Tony Ramos is Iowa wrestling right down to the tattooed logo between his shoulder blades.
He personifies what the Hawkeyes are all about, with his overflowing confidence, forceful style and sled dog endurance.
“You need an example, look at him,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “He’s very mature and grown up, and he’s done some good things.”
Ramos, like his team, has come a couple notches from the top but hasn’t claimed college wrestling’s ultimate prize during the past two seasons.
“I accomplished the goal of getting on the (all-American) podium, but that’s not where I wanted to be — I want to be on top of it,” the junior said. “You have those reminders. There’s still someone ahead of you. There’s still someone who beat you and there’s someone you’ve got to go out there and (outwork).”
John Meeks symbolizes the current state of the Iowa State program. He’s young, and coach Kevin Jackson loves his potential, but he’s also a true freshman adjusting to a new level, where unbeaten high school resumes get crumpled up by veterans ready to establish their territory.
Like his team, Meeks faces a monumental challenge tonight against Ramos in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where the second-ranked Iowa 133-pounder has yet to lose in 17 career bouts.
“We’re going to find out how close (Meeks) is to being a contender, to being a guy who can really make an impact in March,” Iowa State coach Kevin Jackson said. “I think it’s a process for everyone, but for him, you’ll really find out how good he is against a high-caliber, high-ranked guy.”
It’s one of the more compelling matches in a dual that, on paper, appears as one-sided as the rivalry has been in recent years.
The Cyclones (0-1) are favored at just one weight — 197 pounds — against the No. 4 Hawkeyes (5-0), who have won eight straight and 38 of the last 40 in the series.
None of Iowa State’s projected starters have wrestled in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where the top three wrestlers in Iowa’s lineup — two-time 125-pound NCAA champion Matt McDonough, Ramos and top-ranked 157-pounder Derek St. John — are a combined 62-1 in their careers.
“We’re taking the attitude that it’s the same,” Iowa State 125-pounder Ryak Finch said. “The wrestling mat’s the same size, everything’s the same, a takedown is still two points. But you’ve got to go out there ready for a fight, especially in a place like Carver.”
It might not be quite the same environment the Cyclones have encountered in past trips to Iowa City. Four years ago, the meet attracted an NCAA-record crowd of 15,955 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to watch the top two teams in the national rankings.
Brands said the series has lost some of the shimmer it recently possessed.
“I think that is absolutely something that needs to be worked on,” Brands said. “We’re No. 4-ranked or whatever and they’re out of the top 25, and I think that does impact it. You don’t have the No. 1 team in America, nor do you have two high-ranked opponents where, from the outside looking in, the experts maybe don’t see it as a top-billed event. But we don’t look at it that way.”
Brands said Iowa State’s early-season results should heighten his team’s awareness. Ramos said he’s not dropping his guard.
Meeks, who capped a 168-0 prep career in February with his fourth state title at Des Moines Roosevelt, is 3-2 in his rookie year with the Cyclones. Both of his losses have come against returning NCAA qualifiers. This is his first bout against an all-American.
“It’s the same thing as when our freshmen come (into the practice room) that you hear about — (four-time state champions Cory) Clark and (Thomas) Gilman,” said Ramos, who has registered five pins and a 22-8 major decision in his six matches this season. “You’ve got to prove a point right away, so you’re going to wrestle with the same mentality. (Meeks is) a young guy. It’s no different than wrestling Clark and Gilman. They’re young and tough guys. You’ve got to go out and make a statement right away.”
WHO: Iowa State (0-1) at Iowa (5-0)
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
TIME/TV: 7:30 p.m.,
Mediacom Ch. 22
SERIES: Iowa leads 60-16-2
125: NO. 1 MATT MCDONOUGH (IOWA) VS. RYAK FINCH (IOWA STATE)
McDonough, a senior, currently holds the fourth-best winning percentage in Iowa history with his 105-4 career mark. The two-time NCAA champion has won 33 straight matches, a string that started last year with a 6-0 win against Finch, a returning NCAA qualifier. The Iowa State sophomore is off to a 4-2 start this season after losing Sunday to another NCAA qualifier, Jerome Robinson of Old Dominion.
133: NO. 2 TONY RAMOS (IOWA) VS. JOHN MEEKS (IOWA STATE)
Ramos, a returning all-American, has registered five pins and a 22-8 major decision in six bouts this season. The junior is undefeated during his career inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Meeks, the sixth wrestler in Iowa prep history to complete high school unbeaten, is 3-2 this season with a pair of defeats against returning NCAA qualifiers.
141: NO. 17 MARK BALLWEG (IOWA) VS. LUKE GOETTL (IOWA STATE)
Ballweg, a part-time starter for the Hawkeyes the past two seasons, notched victories against the Cyclones in each of the past two duals in the series. The senior is off to a 5-0 start with bonus points in each of his wins. Goettl, a sophomore, has been streaky in his first two seasons. He’s capable of beating almost anyone when he’s wrestling well, but he hasn’t been at his best yet during a 5-2 start.
149: MICHAEL KELLY (IOWA) VS. LUKE SWALLA (IOWA STATE)
Iowa listed four possibilities at 149 and Iowa State listed three. Kelly, a sophomore with a 5-2 record, is trying to regain the starting job he held a year ago after freshman Brody Grothus won the wrestle-offs for the Hawkeyes. Swalla, also a sophomore, is 2-2. Senior Max Mayfield won Iowa State’s wrestle-offs at 149, but injury issues have sidelined him since Nov. 10.
157: NO. 1 DEREK ST. JOHN (IOWA) VS. LOGAN MOLINA (IOWA STATE)
Like Ramos, St. John is a junior who is undefeated during his career in his home arena. The two-time all-American was an NCAA finalist a year ago during an injury-shortened sophomore season after placing fourth at the NCAA Championships as a freshman. Molina, a freshman with a 5-3 record, seized the starting job from Trent Weatherman, the only Cyclone who has competed in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
165: NICK MOORE (IOWA) VS. MICHAEL MORENO (IOWA STATE)
Moore moved into the starting lineup when fellow sophomore Mike Evans moved up to 174. The four-time Iowa state high school champion is 3-0 this season with bonus-point victories in all three of his matches. Moreno, a sophomore, seems to be benefiting from his move up a weight this season. He’s 6-0 and has already topped his victory total from a year ago.
174: NO. 9 GRANT GAMBRALL (IOWA) VS. MIKEY ENGLAND (IOWA STATE)
Iowa coach Tom Brands said early in the week that the starting job belongs to Gambrall for now. But Evans is moving up to challenge the senior all-American, who is 3-1 this season. Iowa State has its own starting battle with England, a sophomore, and freshman Tanner Weatherman. Both Cyclones are 4-1 this season. Weatherman beat England in Iowa State’s wrestle-offs.
184: NO. 9 ETHEN LOFTHOUSE (IOWA) VS. NO. 15 BOAZ BEARD (IOWA STATE)
Lofthouse was an all-American last year at 174, where he compiled a 28-9 record and placed seventh at the NCAA Championships. The junior jumped up a weight class and is off to a 5-0 start at 184. Beard is a returning NCAA qualifier who finished 10-7 last year during an injury-shortened sophomore season. The former college baseball player registered a major decision win vs. Old Dominion in his debut.
197: NATHAN BURAK (IOWA) VS. NO. 19 KYVEN GADSON (IOWA STATE)
Burak is the first true freshman to crack the starting lineup for Iowa during the Brands era. He enters the dual with a 7-2 record. The Cyclones have high hopes for Gadson. The sophomore posted an overtime victory Sunday against Old Dominion’s Jacob Henderson in his first match in nearly a year after undergoing shoulder surgery.
HWT.: NO. 5 BOBBY TELFORD (IOWA) VS. NO. 18 MATT GIBSON (IOWA STATE)
This is the second of two potential rematches from last year’s dual. Telford defeated Gibson 9-3 last year in Ames. The Iowa sophomore, who placed fifth at the NCAA Championships and finished 29-9 last year, is off to a 5-0 start with a pair of pins and a technical fall. Gibson, a Big 12 champion last year, is one of only two seniors on the Iowa State roster. He’s 7-1 this season.