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The Greatest Dual Ever Wrestled: Oklahoma St. vs Iowa On Valentine's Day

The Greatest Dual Ever Wrestled: Oklahoma St. vs Iowa On Valentine's Day

Oklahoma State upended Iowa, 22-18, in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Feb. 14, 1998, in what might be the greatest dual ever.

Feb 4, 2022 by Kyle Klingman
The Greatest Dual Ever Wrestled: Oklahoma St. vs Iowa On Valentine's Day

It is fitting that Oklahoma State entered its February 14, 1998, dual ranked first and Iowa was second. The two teams had combined for 47 NCAA tournament titles with the Cowboys holding a commanding 30-17 historical advantage.

The previous 21 seasons weren’t the best of times for Oklahoma State, though. Dan Gable and his Hawkeye wrestling empire had won 15 NCAA titles to Oklahoma State’s three. And, just 11 months earlier, it was Gable who led his team to a record-setting NCAA tournament victory over the heavily favored Cowboys at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

The 1998 season represented a new era in college wrestling. Gable made the 1997 season his last, and it was assistant coach Jim Zalesky who took over as the Hawkeyes' new head coach.

The heir to Gable’s coaching throne appeared to be Oklahoma State coach John Smith. The former Cowboy superstar set the standard as a wrestler by winning six World and Olympic titles in a row from 1987-92. Smith had already led his team to the 1994 NCAA title in just his second year as the full-time coach.

Despite sub-par finishes of seventh in 1995 and sixth in 1996, Oklahoma State finished the 1997 dual season perfect, including a 21-13 win over the Hawkeyes at the National Duals.

However, Oklahoma State chose not to participate in the 1998 National Duals. So, the meet that took place between the Cowboys and the Hawkeyes in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Valentine’s Day was the one and only dual of the season. 

The final score was 22-18 in favor of Oklahoma State, but the final result may be the greatest dual ever wrestled.

A Dual For The Ages

Everything was in place for an all-time classic: the two greatest programs, a heated rivalry, a combined nine returning All-Americans, five returning NCAA champions, and the first meeting between the two teams in the post-Gable era.

If we are permitted to take a glimpse at future successes, the combined credentials of the 20 wrestlers who competed that day are as follows: 16 NCAA titles, 44 All-American honors, three Olympians, 12 World teams, two World medals, and one Olympic medal. 

The first match set the tone for the entire night. Teague Moore and Eric Juergens had a high-paced slugfest that ended with a 15-7 major decision for Moore. The match was close through two periods but the Cowboy star scored four near-fall points off a spladle early in the third period to break open the match.

At 126 pounds, Eric Guerrero — Oklahoma State’s only returning NCAA champion — entered his match against freshman Doug Schwab as the heavy favorite. Guerrero led 6-2 with just over a minute left until Schwab mounted a thrilling comeback for a stunning 9-8 victory.

“The crowd noise was amazing after that match,” referee Chuck Yagla said. “It was by far the loudest noise I have ever heard as an official.”

Next up was Mark Ironside, the first of four NCAA champions for Iowa. Ironside faced Jamill Kelly, an eventual silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics. Ironside’s relentless pace and offense were too much. He pinned his then under-matched foe in the second period, giving the Hawkeyes a 9-4 lead and some temporary momentum.

“That’s what you compete and train for,” Ironside said. “I knew we were going to need bonus points and probably a pin and that’s what I was looking for. To get a pin against a high-caliber opponent was huge for us.”

Carver-Hawkeye Arena appeared to be working its magic. Up next was Iowa City’s own Jeff McGinness, a 1996 NCAA champion who had moved up two weight classes following a redshirt year.

His opponent was top-ranked and undefeated Steve Schmidt, a returning runner-up at 134 pounds and the guy who could never beat Ironside at the lower weight class.

The match literally appeared to be locked up for McGinness early. He had a cradle hooked and was attempting to turn Schmidt for the pin, but Schmidt took advantage when McGinness rolled the wrong way. McGinness fought hard but Schmidt eventually secured the fall with just under a minute left in the first period.

Steve Schmidt had just stopped one of the biggest momentum swings in the series’ history.

“The biggest thing I remember is the excitement and the fans,” Ironside said. “That’s what the sport’s all about. The pivotal match was at 142 where McGinness got pinned.”

Jimmy Arias and Hardell Moore gave the Cowboys a 16-9 lead with decisions at 150 and 158 pounds, respectively. The 167-pound bout looked good on paper but not on the mat. Iowa’s Joe Williams had won two NCAA titles at 158 pounds and Mark Smith — John’s youngest brother — was a returning All-American at 177 pounds. Williams won 4-2 with a takedown in overtime in the only one versus two match of the night.

Lasting Impact

As it often does, a classic dual is decided by two unranked wrestlers. Such was the case when Oklahoma State's Mark Munoz broke open an 8-6 lead in the third period to win 15-8 in his 177-pound bout against Paul Jenn. 

Iowa needed bonus points in the next two weights and defending NCAA champion Lee Fullhart picked them up in the strangest way. Yagla disqualified sophomore Pat Poplozio for stalling with 11 seconds remaining in the second period to make the score 19-18 in favor of the Cowboys.

"The guy was drinking kool-aid," Smith said of the disqualification by Yagla.

The last match was the most important — and the most boring. Any half shot was exciting with the outcome on the line. Sophomore Wes Hand had the meet come down to heavyweight twice during the season — losing both by fall and both in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Could Ben Lee continue the streak? As the two stalled their way to overtime (each was called for stalling twice in regulation), Yagla couldn’t take it anymore. He called double stalling on both wrestlers, and the match automatically went to double overtime.

Lee won the flip and chose down. All he had to do was escape within 30 seconds and the Cowboys would win the meet. When Yagla blew the whistle, Hand was caught off guard and Lee escaped within a matter of seconds. The Cowboys had just pulled the plug on Iowa at home and, in the process, won one of the most bizarre and exciting events ever.

“What a dual meet,” Smith said afterward. “That was college wrestling. The people that came tonight definitely saw one of the better matches they’ll see in a lifetime.”

Perhaps Smith was referring to Frank Poplozio, brother of Oklahoma State’s 190-pounder Pat. Frank was so inspired by the meet that he went back to New York with visions of starting his own tournament. That dual was the catalyst for Journeymen Wrestling and a host of successful annual tournaments owned and operated by Popolizio.

“I remember the intensity, the electricity, the charisma, whatever adjective you want to use for that dual meet would work,” Frank said. “I don’t know if there is anything that can compare. That particular dual burned a mark in my mind. I brought two athletes from the east coast and to this day we still talk about it. That meet got me hooked."

In what would be the final year before the college wrestling weight classes permanently changed, the all-time dual record between these two historic programs ended at 15-15-1.

Box Score – February 14, 1998

Oklahoma State 22, Iowa 18

Attendance: 13,240

118 – Teague Moore (Oklahoma State) m.d. Eric Juergens (Iowa), 15-7 (4-0)

126 – Doug Schwab (Iowa) dec. Eric Guerrero (Oklahoma State), 9-8 (4-3)

134 – Mark Ironside (Iowa) pinned Jamill Kelly (Oklahoma State), 4:09 (4-9)

142 – Steve Schmidt (Oklahoma State) pinned Jeff McGinness (Iowa), 2:01 (10-9)

150 – Jimmy Arias (Oklahoma State) dec. Jamie Heidt (Iowa), 8-2 (13-9)

158 – Hardell Moore (Oklahoma State) dec. Gabe McMahon (Iowa), 10-3 (16-9)

167 – Joe Williams (Iowa) dec. Mark Smith (Oklahoma State), 4-2 OT (16-12)

177 – Mark Munoz (Oklahoma State) dec. Paul Jenn (Iowa), 15-8 (19-12)

190 – Lee Fullhart (Iowa) DQ Pat Popolizio (Oklahoma State) (19-18)

285 – Ben Lee (Oklahoma State) dec. Wes Hand (Iowa), 4-3 SD (22-18)

Wrestling Credentials


118: Eric Juergens: 2x NCAA champion, 4x All-American

126: Doug Schwab: 1x NCAA champion, 3x All-American, 2007 World Team member, 2008 Olympian

134: Mark Ironside: 2x NCAA champion, 4x All-American

142: Jeff McGinness: 2x NCAA champion, 3x All-American

150: Jamie Heidt: 1x All-American

158: Gabe McMahon: 1x All-American

167 – Joe Williams: 3x NCAA champion, 4x All-American, 2004 Olympian, 2x World bronze medalist, 6x World team member

177 – Paul Jenn: 2x National Qualifier

190 – Lee Fullhart: 1x NCAA champion, 4x All-American

HWT – Wes Hand: 2x All-American


Oklahoma State

118: Teague Moore: 1x NCAA champion, 3x All-American

126: Eric Guerrero: 3x NCAA champion, 4x All-American, 2004 Olympian, 4x World team member

134: Jamill Kelly: 2003 World Team member, 2004 Olympic silver medalist

142: Steve Schmidt: 3x All-American

150: Jimmy Arias: 1x All-American

158: Hardell Moore: 2x All-American

167: Mark Smith: 3x All-American

177: Mark Munoz: 1x NCAA champion, 2x All-American

190: Pat Popolizio: 3x National Qualifier

HWT: Ben Lee: 3x National Qualifier