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MADISON, Wis. — Tony Ramos has never shied from the spotlight or hesitated from attracting it.
The former University of Iowa NCAA champion has gained attention with his results on the mat and with his straightforward talk.
Ramos delivered both with the spotlight a little brighter and the stage slightly bigger, making claim to the country’s top 125.5-pound spot and then claiming it at the ASICS U.S. Freestyle World Team Trials on Saturday at Alliant Energy Center. Ramos swept Sam Hazewinkel, 4-0, 5-4, in a best-of-3 series to make the U.S. World Team.
In his first freestyle tournament after a successful Hawkeye career, Ramos was poised to make a name for himself on this level and inject fresh blood into Team USA. He called out some of the old guard before becoming the seventh different wrestler to represent the country at the lowest weight in the last seven years.
“I’m done seeing these old guys wrestling,” Ramos said after beating Nico Megaludis, 1-0, to win the challenge tournament. “They’ve had their chances. It’s time for the young guys, the new guys.
“I watched (Nick) Simmons, Hazewinkel, (Angel) Escobedo, and all they ever talk about is winning a medal. They are satisfied with winning a medal. If you think I’d go overseas and just bring home bronze or silver that I’m going to be satisfied, you’re wrong. It’s about winning gold. It’s not just about winning a medal. You’ve got to want it all.”
Ramos made a big statement with his words and actions. Iowa Coach Tom Brands said they are one in the same.
“Walking the walk and talking the talk are the same to him,” Brands said. “When you’re talking and you’re doing, or you’re Tony Ramos and you’re talking, there is no difference between the two.”
Ramos considered taking a year off after winning the 133-pound NCAA Championship in March and graduating from the University of Iowa in May. After watching the competition at the U.S. Open in April, Ramos decided to wrestle.
“I’m a competitor,” Ramos said. “When you see people winning that you know you can beat, that drives you even harder.”
Brands said Ramos had a decision to extend his career or ride off into the sunset with an NCAA crown. This was the best choice for his longevity.
“Plus, he’s a showman,” Brands said. “He craves that spotlight. When you’re a competitor there is no better life.”
Ramos thrived in the championship series, scoring a takedown and leglace for two exposure points. He had a pair of takedowns in the second bout. Ramos said he remembered having Hazewinkel in a camp when he was younger. He knew what to expect and wrestled harder for the win.
He dismissed the idea that he earned it the hard way, beating 2013 World Team member and top-seed Angel Escobedo, 2-0, in the semifinals before topping Megaludis to reach the championship series.
“It’s the easy way,” Ramos said. “I love wrestling. I love competing.”
The attitude and performance have transitioned seamlessly from folkstyle to freestyle for Ramos, who praised his coaches and workout partners.
“Wrestling is wrestling,” Brands said. “That is an important philosophy to realize and embrace, because holding the center of the mat, being solid, being in solid positions, those types of things, and that is what he is about. Good for him.”
Former Iowa State NCAA champion and 2012 Olympic champion Jake Varner rejoined the U.S. World Team. Varner swept Dustin Kilgore, 7-2, 5-2, after not participating in the Trials last season.
“I was sticking to my plan, really,” Varner said. “I’m going out there and scoring points. I was getting my shots off when they were there.”
Varner said he feels he is as strong as he was during the Olympic year, despite limited international competition since then. He is ready for a chance to compete for a World title.
“Hopefully, right now I am a lot better than I was in 2012,” Varner said. “I try to improve in all areas if I can.”
Matt McDonough is one of them and he dropped down to 125.5 from 134. He wrestled to a true-second place finish and the third spot on Team USA, beating Megaludis, 4-0. McDonough expected a tough match between fierce competitors.
“There are things I could have done a lot better,” McDonough said, “but you get the win and that’s always something to build off.”
After a tough 5-4 quarterfinal loss to Brandon Precin, McDonough stormed through the consolation bracket, overcoming an 8-0 deficit to beat Kyle Hutter, 14-8. He also pulled away late from Zach Sanders for an 11-4 win.
“You can’t call a loss a fluke or bad match, unless you prove it,” McDonough said. “I did everything I could after that match.
“I’m not happy. I have to watch two guys wrestle for a World-team berth and I have to hang out now. You have to take your medicine.”
McDonough said he felt fine, wrestling at this weight for four years with the Hawkeyes. The scales might have topped around 150, but the drop well. His stamina appeared better, getting stronger as the matches progressed.
“That is the kind of wrestler I am,” McDonough said. “As the match wears on I feel better and better. I start to feel more comfortable, but it is something to take note of. I need to come out stronger in the beginning of matches.”
McDonough still has the option to compete a spot at 134 pounds, which will be contested in July at Fargo, N.D. He is uncertain of his next move and will consult his coaches about it.
“Obviously you want to take every opportunity to make the World team you can,” McDonough said. “With how I finished here, I don’t know.”
Former Waverly-Shell Rock state champion and Grand View national champ Eric Thompson competed in the 275-pound weight class. Thompson opened with an 11-9 victory over Connor Medbery before losing to top-seed Dom Bradley (9-5) and Jarod Trice (4-2).
The tournament provided a good measuring stick, as he heads to train at the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club in Pennsylvania.
“I don’t think it was a bad performance for me,” Thompson said. Obviously, you want to do better and win. That is the goal, but I think I outfought guys, wrestle hard.”
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