Tony Ramos must be feeling a mean case of deja vu. A year ago, at the Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City, Iowa, Ramos squared off with Dan Dennis, a former Iowa teammate, in the finals at the weight, with a spot to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on the line. Dennis beat Ramos two matches to none in the finals, earning the 57 KG spot and representing the United States in Rio.
Today, at the World Team Trials in Lincoln, Nebraska, Ramos squared off with another former Iowa teammate, Thomas Gilman, in the finals at 57 KG, with a spot to the World Championships in Paris on the line. And once again, Ramos lost two matches to none in the finals, watching as another Iowa wrestler got the better of him and earned a trip to the big show.
But Gilman's run and his ultimate triumph should have provided Ramos with some happier deja vu as well because it was awfully reminiscent of Ramos' own run through the World Team Trials field three years ago. In 2014 Ramos entered the World Team Trials off a Big Ten and NCAA Championship-winning season as a decided underdog to win a spot on the U.S. team at the World Championships. But he beat back all challengers that year and made his first trip to the World Championships. Well, this year Gilman did just that, entering as an underdog (Flowrestling's handicapper had him as a 30/1 underdog) and tearing through a murderer's row of challengers to claim the spot on the U.S. team.
Calling the bracket Gilman defeated to emerge victorious today a murderer's row may be underselling it, frankly. Look at these credentials:
Credentials of the five guys Thomas Gilman beat today: 4 NCAA titles, 8 NCAA final appearances, 16 NCAA All-America finishes.— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) June 11, 2017
I'll be honest: when I saw Gilman's draw last night, I was not remotely confident in his ability to make the finals against Ramos, let alone beat him.
/looks at 57 KG bracket— RossWB (@RossWB) June 10, 2017
Welp. Gonna have to wait to see Gilman vs Ramos to go down, I guess.
In related news, I am dumb.
Gilman's amazing run began with a pigtail match against Lehigh wrestler Darian Cruz. That would be the same Cruz who beat Gilman, 4-2 in sudden victory, in a tense heartbreaker in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. Today? Gilman beat him 9-0. He was up 4-0 after a pair of takedowns halfway through the first period and never looked back from there, racking up several more points along the way.
His quarterfinal match in the challenge tournament was one of his toughest of the day, against #1 seed Tyler Graff. Graff, a former Wisconsin wrestler and frequent rival of Tony Ramos back in the day, seemed like a very difficult match-up for Gilman. Graff wrestled 133 in college and is definitely one of the biggest guys at 57 KG. He also has a ton of freestyle experience and is extremely difficult to score on. Gilman tied him 1-1, but advanced on tiebreaker criteria (Gilman scored the last point of the match). It certainly wasn't the prettiest win, but in an event like this "survive and advance" is really all that matters and that's exactly what Gilman did.
Gilman's semifinal showdown was against former Penn State wrestler Nico Megaludis. Gilman and Megaludis had a painfully one-sided rivalry in college, as in: they wrestled, Nico won. Every single time. The most painful loss came in the 2016 Tournament finals, when Nico beat him for a national title in what wound up being Gilman's only appearance in the NCAA Tournament finals. Today Gilman got a measure of revenge -- and had his most explosive performance of the tournament, smashing Megaludis via 11-0 technical fall with some big-time offense.
Thomas Gilman techs Nico, he'll have NaTo in the challenge tourney finals! pic.twitter.com/GBoOFW7Ury— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) June 10, 2017
The challenge tournament finals brought another familiar face, albeit one that Gilman has had success against in the past: Ohio State's Nathan Tomasello. But Tomasello is certainly an incredibly difficult opponent with explosive offense and a squat, powerful frame that makes him hard to score on. Gilman grabbed an early 1-0 lead, but Tomasello notched a takedown to take a 2-1 lead. Gilman added another point to tie it at 2-2, but Tomasello still led on tiebreaker criteria (a 2-point move trumps two 1-point moves). Then with time winding down and literally just seconds left, Gilman got around Tomasello and finished a takedown:
So to recap: Gilman beat the 2017 NCAA Champion at 125 lbs, the 2014 NCAA runner-up at 133 lbs, the 2016 NCAA Champion at 125 lbs, and the 2015 NCAA Champion at 125 lbs. Standing in his way in the best-of-three finals? A well-rested Tony Ramos, his former Iowa teammate, the 2014 NCAA Champion at 133 lbs, and a two-time World Team member. (Ramos won the 57 KG bracket at the 2017 U.S. Open Tournament in April to earn a bye to the best-of-three finals today; Gilman did not compete at that event.)
This was a match-up that had no shortage of buzz, in part because both guys were happy to talk it up in the weeks leading up to the World Team Trials:
Tony Ramos knows who he wants to see Saturday night in the World Team Trials finals. pic.twitter.com/OfL3UZIFau— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) June 6, 2017
In the first match of the best-of-three finals, Gilman struck first by forcing Ramos to step out and going up 1-0. Ramos bounced back and got Gilman to step out to tie the match at 1-1 at the break. Gilman came out firing in the second period, though, and notched a takedown and a pushout to go up 4-1. Ramos again fired back and got a takedown of his own to cut the lead to 4-3. He got in deep again in the final seconds, but he wasn't able to score in the mad scramble before time expired. First blood to Gilman, 4-3.
Gilman takes the first one, 4-3. Mark Perry and Matt McDonough are hyped! pic.twitter.com/s1TLhWnUFz— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) June 10, 2017
In the second match, things were again cagey and tight in the first period, with the only point coming when Ramos was put on the shot clock. He failed to get a takedown in the 30-second period, so Gilman was awarded a point. That was the only point in the first period and Gilman led 1-0 at the break. The second period brought more action from both sides. Gilman went up 2-0 after forcing a step out on Ramos, but Ramos tied it up (and took the lead on criteria) with a takedown with a minute to go. Gilman got a takedown of his own ten seconds later to go up 4-2, then extended his lead to 5-2 after forcing another step out on Ramos with 30 seconds left. He forced another step out with ten seconds left go go up 6-2 and won 7-2 after Ramos lost a challenge at the end of the match. Game, set, match for Gilman and your NEW World Team member at 57 KG. Amazing.
After the match, both Ramos and Gilman tried to defuse any tension. Ramos congratulated Gilman on the win on the mat and raised his arm in victory.
He also tried to tamp down any bad blood in his post-match comments on Twitter as well:
I will take it just as it. Brands and Company came out to scrap today and they did. Congrats to them and Gilman and good luck in Paris.— Anthony Ramos (@T_Ram133) June 11, 2017
For his part, Gilman also took the high road in his comments about Ramos after the match, per Chris Cuellar at Hawk Central:
“Ramos is still a Hawk. Ramos will always be a Hawk, whether he wants to admit it or not,” Gilman said.
“I’m not going to stand here and pretend there aren’t hard feelings. They were words toward the program. I take that personal. That’s my family.
“But I love the guy. He loves me, whether he wants to admit it or not. Once a Hawk, always a Hawk.”
Gilman is right: there are some hard feelings. Ramos' departure from the Hawkeye Wrestling Club and the overall Iowa program was, well, awkward at best. There were hurt feelings after the Olympic Team Trials last year and some unkind things were said. But Ramos is, was, and always will be a Hawkeye. He produced a litany of great moments while wearing a black and gold singlet and those won't be soon forgotten (and nor should they). At some point in the future, perhaps he'll even back in the Iowa program in some capacity -- who knows.
But the man of the hour is a more recent former Hawkeye, one Thomas Gilman. The 2016-17 NCAA season was expected to be largely a coronation for Gilman and for several months that's just what it was. He more or less steamrolled the competition in the regular season, then finally claimed his first Big Ten Championship in early March. But heartbreak struck in the NCAA Tournament, with that aforementioned loss to Cruz in the semifinals. The first steps to tonight's glory may have been taken the morning after that gut-wrenching loss to Cruz, though. That's when Gilman bounced back and took third place at the NCAA Tournament with an impressive showing in the consolation bracket. His dream of winning an NCAA title was dashed, but Gilman showed an impressive ability to shake it off and get back to work. The culmination of that work came on Saturday night, when he backed up his braggadocio and defeated his former teammate to become the king of the hill in the United States at 57 KG. Up next? The World Championships in Paris, France on August 21-26.
Congratulations on one hell of a performance, Mr. Gilman -- your run today was definitely one to remember. Fantastic job, sir.