IOWA CITY — Alex Marinelli remembered being spit on by opponents.
He was just 4 and kids had no other response to the way he manhandled them on the mat.
At an early age, Marinelli demonstrated the traits that eventually earned him “The Bull” nickname for his physical, powerful and aggressive style.
“They just spit on me,” Marinelli said with a laugh. “I was on the mat, riding the dude, and he didn’t know what to do, so it’s bite or spit. When you’re 4 years old, that’s it.”
Marinelli has mauled foes ever since, proving the moniker assigned to him before he became a two-time All-American for the University of Iowa. The fifth-ranked 165-pound junior will rely on that approach against Wisconsin’s No. 2 Evan Wick when the top-ranked Hawkeyes host the No. 6 Badgers Sunday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, beginning at 7.
“This is a big match,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “He’s probably had it highlighted on his calendar.”
The four-time Ohio state champion was called “Bull” by Jeff Jordan while attending his camps. He embraced it, leading to 200 victories as a prep and 48-8 career college record.
“It’s something that’s in me,” said Marinelli, who has focused on his ability to re-attack off opponents’ attempts. “It’s how I wrestle, so if I wrestle like a bull then that’s how I have to wrestle every single time. If that’s what is winning then I have to keep doing that.”
Sure, the in-your-face, forward-pressing attack can be taught, but Marinelli has always been wired that way. He said it emerged during those early years on the mat and was enhanced in other sports, playing middle linebacker and running back on the gridiron.
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“That’s what I love to do,” Marinelli said. “It’s pretty much the same.”
Brands said the reigning Big Ten 165-pound champion is at his best when he is constantly moving his feet and heavy hands, looking to score. Marinelli has worn down opponents with his brand of wrestling, increasing his leads late in matches.
“High energy,” Brands said of Marinelli’s style. “He can come at you a lot of different ways. Very physical with his hands. He can get underneath you. He can pull you underneath him. Wears on guys and then he’s trying to pin you the whole time on top. Guys carry his weight the whole time.”
Despite 22 points in his opening two matches, Marinelli (2-0) hasn’t produced his normal bonus points that resulted in 15 pins, three technical falls and five major decisions the last two seasons.
“I could do a lot better,” Marinelli said. “Tom, Terry (Brands), (Ryan) Morningstar, all the coaching staff and (Bobby) Telford, they just know I have a lot more to give. Just got to impose my will on my opponent. Go out there and dominate.”
Wick will be his toughest challenge of the early season. The pair have wrestled four times in college. Wick won the first during the 2018 NCAA Championships, while Marinelli swept three meetings last year by a total of four points, including one in overtime.
“When I score a couple points early, I’ve had tendencies of not scoring late in the match,” Marinelli said. “I’ve got to keep scoring, whether that’s on bottom, score the next point on top, work for a turn and on my feet just keep scoring — double-legs, single-legs — whatever I have to do.”
The dual could also feature Wisconsin’s top-ranked Seth Gross, a former Hawkeye and South Dakota State NCAA champ, and No. 2 Austin DeSanto at 133. Three other ranked matchups could materialize. Currently, Iowa’s Max Murin is 10th at 141, while Tristan Moran is 11th. Pat Lugo is third at 149 for the Hawkeyes and is slated to wrestle No. 22 Cole Martin. At heavyweight, Wisconsin’s third-ranked Trent Hillger will take on No. 12 Tony Cassioppi.
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“They’re coming to Iowa City and they’re going to be loaded for bear,” Brands said of the 6-0 Badgers. “They’re excited.
“We have to be ready to go.”
Alex and Eli
After the dual between Iowa and Wisconsin, BTN will air a documentary about the relationship of Marinelli and the late Eli Stickley, who wrestled at Wisconsin and is the twin brother of Iowa Director of Wrestling Operations and Alex’s wife, Moriah Marinelli.
Sitckley was driving to Iowa City to attend a surprise engagement between the Marinellis when his car left the road and flipped when he attempted to return to the road. The accident killed Stickley and injured his girlfriend. The Marinellis were married a year after Stickley’s death.
Alex said he received a sneak peek of the almost hourlong video. He has watched it twice.
“It’s awesome,” Marinelli said. “It’s very well put together.
“I think what makes it so special is that you can cry through it, you can laugh and be motivated through the whole thing. Certainly, I teared up. I’m an emotional guy like Moriah says in it. It’s honestly moving and it will move the whole country I feel like. It’s keeping Eli’s light there. You never want to forget him.”
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