IOWA CITY – Tony Ramos is one of the most popular University of Iowa wrestlers.
Usually that fanfare is reserved to Iowa natives and those with a Big Ten, NCAA or Midlands title. The Hawkeye senior from Illinois enters his final two events, earning that respect without a major college title.
Ramos has a chance to add that accomplishment, owning the top-seed at 133 pounds for the Big Ten Wrestling Championships at the University of Wisconsin’s Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. The two day event begins Saturday at 10 a.m.
“There is a huge sense of urgency,” Ramos said. “For me, there’s two things missing – a Big Ten title and national championship. You have to take it one step at a time. Right now, it’s the Big Ten Championships and then we’ll go from there after that.”
Don’t underestimate his career, even if a title is missing. Ramos has 112 career wins and could crack the top-20 in program history, including an unbeaten career at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He is a three-time national qualifier, placing third in 2012 and second last year. Ramos is a two-time conference finalist, finishing third or better every season.
“He knows what is missing in his resume,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “He’s been about it since he came on campus.
“We love the way he marches and he, with a couple other guys are exactly who we want representing our program.”
Brands said about a dozen wrestlers actually compete similar to the way that Ramos takes the mat, and the rest of the team needs to enter that category. The program emphasizes dominating opponents and pulling away by scoring as many points as possible, which will be important if the Hawkeyes want to overtake three-time defending Big Ten and NCAA champion Penn State and Minnesota.
“You don’t have to tell him much,” Brands said. “He knows what he has to do.”
Hawkeye fans have been attracted to Ramos, who has provided a number of memorable moments. Whether it’s a win over highly-ranked Oklahoma State foes or pins in consecutive home duals over rival Penn State, Ramos and fans have feed off each other’s emotions. The rarity is to see that for someone without a major individual title.
“He wrestles so hard,” Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands said. “The crowd likes that. He’s always trying to score. I think it’s more the fans appreciate his effort toward his wrestling.”
Seconds and thirds are hard to accept for Ramos. He has experienced them in high school, Midlands, conference and national tournaments. Each one stings Ramos.
“It does all the time,” Ramos said. “It’s time to get over that hump and finally get one of the big tournaments.”
Ohio State’s two-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber has thwarted his recent title runs, handing him his only losses in the last two Big Ten and NCAA Championships. Stieber is at 141 this season.
Ramos (24-2) has beaten everyone in the bracket he has previously faced, but has not wrestled Illinois’ fifth-seeded Zane Richards (13-5) and Ohio State’s No. 6 Johnni DiJulius (23-4). His only loss came to Wisconsin’s second-seeded Tyler Graff in overtime of the 2011 Big Ten semifinals. He owns a 2-1 edge over Graff.
He will open against the winner of Michigan’s No. 8 Rossi Bruno (16-12) and Nebraska’s Shawn Nagel (13-7).
“I think I have put myself in good position,” Ramos said. “I’m going to have some guys I’m familiar with and some guys I’ve had bigger wins but some close matches, too.
“I have to be ready for everything. Just open up and have fun and go out and do what I do best.”
Tom Brands mentioned that 125-pound red-shirt freshmen Cory Clark and Thomas Gilman resemble Ramos in the way they represent the program. Both have been successful sharing time as a starter this season, but Clark received the nod for the postseason after some deliberation.
“They both made strides,” Tom Brands said. “It’s not a case of one guy being better than the other guy. It’s a case of which guy emerged a certain way.”
Clark is 15-0 and seeded third. When Gilman was the regular starter from mid-December through January, Clark remained positive and focused on being in the postseason.
“I wasn’t always real confident, but that was my motivation,” Clark said. “I had to stay hungry.”
Now, he is hungry for gold. He has a win against Illinois’ defending state champion Jesse Delgado, beating him in last season’s UNI Open.
“I think I’m capable of winning a national title,” said Clark, a former four-time Iowa state champion from Southeast Polk. “If I compete the way I know I can, I don’t see why it isn’t a possibility.”