LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Don’t bet against Bebeto Yewah. Just don’t do it; it’ll be your loss.

All his life, Yewah has been pushing himself to be the best. At what? You name it. Whatever he tries to do, he goes 100 percent, 100 miles an hour, 100 times farther than needed, just to make sure he doesn’t lose.

He hates losing. That’s normal. All the great ones have a disdain for it. His coach, Dave Malecek, thinks Yewah takes it to a rare level.

How so? Malecek has story after story about Yewah trying to one-up his friends, a rival, anyone and everyone.

Example: Yewah is on the track before a wrestling tournament, making sure he could hit his 141-pound weight limit. He’s nearly finished with his run and notices a guy doing laps alongside him. It triggers in his brain that the runner already has lapped him and he hadn’t noticed it. And now Yewah’s about to get passed again.

Then he wasn’t. Yewah wouldn’t let it happen, Malcek said. Yewah sprinted for another 15-20 minutes, staying ahead of the guy and never letting him pass. He couldn’t stand to lose, even to a stranger.

Or how about the time his freshman year when Yewah was in the weight room with a buddy, Andy Novak, and asked the big guy how much he was bench pressing. Novak said it was 225 pounds and he put it up 10 times, as Malecek recalled. Yewah did it 12 times, just because he had to be better. Had to.

That was three years ago, but keep in mind Novak is the top-ranked shot putter in the country this year after he threw the third-best distance in Division III history during the indoor season.

“That kind of competitiveness, I could tell stories all day on Bebeto,” Malecek said.

There really is no limit to Yewah’s determination. Or how he affects people. It’s obvious the deep impression he’s made on Malecek, even reaching into his home.

Yewah regularly overpowers opponents.
NCAA Photos

“He babysits; I have triplet daughters, four daughters total, and he comes over and babysits,” Malecek said. “He’s really just a good kid, he’s a kid you trust, you love. He’s a good kid who had a sort of rough upbringing, but things are going well for him now.”

Yewah came to the United States just before he turned 9. He was born in the Republic of Cameroon, in west Central Africa. He didn’t pick up wrestling until his junior year of high school, and while that was by accident, it was still because he wanted to be the best.

He had a fascination with break dancing. Yes, break dancing. And, of course, he wanted to get better, so he had been practicing his craft for nearly a year. He was at the point where he wanted to start doing backflips and the mats in the wrestling room at his high school provided a softer landing than most places.

So he snuck into practice. And then he snuck in again, and again. An assistant coach caught him one day and told him he couldn’t stay – unless he came out for the team. It didn’t take long before his path radically changed.

“That first tournament, it didn’t go too good, and I said I didn’t like that feeling,” Yewah said. “So I pretty much stopped break dancing as much and did more wrestling.”

Just because he had to be the best.

Malecek has other stories he can tell. And he’d have to be the one telling them because Yewah probably won’t. He’s too humble. Almost shy, but engaging. You can tell he’s thinking through each answer, making sure it’s the best one for the question.

“Once you get to talk to him, you’ll see he’s one of the most humble, caring, tender-hearted people you’ve ever met,” Malecek said. “He warms my heart. You get attached to him. ... He is something special and I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to be in his corner.”

That goes back to Yewah’s freshman year, the only time in his career that he didn’t make it to the national meet. He stumbled in the conference final, losing an 8-7 decision after getting flipped early in the match during an aggressive scramble, an early trademark of his style. The conference coaches could have voted him in as a wildcard but, for unknown reasons, decided against adding him. Their loss.

“Motivated him like no other,” Malecek said.

Instead of sitting around his house, Yewah made the trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He wanted to go to nationals to watch his teammates, but also to scout the opposition. He’s always trying to get better.

According to Malecek, Yewah will ask anyone for tips, advice on technique. If he sees something new, he’ll ask how it’s done. He wants to be the best and the only way he knows to do that is to find the best of what everyone else is doing – and then do it better.

“Wrestling is a humble sport, you have to be sharp every time,” Yewah said. “Some people think, ‘I’m the best. I don’t need to work out as much,’ or whatever. I don’t think like that.”

Back to that trip to nationals. Yewah was in the stands. Malecek remembers it vividly as he was stunned a freshman, someone so new to the sport, would be inhaling that volume of information.

“He was in stands that whole national tournament writing notes on every kid as he watched wrestle. Literally wrote everything out,” Malecek said. “He probably still has the notebooks.”

Tim Palmer was graduated before Yewah came to La Crosse from Lansing, Mich. But he’s heard about La Crosse’s humble rock star. A two-time All-American for the Eagles, Palmer called him a sponge, someone who just has natural ability but takes in every tidbit of information and uses it to make himself better every day. Wrestling is all he does, watching others and learning simply because he wants to be on top, Palmer said.

“I want to be as dominant as the guys I’m watching,” Yewah said.

Does he feel he’s that dominant? “Yeah, but you can always be better.”

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The top-seeded wrestler at 141 pounds hit the mat this weekend looking for his third national title in his final home meet. Malecek doesn’t want to think about what that means, how this is the last time Yewah will wrestle in an Eagles’ singlet.

It’s not about Yewah the wrestler, Malecek said. It’s about the person, the unique soul who makes such a special wrestler.

“Everyone thinks they’re a student of the sport – in my opinion I felt like I was – but  really, I didn’t do it every day, all day. He will. Year round,” Malecek said. “That’s why I think he can keep going on from this [college]. I don’t think we’ve tapped into him; he needs better workout partners than we can give him here. He needs better workout partners and he’ll get it at the next level.”

It might be scary how good Yewah could be with better competition. He had virtually none Friday as he dominated his opponents, putting away his first-round victim with a 23-7 technical fall before coming back to collect a first-period pin in the quarterfinals.

If Yewah goes out on top, he’ll be in elite company. Only three UW-L wrestlers have been three-time national champions. “We’ll know after this weekend where he stands, but I haven’t seen one like him for a long time,” Malecek said.

Unfortunately it may be difficult to add a team title. Yewah is one of five La Crosse wrestlers in the semifinals, tied for the highest number with Wartburg, but the Knights hold a 22-point lead. UW-L could be fighting for second place, a spot it’s held three of the past six seasons.

Either way, Yewah’s helped expose the community to the sport. He’s affected people, even ones he hasn’t known.

“We’ve had more people come to our meets that no nothing about wrestling, that come to watch this kid they’ve heard about, read about. He’s been great for our sport,” Malecek said. “People know who he is on campus; non-wrestling people know him.”

And none of them should bet against him.