BTN to air documentary on Iowa wrestler Alex Marinelli and late Wisconsin wrestler Eli Stickley

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tragedy has fueled Iowa wrestler Alex Marinelli over the past 18 months.

The story behind the junior’s motivation will hit the big screen Sunday night.

Following Iowa’s dual against No. 6 Wisconsin, set for 7 p.m. on Big Ten Network, BTN will air a documentary highlighting the friendship of Marinelli and his late friend (and former Badger) Eli Stickley. It’s called “Alex & Eli,” part of The B1G Story series, and is scheduled to roll at 9 p.m.

“I’ve seen it,” Marinelli said this week. “I think what makes it so special is that you can cry through it, you can laugh, you can be motivated through the whole thing. I teared up, but it’s honestly moving, and I feel like it will move the whole country.

“People that see this on the Big Ten Network will be motivated and moved. Every time I’ve watched it, I’ve gotten chills. It’s keeping Eli’s light there. You never want to forget him.”

The Des Moines Register reported on Marinelli’s relationship with Stickley in a story last February. Stickley died in a car crash July 5, 2018. He was driving to Iowa City to surprise his twin sister, Moriah, to whom Marinelli was going to propose that weekend.

Stickley’s death continues to affect Marinelli. They grew up together in Ohio. Stickley was a year older and wrestled at Wisconsin. He qualified for the NCAA Championships in 2018 at 141 pounds. Marinelli opted for Iowa and is a two-time All-American at 165. Moriah also came to Iowa and is now the wrestling program’s director of operations.

The documentary dives into Eli Stickley and Marinelli's friendship, from their days at St. Paris Graham High School through their collegiate careers. It chronicles parts of Moriah and Marinelli’s wedding this past summer, as well as their reaction on the one-year anniversary of Stickley’s death.

Additionally, Todd and Hope Stickley, Moriah and Eli’s parents, and Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands all make appearances. Those who worked on the documentary are excited for others to see it, too.

“This might be my favorite story that I’ve told here, just because of the personal level at which I’ve gotten to know everybody,” Kevin Ritchie, a feature producer for BTN, told the Register. “When I showed the family the film, they were so grateful and appreciative. 

“I wish I had gotten to meet Eli, but I feel like I do know him just because of all the stories I’ve heard and the videos I’ve seen and the pictures. He made an impact on everybody he touched. Getting to know Eli without actually knowing him is what made this story, to me, my favorite.”

►'I WRESTLE FOR HIM': Iowa's Alex Marinelli motivated by the death of Eli Stickley

BTN offers a platform for wrestling that few broadcasting companies routinely match. It helps, too, that the conference is the nation’s best each year. Currently, five Big Ten schools are in the top 10 of Trackwrestling’s Division I poll, and eight are in the top 15.

Ritchie, with the help of senior coordinating producer Bill Friedman and senior managing editor John Castelli, believes this story will capture the attention of not just wrestling fans, but of the casual Big Ten sports fan and maybe even beyond.

“What makes this story particularly unique is that it is still happening,” Friedman said. “Being able to ride along, see their reactions, talk with them on the one-year anniversary of Eli’s passing, be at their wedding — that added a dimension that sometimes we don’t always get.

“Sunday’s going to be a really cool, a really powerful day. As long as Alex is at the University of Iowa and the Hawkeyes wrestle Wisconsin, there’s going to be added meaning to that dual.”

Friedman added that the documentary will air many times throughout the season, usually around some of the network’s premier duals. Many of those will feature the Hawkeyes, as the rest of their home schedule is slated to be on BTN.

It helps, too, that, on Sunday, Marinelli is expected to compete in one of the dual’s must-watch matches against Wisconsin junior Evan Wick, who’s also a two-time All-American. Marinelli is 3-1 against Wick during their college careers.

In last year’s dual, Marinelli needed a third-period reversal and a takedown in sudden victory to win 6-4. He got up and slapped the “ELI” portion of the word “bELIeve” that’s printed on Wisconsin’s home mat.

That clip is in the documentary.

“I think if we use my platform as a way to shine the light of Eli, that’s the motivation here,” Marinelli said. “I wanted it to be a five-hour documentary on Eli, because I don’t want it to be on me. But I want it to be something that is super special for him.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at

► Other previews for "Alex & Eli" can be found below: