Normally last night we would have been live threading the final session of the NCAA Wrestling Tournament, as 10 champions are crowned. But since we couldn't do that this year, I thought I'd share some of my favorite matches from past NCAA Tournament finals.
2018: Spencer Lee vs Nick Suriano
Hello, greatness. This was the moment Iowa fans had waited for since Spencer Lee verbally committed to Iowa years ago. He finally arrived on campus on the fall of 2019, still rehabilitating a torn ACL from the previous winter. After redshirting through the first portion of the season, Lee was finally freed early in 2018 and began his tear through the college wrestling world. After a hiccup at the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, Lee came into the NCAA Tournament hungry to prove himself and his greatness. He did exactly that, tearing through the 125 lb bracket to set up a hotly anticipated duel with Rutgers' own lightweight phenom, Nick Suriano. Could Lee solve the challenge of Suriano's impenetrable defense? Yes. Yes, he could. And a legend began.
2008: Brent Metcalf vs Bubba Jenkins
Iowa won a national title in 2008, the second year of Tom Brands' tenure at Iowa and their first team title since 2000. The cherry on top of that return to the top of the sport was Brent Metcalf's national championship at 149 lbs. He marched through one of the toughest weights ever and came away with his first national championship by not just beating Penn State's Bubba Jenkins, but by utterly destroying him. He literally picked him up and carried him back to the middle of the mat before dropping him down for a takedown at one point.
As thorough and as satisfying an ass-kicking as you're likely to find in an NCAA Tournament final.
2017: Cory Clark vs Seth Gross
Cory Clark's run to a national title in 2017 was the embodiment of grit; he dealt with shoulder and arm injuries all season long and by the end of the year was essentially held together by spit, determination, and the ability to battle through pain. This was the third straight NCAA final of Clark's career and his last chance to finally win a championship and avoid becoming a three-time runner-up. Despite falling down 2-0 in the first period to Gross, Clark continued to grind and battle. His takedown and rideout in the third period is incredible and his reaction afterward (including the toss of Terry Brands) is as pure a display of catharsis as you'll ever see.
2007: Mark Perry vs Johny Hendricks
Johny Hendricks was going for a third-straight NCAA title and a chance to solidify himself as one of the best college wrestlers of all-time. Mark Perry was trying to reach the top of the mountain for the first time -- two mountains, really: his first NCAA championship and his first win over longtime nemesis Hendricks. After an active, but scoreless first period, Hendricks then rode Perry for the entire second period, then went up 2-0 on a reversal in the third period. Down 2-0, with two minutes of riding time against him, Mark Perry was in a hell of a hole... but he found a way. The final minute of this match is amazing.
1993: Lincoln McIlravy vs Gerry Abas
Unfortunately, this match is edited down to just the third period, because by all accounts this is one of the greatest NCAA finals matches of all-time. It's certainly one of the highest-scoring, as they combined for 31 points in this match. Abas took an early lead and had an 8-5 advantage after the first period. The action continued in the second period and he had a 9-8 edge, plus 1:43 of riding time, by the end of the second period. And after McIlravy conceded an escape to start the third and Abas scored another takedown off a slick ankle pick, he led 12-8 (effectively 13-8 given the RT edge). What ensued was one of the great comebacks in an NCAA finals match, as McIlravy scored the winning takedown with just seconds to spare. In doing so, he became the second-ever true freshman to win an NCAA title (and the only Iowa wrestler aside from Spencer Lee to do so) and began his own legendary career.
1981: Lou Banach vs Bruce Baumgartner
Two all-time greats battling it out for a national title. It doesn't get much better than this, especially at the upper weights. Banach and Baumgartner brought quite a bit of excitement for the big fellas -- but Lou Banach landed the biggest bomb in this bout.
1982: Ed Banach vs Mark Schultz
All of the other matches spotlighted here are Iowa wins, but I'm making an exception for this one because it is, simply, an incredible match. These two pack an incredible amount of action and drama in this bout and it's well worth watching -- even if the guy we want to win doesn't get his hand raised at the end.
What are some of your favorite NCAA title matches? Feel free to drop them in the comments below.