This was great.
First, four amazing coaches took the mics, then they were followed by five All-American wrestlers, and their answers were fun and interesting.
The coaches represented four of the top-five teams in the country this year: Zeke Jones of Arizona State, Pat Popolizio of NC State, Tom Brands of Iowa and Sean Bormet of Michigan. There was space for Cael Sanderson, but no name tag. Perhaps we’ll learn later this weekend why he was unable to join.
The wrestlers were Gable Steveson of Minnesota (1x Champ, 2x AA), David Carr of Iowa State (1x Champ, 1x AA), Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell (2x Champ, 2x AA), Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State (1x Champ, 2x AA) and Myles Amine of Michigan (4x AA).
USA Wrestling has uploaded the videos to Youtube and the NCAA provides transcripts via ASAP Sports, but they take out the media introductions. I’ve learned from the media pros this principle that the questioner should not be thee story or overshadow the subjects in any way, but I’ve also learned from Wrestling Internet that “wrestling media” is also extremely interesting to wrestling fans.
With that in mind, when I could catch the names from the video, I tried to include some names of folks who asked which questions. I’m still experimenting with the best way to share with you all the awesome content procured during wrestling press conferences, so let me know how this works out.
Mike Finn is the longtime Editor of Wrestling Insider Magazine; he asked this question to kick things off:
Q. This is actually a two-part question for all of you, possibly. It deals with the qualifiers, which you all have gone through. Obviously, the situation with medical forfeit and such is understandable for the health of the athletes, but it does determine the team race. Should that actually just determine like a Big Ten or PAC 10 or any other championship or should you just go through a qualifier?
The other thing is the second part is just that not all qualifiers have the same number of teams. Therefore, say the Big Ten, there’s 14 teams, more wins you have to go to qualify. Should there be — should we make changes that all qualifiers are more balanced?
SEAN BORMET: I think we’ve seen a trend in some of the medical forfeits and even in some of the stuff throughout the dual season. Throughout the entire season, I think there’s been a trend of that. We didn’t see as much of it I think during the COVID year because we didn’t have as many matches, but this year I think there was a lot of glaring issues that we got to look at and demonstration within the sport because I think there’s definitely some valid reasons that these things happen.
And I think there are some things that at times, let’s face it, we have a lot of smart coaches, and they’re trying to do the best thing for their athletes at different times, you know, whether that’s with RPIs or head-to-head competition. We don’t want — I think we don’t want incentives. We don’t want to incentivize that with a system in our sport because it doesn’t make sense for the big picture. There’s definitely some areas I think we have to revisit going forward.
TOM BRANDS: I would agree that you need to look at it maybe closer. I don’t necessarily have the answers. That’s not where I would put my energy. I can tell you that we do make individual decisions that are best for our individuals consistently, so that’s what I would say. Our job as coaches — that’s where our priority is always. We’ll let the rules makers make it better. This sport is in a good place, and it can certainly get in a better place, but things like that maybe need to be cleaned up and looked at.
PAT POPOLIZIO: There’s a lot of positive having the conference tournament where our fans enjoy watching our teams compete in conference, and it could be interesting if a committee ever tried to move something to a more regional setting, but either way, you know, you got to take care of your athletes, put them in the right position to be healthy for this tournament because this is where a lot of it lies.
ZEKE JONES: Thanks for letting me answer that last. I can just say they did a great job. I’ll stop there and let them move to the next question. Good job, you guys.
Gary Abbott is a Director of Communications and Special Projects for USA Wrestling, and he asked a number of questions. Here is a biography of Gary on the USA Wrestling site. I took an odd solace in hearing that his voice is as mild as mine. He asked this next question.
Q. This is for Sean Bormet. Obviously, winning the conference was a big boost for your program and a program you’ve worked hard to develop since you’ve become the head coach, but what would it mean to you to win in Detroit? This group of athletes proved they could win a conference tournament that was very competitive. What would this be for the athletes and for the program for you to go out of here with that trophy sitting over there?
SEAN BORMET: I mean, obviously, winning a Big Ten championship is special for our program. It hasn’t been done in a while. It was part of the mission when we brought this Team 100 together, but obviously, we had to keep that in perspective. Let the guys soak it in for a day and then get refocused because the bigger part of our mission, the goal is to come here and put our best wrestling on the mat in Detroit. We’ve been second numerous times as a team over a 100-year history, but the ultimate would be winning here in Detroit for our program.
Q. (from Pittsburgh Post Gazette) Coach Bormet, going off the last question, you guys after the Big Ten, Penn State definitely kept the pressure on with you guys there at the conference tournament. What kind of presence do they pose here now in Detroit? What kind of pressure do they put on you guys and, I guess, what are you expecting from them?
SEAN BORMET: I mean, to be honest, pressure is a funny word. It can be defined in a lot of different ways. Obviously, our guys know what we’re trying to accomplish and it’s something special, and along with that comes the privilege of a lot of pressure, and our guys know that, and they’re excited about it.
We haven’t really — I think this is going to be one of the greatest NCAA championships we’ve had in a long time from an individual perspective with so many of these guys getting the extra years. It’s just one of the most elite fields I think we’ve ever had in the history of the NCAA tournament.
I think there’s a lot of — the team race is going to be really fun and exciting, and we haven’t really focused too much on the other teams. I mean, we were really focused on what we need to do and to have our guys ready to wrestle their ultimate best, and that’s really been our focus.
Q. (from Andrew Spey of Flowrestling) Question for Coach Brands. You mentioned how wrestling is in a really good place, and I think we’re in a really nice facility here, and Iowa is coming off a national championship, and then you add a women’s program, and you break ground on a new facilities.
Can you talk about the changes that you have seen that is now got wrestling in a place where you can have those new things like a women’s program at a Power Five conference and wrestle in Globe Life Field and now here in an arena like this?
TOM BRANDS: I would focus more on arenas like this and the current leadership that makes this possible. We’re in a big-time city and in a big-time arena. The organization is great. You got 2022 signs everywhere. This is big-time. It’s on par with the best in sports, and that’s a credit to the NCAA and the fans that show up and support this. That’s what I mean by that.
And when you have that kind of leadership, you have the opportunity to grow on every campus and make it stronger and better. People turn their heads because it is in a big-time setting.
Ok, I wrestled with this next one a ton.
I was 44 years old before I ever asked my first interview question (2015 St. Louis, quaking in my boots with my cracked cell phone trying to ask Coach Cael about Matt Brown’s strength & fitness), and I think you all know my relative inexperience with ‘journalism.’
Finn had already asked about the conference tourney medical forfeits (MFF, which don’t count as official losses during seeding decisions for the National Tournament), and Bormet had included in his answer the challenge coaches faced in trying to get their wrestlers the minimum 15 bouts needed to earn an official RPI (Ratings Performance Index, a quantity used to rank sports teams based upon wins & loses & strength of schedule) for seeding purposes.
But one of the oddest developments that came out of that challenge the past two years is coaches from opposing teams agreeing ahead of time to the result of a match. They each have their wrestler toe the line, let the ref blow the whistle, then one wrestler would take an injury default and the match would end. The result is both wrestlers get an official RPI-countable bout, one gets the W, and the injury defaulter gets the L.
In the case of the winner, he gets another W for his resume, but it’s also an advantage for the loser in that, even though it results in an L, it increases his total volume of matches and helps him get closer to the criteria for both an RPI and for securing an Automatic Qualifier position for his conference at his weight.
In an additional piece of complexity, some of these bouts took place after the official team dual meet, in Extra Countable Matches (ECM), which were instituted during the pandemic-shortened 2021 season specifically for the same purpose: to allow wrestlers to get more matches.
In the 2/19/22 Dual Meet between Lehigh and Arizona State, two Lehigh wrestlers did not compete in the team dual, but then did participate in injury defaulted ECM’s.
Since they first popped up, I’ve been extremely interested in how the conversations between the coaches go, and I finally mustered the courage to ask Coach Jones about it.
Q. This question is for Coach Jones. In the Lehigh dual this year, there were two extra matches in which the ASU wrestler injury-defaulted after one second. Could you tell us how that conversation with the Lehigh coaches went to arrive at that?
ZEKE JONES: I can’t answer that, but what I can tell you is they’re coming to the end of the year, and there’s X amount of matches to meet the criteria for an allocation spot in the conference meets, and I think it was already answered down at the end of the table.
I think the coaches are trying to do the best thing for their athletes. They’re trying to insure that they’re qualified, and they get to the NCAA tournament, and they’re in those spots. It wasn’t an advantage to us. The advantage was to Lehigh. I just think that until we, like they said, do something with the qualification system, you’re going to see that happen. I wouldn’t blame any coach to do what’s best for their athlete to try to get to the NCAA tournament, so, I mean, I think that’s kind of the fast answer.
It’s a delicate subject, isn’t it?
For what it’s worth, I also asked Cael Sanderson a version of the same question, in the 2/28/22 Media Availability after the Penn State - Rider Dual:
Jp: Towards the end of the season, we saw a few instances of extra matches, in which two opposing coaches agreed to an extra bout but also agreed for one wrestler to injury default out in that bout. In arranging the extra match between Berge and McComas, how did your conversations with the Rider coach go? And would you ever agree for a pre arranged injury default in a situation where you need more bouts for your wrestler?
Coach Sanderson: Well, we we asked if there were any. We were trying to get two matches for Brady in that dual meet and if we couldn’t have gotten them we would have sent him probably on the road to the tournament. But yeah, I mean I can’t answer that. I can’t see that happening or you know, a coach probably even agreeing to that. But you know, we put rules in place. There’s always loopholes, you know, and so some of the rules ... there’s always questions, there’s always ways around things. I know people are offended or upset by that happening. And maybe rightfully so, but that’s not something that I have really put a lot of thought into. It wasn’t really a consideration or an option for us— it wasn’t going to happen. But I’m not in a position to tell somebody what they’re doing. If you put the rules in place, you just need to know people are gonna find a way around them, you know, so it is what it is.
As for pre-arranging an outcome of a bout, I read that as Sanderson would not, but you can see how carefully and clearly he says he won’t judge other coaches who do or have. And, to a man, all five coaches were clear on two key things: the systems are broken, and they will always prioritize their athletes first.
College wrestling is really unique in that there are so many competing priorities. Team vs Individuals; Duals vs Tournaments; Conference Tourneys vs the National Tourney. Many times they can be balanced, but some times they cannot, and it’s all a very delicate process.
Ok, back to the press conference...
Q. (from Christian Pyles, Flowrestling) Question for Coach Popolizio. Hayden Hidlay came back after last year, sort of on the fence, and goes up a couple of weights. Can you talk about the decision, how much it’s helped him that he has moved up to 174, and what the dynamic is like with him and Trent back-to-back?
PAT POPOLIZIO: First of all, it was an interesting recruiting process. It was like recruiting a kid all over again. Had to talk these guys to come back for that sixth year, which we were grateful to have them, but, yeah, having him up two weights was something. He made that decision.
If he was going to come back, it was going to be more focused on getting better at wrestling and not so much the weight cut. We’ve seen that. We’ve seen him get better at wrestling. And having both those guys in our line-up bring a lot of really good energy, focus, and just what you are looking for ultimately in an athlete that can help lead us to where we want to be this weekend.
Q. (from Gary Abbott) Zeke, about a year ago, Stanford had dropped wrestling. We were coming into this tournament. People didn’t have any clue what was going to happen with the PAC-12. 12 months later, obviously, not only Stanford back, but you have teams like Cal Poly stepping up, Oregon State is within a half a point of you guys. What’s it looking like out West right now?
ZEKE JONES: That’s great. You are giving me the tough questions, huh? I would say that the West is in the best shape it’s ever been, Gary, right? I think Stanford — you know, there was a stand, right, in the west that said that wrestling is important, we’re going to continue to work hard at it. I say collectively as in the West, the folks athletic departments and people, really the communities, right? That was really a community effort that stepped up and said, hey, Stanford wrestling is important, and it should remain.
Quick note here: when he quipped about the tough questions, he grinned and looked over at me, which made me feel wayyy better about even asking the previous question. Coach Jones is very charismatic!
ZEKE JONES: I’ve also — Anthony Holman made a comment, and I say it often, the NCAA doesn’t look at the West as a dying area, but a growth opportunity because we know that youth wrestling is very strong in the West Coast. And so if you are looking at where you can grow the wrestling market, I mean, in reality Pennsylvania is always strong, but it’s already maxed itself out. It will get 1% or 2% growth, but if you look at the West, that could be a tremendous growth opportunity where we can grow the options for kids in the West to be able to wrestle at the collegiate level.
I think when we’re looking at an NCAA championship, hosting that out in the West is something I think the NCAA is focused on, and it matters, and they care about it. Certainly we would love to host it. I think it’s — and there’s some great places in the West, not just Phoenix, but L.A. and Las Vegas. I think athletic directors are looking at the West and saying, you know, is wrestling the right add? I think certainly for women’s wrestling, we know that it’s not an if, it’s a when as it pertains to growing in the West and adding more collegiate programs.
Then as we know, California is consistently one of the best teams in the — states in the country for recruiting and the best kids in the country are coming out of California, which has been great for us, and for all programs. I think the West is in a great spot for growing, for growth, and getting better.
Obviously, there are some obstacles. We know it costs money to start a Division I program, but I do think that when you are looking at people that can help fund it and endow it, if you all know or can remember, our athletic director, Ray Anderson, is a visionary. We added men’s ice hockey to Phoenix, Arizona. I know it sounds odd, but $32 million made that happen, and that came from a couple of gracious donors.
I think if you — I think if we’re organized, I think if we get the right people at the table in the right programs, we can grow wrestling at the Division I level in the West, and last comment because I just — you just mentioned it, and I want to make sure I say it. We just passed some important policy within the PAC-12 that says that we can grow the conference as big as we want.
We used to be in a situation where we couldn’t grow past six teams, and we all know the challenges if you drop below five teams in a conference, but right now, we’re looking at going to eight, ten, or 12 teams in the PAC-12, so I think we’re in the best — and that’s over a decade long policy the PAC-12 has had that now we can grow the PAC-12. So it’s something that the conference, the coaches, and the athletic directors have made that an important mission after the season to focus on.
The thing I found most interesting in this answer was watching the other coaches watch Coach Jones as he answered. I’m projecting a good bit here, but there seemed to be a great deal of respect for Jones as a wrestling leader. He’s widely credited for the formation of the Olympic Regional Training Centers that have really bolstered the talent and preparation of wrestlers headed off to international competition, and the last part there about helping to orchestrate the change of a decade-old conference policy again shows his value as a growth leader.
Confidence buoyed by the wry grin and ‘tough questions’ quip, I felt comfortable re-engaging, with a much more fun question:
Q. Question for Coach Jones. An easy one, you picked up Eric Thompson as an assistant coach this year. I was wondering how he has helped the program and Cohlton Schultz specifically improve?
ZEKE JONES: We brought Eric Thompson in specifically to work with Cohlton Schultz, and he has done a fantastic job. Obviously, we know he came from the Penn State group, and we know how good their upper weights and heavy weights have been.
We’re grateful to have Coach Thompson come in, as well as Frank Molinaro and Mark Perry all came in with the last year. I think we have a world class coaching staff and Coach Thompson, Molinaro, Perry, and, of course, Lee Pritts has been there a long time, but Eric has been a tremendous add for the program and has made us a lot better.
Thank you for that softball.
Ha! Did I just make a new friend?
Q. (from NCAA) We know this weekend is going to be the first time with fans in a couple of years at that championship. Expecting a really good atmosphere. Talk about just getting back to that normal setting and playing — or wrestling in front of some fans here in Detroit. Go down the line.
SEAN BORMET: I mean, like I touched on earlier, I think not only is it one of the best fields we’ve ever had from a competitor standpoint at this year’s NCAA championships, but after two years not having fans and for us specifically having it here in our back yard in Detroit, I mean, Detroit is — I landed here. I’m from the Chicago suburbs, but I landed at Michigan as a freshman the fall of 1989. I’ve spent a lot of significant years around this area, so to really watch Detroit over the last 30 years, the city just very resilient, gritty, amazing people, watch this city transform and have this NCAA championship here in our 100th year of Michigan wrestling, you know, it’s really special, and I think it’s going to be an unbelievable event.
TOM BRANDS: Two things to say to that; I heard that the bid for this championships was put in and accepted before this facility was built. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s awesome testament to vision. That would be one. I said it earlier, we’re in a big-time city and a big-time arena. That’s awesome as well, and then speak for our team a little bit. You know, we got some guys that it’s been alluded to the sixth year, the COVID year, they’re tight, and they make each other better, and it’s their last chance, a lot of them, so it’s time to go. Detroit 2022.
PAT POPOLIZIO: I think this one is more for the athletes. The year that we had no fans in the stands, it was definitely unique and different, but to have everyone back here and the energy that’s going to be in play I think is going to be real important.
Obviously, it’s going to be some of the best wrestling with having these six-year guys in here along with some of the young talent that all these teams have. We’re looking for a really good NCAA tournament.
ZEKE JONES: I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, born and raised. I’m home. I love it. I’m so happy to be here. A lot of friends and family coming back. This is like home court advantage for me, and obviously these fantastic coaches have great teams. We’re excited. I think we get to hide out in the West. You guys don’t pay attention to us very often. We use that to our advantage. I would like to think we can sneak up on some people. We have seven returning All Americans, so maybe not so easy to sneak up this year, but looking forward to some great competition, looking forward to seeing a lot of my family and friends here at this competition, this tournament, and it’s going to be a fun fight for the championship. Let’s have some fun.
I’m running out of time to post this to you all, so will reduce the interjecting commentary here.
Q. This is for you, Myles. Obviously, the Amine name is well known with Michigan. Can you talk about what it does mean to you, to your family, memories you have had growing up, the things that your father shared, other members of your family that have shared with you?
MYLES AMINE: Yeah. It’s obviously a pretty special moment being here in Detroit. I was actually at the Palace of Auburn Hills back in 2008, I think, when I watched Josh Churella wrestle in the NCAA finals there I remember as a kid.
You know, just my family, obviously, and the state of Michigan, University of Michigan, six of us have came through the program, and it’s been really special kind of being able to be on a team with my brother, my older cousin, and my younger cousin. I’m like Father Time in that aspect, but just trying to keep all that stuff kind of the news stories and for the press try to make it as much — just another wrestling tournament, kind of my own wrestling journey.
Even my dad has told me that several times. It’s important that there’s a legacy in the family, but when you go out there and wrestle, you’re wrestling for yourself. That’s really all there is to it. Just trying to keep it what it is, just a wrestling match, and not thinking too much about the legacy, but when the season is over and maybe a couple of months from now, I’ll think about that and I’ll have a different answer for you.
Q. Gable, I’m wondering when you were making your decision after the Olympic trials about your career path, was there any consideration to stick with wrestling and trying to win more Olympic golds and world championships than anybody else and then maybe go to the WWE when you were, like, 28 or was that — was it something that you thought about?
GABLE STEVESON: Me and my family as a whole thought about the possibilities that we can make. I think a good choice for me was to come back to the NCAA tournament and try to win this special thing again and then go to the WWE, and I got a three-year deal with them, so it comes around about 2024, 2025-ish, so you know what I’m trying to get at. Who knows?
Q. Yianni, I would just like to get your thought about being in this tournament. It’s been a few years, right? I mean, you’ve had an Olympic run that you made, and then last year, the conference didn’t allow you guys to wrestle. What’s it like for you to go through the season and come here to go after another title?
YIANNI DIAKOMIHALIS: Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely been a while. My last NCAA tournament was 2019, so that was three years ago. You know, the season is tough. It’s a grind. I feel like my coaches prepared me really well and coming into this weekend, I feel really confident, and I think we have a great team, and I feel as good as I can, so feeling good.
Q. David, I want to ask you the same question I asked Myles. You have a family legacy with Iowa State. Can you share some of the memories you may have had with your dad when he talked about his Iowa State days and when you finally made that decision?
DAVID CARR: We were just working out the other day talking about his NCAA match and the intensity of it, and it was just really cool. It was really special. I’m just blessed to be able to wear a Cyclone singlet being that I have had so many family members do it. It’s awesome to represent. I love competing.
This is like I’m in a candy shop, and it’s all gummy Bears at the NCAA tournament. This is awesome. So many good competitors. I’m super pumped to go out there and compete, and add onto the legacy, but, like he said, it’s about wrestling for yourself, but I’m wrestling for God, my family, and having fun.
Q. Roman, can you talk about the team race and just how focused you and your teammates are on getting that championship again?
ROMAN BRAVO-YOUNG: You know, it’s going to be a fun team race. We really don’t know what’s going to happen, but the way I look at it is I can control what I can control and do my part, and the everyone else do their parts, everything will come together. It is going to be a fun one, and the fans are in for a good weekend of wrestling, and I’m excited for it.
Q. Another question for you, Roman. You talked about before the Big Ten tournament about how you guys were looking to accomplish a little bit more. What are your expectations for your time here in Detroit?
ROMAN BRAVO-YOUNG: Our expectation is always to win, right? I think that’s everyone who steps on the mat. Everyone wants to win. No one wants to lose. Just enjoying ourselves, enjoying the moment. This comes and goes. Just take one match at a time. Most importantly, have fun, and it’s just grateful to be here and the opportunity. You know you don’t get many opportunities like this to go out there and wrestle in a big arena, fans, people rooting for you, so I think just take one match at a time and just control what I can control and enjoy it, and whatever happens, get the next best thing.
Q. Question for David. You have one loss in your career. It’s to Ryan Deakin. You guys are the top two seeds here. That loss was early in your freshman campaign. Just contrast how different you are from that point and how much do you think about that potential rematch?
DAVID CARR: Super excited to be able to wrestle him again. I’ve just changed so much. I’ve become a different wrestler. I’ve gotten a lot better thankful to my coaches. My coaches spend a lot of time with me. My dad spends a lot of time with me, just truly blessed to have a coaching staff to help me and teammates that are great that help me get better every day.
I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better, and every match I feel like I get better, so it’s exciting to wrestle this tournament and hopefully have that rematch. It should be fun.
Q. Myles, Michigan is the host here. First Big Ten title for you since ‘73. What would it mean to you for Michigan to win that team title?
MYLES AMINE: It would be really special, and I’m going to kind of steal from what Roman said. For me, I’m kind of just focused on kind of taking care of what I have to take care of, controlling what I can control. I think then for the team, it’s Team 100, and Sean Bormet has done a great job since he has been at Michigan and taken over, kind of led the helm.
For our fans, obviously, that’s something that they’re just in for a show this week. No matter what happens, I think we have come prepared. Michigan I think it’s going to be an exciting weekend. That’s all I can really say.
I had a very similar version of this question ready for David Carr, but Tony beat me to it!
Q. (from Tony Hager, IA Wrestle) Question for David. You as an individual, you reaching your goals. When you came to Iowa State to bring Iowa State back in the top ten, this year, what are some of the — coming into the tournament, what are the goals for the team?
DAVID CARR: For sure we want to try get that top five spot, top four spot, but everyone just has to do their part. We have some phenomenal wrestlers on our team. I love these guys. We’re a family, and they’re my brothers. I want to see everyone do well, and everyone’s goal is to go out there and do their best. I’m going to try to do my best just like everyone else, and we’re going to wrestle hard. That’s what I expect for my team and things like that.
Q. Gable, you talked a little bit about what you are to going be going on in the WWE in the future, but I’m just curious about how you have trained yourself for that level of becoming a performer and entertainer, that type of thing? Who has helped you the most with that? Do you have to change an image at all? Right now, you’re the good guy who gets standing ovations, the gold medalist. What will Gable Steveson look like in five to ten years?
GABLE STEVESON: That’s a great question. I think Gable Steveson in five to ten years will probably be in my eyes — I think he will be a big superstar that has changed the amateur sport of wrestling and pro wrestling in the long run.
The decisions I made are to make my family’s needs better and make myself better too, and so I think to be able to go out there and have the best variety of options with Vince McMahon and Triple-H has been a real leader for me too where, there are so many people that I can put my stardom on and who has helped me a lot, and I think Paul Heyman, Brock Lesnar, those guys have really stepped in and put both feet in with me and to lead me in this direction is crazy to see.
A lot of people grow up watching WWE and UFC, and they want this to be that superstar, and I have a chance to be the next Rock, and that’s what I’m going to do.
Q. This question is for both Myles and Gable. I mean, not too many people have had an opportunity to go and win a medal at the Olympic games and then come to the NCAA tournament. Very small amount of people have gone through that experience. Just curious, both of you guys, what’s it like returning to school after having the experience in Tokyo?
MYLES AMINE: I think that it was all positive things coming back from Tokyo. I mean, just being able to wrestle on that high of a stage, that world stage, and come home with a medal, I think it brought a lot of confidence back to Ann Arbor for me. Coming back and just knowing that I’ve wrestled on the highest stages in the world and been able to compete and win matches and win the big matches, that was really important for my confidence, but also, just it kind of puts it into perspective that college wrestling is a lot of fun.
I think Gable can probably attribute to this too, but I think coming back just shows that it’s very competitive, and the fan base and just the kind of energy that is surrounded around college wrestling is second to none. Even in the world, you can go to any place in the world, but the NCAA tournament especially is one of the most exciting events I’ve ever been a part of, so coming back was an easy decision for me just because of that factor of the energy and the competitiveness between the teams and really just having the opportunity to compete. That’s really what it comes down to. I love it.
GABLE STEVESON: I think going off what he said too, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go out there and put on a good show in front of 20,000 people. At the Olympic games, even wrestling in a gold medal match, I probably had 50 people watching. 90% of them are USA fans screaming loud and cheering for me, which is a cool thing, which everybody wants as a kid growing up.
And so to go out there and in Little Caesars Arena, dominate the field and come out as a champ is what we all want. It’s what these five guys want. They are not going to tell you that because they’re humble. I’m going to speak for them. We all know what everyone on this podium wants. We’re going to go out there and put on a good show and do a good job. At the end of the day, we want to walk out with the national championship trophy right here to the right of me.
Q. Myles, I’m curious, after going up against Aaron Brooks in the Big Ten, you had a tough one there against him, but ultimately came out on top. What kind of challenges does he pose, and if you get the chance, what, I guess going up against him again in that hypothetical, what makes him a tough wrestler as well as having to beat somebody a second time?
MYLES AMINE: He is just a great competitor. I knew that even before wrestling him. I watched him wrestle in the past, and I respect the way he wrestles. He likes to score points just like me, and I always love to go out there and have a guy that’s going to come forward at you and that’s how he wrestles.
So I always look forward to those deep water battles. That’s kind of what — why I train is to wrestle guys that are going to push you to that last 30 seconds in the third period and you’re in kind of a dog fight, and you have to figure it out. That’s what makes it fun for the fans, not just the wrestlers.
I think for me I just — I got to focus on one match at a time. That’s really the cliche statement, but realistically if you want to perform at your best, you don’t want to overlook anybody, so I’m going to focus on my first match tomorrow. And obviously, that match is in the back of my head. And if it does happen, I’ll be excited to just go out there and put on a show. I’m sure it’s the same for him.
Q. (Jp) This question is for Roman. In 2019, after securing All American, you hung out in the tunnel on Saturday night watching Nolf, Nickal, Cenzo, Hall and Cassar prep for the finals, what did you take away from those early observations?
ROMAN BRAVO-YOUNG: I think I could have done a lot better. It’s my first time at a NCAA tournament, and I was just thrown in the fire. Over the years, I’ve just grown a lot. Really changed a lot of things, just the way I trained and my mental approach to wrestling and stuff like that.
Yeah, definitely feel like I’ve jumped levels over the years, but it sucked not watching — or not being with those guys wrestling and just watching. Especially that whole year, they were just dominating everyone, and at ease too, and I’m just, like, struggling. I’m taking my losses, but I think I figured it out, but I just have grown up a lot over the past couple of years as a person on and off the mat.
Q. (I don’t know who this is) I’m just a wrestling fan. How did those teammates help you when you were struggling with those losses? I’m curious.
ROMAN BRAVO-YOUNG: You know, they are just always there for me, and even today in the wrestling room, they were cheering me on. I look up to those guys. They’ve been here, done it. Done it multiple times too, so just being in that room is just — it’s just hard not wanting to get better and keep it going. That room is just special, and every day in practice, I go in there wanting to find new ways to get better, but, yeah, I look up to every single one of those guys. Nolf, Cenzo, Cassar, I’m still close with all of them. They’re all good dudes.
Q. (Jp) This is for Gable. You’ve dominated a class of excellent heavyweights these past two years. Could you describe for us the different feels you get from Cass versus Kerk versus Parris?
GABLE STEVESON: All of them are really great wrestlers. I grew up wrestling Kerk, Lee, Cassioppi. I think the first time I wrestled Cassioppi I was probably 12 years old. Just to wrestle those guys has a different feel. You have to adapt to how everyone is going to come at you. There’s a target on your back. Everyone wants to hit that target, and my job is to make sure that I’m outperforming and outworking everybody on the back end too.
And so I mean, three great competitors, three top heavyweights. And each person you said is going to finish on the podium, and so it’s weird to think about how good the Big Ten heavyweights are and how productive all the coaches are being with them.
Q. This is for Gable and Roman. This is the first year with NIL deals. Let’s talk a little bit about that. How it’s influenced your season?
THE MODERATOR: Gable, you want to take.
GABLE STEVESON: Roman can take it first.
ROMAN BRAVO-YOUNG: NIL, it’s a cool thing. It’s more money coming in that we didn’t have. I think big thing to understand, though, for wrestling, it’s not a whole lot of money compared to college football. You know, these big star college football players get a lot of money coming in. And Gable is different. He has a lot — he has a lot of money coming in. He has those chains and stuff.
I have more money in my pockets than I’ve ever had before the NIL deal, and I’m grateful and thankful for it, but, yeah, I think it’s definitely cool. I think the biggest thing just other wrestlers growing up, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and social media is a new way of money, so I think — I know some coaches don’t like it, but I think if you know how to do it and don’t let it be a distraction, it’s a good thing.
For me this whole process, just me growing my brand, I want to fight one day, so just enjoying it, but, yeah, definitely a lot more money than I’ve ever had and Gable can finish it out.
GABLE STEVESON: I think the NIL is a great thing. You know, kids nowadays have money in their pockets. They can go to the store and get what they need and make sure they’re living healthy too. Just going out there and, like Roman said, social media is our tool now. If we want to have pictures and you go out there and I’m wearing ScrapLife gear right now, and I appreciate everybody who has bought it, especially the shoes that come out, the preorder came through, and so if you want to show some more love to me, I mean, I would love it if you all do.
Just it’s opened so many doors for college athletes to stay in college too, especially with basketball and football. Guys are going one and done in basketball. And if they can’t go one and done, NIL helps them out. If they can’t go three and out in football, they can go an extra year and go out and perform well. And maybe they get to lead the next year.
There’s so much variety that comes with the NIL. WWE has the next in line program that we’re all — that many people even, Mason Paris and Ferrari here are involved in, so it’s cool to see the legacy growing with college sports and things are opening up and many doors are going to keep growing for us too.
Q. Hi, Gable. Just want to make sure you can hear me before I go? I’m just curious, what does it mean to you to go out as a two-time NCAA champion after winning at every level in this sport, and then to have your season end potentially undefeated?
GABLE STEVESON: It would mean a lot to go out on top. I could speak for every guy in these chairs right here, everybody wants to go out with that first place trophy, like I mentioned before. We’re going to put our best — both feet forward and just go out there and enjoy our time. A lot of people don’t understand that we come out in tournaments, and so many people are expecting so much from us, and we just want to go out there and just enjoy our five matches and literally just put on a good show for the people that pay so much money to sit in them suites and sit in the front row, and we want to make sure you guys have the best time possible.
I’m trying to speak for all of us here, and if anyone wants to chime in, we just love the sport of wrestling. Wrestling has made me a better human, better wrestler, better everything for me being at home, for me being with people I hang out with, from everything, kids I interact with.
What people don’t see in the limelight doesn’t go unnoticed, and I just try to make sure I put my good heart out there and soul so that, I don’t know, so people can really see who Gable Steveson is because I guess a lot of people really don’t know who he is, and I’m trying to put out that message that Gable is a figure for these little kids that are going to come and watch.
The older people that are going to come and watch and the middle-aged people that are going to come and watch, there’s the variety that I’m trying to hit is something special. And I hope that one day 20 years later, they’re going to look back on me Saturday night or whenever I’m done and they’re going to look back and be Gable did what he was supposed to do, and that’s make wrestling a bigger sport as a whole.
Q. (Jp) This is for Yianni, I was wondering if you and the rest of the guys will really will tune into the Super Match. Will you watch that while you’re relaxing?
YIANNI DIAKOMIHALIS: If I’m going to be honest, I’m a pretty big wrestling nerd, so if I had any kind of free time, I would be watching wrestling. There’s definitely a chance I sign in. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ll definitely be watching those matches if I can.
Q. What’s it going to mean to wrestle in front of fans again? I know it’s about been a couple of years, and what are your first impressions of Little Caesars Arena?
MYLES AMINE: It means the world. All these guys said it. That’s why part of the reason why we do it is we want to put on a show. And for me, it’s extra special. It’s in Detroit. Yeah, last year, it was weird that we didn’t have fans, thinking about it, the NCAAs and Big Tens. It felt right ten days ago in Nebraska, that environment. It’s going to be even better here, so I’m excited.
ROMAN BRAVO-YOUNG: I don’t know if this is my last NCAA tournament yet or not, but I’m going to enjoy it. My family is going to be here, and, yeah, with the fans, it’s going to be awesome. That’s why we do it. I consider myself an entertainer, so I want to go out there and put on a show. And most importantly, we all need each other to grow this sport, so it’s going to be good all weekend.
YIANNI DIAKOMIHALIS: Any opportunity you can get to wrestle the best guys in the country, you’ve got to take it, and you have to enjoy it, right?
I feel like for all of us, we want that competition. We want to wrestle the best guys, and this is the chance to get ahold of everyone who thinks they have a chance. This is really exciting, and I’m really excited to compete.
DAVID CARR: Just grateful for the opportunity. I mean, there’s a lot of fans out there that want to watch us wrestle, and wrestling is just so much fun. I just think about when I was a little kid just watching this tournament, just all the great wrestling that happened. I’m honored to be able to wrestle in this tournament again and have some more fun and go out there and wrestle and be an entertainer.
GABLE STEVESON: It’s bittersweet. It’s my last NCAA tournament. Just want to make sure everybody ends on a good note and make sure everybody watches a good show. When the lights hit, Gable hits better.
I know some of what I’ve done here is antithetical to old notions of journalism, so will offer some apologies for the pieces of subjectivity I’ve included.
But I’m a wrestling fan first and foremost. Fanboy is my brand. Black Shoe Diaries is a fan site, for the fans, by the fans.
The modern internet brings us so many fresh opportunities and we’ve all been so lucky to both help and watch this great sport grow, with the internet. I take a lot of my leads from Cael Sanderson and am extremely grateful for the opportunity to meet these amazing coaches and wrestlers in person, and to ask them fanboy questions. It’s still kinda mindblowing that the internet has brought us all so much closer together and we all get to share in such a wild and fun journey.
I hope this serves as a fun read for you all this morning, as we tick off the final hours before the great tournament begins.