sessions, though. We'll have open threads going here on both days.
Maybe ESPN does love us a little after all. On the eve of tournament season, ESPN writer Michelle Voepel takes the time to write a love letter to the sport of wrestling -- and to the state that is "its heartbeat," Iowa.
"You can't comprehend the fan base for wrestling in Iowa until you see it," said Hawkeyes senior Luke Lofthouse, who is from Utah but now will always be an "honorary" Iowan. "And it's the whole state -- for little league wrestling to high school to college.
"Where I came from we got pretty good crowds, but nothing like what we get here. And the fans know a lot about wrestling, it's not like they are just screaming. They know when to scream."
It's a well-written piece (and, no, not just because it has so many nice things to say about the state, the Iowa wrestling program, and Dan Gable), and especially informative at making you realize the incredible ties Iowa has to virtually every corner of wrestling. Just look at the top teams in the sport this year. Boise State is coached by Greg Randall, who grew up in Mount Vernon and went to school in Iowa City. Cornell is coached by Rob Koll, whose father was an Iowan who wrestled for UNI -- they also feature a native Iowan on their team, Justin Kerber of Emmetsburg. Penn State is coached by Cael Sanderson -- who wrestled at Iowa State. Minnesota is coached by J Robinson, who coached under Dan Gable at Iowa for years. And so on. About the only program of significance that can't claim some significant tie to Iowa, Iowa State, or the state itself is Oklahoma State -- and, hell, Mark Perry is John Smith's nephew and he won two national titles at Iowa. If the sport of college wrestling is a spiderweb, the state of Iowa is undoubtedly at its core.
Greatness never rests. You'd think that Dan Gable would be pretty content. After all, his legacy is pretty much peerless -- 118-1 and two national championships at Iowa State, a run to the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in which he didn't concede a single point, and a coaching career at Iowa (355-21-5, 15 NCAA titles) that's incomparable. But then again, he wouldn't be Dan Gable if he was content.
Gable still reviews [his 13-11 loss to Larry Owings in the NCAA final] in his mind, like a mathematician going over the same equation for decades. He said the Patriots' loss to the Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl -- which kept New England from a perfect season -- actually brought him more clarity about the defeat that ended his college career.
"It took me to that event before I could start to close the door on studying my loss in 1970," said Gable, who went 118-1 at Iowa State. "I think I figured out the missing piece after analyzing it for all these years. It didn't take the sting away. But something clicked, and I understood why I lost.
"What it was came down to natural reaction. I always went for the pin. I did what was natural for me. I could have won the match without doing that. But I went for the fall, twice, the same way. I didn't adapt."
Leave it a football game to help him solve the riddle of a match that happened 40 years ago. That said, it's an invaluable lesson and one that sometimes gets lost in the mystique of the "Iowa style." Aggression is important, but it still has to be tempered with caution and awareness at times. It's a lesson every Iowa wrestler learns at some point -- just a few weeks ago Montell Marion learned it when he lost a heart-breaker to Kellen Russell. Gable used that mistake to springboard to his incredible gold medal run in 1972; let's hope Marion can do the same this year, starting with the Big Tens this week and the NCAAs in two weeks.
Sometimes you just want to punch an opponent in his goddamn face. Sadly, that's not legal in college wrestling. Enter: MMA. Amateur wrestling has proven to be an invaluable base for many MMA guys to work from as they got into the mixed martial arts game. In UFC alone, guys like Tito Ortiz, Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, Rashad Evans, Cain Velasquez, and (of course) Brock Lesnar have parlayed successful collegiate wrestling careers into enormous success in UFC. More recently, former college wrestlers like Penn State's Phil Davis and Oklahoma State's Johny Hendricks have made the transition from college grappling to MMA. Hell, the contender for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title later this month, Jon Jones, was planning to come to Iowa State to wrestle before his girlfriend's pregnancy forced him to change to some more lucrative plans. But this feeder system has mostly been one-way: it's led a lot of great athletes to MMA and helped that sport immeasurably, but it hasn't always done as much for amateur wrestling, particularly at the levels beyond college.
Says ISU coach Kevin Jackson in yet another ESPN piece (they're doing some great work this week):
"I do feel like MMA does hurt USA Wrestling's chances to win at the world and Olympic level. Because it takes away from our depth when we have very good wrestlers who choose to go directly from college to MMA."
Granted, the talent drain isn't the only thing hurting USA Wrestling on the international scene -- the fact that international wrestling (freestyle) has grown more and more different from college wrestling (folkstyle) hasn't helped matters; guys who are proficient in one style aren't necessarily going to be as skilled in the other. But there's no doubt that the emergence of MMA has hurt USA Wrestling to a degree. Although that hasn't been true with too many Iowa and Iowa State wrestlers. As Jackson notes in the article, many Iowa and Iowa State wrestlers continue to compete internationally after their college days are done. Cael Sanderson competed internationally for many years after leaving Iowa State. Doug Schwab did the same until taking the UNI job last year and Brent Metcalf and Ryan Morningstar are two of the most recent Iowa wrestlers to continue wrestling after graduation. In fact, the only former Iowa wrestler I know of who has gone into MMA is Paul Bradley, who was briefly on The Ultimate Fighter and continues to fight in various smaller promotions. There's no right answer, of course -- there's plenty of glory to be had in winning a medal for your country, but at the same time it's hard to fault someone for pursuing a profession that can make them many thousands of dollars more than they could otherwise.
Big Ten previewin'. As we've been talking about all week, the Big Ten Tournament is this weekend; let's see what various sites have to say.
* Intermat: Like Penn State to edge Iowa in the team title race on the strength of four predicted champions (Long, Molinaro, Taylor, Ruth). They predict a few Iowa champions -- one writer takes McD at 125 and another takes Gambrall at 184 (bold!), although at least one of them also picks Ramos, Marion, Janssen, and Lofthouse the Elder to make it to the finals. They're high on Welch at 149 (picking him to knock off DSJ before losing to Taylor in the final) and Alcala at heavyweight (tabbing him to beat Wade in the finals).
* The Mat. They don't offer a very detailed breakdown of the tournament, but rather a more general overview. They do offer some potential insight into the condition of Andrew Howe, one of the biggest question marks heading into the event:
"Howe is looking great," Davis said. "He ripped his hamstring and it was a pretty bad injury. He did a great job coming back. The doctors have been amazed by how quickly he’s come back. His body looks fresh. He went real hard with Travis Rutt in the room the other day and passed that test with flying colors. He’s looking really good."
Mind you, that's his coach saying that he looks great; he's not exactly an impartial observer. Howe hasn't competed in two months and, so far as I know, no one's seen him compete since then except for his coaches and teammates in the Wisconsin practice room. And it's not like they're going to admit if he's still hobbled. I don't think we'll really know much about his condition until he steps on the mat on Saturday.
* The Open Mat: TOM picks Iowa to win the team title -- even without crowning a single individual champion. They tab McD, DSJ, Lofthouse the Elder, and Blake to finish as runners-up and Ramos, Marion, and Gambrall to finish in 3rd (with Janssen and Lofthouse the Younger placing 4th). They go pretty conservative in their winner picks -- all 1-seeds except heavyweight, where 4-seed Tony Nelson gets the nod.
* Hawkeye Report: Finally, Hawkeye Report chatted with former Iowa great (and current radio broadcaster) Mark Ironside on the eve of the Big Ten tournament; he names Iowa and Penn State as the favorites and provides some interesting insight into training and conditioning (among other things).
Finally: Brent Metcalf reads to sixth-graders. YOU WILL LISTEN -- OR YOU WILL LOSE A LIMB.