Hawkeyes head to New York for the inaugural ‘Grapple at the Garden’


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Derek St. John has never seen the Statue of Liberty up close, but he would like to. Tony Ramos said he just wants to see Times Square.

But Iowa’s head wrestling coach Tom Brands would prefer that the Hawkeyes snag two wins when they travel to New York for the inaugural Grapple at the Garden on Dec. 16.

“Right now, we got Bucknell and Hostra,” Brands said. “That’s why we go. Let’s go there to wrestle.”

The lights and sounds of Madison Square Garden — perhaps, even New York City itself — serve as possible distractions. But members of the Iowa wrestling team say they will treat this trip to New York just like any other.

Still, it’s difficult to ignore the fact they’ll be wrestling on the world’s biggest stage for the first time. College wrestling has never been set at the Garden, giving Sunday’s event a promotional aspect for the sport.

Brands, along with many of his wrestlers, agreed that passive wrestling matches wouldn’t help. Bouts that end with 2-1 scores don’t draw the kind of excitement that the sport wants to portray. That makes it more crucial that all athletes from every team open up and score copious amounts of points.

“[It’s] just the world stage,” Brands said. “I don’t believe that you’re overemphasizing it when you say that because you are in a marquee building … You’re putting wrestling on that stage.”

Many of Iowa’s grapplers have been preparing themselves for this event for a while. Mike Evans grew up 175 miles from Madison Square Garden. This event has been marked on his family’s calendar for some time now — it will be a chance for them to watch the former Blair Academy standout up close — some for the first time in years.

When Evans was younger, he remembered a few instances where the idea of wrestling in Madison Square Garden seemed like a chance of a lifetime.

“I watched Cinderella Man before. That was a pretty cool movie,” the sophomore said. “I thought it would be awesome to compete in a place like that.”

But for some wrestlers, there are greater stakes to be had. Ramos, the nation’s second-ranked 133-pound wrestler, will be placed side-by-side with the No. 1 guy: Ohio State’s Logan Stieber.

The two will not wrestle each other. But the nation’s top grapplers at their weight will be in the same arena and will likely be compared more than usual.

Ramos knows this and, because of it, he said performing at his best is crucial.

“It’s even more important because he’s going to be watching. He’s going to see the results,” Ramos said. “If I win a match by 1 or 2 points, it’s not going to be in his head.”

A close-up comparison with Stieber is one thing motivating Ramos this weekend.

But the other is the opportunity to show the average American what wrestling is all about. Ramos rattled off that artists, basketball games, and other big events usually pack the Garden full, but wrestling has never gotten the chance.

He’s excited that it’s finally his turn.

“There’s going to be a lot of good wrestling,” Ramos said. “We have to go out and put on a show.”

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