First of all, this was no easy task. I choose this time frame because I consider it the same wrestling era. Out of era comparisons are even more subjective that I didn’t go there. There have been so many extraordinary wrestlers over the last 20 years that didn’t wrestle each other there can be no totally objective list. I tried to be objective with my subjective perspective, guys that I liked to watch. 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. Also, I didn’t give credit to the 2020 missed Championships. Vecenzo Joseph could have been a 3 time champ but didn’t get the opportunity. Go ahead and pick it apart,.
Honorable mention (These guys deserve recognition, but didn’t make my top 10 and will likely get bumped in the next 5 years).
Jordan Burroughs, Nebraska
2x NCAA Champ (2009, 2011) 3x AA & Big 12 Champ. 2009, 2009, 2011. 2011 Hodge Winner.
Career Record 128-20 86.5% winning percentage. He is 3rd on my mens freestyle list.
Chris Pendleton-Oklahoma State
2 x NCAA champion (2004, 2005) 3 x All American & Big 12 Champ. Best win: Ben Askren. The Askren killer. Leader of the OSU title winning teams.
Career Record: 118-12. 90% winning percentage.
2 x NCAA champion 3x B1G Champ (1999, 2001). TJ holds the Hawkeye record for career winning percentage 99.9% winning percentage. Only D1 loss was to Boise State’s Larry Quisel. Lassen Jr college 1997-2nd place. A friend of mine wrestled against him in the Iowa room and never sniffed a point on him in practice.
Career Record: 98-1
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. 95.6% winning percentage. 63.75% bonus rate.
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-Oklahoma 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 in his finals match versus Stieber.
Joey Davis-Notre Dame
4 x D2 Champ
Career Record: 133-0. I can hear the comments now “a D2 guy”, but I think that if Joey was at a power program that he would have been at least a 2-time champ. My only what if on the list
2 x NCAA champion (2008, 2010) 3 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. 1 x Hodge winner. Would have been a 4 x AA if the VT hadn’t punished him for transferring to Iowa with Tom Brands.
2 x NCAA champion (2007, 2009) Best win: Mike Pucillo this win gives him the edge over Varner, who lost to Pucillo. 1 x Hodge winner.
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. 2 x Hodge winner.
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. 2 x Hodge. 3rd highest NCAA team point scorer on this list.
Career Record: 134-3. 97.8% winning percentage. Tied for first in PSU history. 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 exciting style into vogue. Making him one of the most transformational wrestlers on the list.
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 could be shaken up quite a bit more if Yianni, Joeseph, Spencer or Lewis have anything to say about it. 2 of top ten were moved to honorable mention in 2019. 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 getting jammed with Cael Sanderson disciples but that pipeline looks a bit dry right now.
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.
12. 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 54% bonus rate. Finished 1,5,1,1. 2nd fewest NCAA tournament points scored on the list
11. Alex Dieringer-Oklahoma State
3 x NCAA Champ 2014-2016. 4 x All American. Best win- Bo & Isaac Jordan.
Career record: 133-4 97% winning percentage. Bonus rate 68% 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 wasn’t as stiff for RInger. 1 x Hodge winner.
10. 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 1, DNP,1, 1. Fewest NCAA tournament points scored of the top 12.
9. Stephen Abas- Fresno State
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.
8 . Kyle Snyder– Ohio State
3 x NCAA Champ 2015-2018 4 x All American. Best wins Nick Gwiazdowski, J’Den Cox
and Adam Coon.
Career record: 75-5. 93.75% winning percentage and a 64% bonus rate. Finishes:2,1,1,1. Lowest winning percentage of anyone in the top 10.
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 the top 8 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…he’s not at the top.
7 . Zain Retherford-Penn State
3x NCAA Champ. 2015-2018. Best win Logan Stieber, Brandon Sorenson
Career record: 126-3 Nearly 97.7% 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. He’s been pushed out by former teammates. 2 x Hodge winner. Retherford is 11th on the all time NCAA team point list with 93.5. If Zain took a freshman redshirt I think that he’d be in the undefeated group. He was 93-0 in his final 3 years. Finals match ups- Sorensen, Lavion Mayes, and Perry.
Career 53 falls and 42 TF’s & majors wins.
6. Ed Ruth-Penn State
3x NCAA Champ 2012,2013,2014 4 x All American. 4 x B1G Champ. Best win: Gabe Dean
Career Record: 136-3 Nearly a 97.8% winning percentage. Highest in PSU history. I have Ruth ahead of Retherford because of his 3,1,1,1 NCAA placements, slightly higher winning and bonus percentage and scored one more team point than Zain at Nationals. Ruth is 10th on the all time NCAA team point list with 94.5. Ruth did have a loss his senior season to Gabe Dean. Career 46 falls and 58 TF’s & majors wins. Finals wins versus Storley, Hamlin and Sheptock.
5. Jason Nolf- Penn State:
3 x NCAA Champ 2017, 2018, 2019 4 X All American NCAA Finishes 2, 1, 1 ,1
Best wins: Isaiah Martinez
Career Record: 117-3. 97.4% winning percentage 60 falls Bonus rate 86.8%. Scored more points at NCAAs than Stieber and Sanderson. Nolf is 7th all time with 98 points. Nolf lost to 2 wrestlers during his career. IMar a two-time champ and an injury default to JVB. His competition wasn’t as tough as Stieber or Nckal’s but maybe that’s because some guys changed weights because of him. His performance at 2019 NCAAs versus Hidley influenced me to put him behind Nickal.
3 x NCAA Champ 2017, 2018, 2019 4 X Finalist NCAA Finishes 2, 1, 1 ,1 3 x B1G champ at 3 different weights.
Best wins: Gabe Dean, Myles Martin (3 NCAA titles) 1 x Hodge winner.
Career record: 115-3. 97.5% winning percentage. 77.1% Bonus Rate. 59 pins. Bo pinned everyone ranked in the top 5 his senior season. Nickal is 8th all time in NCAA team points with 95. Nickal and Stieber have wins over 3 national champions is impressive. Nickal has big wins.. Nickal’s ability to attack above and below the waist was unique in this era. Lastly he competed at 3 different weight classes during his career.
- Logan Stieber– Ohio State
4x NCAA Champ 2012-2015 Best Wins Jordan Oliver (I thought Oliver had the takedown), Tony Ramos, Zain Retherford and Ashnault- Wins over 4 national champions is impressive. Scored more team points at Nationals than Dake. 3 of his 4 career losses were to national champs (Oliver, Ramos, Zain). 1 x Hodge winner.
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 wins-David Taylor x 2, Frank Molinaro 1 x Hodge winner.
Career Record:137-4, 97% winning percentage. Giving up a stalling point in the national finals is at least one demerit. 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 he is the only wrestler to win all titles at different weight classes. While his body changed a lot he evolved to stay at the top. This is unique in a similar fashion as Sanderson. Career 44 falls and 39 TF’s & majors wins. What if Dake had taken a Finger Lakes redshirt? Everyone else on this last took a redshirt season. Dake may have #1. Finals matches in order- Marion, Molinaro, St. John and Taylor.
- 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. Did I mention a 100% bonus rate his senior season. 3 x Hodge winner.
Another way to look at it. Here are the top 20 point scores at the NCAA Tournament since 2000.
- Cael Sanderson- ISU-107.5
- Logan Stieber- Ohio State- 103.5
- David Taylor- PSU- 99
- Jason Nolf-PSU-98
- Bo Nickal-PSU-95.5
- 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- Iowa/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
- Stephen Abas- Fresno State- 82
- J’Den Cox- Missouri- 80.5
- Troy Nickerson- Cornell- 70
24. Greg Jones- West Virginia- 67