Dean Peterson Embraces The Underdog Mentality Before Who's #1

84. 2020 WNO Breakdown

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Only one year after New Jersey showed out at Who’s #1 with a total of four competitors, Dean Peterson joins Blair’s Travis Mastrogiovanni as the Garden State’s only representatives in 2020. 

Peterson is headed to Princeton next year and enters as a three-time NJ state finalist, two-time state champ, a Beast of the East champ, and the undisputed #1 pound-for-pound wrestler in New Jersey. The St. John Vianney senior went unscored upon in last year’s state tournament and is quietly in the midst of a 77-match win streak against in-state competition. Through it all, his winning appetite still isn’t satisfied. He wants more.

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“He’s a champion. He has a championship mindset,” said Peterson’s St. John Vianney head coach and former NCAA qualifier for Oklahoma State, Chris Notte.

This season, Peterson aims to join the likes of Shane Griffith and Mark Manchio, among others, as three-time New Jersey state champs and four-time finalists.

But first, he’s got his eye on the #1 spot in the country and redemption on his mind.

His opponent in Saturday’s Who’s #1 showdown, Jordan Titus of New York, is the last guy to hand Peterson a loss — a year ago in the consolation bracket of Super 32.

As the challenger, ranked #2 in the country to start the season, Peterson comes into this one as the apparent underdog. Despite being a dominant force in New Jersey for the last three years, adopting that underdog mentality is surprisingly familiar to him. In fact, he tries to embrace it.

“I always come in as the underdog,” Peterson told FloWrestling. "When you think that you’re the best, that’s when someone is going to come and knock you off, so you have to always think of it from an underdog perspective. I know that people are coming in like Titus is the favorite . . . but that just fuels me more. That just motivates me.”

Also motivating him are the memories of their last meeting.

In the semifinals of last year’s Super 32 tournament, Peterson dropped a heartbreaker to fellow 2020 Who’s #1 competitor Jordan Williams on a takedown in the closing seconds. Less than a half an hour later, he had to take on the ever-dangerous Titus. It’s not uncommon to see guys fail to rebound after a crushing frontside loss, and although Peterson acknowledged that there is no room for excuses, he expects to be more prepared for this one. 

The seemingly lopsided 10-4 victory by Titus in that matchup might be a bit deceiving, though. The difference in the match came from two roll-through tilts from shin whizzer defense that Titus was able to secure while Peterson was in on a leg. Sometimes referred to as a “Falcon,” the hold accounted for eight of Titus’ 10 points and broke the match wide open. 

“If I take his funk away, he doesn’t really have much. That match in Super 32, I got caught in a Falcon twice. I’m not getting caught in a Falcon again. That’s not going to happen,” he said.

In that match, Titus may have prevailed in the scramble situations, but those aren’t foreign positions to Peterson. He’s aware of what got him into trouble, but he won’t be changing his style, or wrestling any more conservative this time around. If his opponent is looking to mix it up again, Peterson won’t shy away. Make no mistake, this isn’t an athleticism mismatch.

“I think I can put a lot of points up against this kid,” he said.

Peterson’s confidence never waivers. He believes in his preparation, his effort, and his talent. His head coach echoes that same belief.

“That is Dean Peterson,” Notte said. “You are not going to get the better of him physically. Unbelievable talent. Unbelievable skillset. Unbelievable athlete. I think he’s the best athlete I’ve ever coached . . . He’s a once-in-a-lifetime high school wrestler.” 

A total of 15 New Jersey natives own a career record of 7-8 at Who’s #1 since the event began back in 2013. Dean Peterson heads to Austin, Texas, this weekend looking to get Dirty Jersey’s record back to .500 by knocking off a familiar foe for a chance at the nation’s #1 spot at 126lbs.

He may come in as an underdog, but he’s confident he’ll leave as the top dog.

Be sure to tune into Who’s #1 this weekend on FloWrestling!

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