Where have all the big guys gone

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Collegiate wrestling always claims to have a place for everyone — short, tall, heavy or light.

Too small to play football? Join the wrestling team. Too short for basketball? Try on a wrestling singlet. Not fast enough for the track squad? Wrestling has a place for you.

But in 1987, the NCAA made a change that eliminated a small group who brought big attention. For the first time since 1928, the heaviest weight class in collegiate wrestling was 275 pounds, eliminating the unlimited class.

The stories are legendary and the pictures don’t lie.

“I miss those guys; a lot of people miss those guys,” Oklahoma State head coach John Smith said. “They brought something extra to our sport.”

That “extra” wasn’t just in pounds.

Mitch Shelton weighed in at 400-plus pounds during his two years at Oklahoma State in 1982 and 1983. Ask most wrestling fans in the state of Oklahoma and they will argue that the 1982 Bedlam dual when Shelton pinned Oklahoma’s Steve ‘Dr. Death’ Williams in Gallagher Hall ranks as perhaps one of the top sports moments in the state — in any sport.

At the 1982 NCAA Championships in Ames, Iowa, the unlimited bracket included Shelton, the massive Tab Thacker, 300-pound Gary Albright, Williams and Hall of Famers Bruce Baumgartner and Lou Banach.

Banach, all 210 pounds of him, pinned Thacker in the second round.

Taylor dominated at Iowa St. in the early 1970s.
Iowa State Athletics

“I liked going against those big guys,” said Banach, an NCAA champion in 1981 and ’83. “I think the fans really got into that David versus Goliath story. I was fortunate to have success against those guys most of the time.”

At the 1983 NCAA Championships, Banach beat Shelton in the semifinals and pinned Iowa State’s Wayne Cole in the final.

Banach, like many, was surprised when the weight classification was changed.

“No other sport discriminates,” he said. “And wrestling always talks about having a spot for everyone, so I was a bit surprised when there was no push-back from anybody about the change. When I talk to kids about the benefits of wrestling I always have to add that footnote, that you have to stay under 285 [pounds] now.”

Thacker won a national title for North Carolina State in 1984 and went on to have a small career in Hollywood, starring in Clint Eastwood’s ‘City Heat’ and two ‘Police Academy’ films. He died in 2007.

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum will honor the biggest of the big in 2012 when it inducts Chris Taylor as a Distinguished Member.

While competing at Iowa State, Taylor claimed two NCAA titles (1972 and ’73) and won 87 of his 88 matches. The one blemish was a draw. The 400-pounder made the U.S. Olympic squad in 1972 and brought a bronze medal back from Munich. Taylor died in 1979.

“Chris Taylor wasn’t a bad wrestler,” said Dave Martin, a national champion for Iowa State in 1970 and sometimes roommate of Taylor as an assistant coach. “There were a lot of guys back then who were huge and didn’t do anything, but Taylor could really move. But you never wanted to give Chris a ride unless you had a pickup truck because if you put him in your car and he leaned back, he would snap the seat. We didn’t have extended cabs back then.

“A lot of people would argue that they added something to wrestling. It was certainly fun to watch. Jimmy Jackson was another big man who could really move.”

Les Anderson won two NCAA titles for Iowa State and served as Dr. Harold Nichols’ assistant from 1964-74. Anderson was also on the ISU staff from 1979-92.

“The rationale used, I guess, was that [the big guys] were hurting people,” Anderson said. “A committee decided that a change needed to be made when, in all my years, there were very few injuries concerning the big heavyweights. It just wasn’t true.”

Wrestling may have been at its most popular in the early 1970s. Dan Gable, Wayne Wells and Ben Peterson won gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. Taylor earned his bronze and was part of one the most famous photographs in wrestling’s history — Taylor was suplayed by West German Wilfred Dietrich.

“People came to see Chris Taylor,” Anderson said. “And the great thing about Chris was that he would stay around after his matches and sign autographs, every autograph until the last person was gone. There were plenty of times when we were in airports and [Dan] Gable and Chris would be together and the kids, not wrestling fans, would want Chris’s autograph.

“To some, he was certainly a novelty, but Chris understood that he brought attention to wrestling. And people don’t realize how good of an athlete he really was.”

In a world of fantasy sports junkies, it doesn’t hurt to ask about the sport’s current stars:

How would Lehigh’s Zach Rey do against Thacker? How would Alan Gelogaev attack a 400-pounder? What if, in a down-to-the-wire dual, a 197-pounder like Cam Simaz bumped up to face Shelton?

Oh, the possibilities.

Cornell Wrestler may be best in country!

Two-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake of Cornell making run at history
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling

Cornell’s Kyle Dake celebrates after winning his second NCAA title this past March in Philadelphia. Larry Slater photo.

Cornell junior Kyle Dake has never been one to back away from a challenge.

Or shy away from setting a goal that may seem unattainable for even the most elite wrestlers.

“If you have low expectations,” he said, “you will underperform every time.”

Nobody will accuse the multi-talented Dake of doing that.

Dake took the college wrestling world by storm as a true freshman, stepping on the elevated platform for the 2010 NCAA finals in Omaha and winning the 141-pound title.

He followed that by blitzing through the field and outscoring his five foes by an unthinkable combined total of 32-1 to win the 149-pound crown this past March in Philadelphia.

So what does Dake have planned for an encore this season?

He has moved up to 157 pounds and the top-ranked Dake is gunning to win his third NCAA title, finish unbeaten and win the Hodge Trophy as the nation’s top collegiate wrestler.

He then plans to set his sights on challenging for a freestyle title at April’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City.

“In sixth grade, wrestling in the Olympics became one of my goals,” Dake said. “I have always wanted to be on an Olympic Team.”

Dake’s goal of making the Olympic Team doesn’t seem that unrealistic. He lost a close match to Andrew Howe in the finals of the University Nationals this past April. Howe has finished second at the U.S. Senior World Team Trials the past two seasons.

The match came down to a third-period coin flip. Howe, a 2010 NCAA champion, won the flip and finished in the leg clinch to win the match.

Dake went 3-2 at the U.S. World Team Trials at 74 kg/163 lbs. this past June in Oklahoma City. Nick Marable outlasted Dake 3-3, 3-0, 1-0 in the quarterfinals. Marable finished third overall after losing to Howe in the finals of the Challenge Tournament.

“Kyle looks good at this point – I love his attitude,” U.S. National Coach Zeke Jones said. “He likes to train hard and wrestles with a swagger that our best World and Olympic champions all have. Technically, I like the fact that he’s got a Greco-Roman background, which lends itself well to freestyle. He can control the tie-up, can attack the upper body well, and has a good leg attack to go with it. Plus, he’s a monster on top. He’s got a future on our National Team, I know it.

“Kyle spent some time with us last summer and I know he wants to be the best in the World.”

The road to the 2012 Olympic Games at 74 kilos will go through 2011 World champion Jordan Burroughs, who already has landed a spot in the final-round series of the Olympic Trials by virtue of winning a World medal this year.

Dake and Burroughs have never faced each other.

“Burroughs is a World champ, and he’s obviously a great wrestler,” Dake said. “He is older and more experienced. I think I am right there with the best guys in the country. I think my style transitions pretty well from folkstyle to freestyle.”

Dake said he watched as many matches as he could during the past two Olympic Games.

“Watching Cael Sanderson win it (in 2004) was awesome and then watching Henry Cejudo do it (in 2008) was great,” Dake said. “That was pretty impressive. It was exciting to see. I also watched a lot of the Russians like (Bouvaisa) Saitiev and (Besik) Kudukhov. It would be great to have that opportunity.”

Dake has developed while climbing the USA Wrestling ranks. He made the 2008 U.S. Junior World Team in Greco-Roman wrestling. He went 1-1 at the 2008 Junior Worlds in Turkey.

For now, the focus is squarely on his third collegiate season at Cornell. Dake is seeking to become the first wrestler in Division I history to win NCAA titles at three different weight classes.

He hopes to join Sanderson and Pat Smith as the only four-time NCAA champions in Division I history.

“You have to approach it match-by-match,” Dake said. “You can’t get too hyped up on the whole four-title thing. I have to win three before I win four. This year is a new weight class and a new challenge. Guys are wrestling their best when they face me and they are bringing their A game. It’s tough competition. I can’t underestimate anyone.”

Dake continues to thrive despite bumping up another weight class this year. He already owns a 5-0 win over 2008 Olympian Jake Deitchler of Minnesota this season.

“I feel really good at 157,” he said. “It’s a more natural weight class for me. I don’t feel like I am giving up any strength. I feel as strong as I did at the previous two weight classes. It is a good fit for me.”

Dake has proven you can excel in a grueling, time-consuming sport like wrestling and also excel in the classroom at a top academic school like Ivy League member Cornell.

Dake is majoring in developmental sociology with a minor in business.

“You really have to manage your time well – you don’t have much time to mess around,” he said. “You hit the books, practice and get your extra workouts in. It cuts down on your free time.”

Cornell finished a close second to Penn State at the 2011 NCAA Championships. The Big Red is ranked third nationally this season after a big season-opening, dual-meet win over then-No. 3 Minnesota.

Dake is scheduled to compete next at the Cliff Keen Invitational on Friday and Saturday in Las Vegas.

“It has been great to make people aware that Cornell has one of the best programs in the country,” Dake said. “We had a good year last year. We thought we had a great shot to win it, but we had some injuries and some other things that didn’t go our way. We have a good young team this year and we are going to improve. The win over Minnesota was a big win for us.”

Dake is an excellent all-around wrestler who has become especially lethal in the top position. Choose the bottom position against Dake and you likely will stay glued to the mat for the next two minutes.

That was evident when Penn State’s Frank Molinaro chose the bottom position in his 2011 NCAA finals match with Dake, who piled up six-plus minutes of riding time en route to an 8-1 win.

“Coach (Rob) Koll really emphasizes for us to be good on top and on bottom,” Dake said. “He wants guys to be scared to go under us. We are going to make you pay if we take you down or if you pick down. We work really hard on that.”

Dake grew up just a few miles from the Cornell campus in Ithaca, New York.

“I grew up wishing to go to Cornell and dreaming of having a Cornell singlet on,” he said. “It is what I pictured myself doing. I am living that dream. I really love it here. It’s a perfect fit for me.”

Blind Wrestler



I think maybe he needs to work harder than you. Would you work as hard as he does?