College wrestling: How the first-known match between top-ranked wrestlers from different weight classes came together
It started out simply as a couple of tweets between wrestling contemporaries.
It ended with Wyoming senior Bryce Meredith and South Dakota State junior Seth Gross making more than just wrestling memories — they made history.
Meredith and Gross became the first known NCAA Division I wrestlers since the weight certification rule change in 1998 to wrestle each other as top-ranked wrestlers from different weight classes this past Thursday in Brookings, South Dakota.
Meredith is ranked No. 1 at 141 pounds and Gross No. 1 at 133.
Their match — which Meredith won 4-2 — became an overnight sensation on social media throughout the college wrestling world and was still being talked about days after.
This incredible third period scramble decides Gross-Meredith. Meredith wins the epic showdown, 4-2. pic.twitter.com/LV1KgSuEhz— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) January 19, 2018
"That's kind of what made it happen, all the stuff being said through social media," Meredith said Tuesday. "Once everybody got a hold of it, everybody wanted it so much. We got to the point where we were like, 'this is what the wrestling community wants and needs, so why not give it to them?'"
The whole thing started Jan. 15 when Gross tweeted that SDSU fans should pack Frost Arena for the Big 12 conference dual against UW.
Meredith replied to Gross' tweet by playfully suggesting it could be a matchup of him against Gross.
Gross responded by saying it would be good to finish their best-of-3 series, which was tied 1-1 from their past matches.
By the time the Cowboys arrived Wednesday in Brookings, the buzz surrounding the possible matchup was palpable.
"When we got to match day and confirmed that it was going to happen, it kind of exploded," Cowboys coach Mark Branch said. "That's when it felt like it was something special and the right thing to do. I was for it because of the exposure that it created, the attention it got for our programs and our sport."
"It was quite a weird week honestly, but it was fun and I'm excited that it happened," @bmeredith001 after beating fellow No. 1 ranked wrestler Seth Gross of South Dakota State. #LCT #GoWyo pic.twitter.com/azUnNCCKjK— Wyoming Cowboy WR (@WyoWrestle) January 19, 2018
Gross and SDSU coach Chris Bono were the ones who made the final decision about whether the match would happen after receiving an OK from Jackrabbits Athletics Director Justin Sell.
"I didn't know until the day of," Meredith said. "There were a lot of things in play, but coach Bono got on radio and said he was making the final decision, so it was pretty much on from there.
"Once everything was getting real, I knew I had to get mentally ready to wrestle him."
Meredith came into the match 19-1 and had already beaten a top-ranked wrestler this season when he topped Oklahoma State's Dean Heil on Dec. 19 at Storey Gym in Cheyenne to eventually take the top spot at 141 pounds. Gross was undefeated at 16-0.
The match itself was a defensive clinic. The first period ended scoreless. Gross took a 1-0 lead on an escape to start the second period, with Meredith doing the same to start the third.
Both wrestlers took single-leg shots throughout the match, and seconds after Meredith's escape, Gross appeared to get in on his left leg. But the former Cheyenne Central standout was able to thwart any takedown attempt, eventually getting back to a neutral position before driving Gross backward some 20 feet to record a takedown of his own.
Having already secured enough riding time for an additional point, Meredith led 4-1 with less than a minute to go, and Gross could only escape in the final seconds of the 4-2 win by the Cowboy.
"There was a lot of excitement before the match, but once it started, I just wrestled the way I knew how," Meredith said. "There was some pressure on me that a lot of people might not realize. I love having pressure with the excitement of the big matches."
Part of that pressure, Meredith admitted, came from within.
"I was kind of in a lose-lose situation where if you win, you're supposed to win, and if you lose, you just lost to a guy a weight class below you," he said. "Sometimes it felt like another match, and at other times it felt like a huge deal."
And it certainly was a huge deal across college wrestling.
Twitter exploded during and after the match, and talk of the meeting continued through the weekend.
"It ended up working out for everybody," Meredith said. "It was fun to get excited about a match again. The whole match was really fun. It was kind of like making history."
Meredith cemented his hold on the top spot at 141 with the win, and Gross was still ranked No. 1 at 133 this week.
There were no drawbacks -- except maybe that UW redshirt freshman 133-pounder Montorie Bridges didn't get a chance to wrestle Gross.
But everybody understood the significance of the meeting, the ramifications and the history involved.
Would Meredith encourage other wrestlers do the same thing in the future?
"I would recommend to do anything that builds the sport and builds your brand," he said. "What can you do to leave your legacy on this sport? That was one way we both could do it.
"My college window is done in 50 days. If I could get one more cool big experience like this, I had to take it. I want to build up my brand, build up Wyoming wrestling, so getting a chance to do that was pretty awesome. ___