Hamilton: Trials blowup uncharacteristic of Ramos
Here's a little story about Tony Ramos.
Three years ago, the former Iowa wrestling great lost a controversial match in the NCAA finals that left coach Tom Brands so steamed he wouldn’t discuss it afterward with the media. Twitter and Facebook blew up with still photos and video replays of Ramos putting Ohio State’s Logan Stieber on his back for a couple seconds in the 133-pound national championship bout without scoring near-fall points.
We’ll never know how the match would’ve played out if the call went in Ramos' favor, but Stieber won a 7-4 decision, and that’s beside the point.
Ramos manned up and stood in front of the cameras, microphones and voice recorders after one of the most difficult defeats of his college career. Good, bad or indifferent throughout his days with the Hawkeyes and into his post-collegiate career, Ramos showed up and took on the tough questions.
He took ownership of the loss that night to Stieber and deflected none of the blame. Others wanted to talk about the questionable call, but Ramos wouldn’t have any of that. He put responsibility for the loss solely on his shoulders.
Ramos was gracious in defeat that night, too. He stood beside Stieber when a young boy asked to have his picture taken with both of the contestants in the 133-pound title match. He referred to his Ohio State rival as one of the world’s best wrestlers and spoke of the battles they might have for years to come.
This was Tony Ramos at his best. Honest and accountable. Colorful and confident.
This is the Tony Ramos I’ve known since I first interviewed him on a September afternoon eight years ago when he was a 17-year-old high school senior who had just given his pledge to the Hawkeyes and seemed ready to take on the world.
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Ramos told me that day that he turned down full-ride scholarships to accept half as much to wrestle at Iowa. The money didn’t matter then. Neither did the depth chart.
The Hawkeyes had a stockpile of lightweights on the roster and Olympians Doug Schwab and Mike Zadick training in their practice room. Ramos viewed it as an opportunity to sharpen his skills.
“I’m not going to be scared of anyone,” he said. “I’m going to take Doug Schwab and Mike Zadick, and I’m going to go after them, I’m not going to back down. If I do what I want to do, I’m going to get the starting spot, I don’t care who’s there.”
All this is worth mentioning after a Ramos blowup Sunday night in the wake of his loss to former college teammate Daniel Dennis in the finals of the Olympic Trials.
Ramos said he was “lied to a couple times” and felt stabbed in the back by Iowa’s staff and its management of the two top 125.5-pounders. He took exception to the way the coaches were deployed for the championship series. Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands stood on Ramos’ side, Hawkeye Wrestling Club aide Mike Duroe cornered Dennis and Tom Brands and assistant Ryan Morningstar sat in chairs behind the officials’ bench.
“I don’t think there was one person inside this program, other than Terry Brands, who wanted to see me win,” Ramos said two hours after the completion of the championship series.
Ramos said the Iowa coaches should’ve never brought back Dennis, who rekindled his career last spring after leaving Iowa City three years ago when he thought his competitive career was over.
“Would you be OK with someone coming back if you were the top guy and you had the top coaches working with you and they’re bringing a guy in at your weight class who you know you’re going to compete with in the finals?” Ramos shot back when I asked him why he had a problem with Dennis returning to Iowa.
Here’s the thing: If deep down inside I believe I’m the baddest dude around, I don’t care. Bring in No. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the ladder. That was the Ramos approach eight years ago.
Besides, if you’re following the marching orders of the Iowa program, it’s not about being the best wrestler in the practice room or even the country, anyway. It’s about ruling the world.
“It does heighten their training,” Terry Brands told Flowrestling in January when Ramos and Dennis competed at the Yarygin Memorial in Russia. “I don’t think there’s an elephant in the room, as some people think. It’s certainly a healthy thing if both of them are approaching it the same way.
“If one is (apprehensive), there is going to be that nag in the back of your mind that’s dangerous, and that’s what you don’t want. You want to eliminate that and you want to be feeling good. I walk into the room and I see what my opponent is doing every day and I’m doing more. If it’s me.”
Facilities are the central fixture in college football’s arms race. In college wrestling, it’s all about the Olympic hopefuls in your practice room. The height of Iowa’s dominance coincided with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club’s best run of international success.
The Brands brothers sharpened their skills against Olympic medalists Randy Lewis and Barry Davis. It wasn’t unusual to have multiple Hawkeyes competing side-by-side against guys eyeing the same prize.
In 2009, then-Iowa strength coach Jared Frayer revived his competitive career while training alongside Schwab and Brent Metcalf. Frayer and Metcalf ultimately clashed in consecutive years with World and Olympic Team spots riding on the outcome.
Ramos has dealt with a similar dynamic in recent years when he trained beside college teammate Matt McDonough. Asked how the Dennis situation was different, Ramos said: “McDonough was here, he didn’t leave. McDonough wasn’t on his way out. They didn’t have to go beg McDonough to come back.”
But Dennis was also a Hawkeye who spilled his sweat on the mats of the Iowa practice room for eight years — five in college and three more helping undergrads like Ramos. That should’ve earned him the right to come back and chase his Olympic dreams after his body and mind healed during a two-year break.
Look, I don’t know the details of who promised what behind the closed doors of the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. But I know the talk of the wrestling world now revolves around Ramos and his five-minute turn at the podium inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. And that’s a shame.
It was the biggest moment of a teammate’s competitive career and the spotlight turned to Ramos. The two-time World Team member said he thinks it’s time for him to leave the Iowa program and he stood by his comments on Monday.
Some will remember him for his 2014 NCAA title and the ear-splitting roars he produced inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Some will remember the mud-slinging exit. And that’s a shame, too.