Welcome back to the ranking of the twenty greatest wrestling matches between future MMA stars. In this entry, the sixth in the series, we take a look at two big-time college wrestling matches of yore.
9.Tyron Woodley vs. Johny Hendricks- 2005 Big 12 Conference Finals
When I first started following college wrestling, I first noticed how the sport had a vastly different conference landscape than college football or college basketball. Wrestling's version of the Pac-10 featured Boise State, Cal Poly and Portland State. Major conferences like the Big East and SEC did not even exist in college wrestling, while something called the EIWA, a conference made primarily of elite northeastern private schools, enjoyed the status of the third toughest league in the nation. Of all the differences in conference alignment between wrestling and the "big name" sports, the fact that the Big 12 conference consisted of only five teams struck me as the strangest.
In 1965, back when the Big 12 was known as the Big 8, every member school sponsored a wrestling program. The next year, Kansas dropped its team. Almost a decade later, Kansas state shed wrestling in 1975, then Colorado wrestling went the way of the dodo in 1980.
In 1996, Texas, Texas Tech ( long live the Matador), Texas A&M, and Baylor, joined the Big 8 after the Southwest Conference disintegrated, and poof, the Big 12 came into being. Unfortunately, all four of these new schools hailed from Texas, and no Texas Division I school has ever fielded a wrestling team. This left a 12 team conference with a number of wrestling programs countable on one hand.
The Big 12 may have only contained five wrestling teams, but, oh, what a five teams. Oklahoma State owns more national titles than any other wrestling team, Iowa State and Oklahoma are truly part of college wrestling royalty and Nebraska has produced an impressive number of World Championship and Olympic medalists. Then there was Missouri. Missouri never matched the lofty accomplishments of its Big 12 peers until head coach Brian Smith took the reigns in 1998. Smith built Missouri into a nationally relevant program, eventually winning a Big 12 team championship, finishing in the top five in the NCAA Championships, and producing three individual national champions in Ben Askren, Max Askren and Mark Ellis. Before any of this came to pass, however, the turning point for Missouri and Coach Smith arrived in 2003, when a Missouri wrestler earned the program's first individual Big 12 championship; a 165 pound wrestler named Tyron Woodley.
Woodley had two years left to wrestle for Mizzou after his Big 12 title run and first All American finish in 2003, but he would never win his conference again. The next year, in 2004, a weird confluence of circumstances would leave him in fifth place in the Big 12, and without a spot in the national tournament. 2005 saw Woodley again reach the conference finals, but he faced an insurmountable obstacle; Oklahoma State's Johny Hendricks had risen to prominence, and started his three year reign as the country's most dominant 165 pounder.
Hendricks topped Woodley 4-1, winning the 2005 Big 12 championship, and two weeks later, at the NCAA Championship, Woodley would claim All American status while Hendricks won the first of two national titles. Almost nine years after their last wrestling match against one another, fans of Woodley and Hendricks can envision a possible rematch on the horizon. Hendricks looks poised to ascend to the top of the UFC's welterweight division, and if Woodley keeps knocking people unconscious, he won't be too far behind
8. Ryan Bader vs. Chris Weidman- 2006 NCAA Quarterfinals
After finishing an impressive fourth place at the 2004 Division I NCAA Wrestling Championships as a sophomore, Arizona State's Ryan Bader looked every bit like a future national champion at 197 pounds, but looks tend to deceive. The wrestler from Reno, Nevada, would not make good on his enormous promise the following year, as he exited the 2005 national tournament in the round of 16 after losing his second match of the tournament to a then unheralded Phil Davis from Penn State.
In 2006, Bader's final NCAA Tournament, the planets looked like they had finally aligned for the Sun Devil senior. Eighth seeded Bader shut out Illinois's ninth seeded Tyrone Bird to make the quarterfinals, and all he had to beat for a place in the semis, and possibly the finals, was Hofstra's unseeded Chris Weidman, who just completed a monster upset over top-seeded Central Michigan Chippewa, Wynn Michalak.
During the 2005-2006 season, Weidman's first wrestling varsity on the Division I level, he yielded rather unimpressive results. In fact, he needed a takedown in sudden-death overtime in the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association Championship, eking out a win over Rider's T.J. Morrison, just to qualify for the NCAA Championship (Adam Wright of Old Dominion pinned him in the CAA finals). Carrying a fairly mediocre record of 13-10 into the post season, Weidman did not look like a threat to win more than a match or two at the national tournament, if that.
Recently, in an interview on Sirius Radio's Fight Club, Weidman revealed that he did not work as hard as he could as a college wrestler, and got by primarily on talent. Apparently he tapped deep into that talent at the 2006 NCAA Championship, where he caught fire, won his first two matches against more highly-regarded opponents, and found himself in the quarterfinals.
In those quarterfinals, Bader's final bid for a national title evaporated as Weidman upended him 10-7. Oklahoma State's Jake Rosholt then took a little over a minute of the semifinal to flatten Weidman, who injury defaulted to sixth place. Bader battled back to seventh place in the repechage, sealing his second All American finish.
These two wrestlers may yet meet again in the cage. UFC Middleweight Champ Weidman has hinted at a move to the 205 pound division at some time in the future, and by that point, Bader may still be conducting his solemn sentry duty, keeping watch over the gated entrance of the gilded road to the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.
Join us next time for part VII in this ranking of the 20 greatest wrestling matches between future MMA stars.