University of Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands provides the best interviews in the sport of wrestling. Nobody else comes remotely close. He captivates listeners with guileless simplicity, fanatical conviction to his principals and an often brutal, and surprisingly charming, bluntness. More than anything, however, he possesses an uncanny knack for generating a fantastic sound bite. See the video below.
This clip comes from the ESPN documentary on Iowa's 2002 season (viewable here). I can't foresee this ever displaced as my favorite instance of anyone discussing what it takes to make it in the utterly unforgivable world of college wrestling. The best part, though, happens when Brands pauses after he says, "In order for my athlete to be successful he better be a..."
During the pause you can almost see Brands's thought process. He knows what he wants to say, but he realizes his words, in the hands of documentary maker, may be used to paint wrestling in a bad light. Glancing to the side, he searches for a gentler way to phrase his thoughts, and then a sort of relief seems to come over him when it dawns on him that he's completely incapable of such of thing. He realizes that he, Tom Brands, is not in the business of sugar coating words to blunt their sting against the over sensitive, so he just launches into what he wanted to say from the beginning.
"He better be an asshole, he better be a dick, he better be selfish and he better be mean... It's you or the other guy, win you live, lose you die."
I could write a book about those words, they almost rise to the level of poetry. More than anything, they resonate with unassailable truth. When Iowa and Penn State's wrestling teams meet on Saturday evening, every wrestler who takes the mat will face a highly skilled and finely honed opponent hell bent on ripping his heart out and showing it to the roughly 16,000 fans in attendance. Losing in this environment would inevitably lead to psychological devastation, and if a wrestler manages to avoid this devastation, it will not be due to gentleness, charity or polished social graces.
The meet will inevitably be great, the number one team in the nation will face the number three team in the unrivaled atmosphere of Iowa's Carver Hawkeye Arena. Better yet, the event will be available to watch live at 8 pm EST on Big Ten Network by broadcast, and Big Ten Network To Go by internet, in crystal clear high definition.
Projected Lineups for #1 Penn State vs. #3 Iowa
|125:||#4 Cory Clark (Fr. 9-0)||vs||#3 Nico Megaludis (JR. 10-1)|
|133:||#3 Tony Ramos (Sr. 8-1)||vs||#15 Jimmy Guilibon (Fr. 4-5)|
|141:||#10 Josh Dziewa (Jr. 10-1)||vs||#2 Zain Retherford (Fr. 11-0)|
|149:||Michael Kelly (Jr. 9-1)||vs||Zack Beitz (Fr. 6-4)|
|157:||#1 Derek St. John (Sr. 11-0)||vs||James Vollrath (Sr. 8-3)|
|165:||#4 Nick Moore (Jr. 5-0)||vs||#1 David Taylor (Sr. 11-0)|
|174:||#6 Mike Evans (Jr. 11-0)||vs||#3 Matt Brown (Jr. 11-0)|
|184:||#2 Ethen Lofthouse (Sr. 10-0)||vs||#1 Ed Ruth (Sr. 11-0)|
|197:||Sammy Brooks (Fr. 9-3)||vs||#3 Morgan Mcintosh (So. 10-0)|
|285:||#3 Bobby Telford (Jr. 6-0)||vs||#12 Jimmy Lawson (Jr. 10-0)|
Penn State will wrestle without the Alton twins, their two highly ranked starters at 149 and 157. Iowa will not have Nate Burak at 197. Jordan Conaway may start at 133 for Penn State. The above link to Matt Brown will take you to discussions of the UFC fighter and former Bloody Elbow editor, not the Penn State wrestler.
Despite all this, every point in every match will matter. Either team can win this dual, and both teams are fun to watch. Penn State probably can claim to have the more visual appealing wrestlers, particularly superhuman talents David Taylor and Ed Ruth, as well as insanely talented true freshman, Logan Stieber defeater, and Cadet world champion Zain Retherford.
Iowa's wrestler's might create slightly less spectacle, but they get the job done. Derek St. John, who is so tough I believe he might be a synthetic being created only of gristle from the end of a drumstick, returns this year as a national champion. Keep an eye on Tony Ramos, who has the disposition of cornered hyena, and Iowa's heavyweight, Big Bob Telford, who has been straight wrecking fools at 285 this season.
Finally, I should mention that this dual meet was scheduled by the team's respective coaches on Twitter. Check back on Bloody Elbow for a live discussion of the event.