Photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
For only the second time in Division I wrestling history, two finals matches at the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships last month featured past NCAA champions battling for another title. 2013 was the only other time it had happened previously and it has now happened just 19 times since the national tournament began in 1928. We first published this list last May, but with the two additions this year and the discovery of one match which was accidentally omitted last time around, it was time for an update. Looking ahead to next season, Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) seems to be the key to the next clash of champions. He could face another showdown with Mark Hall (Penn State) at 174 or, if he decides to move up, Bo Nickal (Penn State) and Myles Martin (Ohio State) would be waiting at 184. Of course, an NCAA finals rubber match between Nickal and Martin would also make this list. If that were to happen, they would become the first duo to ever meet twice in the NCAA finals after both had won their first title.
Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) vs. Isaiah Martinez (Illinois), 165 pounds, 2018
After Martinez lost just once en route to a pair of national titles in his first two college seasons, Joesph stunned him in the 2017 NCAA finals, dealing IMar his second career loss by pinning the defending champion after an inside trip in 5:26. That match came after Martinez had beaten the freshman Joseph twice in the six weeks leading up to nationals. As Isaiah’s senior season opened, he once again took over the top spot in his weight class, going undefeated through the regular season and taking down Joseph once again, 4-1, in the Big Ten finals. The four-time Big Ten champion was the number one seed at the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive year, while Joseph was slotted third. Martinez largely kept his foes at arm’s length as he earned a place in his fourth NCAA finals while Vincenzo won three consecutive two points matches to keep his title defense alive. Though the Nittany Lion’s late first period inside trip didn’t net him another fall, it put him on top 2-0. A two-point nearfall just before the buzzer made it 4-0 and the sophomore never looked back. Joseph won his second NCAA title as Martinez suffered just his third career loss.
Bo Nickal (Penn State) vs. Myles Martin (Ohio State), 184 pounds, 2018
Martin’s stunning run to the 174-pound national title as the 11-seed in 2016 was capped with a shocking 11-9 win over the top-seeded Nickal, who had beaten the Buckeye in three prior matches that season. Both moved up to 184 pounds the next season, but only Bo returned to the finals, upending two-time NCAA champion Gabe Dean (Cornell) to win his first title. Martin finished fifth. With Dean graduating and Martin continuing to improve, a 2016 finals rematch looked like a safe bet all season long and it materialized when the top two seeds handled the competition in Cleveland with relative ease. This time, however, it was Nickal’s turn to shock the world. He was the favorite, of course, but with a team title hanging in the balance, Bo turned what initially looked like a failed throw attempt, that could have seen Martin get out to a big lead, into a first-period fall after a quick adjustment while the Nittany Lion laid on his back. Nickal became a two-time champion while also locking up Penn State’s seventh team title in eight seasons.
Chris Perry (Oklahoma State) vs. Andrew Howe (Oklahoma), 174 pounds, 2014
Even after topping Matt Brown (Penn State) to win his first national title in 2013, many saw Perry as the underdog after Howe, the 2010 NCAA champion at 165 pounds who had also finished second and third at Wisconsin, debuted in the Sooner lineup. Howe beat Perry in the Bedlam dual, but the Cowboy reversed that outcome to win the Big 12 title. In the NCAA finals, Perry scored the only takedown of the match in the second period and used a punishing ride to blank Howe, 4-0, for his second crown.
Kyle Dake (Cornell) vs. David Taylor (Penn State), 165 pounds, 2013
In the match that inspired the NCAA to change the finals format to start at a predetermined weight rather than always at 125, Dake and Taylor closed out the 2013 season in an unforgettable battle. Dake’s quest for his fourth national title at a fourth different weight class put him squarely in the path of the defending 165-pound champion, Taylor, who made his third consecutive trip to the finals. Dake had won close bouts at both the All-Star meet and the Southern Scuffle, but when Taylor opened the scoring with an early takedown, it looked like the Nittany Lion might finally get past the Big Red senior. However, Dake got a takedown of his own and won on a riding time point, 5-4, to make history.
Dustin Kilgore (Kent State) vs. Quentin Wright (Penn State), 197 pounds, 2013
This was a battle of 2011 national champions, Wright at 184, Kilgore at 197, who were both undefeated in 2012-13. Penn State needed only a victory from Wright to wrap up their third straight team national title, but after a Kilgore escape to start the third period, the score stood tied at four. It wouldn’t stay that way long as Wright, a three-time finalist and four-time All-American, punctuated his outstanding career by taking down Kilgore twice to win the title, 8-6.
Jake Herbert (Northwestern) vs. Mike Pucillo (Ohio State), 184 pounds, 2009
Herbert dealt Pucillo his first college loss on the way to an NCAA title in 2007. When he took an Olympic redshirt in 2008, it was Pucillo who stood on the top step of the podium. After Herbert won their first meeting in 2009 in a dual, Pucillo was knocked off by Phil Keddy (Iowa) at the Big 10 tournament, preventing another scrap in the finals there. However, the Buckeye worked his way through the bracket in St. Louis to get one more shot at the Northwestern senior. It ended the same way, though, with Herbert controlling a 6-3 match and walking away with the 2009 Hodge Trophy.
Tim Hartung (Minnesota) vs. Lee Fullhart (Iowa), 197 pounds, 1999
Hartung suffered 18 of his 21 career losses during his freshman season, then made a huge leap to finish third as a sophomore, behind Fullhart who was the champion. In 1998, Hartung knocked off the Hawkeye in the Big 10 finals before topping him again, 8-7, in the national semi-finals. The Golden Gopher would go on to win his first national title over top-seed Jason Robison (Edinboro). The rivalry continued going Hartung’s way in 1999 and the last two champions in this weight class met in the national finals with Minnesota needing wins from Hartung and Brock Lesnar at 285 to catch Iowa in the team race. Fullhart could have clinched the title for Iowa, but he was again bested by the Minnesota man, 2-1, when Hartung scored a late takedown and rode him out for the victory. Lesnar would fall to Steven Neal (Cal State-Bakersfield) as Minnesota’s title bid came up just short.
Lincoln McIlravy (Iowa) vs. Chris Bono (Iowa State), 150 pounds, 1997
McIlravy had been nearly untouchable through his first three years at Iowa until he was upset going for his third national title by Steve Marianetti (Illinois), 13-10, in 1995. Bono was fifth in that bracket, losing to Marianetti in the quarters. With McIlravy redshirting in 1996, a much improved Bono won the title, setting up their showdown in 1997. The Cyclone senior slowed McIlravy down and tied the match at three with 18 seconds remaining in the third period. However, McIlravy would not be denied, getting a takedown of his own in overtime as Iowa crowned five individual champions for the second time and set the still-standing scoring record of 170 points.
Markus Mollica (Arizona State) vs. Mark Branch (Oklahoma State), 167 pounds, 1995
In 1995, Branch was coming off of his famous freshman title run after entering the national tournament with an 8-9 record. Mollica had won a title as a freshman in 1993, before finishing fifth at 158 in 1994. After moving up to 167, he earned the top seed and met Branch, the two seed, in the finals. In the battle of one-time champions, it would be Mollica picking up his second, 5-3. The Sun Devil would finish fourth the next year as Daryl Weber (Iowa) upset both he and Branch to win at 167. Branch would bookend his career with championships by winning again in 1997.
Mark Schultz (Oklahoma) vs. Ed Banach (Iowa), 177 pounds, 1982
After wrestling for UCLA as a freshman in 1979, Schultz and his brother, Dave, who had started his college days at Oklahoma State, became Sooners for the 1980-81 season with Mark topping Mike DeAnna (Iowa), 10-4, to claim a national title at 167 pounds. In the next match, Banach pinned Charlie Heller (Clarion) to repeat as the champion at 177. At that point in time, no wrestler had ever won four national titles. With Banach having won in his first two attempts, the Hawkeye looked like a legitimate threat to become the first man to do it. However, Schultz moved up to 177 for what would be the junior campaign for both wrestlers. That set up a potential showdown between the two at the 1982 NCAA tournament at Iowa State. Neither man made it that far unscathed, but they did earn the top two seeds in Ames. Banach dominated his way to the finals while Mark mostly did, though he did have to scrap his way past Perry Hummel (Iowa State), the third seed, 2-1 in the semis. The highly anticipated clash of the titans lived up to the hype with a wild title tilt seeing both men refusing to yield despite each ending up on their back out of the over/under position. It was 6-5 Schultz after one, despite Banach taking an early 4-0 lead, the margin stretched to 10-7 in favor of Mark with one period to go. Still trailing by two with less than 30 seconds remaining, Ed tried to go big, but Schultz stuffed it, finishing off a 16-8 victory in the match after Dave had wrapped up his college career with his first NCAA crown. Mark would go on to win a third title in 1983 while Banach moved up to 190 pounds and won his third as well. The Schultz brothers and Banach brothers would all win gold medals at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Randy Lewis (Iowa) over Darryl Burley (Lehigh), 134 pounds, 1980
A pair of 1979 national champions squared off in the 1980 finals after Lewis moved up to face the defending champion, Burley, after a perfect season at 126. Burley had climbed the podium as a freshman and was trying to make it two titles in two years for Lehigh. Lewis was a junior who made the Olympic team that year before the US decided to boycott the Games. Burley was excellent, but Lewis was a cut above, winning 11-3 to become a two-time champion. Both wrestlers would wind up with two titles after Lewis was injured and finished seventh in 1981, while Burley made four trips to the finals, but didn’t win again until his flawless season as a senior in 1983.
Jimmy Jackson (Oklahoma State) vs. Larry Bielenberg (Oregon State), UNL, 1977
When Bielenberg won his title in 1975, Jackson was just a freshman who wasn’t yet what he would become. The Oregon State heavyweight just beat the coming storm as Jackson thumped him, 9-2, in the 1976 semi-finals on his way to the first of three straight titles to end his career. Their 1977 clash was much closer, going all the way to a referee’s decision after the two titans remained deadlocked on the scoreboard. The deciding factor? Four seconds of riding time for Jackson.
Mike Frick (Lehigh) vs. Pat Milkovich (Michigan State), 134 pounds, 1976
Milkovich lost just three times over his first two seasons as a Spartan, winning a pair of national titles at 126 sandwiched around a redshirt year. However, he was upset in the 1975 national finals by John Fritz (Penn State) and moved up to 134 for his senior season. Frick was the defending champion at that weight and entered the NCAA tournament without a loss, though he did have two ties on the year. He would remain unbeaten, claiming his second national title by topping Milkovich, 7-4, despite trailing for much of the match. Milkovich ended his career as a four-time finalist.
Carl Adams (Iowa State) vs. Stan Dziedzic (Slippery Rock), 158 pounds, 1972
Dziedzic was the only Division I champion ever from Slippery Rock, winning that title in 1971 down at 150 pounds. He lost just two matches in his collegiate career against 118 wins. Adams had more losses than that on his way to his first national title, winning at 158 in 1971 and finishing 19-3-1 after blowing out Mike Jones (Oregon State), 18-5, in the finals. The two seniors would clash for the NCAA title in 1972 with Adams punctuating Iowa State’s title-winning romp by doubling Dziedzic’s career loss total, taking the Slippery Rock man down three times en route to a 7-4 triumph.
Larry Owings (Washington) vs. Darrell Keller (Oklahoma State), 142 pounds, 1971
A year after upsetting Dan Gable in the previously unbeaten Cyclone’s final college match, Owings had an undefeated season going heading into his finals showdown with the 134-pound champion from 1970, Keller. Despite watching his twin brother Dwayne lose for the only time in his college career in the match prior, Darrell pounced on Owings early, building an 8-3 lead before hanging on to win 16-12. Keller’s second national title would prove to be one more than Owings would win after he fell again in the 1972 national finals.
Dale Lewis (Oklahoma) vs. Ted Ellis (Oklahoma State), UNL, 1961
Ellis was the national champion in 1959 as a sophomore, beating the wrestler who would later become Gorilla Monsoon in the finals. However, he did not compete in the 1960 national tournament, losing his only match during the year to Lewis, 3-1. The Oklahoma big man went on to take the 1960 national title. Lewis and Ellis would scrap three more times in the lead up to their 1961 title match with Lewis winning two tight bouts and one ending in a tie. That pattern would hold as Lewis sent the team title winning Sooners out with another individual victory, topping Ellis for the 1961 national championship, 3-1.
Bob Norman (Illinois) vs. Gordon Roesler (Oklahoma), UNL, 1958
Roesler started his career with a bang, claiming the national championship in 1956 in his first year competing for the Sooners. The next year, he was undefeated coming into nationals but was upset in the semi-finals by Henry Jordan (Virginia), 5-4. Jordan would fall to Norman in the 1957 national finals, setting the stage for the last two unlimited class champions to clash in 1958. Roesler would score the opening takedown, but Norman rallied to win, 5-3, as Oklahoma finished third behind Oklahoma State and Iowa State in the team race.
Lowell Lange (Cornell College) vs. Dick Dickenson (Michigan State), 136 pounds, 1949
Remarkably, another man who might have been a four-time champion, before fate intervened, also battled a fellow champion in 1949. Lange won the 136-pound title in 1947, but injuries sustained in an auto accident forced him and the Cornell College team to miss the tournament in 1948. Dickenson took the title in his stead, but Lange would return to take it back, winning 6-0 over the Michigan State man in 1949. Lange would go on to win again in 1950, leaving him with a title in each of the three years he was healthy enough to compete.
Verne Gagne (Minnesota) vs. Dick Hutton (Oklahoma State), UNL, 1949
These two combined to win five of the seven national tournaments they entered, losing only twice overall, both times to each other. Hutton drew first blood, taking a 2-1 decision in the semi-finals as both grapplers made their national tournament debut in 1947. In 1948, both men won titles as Gagne moved down to 191 and Hutton once again claimed the unlimited class. When the two met in the finals in 1949, Hutton had never been beaten and had only been tied once in his career. According to wrestling historian Jay Hammond in his book The History of Collegiate Wrestling, Hutton secured a takedown that was ruled to be just after the whistle which sent the bout to a referee’s decision. That decision was given to Gagne based on a small amount of riding time, giving the Minnesota big man the title. It would be Hutton’s only college loss and prevent him from winning a fourth national title after he was perfect in 1950.