What’s in a walk-out song? A look at the pre-match music choices for Iowa wrestlers

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

Earlier this week, Alex Marinelli posted a picture on Instagram of him standing on the floor of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He looks like he’s about to remove his shirt and wrestle a match, and his caption matched the tone.

“Hey Siri,” Marinelli wrote, “play 'Drago’s Entrance' by Vince DiCola.”

“'Rocky IV,' when he comes out, that’s what’s playing,” Marinelli later told Hawk Central this week. “That’s my patented walk-out song.”

The top-ranked Hawkeye wrestlers return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena this Friday for their season-opening dual against No. 21 Princeton. As many as 14,905 fans — Carver’s full wrestling capacity — will be in attendance for the match.

Iowa sold out its available season tickets two weeks ago. The home meets against No. 2 Penn State, on Jan. 28, and No. 8 Minnesota, on Jan. 7, completely sold-out. Quick math says 89,430 fans could watch the Hawkeyes at their six home meets this season.

Put simply: fans are excited to watch wrestling — specifically, Iowa wrestling — in-person again.

“That’s exciting,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “It’s no secret that our fans are hungry for competition — and not just in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but everywhere we’re going to go. Florida. Arlington, Texas. Ames, Iowa. Everywhere we go.”

The wrestlers are excited, too. A packed wrestling crowd inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena is one of the sport’s most thrilling atmospheres. They hope their performance on the mat will leave a lasting, memorable impression.

More:Iowa wrestling's Alex Marinelli tops Patrick Kennedy, Jesse Ybarra wrestles attached at Luther Open

Their first impression, however, will be whatever song plays over Carver’s loud speaker when they run from the tunnel in the north corner to the center mat on the floor.

Yes, a wrestler’s walk-out song is a matter of great importance — for some more than others, to be sure. It gives each competitor a chance to showcase their personality before wrestling in front of the home crowd. Each selection is as unique as the wrestler.

Take, for example, Marinelli’s choice of “Drago’s Entrance,” which he’s used throughout his Iowa career. In the movie, the song blares as Ivan Drago enters an arena full of fans in full-throated supportive screams as he walks to the ring.

“I think it’s B-A,” Marinelli said. “Obviously he’s the Russian, but it’s still pretty cool. It’s pretty intense. Works well with the fire and the smoke.”

A playlist of walk-out songs by the current Iowa wrestling team would feature a variety of genres.

Max Murin, one of the many Pennsylvania natives and outspoken Mac Miller fan, has chosen the Vanilla Ice classic “Ice Ice Baby” over the years. Michael Kemerer, who’s nickname is ‘Kem Dog’ — or ‘Kem Daughg,’ which is how he spells it on his social media profiles — normally opts for the Baha Men classic, “Who Let The Dogs Out?”

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Abe Assad’s choice is “Iron Man,” by Black Sabbath. There’s a story here. He loves the superhero made famous by Robert Downey Jr., but it was also a song that he and his dad, Rick, often listen to while driving to youth wrestling tournaments.

“My dad and I always used to listen to that song,” Assad said. “After I got my redshirt pulled, we were on the team bus coming back from Indiana and I was trying to think of songs. I texted one of my buddies who’s big into music, and he sent me that.

“It was perfect. It was kind of a team effort picking that song, but I’m sticking with it.”

Other song choices have sparked laughter. Nelson Brands ran out to Kesha’s “We R Who We R” last season, which led to Tom Brands revealing that he, too, is a Kesha fan. Jacob Warner chose Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls,” which has led to many quips on social media.

Iowa's Jaydin Eierman listens to music before a NCAA Hawkeyes men's wrestling intrasquad match, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Spencer Lee became even more of a generational fan favorite when he ran out to the Pokémon Theme Song during the finals of the 2018 NCAA Championships in Cleveland. Tony Cassioppi also said he ran out to the same song in high school. The opening lyrics make sense, since they want to be the very best, like no one ever was.

“People may think it’s a joke and laugh while I run out to it,” Lee said in 2018. “That stuff fires me up. That’s like my childhood right there.”

When at Carver, Lee normally chooses Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and the crowd normally obliges by clapping along with the intro as Lee runs from the tunnel to the mat. It’s something a small tradition since he’s usually the first match each meet.

“You’ve got guys like Spencer who have the same song their whole careers,” Assad said. “Then (Kaleb Young), I think he’s changed his walk-out song like 12 times I think.”

The last known song Young ran out to during a home meet was the theme song from the 1966 Sergio Leone film “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” starring Clint Eastwood.

“Then there’s (All-American 133-pounder Austin DeSanto),” Assad continued. “I don’t even think he picked his walk-out song, I think someone else picked it for him.” (His last known walk-out song: “Wild Thing,” by X.)

More:Iowa wrestling's Abe Assad, Alex Marinelli, Patrick Kennedy impress in intrasquad matches

Iowa's Max Murin runs out to the mat for introductions during a NCAA Big Ten Conference wrestling dual, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Iowa wrestlers have chosen some memorable walk-out songs over the years. Bobby Telford, now an assistant coach with the Hawkeyes, chose the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” because it helped calm him down before his matches. Brody Grothus liked Katy Perry’s “Roar.” Jeremiah Moody ran out to Three Dog Night’s “Joy To The World.”

Tony Ramos loved “Run This Town,” by Jay-Z, Rihanna and Kanye West, because he wanted to remind people who was in charge. Pat Lugo chose Kodak Black’s “Tunnel Vision,” because he loved the chorus. And who can forget The Tokens’ classic tune “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” as Grant Gambrall ran out to the mat?

Against Princeton, some new faces could represent the Hawkeyes, adding to the growing walk-out song library. Jesse Ybarra is slated to wrestle at 125 pounds. He’s previously wrestled in Carver before, at FloWrestling’s Who’s Number One event in 2019. He ran out to Lil Baby’s “Freestyle” that night — and then won a thriller, 3-1.

Zach Glazier is listed as a possible option at 197 pounds. He did not divulge his pre-match music information earlier this week, but he did admit to giving the decision considerable thought.

“I want it to set me apart so people remember me,” Glazier said. “Obviously it’s something I like, but also something that’s a little popular, too.”

What about a hint?

Glazier smirked. Nope. 

“You’ll see when it happens,” he added. “I don’t want to give it away, but I like it. I think it’s good.”

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