Big Ten

#1 Ridge Lovett Set For Rematch With Big Ten Champ Austin Gomez

#1 Ridge Lovett Set For Rematch With Big Ten Champ Austin Gomez

Nebraska wrestling's Ridge Lovett sits atop the 149-pound rankings, but there's one opponent still at the weight he's had trouble solving: Austin Gomez.

Feb 8, 2024 by Andy Hamilton
#1 Ridge Lovett Set For Rematch With Big Ten Champ Austin Gomez

Ridge Lovett has risen to the top of the national rankings at 149 pounds thanks to performance, consistency and a touch of attrition. 

Since entering the weight class early in the 2021 season, the Nebraska junior has won 50 of his 57 matches. And only one of the opponents who’s handed Lovett a loss during that stretch still remains at 149 — the opponent Lovett is tasked with trying to solve Friday night in Lincoln. 

Lovett is set to take on Michigan’s sixth-ranked Austin Gomez in one of the marquee bouts on this weekend’s college wrestling card. 

Their last meeting in Lincoln was over in an instant. 

Gomez — wrestling then for Wisconsin — came out aggressively off the opening whistle, dug in double-underhooks and launched Lovett to his back for a 20-second fall in the 2022 Big Ten semifinals. It was a stunning outcome, but their previous meeting that season provided indications that a sudden ending was possible. 

Gomez won a 4-2 decision in the dual meet between the Badgers and Huskers that season. He scored what proved to be the decisive points during a wild flurry just before time expired in the second period. 

The exchange began when Lovett dug double-unders, jacked Gomez up and went for an outside trip. Gomez countered with a later drop attempt and nearly scored before Lovett recovered to his feet and squared up. But Gomez immediately went to a bodylock and eventually took Lovett to the mat with one second left in the period. 

That takedown put Gomez ahead 4-2. He also scored a takedown in the first period when he got in on a single-leg shot and switched off to a double for the finish. The second takedown allowed Gomez to pick neutral in the third period, avoiding having to go underneath Lovett. 

“I feel like I’m a different wrestler now – I’ve gotten better on my feet and that’s going to be the biggest difference because I haven’t been on top yet (against Gomez),” Lovett said in a recent edition of the Husker Insider. “I just need to go out and get a takedown and put this dude on his back for real. I believe I’m the best, so I don’t really think about who I’m going to have to wrestle. If I go out there and wrestle and push myself and wrestle to the best of my ability, everything will take care of itself.”

Gomez possesses the same type of confidence, which played a role in his decision to return to college wrestling for his final season of eligibility. 

“I know I can go win a national title,” Gomez said. “I truly believe that I’m the guy to beat at this weight class.” 

Lovett Riding Bonus Streak

Lovett has made a seamless return to college wrestling after taking a redshirt last season. He’s 19-0 on the year with six pins, three technical falls and four major decisions. He’s scored bonus points in each of his last five matches. 

Lovett’s toughest test to date this season came in December at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, where defeated Virginia Tech’s second-ranked Caleb Henson 4-3 in the finals. He also had a 1-0 win in November against The Citadel’s Jeffrey Boyd at the Navy Classic. 

The four-time undefeated Idaho state high school champion enters Friday’s dual with a 23-match winning streak. His last loss came in the 2022 NCAA finals against eventual four-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell. 

The difference between now and then?

“I’m more dynamic on my feet,” Lovett said. “I’m wrestling to break guys. They can’t keep up with me. One takedown and the match is over. If I get on top, that’s game, that’s wraps, that’s it. These guys can’t get away from me. I’m developing new top stuff and just being a hammer.” 


Gomez Ready To Put On A Show

Gomez came out of college wrestling retirement for the second time and joined the Wolverines in January for his final season of eligibility after stops at Iowa State and Wisconsin. He’s 5-0 this season, highlighted by a 17-6 major decision last month against returning All-American Dylan D’Emilio of Ohio State, and he owns a 72-17 career record. 

His big-move potential makes him dangerous in any situation, but he’s also capable of piling up points with a variety of attacks and quick, clean finishes. 

“People always ask me all the time: ‘How do you hit these moves?’” Gomez said. “I just tell them: ‘I’m not scared.’ I know that if I do give up some points, I have the offense to come back and win those matches.

“I take pride in being the crowd favorite. … I want them to see exciting wrestling. You don’t want to see 2-1, 3-1 matches. That’s not what the fans paid for. They paid for excitement and I’ll deliver excitement.