One of the recurring themes of the 2018-19 collegiate season was the incredible level of top-tier talent, combined with excellent depth at the 133 lb weight class. It actually prompted legendary head coach John Smith to state that the depth was the “best of any weight class he’s ever seen.” As someone who loves nostalgia and the history of our sport, I tend to do a double-take whenever I hear someone proclaim that a match, a weight class, or a recruit is the “best-ever.” Even if that opinion is coming from one of the best ever himself, in John Smith. It’s okay, sometimes we all get caught up in the recency effect. After hearing the comments regarding the 133 lb weight class, which is incredible itself, I thought we could go back and take another look at the weight class that has been the gold standard for weight classes, the 2008 149 lb bracket.
When it was all said and done, members of this weight class accounted for seven NCAA titles and 12 NCAA finals appearances. 13 wrestlers from this group went on to earn All-American honors a combined a 31 times. Four of these athletes went on the make a Senior World Team at least once in their careers.
Here are the members of the baddest weight class of all-time and how it stacks up against the 2019 133 lb bracket.
Champion – Brent Metcalf (Iowa)
This was the first season of competition for Brent Metcalf after he had to sit out in 2006-07 following a transfer from Virginia Tech. An early season loss by fall to Darrion Caldwell (NC State) was his only defeat of the season. Metcalf took the country by storm winning 35 of 36 matches and earning bonus points in 25 of those contests. For his accomplishments, Brent was named the Hodge Trophy recipient as well as the Outstanding Wrestler at the 2008 NCAA Championships. To capture his first Big Ten crown this year, Metcalf needed to go through his high school rival Dustin Schlatter (Minnesota), already a two-time conference champion and the 2006 national title winner.
Metcalf’s 2008 NCAA tournament was capped by a 14-8 win over Bubba Jenkins (Penn State) in the national finals. He started with a first-round fall over Will Rowe (Oklahoma), then got back Kurt Kinser (Indiana). Brent’s closest call came in the quarters when he edged Lance Palmer (Ohio State), 3-2. The semifinals featured an 8-4 win over Nebraska sophomore Jordan Burroughs.
Brent would go on to make the finals in his final two years over eligibility, losing to Caldwell as a junior and winning his second NCAA title as a senior. He was a leader on the three most recent NCAA team titles for Iowa. Shortly after his college career ended at Iowa, Metcalf made the first of his four appearances on the World Team. Though he did not win a world medal, he was a fixture on our national team for the next seven years.
Runner-Up – Bubba Jenkins (Penn State)
Bubba was a true sophomore wrestling at his natural weight for the first time. In 2006-07, his redshirt was pulled to wrestle at 157 lbs where he qualified for the NCAA Championships. Following that season, Bubba qualified for the Junior World Team at 66 kg. Not only did Jenkins made the team, but he also went out to Beijing and brought home the gold medal. What followed was a breakout season for Jenkins who would finish the college season at 26-6. Bubba took fifth at the Big Ten Championships after losing by major decision to Metcalf in the semi’s, then losing a second bout by major to Josh Churella (Michigan). That gave Jenkins the sixth seed at the 2008 NCAA Championships.
In his first-round match, Jenkins racked up bonus points on Bryce Saddoris (Navy), 15-5. Though it was not an upset when Bubba downed #11 Ryan Lang (Northwestern), it was a bit unexpected, as Lang was the NCAA runner-up the previous season at 141 lbs. Bubba earned a spot in the semis after knocking off the third seed, JP O’Connor (Harvard), 5-3. What followed next was a classic match against Caldwell with a berth in the national finals on the line. Jenkins prevailed 12-8 for the right to meet Metcalf for the gold.
Of course, Jenkins fells to Metcalf in the finals and he would have to wait a few years for his moment. An injury slowed Bubba down in 2008-09 and he missed the NCAA podium, despite entering the tournament as the second seed. Following that year Cael Sanderson took over as the head coach and the two butted heads, which led to Jenkins’ departure from Penn State. A transfer to Arizona State allowed Jenkins to finish his NCAA career, which was a break he made the most of. After losing in the Pac-Ten finals, Bubba made the 2011 NCAA finals at 157 lbs and faced Sanderson prized pupil, the undefeated freshman, David Taylor. In the second period, Jenkins locked up a cradle and pinned his former teammate in a moment that had become one of the indelible images of NCAA wrestling lore.
Third-Place – Jordan Burroughs (Nebraska)
Like Jenkins, this was the first year that Jordan Burroughs would get onto the NCAA podium. Burroughs had also competed as a true freshman and went 1-2 at his first national tournament. In an odd turn of events, Jordan lost to both the number one (Schlatter) and number two (Matt Storniolo – Oklahoma) seeds. From his freshman to sophomore season, Jordan made great strides and turned in a 34-6 record. He was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the Big 12 Championships after earning his first conference title.
Burroughs had the fourth seed at the 2008 NCAA Championships and won his first bout by the close score of 4-1 over Cesar Grajales (Penn). He opened it up in the second round with a 21-5 tech fall of Ed McCray (Gardner-Webb). His next test came in the quarters against 2007 national runner-up Josh Churella (Michigan). Burroughs prevailed 3-2, which set up his date with Metcalf in the semis. After the Metcalf loss, Jordan bounced back to knock off O’Connor 5-3, before a second win over Churella, 4-2, to take third place.
You know how the story goes from here! Burroughs moved up to 157 lbs in 2008-09 and won his first NCAA titles, going undefeated in another brutal weight class. After an injury wiped out his 09-10 season, Burroughs came back at 165 lbs in 2010-11 and turned in another undefeated season in which he earned the Hodge Trophy. A few months later, Jordan would capture the first of his five World/Olympic gold medals. Currently, he now has seven World/Olympic medals…and counting.
Fourth-Place – Josh Churella (Michigan)
The youngest brother in a family full of Michigan wrestling legends, Josh Churella lived up to the hype by becoming a three-time All-American for the Wolverines. Right out of the gate, as a freshman, Churella captured his first, and only, Big Ten title by defeating in-state rival Andy Simmons (Michigan State). He would go on to finish eighth in the country that season. After missing the podium as a sophomore, Josh came back as a junior to make the Big Ten and NCAA finals, though he came up short in both attempts.
The lone senior of the 2008 149 lb All-American’s, Churella was the fifth seed at nationals he was upset in the Big Ten quarters by Purdue’s Jake Patacsil. Josh cruised through his first two matches, wins over Ryan Adams (North Dakota State) and Morgan Atkinson (Cal-State Fullerton) which set up his quarterfinal against Burroughs. Following the Burroughs loss, Churella dropped to the bloodround where he would need to get by the Big 12 third-place finisher, Rowe. Josh got by with a 7-6 win, solidifying his third All-American honor. A 6-2 win over Palmer, followed by a 6-1 win over Caldwell put Churella in the consolation finals where he would take fourth.
Josh was a three-time member of the national team in freestyle following college. Since 2012-13, Churella has been a member of the Wolverines coaching staff.
Fifth-Place – Darrion Caldwell (NC State)
Darrion Caldwell made the country take notice a year prior when he was a skinny, 141 lb true freshman that twice threw then-undefeated, number one-seeded Ryan Lang to his back in the NCAA quarterfinals, before losing via a fall in the first period. If that didn’t force you to take notice, a spladle and pin of Metcalf early in the 2007-08 season had to. Caldwell would thrive at 149 lbs going 36-5 as a sophomore with 23 falls. After the Metcalf win, Darrion went out to the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and picked up a title after defeating Churella and O’Connor. A couple of losses at the Southern Scuffle dropped Caldwell in the rankings and were responsible for his seventh seed at the 2008 NCAA Championships.
In the first round of the NCAA Championships, Caldwell avenged an early season loss to Mike Roberts (Boston) with a pin. He turned in a second consecutive fall when he downed MAC champion Brandon Carter (Central Michigan), in only 42 seconds. That brought Darrion to the quarters where he met up with second-seeded Schlatter (Minnesota). Caldwell won 4-1, in a match he has told me was one of his favorite ever. It was important because it wasn’t “his type” of bout, with lots of action and big moves. It was a slow match that generally would go Schlatter’s way. After a semifinal loss to Jenkins, Caldwell lost again to Churella and fell to the fifth-place match. He would get his hand raised after a medical forfeit by O’Connor.
Once again, you know how it went in 2009. Caldwell pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory when he outscored Metcalf for seven minutes in the NCAA finals. Darrion would later injure his shoulder, which was an injury that kept getting reaggravated and ultimately forced him to default out of the 2011 NCAA Championships, before a possible national final matchup against sophomore Kyle Dake (Cornell). Caldwell finished his career as a four-time ACC champion and two-time All-American.
Sixth-Place – JP O’Connor (Harvard)
A storied high school career led to a national number one ranking in high school for JP O’Connor, who was one of the biggest recruits ever to head to Harvard. O’Connor delivered right away, making the EIWA finals as a freshman and finishing fifth in the country during the 2006-07 season. That made O’Connor the first freshman to earn All-American honors in Harvard’s wrestling history. This season was his sophomore campaign and it was just as good resulting in a third seed at the NCAA Championships.
O’Connor wasn’t seriously tested in either of his first two matches which propelled him into the quarterfinals, where he would fall to Jenkins, in a slight upset. To get back onto the podium, O’Connor had to take a 3-1 decision over Boise State freshman Adam Hall. The last win of the tournament for JP came in his next bout when he edged Schlatter 3-2 in tiebreakers.
In 2008-09 JP moved up to 157 lbs and came up just shy of the NCAA podium, despite starting as the fifth seed. It all came together as a senior though, when O’Connor went 35-0 and earned an NCAA title over Chase Pami (Cal Poly). He became the first Harvard wrestler to finish his season undefeated and O’Connor’s 132 career wins tied him with fellow national champion Jesse Jantzen atop the Crimson’s all-time wins list.
Seventh-Place – Dustin Schlatter (Minnesota)
Before freshman sensations Gable Steveson (Minnesota), Spencer Lee (Iowa), and Mark Hall (Penn State) there was Dustin Schlatter. Dustin came up at the height of message board popularity and came with a hype that was only exceeded by Steve Mocco. Schlatter was an NCAA champion in 2005-06, as a true freshman, in a time where there had only been three other freshman champs since Cael in 1999. From early in his freshman year to the semi’s of the NCAA Championships his sophomore year, Dustin rolled up 65 consecutive wins and appeared to be poised to rewrite NCAA record books. That streak was ended by Gregor Gillespie (Edinboro) and Schlatter ended up third. A series of injuries, coupled with the emergence of all the talent at 149 lbs prevented him from winning another title.
Dustin was the second seed at the Big Ten championships which led to a highly anticipated match with Metcalf, where the Iowa grappler came out on top, 5-3. Since he was given the second seed at nationals, many figured another chapter in their rivalry was inevitable. Two low scoring wins over Hall and Iowa State’s Mitch Muller set up the quarterfinal match with Caldwell. After losing to the upstart from the Wolfpack, Schlatter needed to down Patacsil, to get onto the podium, which he did 4-1. Dustin would take seventh place after winning a 3-2 match in tiebreakers over Palmer, in an Ohio high school fan’s dream. Two of the best wrestlers to come out of the state, both four-time state champions.
Dustin would redshirt next season and ended up making the World Team at 74 kg. It would be the only world team appearance in his career. Schlatter collegiate career ended quietly at the 2010 NCAA Championships when he tried to wrestle through an injury and ended up having to default out in the first round. Even so, Schlatter was still a three-time AA, 2006 national champion, and two-time conference champ.
Eighth-Place – Lance Palmer (Ohio State)
It sounds like a broken record, but Lance Palmer is yet another sophomore at this weight class that did not redshirt as a freshman. Lance took his lumps during his first season in Columbus, yet grew as the year progressed. A third-place finish at the Big Ten’s gave him the tenth seed at the 2007 NCAA Championships. Palmer made the NCAA semis before dropping down to fourth place. As a sophomore, Palmer managed to take fourth in the brutal Big Ten, which gave him the ninth seed at nationals.
Palmer registered bonus points in his first two matches and advanced to the quarters against top-seeded Metcalf. His close loss to the Iowa star led many to wonder over the next few years, if he would be the one to knock off Metcalf. Leaving nothing to doubt, Palmer clinched his place amongst the top-eight after majoring Carter 11-3.
Lance went onto to earn All-American honors as a junior, also, finishing fourth in the nation. His best was to come as a senior when he upset Metcalf in the Big Ten finals. That win actually gave him the number one at the 2010 NCAA Championships. His rematch with Metcalf in the national finals ended up being anticlimactic, as Brent picked up an early takedown and a whole load of riding time to win, 3-2. Lance was the first four-time All-American for Tom Ryan as head coach of the Buckeyes and helped usher in a new era of Ohio State wrestling.
Round of 12 – Adam Hall (Boise State)
Just a freshman in 2007-08, Hall was a Pac-Ten runner-up as a freshman but got drawn into the bracket against the second-seeded Schlatter. After his first-round loss, Adam won three consecutive matches to advance to the Round of 12, where he fell to O’Connor.
Hall finished his career as a two-time All-American taking fifth and third at 157 lbs. He was a four-time conference finalist, two-time champion and actually earned the top seed at the 2011 NCAA Championships after defeating Jenkins in the Pac-Ten finals.
Round of 12 – Jake Patacsil (Purdue)
Jake was a junior this year and tended to be one of the overlooked wrestlers from this weight class. His top game was one of the best of his era. Patacsil was the eighth seed of this tournament and was driven to the consolations after a 14-6 major decision loss at the hands of Palmer. He turned around and scored bonus points in back-to-back matches before being defeated by Schlatter in the Round of 12.
A year later, Patacsil finished fifth at the 2009 NCAA Championships. He was a three-time national qualifier and earned the sixth senior, as a senior.
Round of 12 – Brandon Carter (Central Michigan)
Probably one of the more anonymous names in the top half of the finishers is Central Michigan’s, Brandon Carter. This was during the height of the Chippewa program when head coach Tom Borrelli was developing unheralded stars left and right. Carter had made the 2006 NCAA Championships, but did not in 2007. As a senior in 08, Carter won the MAC, but was without a seed (the NCAA only seeded 12 wrestlers at this time). No worries though, as Carter downed the 10th seed Scott Ervin (Appalachian State) 5-3. He then won a pair of matches over solid competitors in Grajales and Josh Wagner (Missouri) before bowing out to Palmer in the bloodround.
Round of 12 – Will Rowe (Oklahoma)
Will Rowe as a three-time NCAA qualifier that was a staple in the middle of the Sooner lineup. He was twice a third-place finisher in the Big 12 at 149 lbs. Rowe drew the short straw and had to face Metcalf in the first round in 2008. After losing that match, he came back and won three straight bouts, including one over Ryan Lang to advance to the Round of 12.
Other seeded competitors
#10 Scott Ervin (Appalachian State)
Ervin was a two-time SoCon Champion that was seeded seventh in 2007 and advanced to the Round of 12 before his elimination.
#11 Ryan Lang (Northwestern)
As mentioned above, Lang was the NCAA runner-up in 2007 at 141 lbs. He came into that match the top seed after going undefeated and winning a Big Ten title. Ryan got the opening takedown but ended up getting teched by Derek Moore (UC Davis). The previous year he was a national fourth-place finisher at 141 lbs. Ryan, along with Jake Herbert and Dustin Fox, were a trio of highly decorated recruits that came in and helped legitimize the Northwestern’s program as a place where you can compete for national titles.
#12 Morgan Atkinson (Cal-State Fullerton)
Morgan was a senior this year that qualified for his third NCAA tournament after winning his second Pac-Ten title. Morgan was eliminated after losing to conference mate Hall, in a rematch of their Pac-Ten final. The previous year, Atkinson was seeded ninth.
Bryce Saddoris (Navy)
With all of the star power at this weight, it’s probably easy to forget about Bryce Saddoris. He was a freshman in 2007-08 and qualified after taking third at the EIWA’s. Saddoris would make the NCAA semi’s the next season, losing to Caldwell, before falling back to sixth place. Bryce got back to the podium his senior year when he was seventh at 157 lbs. He was a three-time conference finalist and one-time champ. Saddoris would do even better on the Greco-Roman circuit wrestling in two Senior World Championships while representing the Marine Corps.
Don Fisch (Rider)
When Ryan Lang made the 2007 NCAA finals at 141 lbs, he needed to get by Don Fisch in the semis. And just get by he did. Lang won a controversial 3-2 decision over the Rider star to make the finals. Don would have to settle for fifth place. Fisch’s career at Rider ended with him becoming a four-time NCAA qualifier, two-time CAA champion. In 2005 he was the 10th seed and finished a match shy of getting onto the podium.
Cesar Grajales (Penn)
Even though JP O’Connor was the third seed at nationals, he was not the EIWA champion in 2008. That honor went to Penn’s Cesar Grajales. Cesar was always a steady competitor, qualifying four times for the NCAA Championships, but was never seeded and never advanced to the Round of 12.
Mike Roberts (Boston)
Mike Roberts was a three-time NCAA qualifier for BU, but he is perhaps best remembered for his 2007 Southern Scuffle. Roberts pinned Caldwell in the early going, then upset Schlatter in the finals to complete his title run. He did not fare as well against Caldwell at nationals, as he lost by fall in the opening round and proceeded to go 0-2.
Mitch Mueller (Iowa State)
Mitch Mueller was a part of that storied recruiting Class of 2005 for the Cyclones that yielded Jake Varner, David Zabriskie, and Cyler Sanderson, among others. Mueller was a consistent stalwart in the middle of the lineup, first at 141 then at 149 for the final three years of his career. He won two matches at the 2008 tournament before his elimination. During his last two trips to nationals, Mueller finished in the Round of 12 both times, the second time coming after earning the seventh seed.
Other Four-time National Qualifiers
Kurt Kinser (Indiana), David Jaurgeui (West Virginia), Daryl Cocozzo (Edinboro/Rutgers)
Other Three-time National Qualifiers
Ryan Adams (North Dakota State), Matt Fittery (Lock Haven), Matt Cathell (Delaware State/Kent State), Hadley Harrison (Clarion), Trevor Chinn (Lehigh)
2019 133 lbs….So Far…
1st – Nick Suriano (Rutgers) 2019 NCAA Champion, Two-time NCAA Finalist (1st, 2nd)
2nd – Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) 2019 NCAA Runner-up, 2019 Senior World Team Member, Junior World Champ (three-time medalist)
3rd – Stevan Micic (Michigan) Three-time All-American (3rd, 2nd, 4th), 2019 Senior World Team Member (Serbia), Junior World bronze medalist
4th – Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) Two-time All-American (4th, 4th)
5th – Austin DeSanto (Iowa)
6th – John Erneste (Missouri)
7th – Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) Three-time NCAA All-American (7th, 4th, 2nd), Four-time Qualifier
8th – Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State)
Micky Phillipi (Pittsburgh) ACC Champion; #4 Seed
Tariq Wilson (NC State) 2018 NCAA Third Place
Austin Gomez (Iowa State) Big 12 Third Place; #13th Seed
Montorie Bridges (Wyoming) Big 12 Runner-Up; 2018 NCAA Eighth Place
This weight class also was could have featured 2018 NCAA Champion Seth Gross (South Dakota State) who only ended up wrestling one match in 2018-19 due to injury.