Inside the 'Bout at the Ballpark,' featuring Iowa and Oklahoma State wrestling at Globe Life Field
The two teams that clashed in the Grapple on the Gridiron are going to run it back — only instead of a football field, the Iowa and Oklahoma State wrestling programs are going to compete at Major League Baseball’s brand new ballpark.
Yes, the top-ranked Hawkeyes and fourth-ranked Cowboys are headed to Globe Life Field, the billon-dollar home of the Texas Rangers. The dual is set for Feb. 12, 2022 at 6:30 p.m. and will actually feature two separate wrestling contests:
- Iowa vs. Oklahoma State, in a college folkstyle dual
- USA vs. Iran, in a men’s freestyle competition
The event has been dubbed, “Bout at the Ballpark,” and was formally announced Tuesday by Sean Decker, president of REV Entertainment. It will be the first international sporting contest at Globe Life Field.
“We are proud to have the opportunity to host a competition that celebrates four of the most iconic brands in the sport of wrestling,” Decker said during a press conference on Tuesday.
The mats will be on raised stages between the mound and second base. It will be broadcast by Flowrestling. More than 27,000 tickets are available starting Thursday morning. There will be floor seating behind second base.
It will be a unique showcase for wrestling, featuring the sport’s two most historic brands, not unlike Iowa's Grapple on the Gridiron in 2015. The Hawkeyes beat Oklahoma State, 18-16, inside Kinnick Stadium on that November afternoon with a record crowd of 42,287 in attendance.
“There’s great partnership here with two titan, historic programs that are very relevant today, fighting for the same accolades,” Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands said. “When you get invited to something like this, you show up. It’s about competing at the highest level.”
Wrestling has blossomed in numerous ways in the years since, which caught Decker’s attention. He has been the Executive Vice President of Sports & Entertainment for the Texas Rangers since 2020 — the same year Globe Life Field opened.
It just so happened that the NCAA Wrestling Championships were scheduled to be at U.S. Bank Stadium that March, the first time ever the tournament would be held in an NFL stadium. The COVID-19 pandemic forced its cancellation, but as many as 45,000 tickets were made available, which would’ve shattered attendance records.
Before the pandemic, the NCAA Wrestling Championships had sold out every year since 2010, which piqued Decker’s interest. He ultimately wants to bring the tournament to Globe Life Field.
“We circled that as something that would make sense for us,” Decker said. “That’s at the top of our list … (Bout at the Ballpark) is really an opportunity for us to show how big wrestling is here in Texas, and get back into that conversation for future years.
“We want this to be a huge celebration of the sport. That was the initial thought.”
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Globe Life Field has hosted many events since opening — Rangers games, concerts, graduations, and even a football game later this fall. It’s also hosted college baseball games, too, including one last March between Oklahoma State and Louisiana-Monroe.
Decker has long been close friends with Chad Weiberg, Oklahoma State’s athletic director. The two often share their big ideas. Weiberg joined Oklahoma State as the deputy athletic director in 2017, and became the athletic director last July.
Part of Weiberg’s role as the deputy athletic director was improving Oklahoma State's gameday experience. He played a role in adding the new video board at Boone Pickens Stadium, one of the largest of its kind. (It’s also been used to try and distract kickers during field-goal attempts.)
Weiberg often likes to think outside the box. He called Decker with the idea of hosting a wrestling dual at Globe Life FIeld. In 2020, Arizona State hosted Iowa State, Harvard and Campbell at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cowboys are also opening the ’21-22 season against Stanford at Sanford Stadium on Nov. 13.
Could they do something similar in Texas?
“It started just as an idea,” Weiberg said. “I wasn’t sure if it would go anywhere.”
Decker liked the idea. Wrestling has grown significantly in Texas, despite no Division I program in the state. Many talented wrestlers have come from Texas, like Bo Nickal, a three-time NCAA champion; Tamyra Mensah-Stock, an Olympic gold medalist in Tokyo; and, of course, AJ Ferrari, a national champ a year ago for Oklahoma State.
So Decker got Rich Bender, USA Wrestling’s executive director, on the phone. The idea turned from a series of college duals to one mega college dual and another featuring the best the United States had to offer to try to capitalize on the sport’s growing popularity.
Last August, USA Wrestling won nine medals at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the most ever in a non-boycotted games. They followed by winning 15 medals at the 2021 world championships earlier this month, including seven by the men’s freestyle team, which took second in the team race — one spot ahead of Iran, which also won seven medals.
“Wrestling transcends politics, and nothing shows that better than the friendly rivalry between USA Wrestling and the Iranian Wrestling Federation,” Bender said, adding that he believes “it will be our number ones against their number ones.”
“These are two of the best freestyle wrestling nations in the world,” Bender continued. “We are grateful that Team USA is getting an opportunity to measure ourselves against some of the best athletes in the sport.”
All the while, Weiberg talked Oklahoma State coach John Smith into the idea. Smith wasn’t so sure at first, but a trip to Globe Life Field over the summer erased any suspicions.
“As I really focused on it, it made a lot of sense,” Smith said. “It’s something much more than just a dual meet. It’s going to give us an opportunity to showcase college wrestling … it became real easy for me to say, yes, we need to do this.
“It was nice to have my athletic director fully behind it, too, saying that if we wanted to do it, let’s go for it.”
But they still needed a willing partner to go in with.
Who else but Tom Brands and the Iowa Hawkeyes?
“When we called John Smith for something that was a little outside the box (back in November 2015), there was no hesitation,” Brands said, “so when John Smith called for this, there was no hesitation.”
All of it led to Tuesday’s announcement. Iowa is the defending national champions and the No. 1-ranked team in InterMat’s preseason poll. Oklahoma State took third a year ago, and is InterMat’s No. 4-ranked team entering the ’21-22 season.
“My imagination goes to what we’re going to be up against,” Brands continued. “That’s first and foremost, but what a great thing to be a part of. The hope is to always grow the sport. The hope is to go and showcase the sport at the highest level.
“It’s also a global event at an unbelievable facility. I haven’t been there, but a billion dollars buys you awesomeness.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.