The Top 10 NCAA Wrestlers Of All Time

The Top 10 NCAA Wrestlers Of All Time

We complete the impossible task of naming the top 10 NCAA wrestlers of all time.

Aug 24, 2018 by Andrew Spey
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Determining the best NCAA wrestler in a given year at a particular weight class is a fairly straightforward process. There's a tournament at the end of the year that is pretty much the final word on that.

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Determining the best NCAA wrestler in a given year at a particular weight class is a fairly straightforward process. There's a tournament at the end of the year that is pretty much the final word on that.

The NCAA Tournament is also helpful when comparing wrestlers around the same weight class and era. It becomes a little more difficult, however, when you try to rank wrestlers in the same era across all weight classes. This is your classic Pound-For-Pound rankings, but despite the challenges it presents it is a common enough exercise. 

But comparing the best wrestlers from all weight classes of all time? Now we have identified a fool's errand. A mug's game. Pure folly.

There is no satisfactory way to compare the careers of wrestlers from different eras. But that is exactly what we are about to do anyway, because there are no more fertile grounds for quality wrestling conversations than GOAT debates, and we are gluttons for punishment.  

Before we get to the list, let's quickly check in on our list of top NCAA tournament point-scorers of all time. Unsurprisingly, Cael Sanderson came out on top. And, spoiler alert, Cael Sanderson tops our subjective list as well. Zain Retherford, who, thanks to earning 25 points at the 2018 NCAA tournament, now holds down the #8 spot on that list, with 93.5 total points, bumping 90 point career earners Jake Herbert and Lincoln McIlravy out of the top 10. Kyle Snyder, incidentally, finished his career with 89 points. 

And now, the top 10 NCAA wrestlers of all time. 

1. Cael Sanderson, Iowa State 1999-2002

I mean, come on, duh. Sanderson is the only undefeated four-time NCAA champ. 159-0. No further explanation necessary. 


2. Yojiro Uetake, Oklahoma State 1964-1966

Uetake was an undefeated three-time NCAA Champ. Yojiro competed in the days when freshmen were not eligible, and finished his career with a 57-0 record. Although he often gets overlooked, Uetake was also a two-time NCAA tournament OW. I think this quote by Myron Roderick, his former coach at OSU, sums it up best:

I don't know how good he was, because I never saw him challenged.


3. Kyle Dake, Cornell 2010-2013

The only four-time NCAA champ to get it done in four different weight classes and without the benefit of a redshirt season. Dake has perhaps the most impressive list of wins in collegiate history, with victories over the likes of David Taylor, Frank Molinaro, Tyler Caldwell, Derek St. John, Reece Humphrey and many more. 

He's not just a wrestler, Kyle Dake is also an All-World Spikeballer:


4. Dan Hodge, Oklahoma 1955-1957

Hodge was an undefeated three-time NCAA Champion going 46-0 with 36 career pins. Look, they named the dang MVP award after him. Tough to find a better accolade than that.


5. Logan Stieber, Ohio State 2012-2015

Four-time NCAA Champion. Stieber scored the second most career NCAA points in the history of the event. An absolute hammer on top, Stieber tortured an entire generation of wrestlers with his armbar and claw series and superhuman strength. 

Logan also won four Big Ten championships. Watch highlights from his senior season finals victory over the tough Joh Dziewa of Iowa:

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6. Lee Kemp, Wisconsin 1975-1978

One of the first 'aliens' of college wrestling, Kemp's only loss at the NCAA tournament was to Chuck Yagla in overtime in the finals during his true freshman season. After that, Kemp peeled off three NCAA championships and went 110-1-1 in his final three seasons. Kemp's greatest feat may have been a win over Dan Gable as an 18-year-old in the 1975 Northern Open. 


7. Dan Gable, Iowa State 1967-1970

Freshmen were ineligible in Gable's first year as a Cyclone, but that didn't stop him from winning OW at Midlands. Gable's varsity career was nearly flawless, as he went on a 118 match winning streak, which included a string of 25 pins in a row, before suffering the only blemish on his otherwise spotless career in the NCAA finals his senior year to Larry Owings (it was a rather famous match). 


8. Pat Smith, Oklahoma State 1990-1994

The first to ever become a four-time NCAA Champion, Pat outshone his brother John, at least when it comes to collegiate hardware, as John was *only* a two-time champ. Pat ended his career on a 98 match winning streak, all while competing under the added pressure of attempting to be the first to hoist four individual championship trophies. 


9. Zain Retherford, Penn State 2014-2018

After a fifth-place true freshman season that included a win over a junior Logan Stieber, Retherford would take a redshirt season and then come back for one of the most dominant runs in NCAA history, winning 94 straight matches and three NCAA Championships. And it was Retherford's ability to bonus the competition that sets him apart. In his last three seasons, the Zain Train picked up two Hodge Trophies and sported an obscene 87% bonus rate.

Watch Zain administer pain in this highlight vid leading into his senior campaign:

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10. THERE IS NO NUMBER 10

We are cheating. Taking the coward's way out. We tried and tried and tried but could not bring ourselves to choose just one person from this insane collection of worthies to be the 10th member of this list. 

So we invite you to choose anyone from the following to complete the set. There is an argument for any one them and probably more too. 

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Bill Koll, Northern Iowa 1946-1948

Bill went 73-0 and won three NCAA titles back when UNI was still called Iowa State Teachers College. He is also the father of Cornell's head coach, Rob Koll.

Tony Gizoni, Waynesburg 1948-1952

Gizoni went 44-0 in his career but was ruled ineligible to compete in the NCAAs as a senior despite being a two-time defending champion.

Gray Simons, Lock Haven 1959-1962

A three-time NCAA Champion and four-time NAIA champion, Simon finished with a career record of 89-1. 

Mike Caruso, Lehigh 1965-1967

Perhaps the greatest ever to wear Brown and White, Caruso was a three-time NCAA champion with a 57-1 career record.

Rick Sanders, Portland State 1966-1968

Like Gable, Sanders's quest for three NCAA titles was upended in his senior year when he lost to Oklahoma State's Dwayne Keller. Sanders finished with a 103-2 record.

Chris Taylor, Iowa State 1972-1973

A two-time NCAA Champion, Taylor went undefeated in his two years of wrestling at heavyweight in the NCAA, going 80-0-1 with 64 pinfalls.

Wade Schalles, Clarion 1971-1974

Schalles won two NCAA championships, including the OW in 1974. He was ineligible for the NCAAs his senior year but went 40-0-1 that year and pinned eventual NCAA champ and 1974 OW Floyd Hitchcock in the 1974 PSAC finals. Wade had 153 career wins, 106 of them by pinfall.

Mark Churella, Michigan 1976-1979

Churella was a three-time NCAA champ and the 1978 NCAA Tournament's Outstanding Wrestler.

Gene Mills, Syracuse 1977-1981

Mean Gene won two NCAA titles and set the college record with 107 career pinfalls. 

Darryl Burley, Lehigh 1979-1983

Burley was a four-time finalist and two-time NCAA champ with a sterling 76% career bonus rate.

Mark Schultz, UCLA/Oklahoma 1979-1983

The future Olympic and world champ won three straight NCAA titles for the Sooners, including one over Iowa's Ed Banach. 

Ed Banach, Iowa 1980-1983

A three-time NCAA Champ and four-time finalist, Banach's only tournament loss came courtesy of Mark Schultz. Ed also notched 73 career pins.

Barry Davis, Iowa 1981-1985

Davis was a three-time NCAA champ, winning OW in 1985. He took seventh as a true frosh in 1981 and won Olympic silver during a redshirt season in 1984. Finished with 162 career wins.

Ricky Bonomo, Bloomsburg 1985-1988

Bonomo is the Huskies' most decorated wrestler, having won three NCAA titles and finished with a 116-12-3 career.

Carlton Haselrig, Pittsburgh-Johnston 1987-1989

Haselrig competed in both the D2 and D1 national championships in three consecutive years. He won every time, collecting six NCAA titles in total.

TJ Jaworsky, North Carolina 1992-1995

A three-time NCAA and ACC champ, Jaworsky finished his Tar Heel career with a 110-5 record and the 1995 Hodge Trophy. 

Lincoln McIlravy, Iowa 1993-1997

One of the true Hawkeye legends, McIlravy went 96-3 in his career and won three NCAA championships.

T.J. Williams, Iowa 1999-2001

After a year at Junior College, Williams transferred to Iowa and went 98-1 with two titles and a third-place medal at NCAAs.

Stephen Abas, Fresno State 1998-2002

Abas's 144 career wins included 32 pinfalls, as well as three NCAA titles.

Greg Jones, West Virginia 2001-2005

Undeniably the greatest in West Virginia program history, Jones was a three-time NCAA champion with a 126-4 career record.

Jake Rosholt, Oklahoma State 2003-2006

A three-time NCAA Champion, Rosholt took third the one year he didn't win a title. 

Brent Metcalf, Iowa 2008-2010

Metcalf was ineligible his freshman year due to transfer rules but still amassed 108 career wins and won two NCAA titles in three trips to the finals.

Ed Ruth, Penn State 2011-2014

The impossibly strong and astonishingly agile EZ-Ed Ruth went 3, 1, 1, 1 in four NCAA tournaments.

David Taylor, Penn State 2011-2014

David Taylor: Four-time NCAA finalist, two-time Hodge Trophy winner, magical man.

Alex Dieringer, Oklahoma State 2013-2016

Dieringer collected three-time NCAA championships, four All-American honors and one Hodge Trophy winner during his four years as a Cowboy.

J'Den Cox, Missouri 2014-2017

A champ as a true freshman, Cox would collect three NCAA titles in total, becoming the most credentialed Missouri Tiger of all-time. 

Kyle Snyder, Ohio State 2015-2018

A four-time finalist and three-time NCAA champ, it is only Snyder's lack of total wins, which was due to a limited schedule while he was winning world and Olympic gold medals, that keeps him out of the top 10.

There's also a very good chance some current wrestlers will be added to this list. Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal after next season for starters. We won't speculate beyond that but it does some like there is an incredible crop of all-time talent working its way through the NCAA right now.

As for the order of this list, agree or disagree? Of course you disagree! It wouldn't be any fun if you agreed. So what would you change? Who did we leave out? We didn't include four-finalists and two-time champs like Steve Mocco, Ben Askren, Jake Varner and Isaiah Martinez. Should we have? Let us know, as that is after all the whole point of the list!


UPDATE: Here's the latest tally for the 10th GOAT, as voted on by YOU, the people. Poll closes Monday, make sure your voice is heard and vote!

NAME PERCENT
Kyle Snyder, Ohio State 2015-201833.85%
David Taylor, Penn State 2011-201412.86%
Lincoln McIlravy, Iowa 1993-19976.95%
Ed Ruth, Penn State 2011-20146.07%
Carlton Haselrig, Pittsburgh-Johnston 1987-19894.80%
Other:4.54%
Alex Dieringer, Oklahoma State 2013-20163.36%
Mark Schultz, UCLA/Oklahoma 1979-19832.95%
J'Den Cox, Missouri 2014-20172.81%
Wade Schalles, Clarion 1971-19742.72%
Bill Koll, Northern Iowa 1946-19482.33%
Gene Mills, Syracuse 1977-19812.19%
Brent Metcalf, Iowa 2008-20102.12%
Stephen Abas, Fresno State 1998-20021.92%
Gray Simons, Lock Haven 1959-19621.47%
Greg Jones, West Virginia 2001-20051.33%
Ed Banach, Iowa 1980-19831.27%
Mike Caruso, Lehigh 1965-19671.12%
T.J. Williams, Iowa 1999-20011.01%
Mark Churella, Michigan 1976-19790.97%
Ricky Bonomo, Bloomsburg 1985-19880.95%
Rick Sanders, Portland State 1966-19680.85%
Chris Taylor, Iowa State 1972-19730.53%
Jake Rosholt, Oklahoma State 2003-20060.47%
Darryl Burley, Lehigh 1979-19830.36%
Tony Gizoni, Waynesburg 1948-19520.18%


UPDATE #2: Since the initial publication of this article, Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf have completed their careers, both as four-time finalists and three-time champs, matching Kyle Snyder's NCAA placements. Might Bo or Nolf lay claim to the 10th spot? Have either of them supplanted their teammate Zain Retherford at #9? Or perhaps one or both should be even higher up the list? The debate continues!