First of all, this was no easy task. There have been so many extraordinary wrestlers over the last 20 years that there can be no totally objective list. I tried to be objective with my subjective perspective, guys that I like to watch. I did include some guys that I flat out don’t jive with but for the most part if I like their style or mental approach I give them the nod in any tie breaker. I tried not to have a recency bias but looking over my honorable mentions I think that there might be some. I included wrestlers that won their last championship after 1999. I’ve adjusted the honorable mention list several times as a looked up past results. I favored guys in the middle weights, tougher competition generally. Go ahead and pick it apart, you vultures…post comments.
Honorable mention (These guys deserve recognition, but didn’t make my top 10 and will likely get bumped in the next 5 years).
Chris Pendleton-Oklahoma State
2 x NCAA champion (2004, 2005) Best win: Ben Askren. The Askren killer.
Career Record: 118-12. 90% winning percentage.
2 x NCAA champion (1999, 2001).
Career Record: 98-1 99% winning percentage. 4 years at Iowa would have him higher on the list. A friend of mine wrestled against him in the Iowa room and never scored a point on him in practice.
Quentin Wright-Penn State
2x NCAA Champ 2011 & 2013 4 x All American
Career Record: 116-23 80% winning percentage. Finished 6,1,2,1.
No one gave him a chance against Kilgore. One of the biggest finals upsets in recent memory gets him the nod in a very crowded field. He might have the lowest winning percentage on the list but he was Aces in March.
2 x NCAA Champ 2015-2016 4 x All American, only the 16th wrestler to win 4 B1G titles. Best win Jason Nolf and Vincenzo Joseph.
Career Record:116-3. Finished 1, 1, 2, 2. 97.5% winning percentage.
2 x NCAA Champ 2015-206 4 x All American. Best win Ed Ruth.
Career Record: 152-7 finished 3, 1, 1, 2. 95% winning percentage.
I think he came up mentally smaller than Nickal in the finals and that’s made all the difference. One of my favorite wrestlers on this list.
Jordan Oliver-Okie State
2 x NCAA Champ 2011 & 2013. 4x All American. Best win Tyler Graff.
Career Record: 126-6. 95% Career winning percentage.
NCAA finishes 4, 1, 2, 1.
Robbed of a third championship by poor reffing.
Joey Davis-Notre Dame
4 x D2 Champ
Career Record: 133-0. I can hear the comments now but I think that if Joey was at Okie or Penn State he would have been at least a 2-time champ.
David Taylor-Penn State
2x NCAA Champ 2012, 2014 Best win Derek St. John. 4 x finalist. Highest bonus rate on this list. Top 5 all time NCAA Championships team points scored.
Career Record: 134-3. 98% winning percentage. I replay matches in my mind 30 years later. I wonder if he still thinks about the Jenkins match? He helped build PSU into the national powerhouse that it remains. A wrestling ambassador, while still in college. He might not have been the first but he helped bring the wide open style into vogue.
2 x NCAA champion (2008, 2010) 4 x All American. Best win Jordan Burroughs.
Career Record: 108-3 97.5 winning percentage.
The last of the truly dominant Iowa style wrestlers. The most physical wrestler of his time.
2 x NCAA champion (2007, 2009) Best win: Mike Pucillo this win gives him the edge over Varner, who lost to Pucillo.
Career Record: 149-4 97.5% winning percentage.
Another great ambassador for the sport.
2 x NCAA champion (2006, 2007) 4 x All American.
Career Record: 153-8
Askren may be the most influential wrestler on this list. His funky style messed up a generation of wrestlers that tried to copy this physical freak and couldn’t, but his scrambles have changed the sport forever.
So if you have problems with my honorable mentions maybe you should stop reading now. After compiling my top ten one thing is very clear. The cream of the crop wrestlers coming out of high school is getting better and better. This list is going to be shaken up quite a bit if Penn State stays on track, Nolf, Nickal and Joseph could be considered soon. And Yianni and Spencer have lots still to prove but look to be in contention as well. Seriously half of the current top ten could be honorable mention within a few years. Crazy. Can you imagine in 2021 “Captain America” and “Spartacus” Retherford might not be considered top 10 since 2000? 7 Universities are represented in the top 10. The thing that jumped out to me is that I didn’t have an Iowa wrestler on this list. It’s good that all these schools still have wrestling. Fresno State was in contention for two wrestlers on the overall list. Steven Neal just missed out on honorable mention. The possible future challenge to this type of list is how to prioritize the 3 and 4-time champs. I went with NCAA points and strength of competition whereas some might just go with placement. One thing is clear, we are in a golden era for high end college talent. If this group was a dual team I think that they’d destroy the best dual team that you could put together of guys from other eras and I’m not a guy that generally thinks that way about other sports and fantasy match ups.
- J’ Den Cox-Missouri
3x NCAA Champ, 2015-2017 4 x All American. Best win Morgan McIntosh.
Career record: 136-5. 96.5% winning percentage Finished 1,5,1,1.
- Alex Dieringer-Okie State
3 x NCAA Champ 2014-2016. 4 x All American. Best win- Bo & Isaac Jordan.
Career record: 133-4 97% winning percentage. Finished 3,1,1,1. I don’t think Alex’s best wins match up with higher ranked guys. Scored more team points at NCAA’s than Jones and Abas but the competition level was as stiff for RInger.
- Greg Jones- West Virginia
3 x NCAA champion 2002, 2004, 2005. Best win Ben Heizer, Greg Parker
Career Record: 126-4. 97% winning percentage. Going into this I thought that I’d have Jones higher. Finishes DNP,1,1,1.
- Stephen Abas- Fresno State
NCAA Finishes: 3 x NCAA champion (1999, 2001, 2002) Best win: Luke Eustice, Jody Strittmatter, Jeremy Hunter.
Career Record: 144-4. Winning percentage 97%. Abas is ahead of Jones based on his wins. Behind Retherford based on weight class competition and bonus rate.
- Kyle Snyder– Ohio State
3 x NCAA Champ 2015-2018 4 x All American. Best wins Nick Gwiazdowski
and Adam Coon.
Career record: 80-5. 94% winning percentage. Finishes:2,1,1,1.
Behind Ruth and Retherford due to number of matches, winning percentage, bonus rate and team points scored at Nationals against a generally weaker weight class. The win over Gwiz might be better than any single win that Retherford has but I’m looking at the entire college career. Based on NCAA finishes Snyder could be #3 or #4 on the list but Retherford and Ruth scored more team points at NCAA’s. He also had a loss to Coon his senior season. I have Coon and Sorenson as equivalent wrestlers. I moved 4, 5 and 6 a few times before settling on this order. He’s in contention for being the best American wrestler ever but when I look at his college career…
- Zain Retherford-Penn State
3x NCAA Champ. 2015-2018. Best win Logan Stieber, Brandon Sorenson
Career record: 126-3 Nearly 98% winning percentage. Finished 5,1,1,1. Retherford didn’t have the competition that Ruth faced. That isn’t his fault but also led me to rank him behind Ruth. Bonus rate, points scored at nationals and overall winning percentage put him in the top 5.
Career 53 falls and 42 TF’s & majors wins.
4.Ed Ruth-Penn State
3x NCAA Champ 2012,2013,2014 4 x All American. Best win: Gabe Dean
Career Record: 136-3 Nearly a 98% winning percentage. I have Ruth ahead of Retherford because of his 3,1,1,1 NCAA placements and slightly higher winning and bonus percentage and scored one more team point than Zain at Nationals but Ruth also had a loss his senior season to Dean. Career 46 falls and 58 TF’s & majors wins.
- Logan Stieber– Ohio State
4x NCAA Champ 2012-2015 Best Wins Jordan Oliver (I thought Oliver had the takedown), Tony Ramos, Zain Retherford- Wins over at least 3 national champions. Scored more team points at Nationals than Dake.
Career Record:119-3, 97.5% winning percentage. Career 50 falls and 46 TF’s & majors wins. 80% bonus rate.
Stieber’s dominance helped Ohio State become a National powerhouse and showed top Ohio high school kids they could stay in state and become monsters unlike previous generations.
- Kyle Dake- Cornell
4x NCAA Champ 2010-2013 Best win-David Taylor, Frank Molinaro
Career Record:137-4, 97% winning percentage. Some have Stieber over Dake due to bonus rate. Its true that Dake has a lower bonus rate and points at nationals than Stieber but is the only one to win all titles at different weight classes. This is unique in a similar fashion as Sanderson. Career 44 falls and 39 TF’s & majors wins.
- Cael Sanderson– Iowa State
4 x NCAA champion (1999-2002) Best Win John Trenge and Daniel Cormier
Career Record: 159-0 100% winning percentage. Career 61 falls. I couldn’t find other bonus wins info. Competed in two different weight classes. Doesn’t have the highest bonus rate in the top 5 but he’s the only undefeated 4-time champ and scored the most NCAA team points in history. One of the highest match totals on the list. May not have had the toughest competition, but the discipline to be focused each and every time is unmatched.
Another way to look at it. Here are the top 20 point scores at the NCAA Tournament
- Cael Sanderson- ISU-107.5
- Logan Stieber- Ohio State- 103.5
- David Taylor- PSU- 99
- Ed Ruth- PSU- 94.5
- Zain Retherford-PSU- 93.5
- Kyle Dake- Cornell- 93
- Alex Dieringer- Okie State- 93
- Jake Herbert- NW- 90
- Kyle Snyder-Ohio State- 89
- Ben Askren-Mizzou- 89
- Mark Perry- Iowa- 87.5
- Jake Rosholt- Okie State- 85
- Steve Mocco- Okie State- 85
- Jordan Oliver- Okie State- 83.5
- Isaiah Martinez- Illinois- 82.5
- Stephen Abas- Fresno State- 82
- Johnny Hendricks- Okie State- 82
- Jake Varner- ISU- 82
- J’Den Cox- Missouri- 80.5
- Troy Nickerson- Cornell- 70