Kellen Russell steamrolled after his loss at the Las Vegas Open and has been relentless since. If you are going to beat him, you need an immortal gas tank and a solid game plan against the best single leg in the sport. Molinoro’s style seems unbeatable and a technical fall in the BIG 10 Finals is a great springboard to the ultimate prize. One is reluctant to think about David Taylor without having immediate regret about Andrew Howe’s absence this season. The "what if's" compile and compound with the thought that Kyle Dake was almost set to contest this weight class, before settling in admirably at 157 pounds. Taylor has one loss in this life and I for one don't see him ever reaching a second. Mark Perry’s weight class transition wasn't something that I personally expected to go smoothly, but he remains unbeaten and essentially unscored upon since the drop. Ed Ruth is another beast entirely, and it will be the classic matchup of Ruth’s athleticism versus Perry’s masterful, even peerless technique. Honeycutt remains a top choice in my view, despite his recent defeat. The heavyweight division is light on current events, and with Chad Hanke sitting out this season and Alan Gelogaev’s recent sideline, the heavyweight class looks like history repeating with Flores, Rey, Cooper and Nelson front and center.
The depth of the talent pool at 125 pounds is not only impressive, it's intimidating for men twice that size. The history this country has at this division goes back to the 80's, before most of the fiercest names in this weight class were even born. From Zeke Jones who passed the torch to Sam Henon, who passed it to Stephen Abas, then on to Henry Cejudo, this weight class is a cascade of unfiltered excellence. Each of those guys have Olympic medals or various colors to their name, and U.S. dominance is unquestionably secure in the future with the talent we have right now at the NCAA level.
Fans must never forget that this tournament isn't about skill, not by a long shot. It's not just a dice game of talent between one hungry rising star and another, and if it was then the sport has lost half of the draw and nearly all of the gruesome forging that the training process is really about. No, this event will ever be about mentality above all else. If you can control your emotions (and that nagging voice in your head that loves to take the path of least resistance) and just wrestle until you pass clear through your limitations, you have the advantage over the best technical wrestler on earth. Let's not forget that in the last ten years there have only been two NCAA tournaments where a the top seed made wasn't upset in the FIRST round. Ten years, two instances where skill bested dedication… no statistician in his right mind would touch that one.
Pat Smith once told me that his secret was simple. "I refuse to feel pressure and I let the other guy choke on it." Many experts call it by other names – grace under pressure, tenacity, conditioning against the fray – but it all boils down to the same priceless, eternally sought competitive advantage. Other sports can brag on their speed, their excitement, their following, and any other number of dismissible bullet points. Show me a sport that builds a tougher man or a tenser exhibition, and my hat is humbly off to them.