Ask eight people who the best heavyweight in the land is and you might get eight different responses.
J Robinson will tell you the same one who won the 2012 NCAA Championship at 285 pounds. Brian Smith will provide a different answer, as will John Smith and Tom Borelli. Jim Zalesky might throw his student-athlete into the frying pan, along with Tom Brands and Drew Pariano.
Who is the best will be determined over three days in Des Moines, Iowa next March. The collection of big guys gave prognosticators a sneak peak last weekend.
Minnesota’s Tony Nelson, the 2012 NCAA champion Robinson speaks of, took a 34-match win streak into a Dec. 2 meeting with Oklahoma State’s second-ranked Alan Gelogaev. A year ago, Nelson suffered just two losses, one of those by major decision to Gelogaev in a December dual in Stillwater. This time around Nelson, a junior from Cambridge, Minn., avoided any first-period damage, rode out the second period, and held off Gelogaev for a 2-0 victory.
“That’s a big win for me,” Nelson said after Oklahoma State’s 22-15 win in Minneapolis. “[Gelogaev] has so much funk to him. Seeing him that first time, I learned what not to do in a match against him. I had a game plan, watched a lot of film. He is a guy you have to be careful with and he’s one of a bunch of good heavyweights this year. It’s going to be fun. We talked about that last year, all the guys that were going to be back after the Olympic year.”
Just getting to March as been the biggest opponent for Gelogaev, a native of Moscow who was an All-American in 2010 as a 197-pounder. An injury in November two seasons ago sent him to the sidelines for the remainder of the 2010-11 campaign. Midway through the 2011-12 season the high-flying Russian was undefeated, but the injury bug bit again.
“[Gelogaev] just hasn’t been in a lot of tough matches over the last year,” John Smith said. “It is still a process with him. He is going to get plenty of tough matches with the schedule we have coming up.”
Two seasons ago, Missouri’s Dom Bradley and Central Michigan’s Jarod Trice wrestled for third place at the 2011 NCAA Championships with Bradley winning a close decision. Both took Olympic redshirt years and faced off at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials where Trice earned a victory.
Also back from an Olympic redshirt is Chad Hanke, who is among the top 211.5-pounders in freestyle. His name was added to the 2012-13 conversation when he beat Gelogaev at the Reno Tournament of Champions early last season.
Last weekend at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Hanke and Bradley met in the 285-pound final where Bradley earned a 3-2 victory.
“I beat a good opponent in Chad Hanke, somebody I really respect,” Bradley said after the finals.
Going into the season Bradley knew his weight class was deep.
“There are five or six guys who all think they can win a national title,” Bradley said, who is off to a 15-0 start. “My goal is to be a national champion, then an Olympic champion. It’s going to be a fun year with so many good heavyweights out there.”
Borelli, the coach at Central Michigan, feels the weight class is as deep as any in 2012-13.
“I think heavyweight is as deep as it has been in 10 or 12 years,” Borelli said. “Jeremy Johnson [Ohio University] finished seventh at the national tournament last year and he’s ranked outside the top ten right now. I think it is one of the most competitive weight classes we have this year.”
Trice (4-0), a two-time All-American, beat Johnson in a dual meet last week.
“Jarod doesn’t wrestle for a Big Ten or Big 12 school so he might be overlooked a bit,” Borelli said. “But all these guys know each other; they have wrestled in freestyle and folkstyle. Nelson may have a bit of an advantage because he has wrestled mainly folkstyle the last year.
“Mat wrestling is very important for the heavyweights. Being able to get a riding time point is big in a match where takedowns are so hard to come by.”
Nelson proved that last Sunday in his 2-0 win.
“I’ve worked on riding a lot because it is so important in heavyweight matches,” he said. “That might be the key position in [heavyweight] matches.
A pair of sophomores, Iowa’s Bobby Telford and Northwestern’s Mike McMullen, will also have a say come March. Both finished inside the top eight at the 2012 NCAA Championships.
Pittsburgh’s Zac Thomusseit, a senior, is off to an 8-0 start with four bonus-point victories. Indiana junior Adam Chalfant has raced to a 15-1 start with a victory against McMullen.
Just getting out of the Big Ten Conference alive might be an early goal. Eight of the top 15 represent that conference.
In all, eight former All-Americans could contend for top honors in Des Moines. That total could have been nine – Nick Gwiazdowski is redshirting this year after transferring from Binghamton to North Carolina State. As a freshman in 2012 Gwiazdowski finished eighth.
Four of the top five heavyweights in the latest USA Wrestling freestyle rankings are still wrestling in college. Tervel Dlagnev, a national champion for Division II Nebraska-Kearney as a collegian, represented the U.S. at the 2012 Olympics and is still the top dog. Behind Dlagnev are Trice, Bradley, Hanke, and Nelson.
Most of that group will be in Oklahoma City for the 2013 U.S. World Team Trials.
“Whoever wins [the NCAA Championship] this year, they are going to have to earn it,” Nelson said.