Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Everybody Hates Iowa Wrestling

Yesterday, I mentioned that the Iowa Hawkeyes are the most hated wrestling team in the nation.  For those that don't follow the sport of wrestling, you're probably wondering how a simple school from the heartland could be so hated by every other wrestling fan.  Well, for the average wrestling fan, it's super simple, Iowa is better than everybody else.  They go out and kick everybody's ass.

For people who follow wrestling a little bit closer, they might hate Iowa because they perceive Iowa as a dirty team.  It's tough to say they aren't.  They often give up points for unsportsmanlike conduct.  At Nationals, they not only gave up match points for unsportsmanlike conduct, but lost two team points for behavior from their coach and one of their wrestler's.

And if you're a hardcore wrestling fan, you probably look at Iowa as being a bunch of assholes.  If you ever watch an interview where an Iowa wrestler wins a decision, the wrestler will act as if he did terrible and say that he should have been more aggressive and gotten bonus points.  If he gets a major decision, he believes it should have been a tech fall.  If he gets a tech fall, he believes he should have pinned the guy.  And if he pins the guy, he says he should have done it quicker.  No matter what Iowa achieves, they always want more.  If a fan of another team sees an Iowa guy beat their guy, followed by the Iowa guy complaining about how he should have done better, I could see how that might irritate people. 

So Iowa wins all the time, they use questionable tactics, and winning isn't good enough for them, because they are always searching for annihilation.  The three reasons that people hate Iowa are the three reasons that I love Iowa.

The first and last reasons are easy to love, winning is awesome.  And winning big is even more awesome.  I could understand how people would compare the Hawkeyes with the Yankees where it can't be that fulfilling to win championships when it happens so frequently.  Well, there are two major differences with that argument.  The first is that the Yankees have a competitive advantage with their payroll to help them win championships.  Iowa is still just Iowa.  It's rare for Iowa to have the top recruiting class, but they win because they get wrestlers who are willing to put in the work to become champions.  The second major difference is that the World Series is the pinnacle of what you can achieve in baseball.  While the National Championship is great, at Iowa, the goal is to win an individual title at all ten weight classes.  It's incredibly unlikely to reach that goal, but every year, that is what Iowa wants, for every single starter to become a national champion.  They always want more.

With the second reason, I can understand how people see Iowa's style as somewhat "cheap" or "dirty," but it's much more simple than that, they wrestle hard until the whistle is blown.  If a guy is dumb enough to stand out of bounds waiting for a whistle, they're gonna get a hard shove if the ref doesn't blow that whistle in time.  Does Iowa have any chance of scoring in that situation?  Of course not, but Iowa is always going to be aggressive.

On top of that Iowa wrestlers literally don't know how to stall.  Iowa has lost matches in the final seconds, because they don't know how to flee like other schools teach their wrestlers to do.  There were actually two awesome examples of Iowa's disdain for defensive wrestling during the past weekend.  The first one was while Tom Brands was being interviewed about a previous match.  An Iowa wrestler (Derek St. John) was in a bad position near the edge of the mat.  The exchange went something like this:

Tom Brands:  Come on St. John.
Interviewer:  You want your wrestler to get out of bounds right here.
Tom Brands:  No, I want him to improve his position and keep wrestling.

This was not a case of the interviewer saying something dumb.  Every other school in America would want their wrestler to get out of bounds in that situation, but that isn't the Iowa way.  Iowa believes that no matter how bad of a position he is in, as long as he keeps wrestling, he should be able to get in an advantageous spot and score points.  There is no such thing as defense at Iowa; they're always looking for offense.

The second example was even more amazing.  An Iowa wrestler (Tony Ramos) was down big going into the third period.  But he did what Iowa does; he kept wrestling.  He kept taking his opponent down and letting him up.  Finally, he had tied up the match.  All he needed to do was ride out his exhausted opponent to take it to overtime.  But instead, with just 30 seconds left, Iowa told him to cut his guy loose.  With the escape point, his opponent took the lead, but Iowa always stays aggressive.  As time ticked down, his opponent did everything he could to avoid the Iowa wrestler's attempts.  And because of a generous ref who did not decide to call him for stalling, the Iowa guy lost the match.  Iowa could have easily ridden the match out and taken it to overtime, but that isn't the way Iowa wrestles.  I can understand how people would call that a stupid decision, and I really can't argue against that.  But this isn't a case of being smart or stupid, it's a case Iowa believing that their wrestler could get the win.  This time, it bit them in the ass, but it's not the Iowa way to look back; they're always looking forward, trying everything they can to score points.

My second favorite quote about Iowa wrestling (First has to go to Dan Gable's, "I shoot, I score.  He shoots, I score.") actually comes from StateCollege.com's Steve Sampsell as he tried to figure out the reason the Hawkeyes were able to surprise the top ranked Nittany Lions by defeating them in Happy Valley:

The Hawkeyes compete hard every minute. They never stop.

They’re Iowa. And you’re not.

And that's the best way to put it.  Every Iowa opponent knows that they're going to have to go through 7 minutes of hell when they face the Hawkeyes, and every Iowa wrestler knows that he's a Hawkeye, and his opponent isn't.  They're Iowa.  And you're not.

So what happens next year?

Honestly, it's probably going to be a lot of good things.  Going into the year, Iowa had only one returning starter from the previous year in this year's starting lineup.  Iowa was ranked 12 going into the season as everyone saw it as a rebuilding year.  They proceeded to go undefeated in dual meets.  They finished a disappointing third at nationals.  Yes, third is a disappointment, even in a rebuilding year.

Anybody who follows wrestling had to be astounded at the progress that the Iowa wrestlers made throughout the season.  It's a young team that is only going to get better.  Iowa will lose two wrestlers in 5th place finisher (and 7th year Senior), Luke Lofthouse as well as Aaron Janssen, who although he didn't place (Top-8 become All-Americans), wrestled incredibly hard after getting upset in his first match at Nationals.  149 was our weakest weight class this year, but that will be greatly helped with the return of Dylan Carew who tore an ACL early in the season.  Iowa also had a top recruiting class last year, and since everybody redshirts at Iowa (to give their wrestlers the best chance to win as many individual titles as possible), some of those guys should be ready to step up and contribute next year. 

It's a year away, so it'd be really tough to make an accurate prediction.  We know that Penn State is loaded for next year, but if you put a gun to my head, I guess I'll go with Iowa coming in...uh...yeah, 1st Place.  The Hawkeyes will not be the defending champs, but Iowa will right that wrong next year. 


P.S.  I've watched this video about thirty times, and it's GLORIOUS every time.

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