330 of the USA's toughest athletes have descended on St. Louis, Missouri to do what they do every March: beat the stuffing out of one another to determine this season's ten national wrestling champions. The 2015 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship starts this Thursday (March 19) and runs through Saturday evening (March 21).
I am evangelical in my belief that this is the nation's single greatest annual sporting event; I want to convert the wrestling-uninitiated into fans. Sadly, I remain keenly aware of the obstacles to this conversion. As an extremely complex and rigorously technical sport, American folkstyle wrestling exacts huge demands on new members of its audience. Many viewers give up on wrestling long before they learn to appreciate its beautiful sophistication. Fortunately, two developments can help this situation and expand wrestling's appeal beyond its hard core of devotees: gambling and stardom.
Sports books have already posted lines for each weight class at the 2015 NCAA Wrestling championship. Hopefully a little wager or two can make the event a bit more compelling for newcomers. Below we offer the lines most current to the time of writing.
NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships - Scotttrade Center, St. Louis, Missouri - 11:45 AM ET
(INDIVIDUAL WRESTLER MUST START TO HAVE ACTION.)
125 LBS: Alan Waters (Missouri) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship +125
125 LBS: Nahshon Garett (Cornell) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship +120
133 LBS: Chris Dardanes (Minnesota) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship +130
141 LBS: Logan Stieber (Ohio State) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship -3000
149 LBS: Tsirtsis (Northwestern) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship -185
149 LBS: Brandon Sorenson (Iowa) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship +425
149 LBS: Hunter Stieber (Ohio State) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship +700
157 LBS: Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship -450
165 LBS: Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship -340
174 LBS: Robert Kokesh (Nebraska), Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship -225
184 LBS: Gabe Dean (Cornell) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship -300
197 LBS: J'den Cox (Missouri) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship -175
197 LBS: Kyven Gadson (Iowa State) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship +230
285 LBS: Nick Gwiazdowski (North Carolina State State) Wins Individual 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championship -120
Gambling helps bring eyeballs, but a bigger deal is transcendent, crossover superstardom. One athlete with spectacular talent and a charismatic style can change the fortunes of an entire sport. Wrestling may just have such an athlete with the University of Illinois' Isaiah Martinez.
Boasting a 29-0 record, Martinez enters the NCAA championships as the top wrestler at 157 pounds, which may be the nation's toughest weight class. The Illinois standout's allure stems not just from the fact that he has won all his matches, but from the manner in which he has won them. The majority of his wins consist of lopsided and resounding thrashings. Martinez doesn't just defeat his opponents, he batters and slams them with an ultra-aggressive, visually impressive style that bears admiration even from viewers with absolutely no appreciation for wrestling's finer points.
To elaborate, Martinez, or IMar as some fans call him, has a noticeable tendency to effortlessly lift his opponents of the mat, and plant them hard on their backs.
Like so (against two-time NCAA runner up Dylan Ness):
IMar should spend this year's NCAA tournament ripping his opponents apart with extreme prejudice and palpable nastiness. The guy wrestles just plain mean; his in-match presence is the closest thing to Mike Tyson I've ever seen in wrestling, and you should watch him.
Oh, he's also only a freshman.
You can find brackets for the NCAA Wrestling Championship here thanks to the good folks at Intermat.
This year's team race should feature a nail-bitingly close race between Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio State and Cornell.
Finally, Mark Palmer, the great sage of the wrestling media corps has you covered on the schedule and how to watch (via The Examiner):
Action at the 2015 NCAAs kicks off Thursday at noon Eastern time with Session 1, which can be watched on ESPNU. Session 2 starts Thursday at 7:30 p.m., also available on ESPNU. On Friday, Session 3 - the quarterfinals - opens at 11 a.m. Eastern at the arena and on ESPNU... with Session 4 - the semifinals - will start at 8 p.m., and be broadcast on the flagship ESPN network. The third and final day of wrestling opens Saturday at 11 a.m. with the medal round - the matches for third through eighth place - which will be shown on ESPNU. Session 6, featuring the ten championship matches, will start Saturday night at 8 p.m. and will be available for viewing on ESPN.
Fans not able to attend the 2015 NCAAs in person will have multiple options for watching the action from home or work. ESPN Networks will televise all six sessions of the three-day championships live from Scottrade Center. A feature that was new in 2014 - ESPN3's "Inside the Mat" -- which provided insider perspective and commentary from four wrestling legends will again be available for fans. What's more, ESPN3 has expanded its individual mat feed which allows fans to watch every match throughout the tournament, including wrestlebacks, accompanied by live commentary. Additionally, for computer users, ESPN3 will once again offer multi-mat simultaneous viewing which allows fans to watch up to four different mats at one time. WatchESPN will also provide coverage of all six sessions.
Bloody Elbow will cover the entire event from front to back.