The University of Iowa and Oklahoma State University are two of the most prestigious college wrestling programs in the country.
They almost always produce entertaining and memorable moments when they take the mat against each other. The 47th installment of the rivalry promises more intriguing matchups.
Highly-ranked foes, a battle between former Iowa preps and two teams ranked in the top-four highlight Sunday's dual between fourth-ranked Iowa and No. 2 Oklahoma State at Stillwater, Okla., beginning at 2 p.m. Last year, the Cowboys snapped the Hawkeyes' 84-dual unbeaten streak with a 17-16 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, receiving a point on criteria. The teams tied, 15-15, their last meeting at Oklahoma State in 2011.
The Cowboys (7-0) own a 26-18-2 advantage in the series, including a 12-6-2 mark at home. The two programs have combined for 57 NCAA team titles, including 23 from Iowa, and both will be serious contenders for another this season with a handful of other teams.
"It's the two most storied programs in the history of college wrestling and tradition has been maintained," said Iowa Coach Tom Brands, whose Hawkeyes are 12-0 in duals, including four wins against ranked teams. "It's not like we're talking a decade ago or two decades ago and we're not just going to do it for you know what and giggles."
In a dual stock with potentially exciting bouts, the 174-pound match between top-ranked Chris Perry and Iowa's Mike Evans could be a match the team score teeters on. Perry is 17-0 and Evans, ranked as high as fourth, improved to 9-0 with a win over Ohio State's second-ranked Nick Heflin and a pin over a Purdue foe last weekend. It's one of seven matches with two ranked wrestlers.
Evans embraces the continuous challenges. Better to have them now and learn from them than face them for the first time in the postseason.
"Yeah, I've got momentum right now," Evans said. "All the guys on the team probably like it because if they have a mess up here or there or slip up on a banana peel they get a chance to right the wrong. It's not like you mess up in March you have to wait a whole other year to have another crack at it. You have another week."
Brands said Evans relishes the opportunity with a chance to make it an "entertaining" match that ends in his favor. Heflin's skills contrast with what Perry presents.
"They're vastly different opponents," Brands said. "One guy is real explosive with a couple things he does well and waits to wrest;e his match and slow things down a little bit. The other guy is extremely dangerous and we have to be on our toes for both types of opponents."
Perry is one of four wrestlers ranked first at their respective weight, joining teammate Jordan Oliver (149) and Iowa's 125-pounder Matt McDonough and Derek St. John at 157. For an upset, Evans' approach is simple.
"Making progress," Evans said, "doing what I need to be doing. That's about it."
The 141-pound match is one of the more notable bouts, despite being of one of three without two rated competitors. It will pit two former Iowa preps against each other. Iowa's Mark Ballweg, ranked ninth, was a three-time state champion at Waverly-Shell Rock, while the Cowboys' Julian Feikert (15-8) is from Keokuk.
No additional bragging rights are on the line for Ballweg, who is 11-1 this season.
"I don't think anything really changes," Ballweg said. "You just have to stick to your game plan, and go down there and wrestle. You just have to stick with what you're doing and keep your routine."
Ballweg said the pair wrestled in a freestyle match in high school, but didn't remember specifics. The past doesn't impact Sunday.
"It's a long time ago," Ballweg said. "It doesn't matter."
Ballweg made a key contribution in 2011, scoring a decision against Josh Kindig, helping Iowa preserve a tie on the road. it gives him an edge, being successful in a hostile atmosphere with rowdy fans.
"I think the experience helps," said Ballweg, noting he benefits from wrestling in big arenas with big crowds in the past. "It's a good environment. It's always fun to wrestle down there, so it's exciting . I'm looking forward to it."
The Hawkeyes are no strangers to fans intensely rooting against them. They often play the role of "bad guy" in the eyes of opponents during competition. That likely multiplies in a top rival's venue.
"You have to be used to people hating you," Evans said. "It adds to the win, if you get it."
The rivalry is important to keep intact, and is prominent on college wrestling's landscape. It's even more essential to come out on top.
"(We) want to bury them," Evans said. "Leave no stones unturned."
It will take the Hawkeyes' most complete effort of the season. Bonus points will be as necessary as preventing them for the opposition.
Other top matchups include, Iowa's No. 2 Tony Ramos and fifth-ranked Jon Morrison at 133, St. John vs. No. 9 Alex Dieringer, Oklahoma State's third-ranked Alan Gelogaev and No. 7 Bobby Telford at heavyweight and the 184-pound match between Iowa's No. 10 Ethen Lofthouse and 15th-ranked Chris Chionuma.
"Every year we get asked how important this dual is and every year it's the same thing," said McDonough, a two-time NCAA champion and three-time national finalist expected to wrestle unranked freshman Eddie Klimara. "It's an important dual and I think the history book says it all. The fact there's been a rivalry there and there's a lot of hardware between the two teams and two coaches and however many wrestlers that are extremely competitive creates quite a dual."