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Shannon Scovel | January 28, 2022

NCAA Video Vault: The legendary Dan Gable-Larry Owings 1970 wrestling shocker that left Gable 117-1

Dan Gable vs. Larry Owings: FULL 1970 NCAA title match at 142 pounds

Iowa State's Dan Gable had one of the most legendary careers in college wrestling, pinning 76 of his 118 opponents during his three years as a starter for the Cyclones and amassing a nearly flawless record on his way to two NCAA titles. And that was before he won gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

ICONIC LEADER: How Dan Gable coached Iowa to 15 team titles

His one collegiate loss, however, has become the most famous match from his wrestling tenure — in his final match. From 117-0 to 117-1.

Let's take a look into the NCAA vault and recap the sequence of events that led to this final collegiate dual and the battle between the Cyclone star and his opponent, Washington's Larry Owings, in 1970. 

Watch the complete match here: 

Before the match  

There was no reason to think that Gable would not cruise through this final match at 142 pounds and end his career with a 118-0 record. In fact, the result was so expected that Gable filmed a commercial with ABC’s Wide World of Sports encouraging viewers to watch his final match by saying "Hi, I’m Dan Gable. Come watch me next week as I finish my career 182-0." That number — 182 — would have included Gable's undefeated high school and collegiate career. He had pinned everyone in the 1970s national tournament before this match, and he was considered to be the unquestionable favorite against a wrestler he beat two years prior at the Olympic Trials. 

He was Goliath, but David was coming to the mat, ready to live out a dream. 

The match 

Energy, aggression, speed and endurance. Gable was known for all of those things, and his relentless style was ultimately adapted by the Iowa Hawkeyes program during his historic tenure as a head coach with the program. While the result of the match against Owings was unusual, in comparison with Gable's previous results, his effort is undeniable. 

Here's how the match went down: 

FIRST PERIOD: The legend took the first shot, moving in on Owing’s right leg before squaring up a then fending off an attack from Owings. Both athletes pushed the pace, with Owings fearlessly attempted a duck under with the goal of spinning around behind Gable, but the Cyclone was too tough and he put himself on the board first by coming around for two points with a single leg takedown within the first minute of the period. Owings nearly escaped, but Gabled rolled him around and nearly put him on his back before Owing’s persistence paid off and he earned the escape point. Working out from under Gable gave Owings momentum and confidence, and he translated that energy into a takedown of his own against his opponent to give Owings the lead 3-2 in the match and rode out Gable for the remainder of the first period to finish the first three minutes on top. 

SECOND PERIOD: Gable chose top to start the second period with the goal of looking for a turn against Owings for back points, but, instead, Owings, escapes and takes a shot for another two-point takedown, extending his lead to 6-2. The Cyclone collected himself after the takedown, taking a timeout to adjust his contact lens before going back to the middle. Owings went to work on top, forcing Gable into a passive position and generating a stall call against the Cyclone for a point. Leading 7-2, Owings continued to ride Gable before Gable notched a reversal and put himself back on track with a 7-4 score. Feeling more comfortable in the match, Gable started to go for a pinning combination, but Owing’s defense held him off. Owing’s started to lose his headgear, as Gable worked him from the top position; unfazed, Owing’s battled, finally securing the escape and notching a point only to immediately be taken down again by Gable. With a score of 8-6, Gable again worked for back points before a scramble ensued. This was where Owings wanted to be, on the mat in the middle of the action. 

"I was a scrambling type of wrestler, and I think he was more of a controlled wrestler," Owings told the Associated Press 17 years after his win in an article headlined "Gable's rival, former bosses look back." 

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Gable finished the scramble on top and ended the second period in the opposite manner of the first, this time holding the momentum and the power and the clock reset with two more minutes on the clock for the final period. 

THIRD PERIOD: Both wrestlers anxiously waited for the whistle to start the third, leading the referee to caution the men. Once the period began, it was Owings on top, temporarily, before Gable notched a reversal to tie the score at 8-8 with just over 1:45 to go in the third.

This is where Gable thought he had the match won. 

"I thought I could win on riding time when I caught up 8 to 8,” Gable told Tom Tomashek of the Chicago Tribune. “ I can’t remember anything that happened in the last 40 seconds and when I looked up at the scoreboard and saw he led 13 to 9, I couldn’t believe it.” 

The Cyclone star did rack up his time in control and actively worked for the turn with an arm bar before resetting and continuing to ride. He wasn't stalling on top, but he wasn't earning any additional points either. 

An escape from Owings gave the Washington wrestler the lead, even after Gable pushed his riding time up over a minute, symbolically tying the match with time to go, but Owings wasn’t done. He went in for Gable’s leg and picked up a clutch third-period takedown, almost catching the Cyclone off guard as time ticked down.

"He tired me out more than I thought he would," Gable told Tomashek. "Owings was very squirmy and hard to control.” 

Gable did escape, looking for points of his own, but the momentum had shifted. A stalemate brought the wrestlers back to the center, but, within seconds, the match was over. 13-11. Owings had won. 

Newspaper clipping from Gable's last match against Owings

The result, though unexpected, put the crowd of 8,500 “on its feet throughout the match and gave them [the athletes] a shattering ovation when it ended,” per the New York Times

After the match

Dan Gable has not forgotten about that night in 1970. Despite leading Iowa to 15 team championships and cementing his legacy as one of the best leaders in the sport, he still thinks about Larry Owings. 

“I know that the match affected my entire life. Just sitting here, talking about it … it hurts. I’m emotional about it. I’m emotional about it because there’s still a lot of meaning …” Gable told SI.com in 2014. 

But Dan Gable, of course, is so much more than one result. He's an icon, a champion and the face of the sport. He won 117 college wrestling matches with impressive dominance, setting a tone and a pace that few could match. He also helped the Cyclones to a team title the year of his loss, scoring enough team points to help them edge out Michigan State by over ten points. The newspapers though, focused on Gable's match:  “Iowa State star suffers mat loss,” read the title in a story run by the Associated Press following the match. 

Owings will forever be in the history books because of this match, and the lesson from this moment is that anything can happen in the NCAA finals.

Newspaper recap of Gable's loss to Owings

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