Former wrestlers, current/past coaches, media members, writers, and wrestling minds came together to discuss Missouri wrestling
Welcome to Rock M Roundtable aka Editorial Bored aka Pregamin’ (but in the Summer), a weekly Q&A where we’ll consult the editorial board on all the big questions facing Mizzou Athletics this summer.
We have reached the point of the offseason where we sit around and look at the sport of wrestling from different perspectives trying to find new ways to improve it, make changes, or just get invested too far into conversation on off-the-wall suggestions. Myself (Matthew Smith) and fellow Rock M Nation writer James Hackney fired out a bunch of interesting questions to some former and current Mizzou wrestling minds to see what they had to say about the program as a whole, and wrestling in general.
After spending nine seasons in the MAC, the wrestling program made its transition back to the Big 12 conference where they finished first as a team. Did you expect Mizzou to dominate the Big 12 immediately after being in the MAC for a decade?
Matthew Smith (Rock M Writer): In my mind, I saw Mizzou as no worse than a top-three team inside the Big 12 once they moved back. The MAC was definitely no slouch to be in, but it’s no Big 12. Getting back to consistently tough competition, I assumed the team would take its lumps moving through the tournament but they held their ground and came out smelling like a rose!
James Hackney (Rock M Writer): I had high expectations, but I knew a team like Oklahoma State was gonna be tough. With how some of the Missouri guys developed from the season before though, we had a ton of momentum going into it.
Ben Arnet (KOMU Sports Director): Dominate? No. I didn’t expect Mizzou to dominate a conference like the Big 12. I knew they would compete and be one of the best programs because Brian has built a nationally competitive program. If you can finish in the top 5 in the country and produce national champions like Mizzou has, you can hang anywhere.
Wes Roper (Former Mizzou Wrestler/Coach): I thought they could win the Big 12 immediately, although my primary concern was Okie State. It was great to get back in the Big 12 for wrestling and I think a wrestling-friendly commissioner, Bob Bowlsby, made the difference.
Matt Manley (Former Wrestler/Current Director of Operations): I knew with our lineup and talent that we had the capability to dominate, but seeing it all culminate at the tournament was awesome.
Dominique Bradley (Former Wrestler/Current Assistant Coach): Yes, I did. I knew it would be tough but with the guys on the team and their age I knew we had a chance.
JoeDog (Wrestling Mind/Rock M Commenter): I assumed Mizzou would be competitive within the Big 12, but I also thought they would take some lumps. I certainly did not expect Tiger Style to truck a Big 12 Tournament win by 18+ points, especially following regular season dual losses to both South Dakota State (12-21) and Iowa State (16-17) and a squeaker win over Okie State (21-20). Regardless, it is a good thing that they stopped kicking sand in MAC faces.
There have been arguments on if freestyle wrestling is superior to folkstyle. If you could change college wrestling to freestyle, would you?
MS: This is a question that could be an entire column on its own. Freestyle is a whole different breed of wrestling and comes with different rules and styles. It would definitely speed up the pace of tournaments and duals and has its advantages for sure. Digging into a format that would switch the styles in the collegiate world sounds interesting and one I may find myself looking into before long.
JH: At times I think I like the idea of it, but I like the unique “toughness” that folkstyle has. I think there are a lot of good ideas to improve folkstyle wrestling though, such as a pushout point to encourage constant wrestling and not going out of bounds.
WR: If the goal is to help the USA Wrestling and Olympic teams field the best world, a move to freestyle makes sense from kids through college. However, folk style is the toughest martial art and is being proven out in MMA! I don’t think one style or the other will boost attendance one way or the other.
DB: I would not change college wrestling to freestyle. I would add a push out point, though.
JD: Short answer, no. While I do enjoy freestyle’s pace and quick resets to neutral (vs. folkstyle/college’s sometimes tedious rides), those wins by criteria just leaves me scratching my head. (“Wait. Why did he win? Those two need some overtime to settle this.”) Similarly, I don’t have much of a grasp of the refs’ hand gestures in freestyle or why it is one wrestler goes on the clock when, to my untrained eye, both can appear equally aggressive. Basically, I’m much more familiar with folkstyle and thus have an easier time enjoying it.
The Tiger Style wrestling team has been consistently competitive in the NCAA. Do you see Mizzou finishing inside the top 3 at the NCAA Championship within the next five years?
MS: I for one believe in the Mizzou wrestling program as they have been consistently putting together a lineup year after year that competes with some of the tops in the nation. The talent on this roster runs deep and if these guys can hit on all cylinders at the same time during the postseason, a run for a top-three finish is definitely not out of the question.
JH: I think they absolutely have the roster for it. Finishing that high takes some luck with how crazy the tournament can be, though. I think as the team gets even more acclimated to the Big 12 competition and the young guys continue to develop, they should be challenging for a team title.
BA: That’s really tough. I don’t keep up with recruiting in wrestling very much, but given the consistency with which Brian runs his program it’s definitely possible they finish in the top 3. He does such a good job of taking everyone who comes into his program and getting them all on the same page. They all truly work the ‘TigerStyle’ program and I don’t know of any Mizzou coach in history that has consistently gotten as much out of his athletes as Brian Smith.
WR: I do see Mizzou in 2024 in my hometown of KCMO at Sprint Center winning Coach Smith’s first National team title.
MM: Absolutely, possibly multiple times
DB: I really think that in 2024 we will win it.
JD: No, and I would be ecstatic to be proven wrong. Under Coach Smith, Mizzou has long had an excellent team, but to have a top 3 finish, you’ve got to have several never-lose prodigies in the lineup. They have got one right now in Keegan O’Toole, but they don’t have several. They also don’t have the same level of firepower in their recruits that the blue blood programs have. Over the last 9 seasons, the best Mizzou has finished is 4th (2015).
Over the years Mizzou wrestling has had many successful wrestlers come through the program. What former Mizzou wrestler would you like to see matched up against a current Mizzou wrestler?
MS: Brock Mauller vs. Mike Chandler. Two never back down guys with a dominating style.
JH: I’d love to see Ben Askren against his protégé Keegan O’Toole. One of Mizzou’s greatest athletes vs what I think could be Mizzou’s next Olympian would surely have some amazing scrambles.
BA: The obvious answer to me is Rocky Elam against J’den Cox. You’ve got two world class wrestlers there who have accomplished so much on the world stage. J’den had more NCAA success at this point in his career as Rocky so they’ve got different college career trajectories. But I’d love to see how they would each approach that match, especially coming from the same system.
WR: I’d like to see Khris Whelan against Alan Hart, pretty opposites in styles.
MM: College Ben Askren vs College Keegan O’Toole
DB: I would love to see a Keegan O’Toole vs Nick Marable match.
JD: Willie Miklus vs. Rocky Elam at 197 lbs. could make for a compelling tilt, both being extremely good, but neither absolutely dominating. Or, as I mentioned kicking sand above, we could go with muscle beach in having Grant Leeth face Brock Mauller at 149 lbs.
Head Coach Brian Smith has ingrained the term “Tiger Style” since the day he walked in. What does Tiger Style mean to you?
MS: Tiger Style is something that runs the wrestling program at Mizzou and is a way you choose to live as a wrestler and as a person. It’s about being an exploratory role model for those around you whether they are friends, family, teammates, etc. It’s going the extra step to ensure you are being the best you can be.
JH: I think Tiger Style exemplifies being both a good person and a great wrestler. Coach Smith brought it to Mizzou and Tiger Style is known nationwide as building tough wrestlers that come from a winning culture.
BA: I’ve had so many conversations over the years with Brian Smith about ‘Tiger Style’. I love talking to him about it. He’s got so much passion for his program it’s really remarkable. To me, it’s consistency. Consistency in how they practice, consistency in how they study, and consistency in how they live. The way Brian gets 30-40 kids of differing sizes, styles, and backgrounds to all buy into the same philosophy every year is great. And it truly prepares them for life. That’s what I mean about consistency. Real-life isn’t about the highs and lows that we’re constantly seeing on social media. It’s about getting up every day and doing the best you can to take care of your responsibilities and always being there for the people who count on you. And Brian uses wrestling to build people who value that for the rest of their lives.
WR: Tiger Style to me means Coach Smith building a winning culture.
MM: Tiger Style to me means believing in yourself no matter what and always striving to give one more in every aspect of life.
DB: Tiger Style is a lifestyle of doing all the little things right.
JD: Tiger Style means getting and not giving up any points under 10 seconds of a period, not getting gassed, rarely stalling and only for tactical reasons, hustling back to the center of the mat, winning and losing with grace, solid academic achievements and being a good citizen in one’s community. Oh, and beating Okie State.
Transitioning away from wrestling a little, there are many great movies in the sports genre. What is your favorite all-time sports movie?
MS: The range of movies to choose from here are everywhere! If I am choosing strictly a wrestling movie then it is hands down Vision Quest. Overall favorite sports movie though I am going with The Legend of Bagger Vance.
JH: Not a typical sports movie but as a big numbers nerd I love Moneyball. More typical sports movie though maybe The Fighter.
BA: My all-time favorite sports movie is Field of Dreams. I saw it in the theater with my dad when I was 7 and it’s been my favorite ever since.
WR: Hoosiers, even though it’s basketball
MM: Rocky IV
DB: The Fighter
JD: The first time I saw it, I cried so hard during and after Rudy that I think both my young bride and other theater patrons were wanting to get me a crisis line number – a red-eyed, snot draining, shoulder-shaking affair indeed. That said, the original Rocky was a very influential film to a young St. Louis city kid who also wanted to know, “I wasn’t just another bum from the neighborhood.” It remains a film I can always sit down and watch.
The best part of finally making weight is getting to eat a meal you have prepared for yourself. What is your go-to after weigh-in meal or favorite meal?
MS: Back during my time on the wrestling mat the post-weigh-in meal was essential to match day. I may not have made the exact right choice on what to eat because I was a teenager but my meal of choice was PB&J with sliced up bananas with a powdered Propel mix!
JH: Back in high school my favorite was a Gatorade and a 6-inch sub from Subway. I’d probably do something smarter these days, though!
BA: I never wrestled so I don’t have a ‘post-weigh-in’ meal but in general, I’m a CoMo native so give me a slice of Shakespeare’s Pizza and I’m a happy guy.
WR: Favorite post-meal after weigh-in: eggs, ham, hash browns, and pancakes
MM: Post weigh-in meal – ham sandwich, Post-match meal – big steak and salad
DB: I usually eat pretty healthy all the time
JD: I don’t know about post-weigh-in meal, but I remember coming home from a match and eating so much that I spent a few hours in the bathroom rocking back-and-forth, in a down position, next to the toilet with a painfully swollen stomach. The favorite meal was essentially anything in the refrigerator that wasn’t nailed down. Later in life, I would learn that binge eating was symptomatic of a mental health condition. In high school, it was simply a break from being terribly hungry. Fortunately, by my Junior and Senior seasons, I better understood and practiced diet discipline vs. starve-gorge-starve-gorge.
Got a question for our staff regarding Mizzou Sports? Let us know in the comments and we’ll look at adding it to an upcoming roundtable!