It is a well-known saying in sports, especially in wrestling circles.
To be the best, you have to beat the best. University of Iowa’s Mike Evans will have seen his share of top-ranked foes this month.
The Hawkeyes’ fourth-ranked sophomore 174-pounder is expected to face No. 2 Logan Storley when No. 4 Iowa wrestles No. 3 Minnesota in a Big Ten Conference dual Saturday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, starting at 3 p.m.
Evans has already beaten Ohio State’s Nick Heflin, who was ranked second at the time, and was edged by top-ranked Chris Perry of Oklahoma State since Jan. 4.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Evans said. “Just like every single one.”
Evans recorded two major decisions during Iowa’s road trip at University of Michigan and Michigan State, including a 9-1 victory over the Wolverines’ No. 11 Dan Yates. Against the Spartans, Evans whipped a chippy Jordan Wohlfert.
He showed his resolve and no-nonsense approach against Wohlfert, who appeared to take a swing at Evans on the edge of the mat and then dove at his legs for a takedown after a whistle. The physical approach surprised Evans, who responded by tallying 12 points.
“(Iowa) coach (Tom Brands) always talks about staying ice cold,” said Evans, who at one point stood in the center of the mat for a restart motioning for his opponent to get in position, according to radio play-by-play. “It kind of gets you riled up, but it’s how you react to it. It can elevate you to another level, if you use it right, or it can bring you down.”
Evans fiery attitude has endeared him to Hawkeye fans. Brands said he has always possessed that approach, but he has made strides to use it to his advantage.
“He’s gotten a lot more calm when it comes to whether he loses his temper or not,” Brands said. “Being feisty and under control is a good thing. Being tough and under control is a good thing. We’ll keep building that way.”
Evans has built a successful sophomore campaign with an 11-1 record overall. He is 9-1 after moving up to 174. He has earned bonus points for Iowa in nine matches, producing two pins, a technical fall and six major decisions. He has put himself in position with other national title contenders and gets another opportunity to state his case.
“He’s captured the frenzy of the crowd,” said Brands, noting his overtime win against Heflin. “I think he’s probably going to wait to see how his season ends before he celebrates too much. Think those are things that propel anybody.”
Evans admits the match against Storley will test his mettle. Storley, an All-American last year, had success against Iowa as a freshman, winning three of four matches against a Hawkeye opponent.
“He wrestles through positions,” Evans said. “He scrambles well. He’s a tough guy to score on.”
Evans and Storley are two of 18 ranked wrestlers who should take the mat Saturday. Iowa (14-1, 4-0 Big Ten) and Minnesota (11-1, 5-0) look to keep pace with top-ranked Penn State (7-0, 4-0) in conference standings. The two are still strong rivals, despite chasing a couple other teams in the ratings.
“I think it’s still fairly important to people up there and fairly important to people down here,” said Brands, whose Hawkeyes host Penn State Feb. 1. “We want to get to No. 1 (in the country) and this is the next step, so we’ll go do battle there.“The rivalry hasn’t changed because of the inferior rankings of the two programs.”