Ramos earns his shining moment

BY CODY GOODWIN | MARCH 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — He’s wandering around the floor of the Chesapeake Arena, showing off his cheesy, toothless grin, signing countless autographs, and taking even more pictures. He loves doing this, of course, perhaps even more so on this particular Saturday night.

Tony Ramos earned the right to do this. He earned the right to race off the stage and jump into his family’s arms.

He earned that little black hat his older brother, Frankie Defilippis, gave him after he beat Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff, 3-1, in the first tiebreaker of the 133-pound NCAA title match.

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He earned the moniker that was embroidered on that little black hat: “NCAA CHAMP” it reads, in big, gold letters.

Down underneath the Chesapeake Arena, after Ramos won, Tom Brands emerged from the locker room wearing that little black hat. He showcased a huge grin. One of his all-time favorite wrestlers just won a national title.

“I’ll tell you what, it feels good,” he said. “I kept saying he’s the king.”

It wasn’t easy. It couldn’t be easy. The expectations were too high, the weight of them too heavy, the task too difficult.

Entering the 2013-14 season, most wrestling fans expected Ramos to run through the field at 133 pounds. They figured he wouldn’t lose a match, that he would pin more people than he did during the 2012-13 season. They thought he’d take the NCAA title with relative ease.

But it’s never that easy. Ramos hiccupped twice before the 2014 calendar year and dropped to third in the rankings. With two losses, the road got tougher for him. He would have to earn his way.

And so he did, rattling off 18-straight wins en route to securing both the Big Ten and NCAA titles. His last seven victories were all by decision, winning by an average of just 2 points. The matches were tough, but he earned every victory.

In the NCAA Tournament alone, Ramos came from behind to win his last two matches. In the semifinals, down 1-0 against Edinboro’s A.J. Schopp, Ramos found a way to put Schopp on his back, scoring a 5-1 decision. He had earned his spot in the finals.

And in the finals, tied at 1 with Graff in the first tiebreaker, Ramos again found a way. Graff decided to roll, and Ramos made him pay.

It wasn’t really a tilt, in the traditional sense, but it was enough for a two-count from the refs.

“That’s why you don’t roll,” he said afterward. “Solid wrestling always wins.”

Ramos earned those 2 points. He earned that victory.

There’s a story behind those hats: Defilippis actually had them made last year. He truly believed Ramos was going to beat Ohio State’s Logan Stieber for the 2013 national title — and for a moment in the second period, he nearly did.

But Stieber won that match, 7-4. Defilippis said he took the hats back home and stored them in a closet. They would have to wait for a different ending, one Ramos would have to earn.

The storybook ending for the fan-favorite Hawkeye involved a weirdly executed tilt and jumping into the arms of his family and wearing a hat that waited a year to be worn. It is a different way for a story to end, sure, but not all endings are happy ones.

But for this story, for this wrestler, the ending is one he earned, and that’s really all he cares about.

“I won the national title,” Ramos said. “I got the job done. That’s all that matters right now.”

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