The Top 10 NCAA wrestlers since 2000

First of all, this was no easy task. I choose this time frame because I consider it the same era. Out of era comparisons are so subjective that I didn’t go there.  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 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. 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.

T.J. Williams-Iowa
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.

Isaiah Martinez-Illinois

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.

Gabe Dean-Cornell

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 versus Stieber.

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. 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 style into vogue.

Brent Metcalf-Iowa
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.

Jake Herbert-Northwestern
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.

Ben Askren-Missouri
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 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 Finished 1,5,1,1.

 

11.  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 wasn’t as stiff for RInger.

 

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

 

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

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 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.

Career 53 falls and 42 TF’s & majors wins.

 

6. Ed Ruth-Penn State

3x NCAA Champ 2012,2013,2014 4 x All American. 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 but Ruth also had a loss his senior season to Dean. Career 46 falls and 58 TF’s & majors wins.

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 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.

4. Bo Nickal- Penn State:

3 x NCAA Champ 2017, 2018, 2019 4 X All American NCAA Finishes 2, 1, 1 ,1

Best wins: Gabe Dean, Myles Martin (3 NCAA titles)

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.WOW. 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.

 

  1. 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 is impressive. 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.

 

  1. Kyle Dake- Cornell

4x NCAA Champ 2010-2013 Best win-David Taylor, Frank Molinaro

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. This is unique in a similar fashion as Sanderson. Career 44 falls and 39 TF’s & majors wins.

 

  1. 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

  1. Cael Sanderson- ISU-107.5
  2. Logan Stieber- Ohio State- 103.5
  3. David Taylor- PSU- 99
  4. Jason Nolf-PSU-98
  5. Bo Nickal-PSU-95.5
  6. Ed Ruth- PSU- 94.5
  7. Zain Retherford-PSU- 93.5
  8. Kyle Dake- Cornell- 93
  9. Alex Dieringer- Okie State- 93
  10. Jake Herbert- NW- 90
  11. Kyle Snyder-Ohio State- 89
  12. Ben Askren-Mizzou- 89
  13. Mark Perry- Iowa- 87.5
  14. Jake Rosholt- Okie State- 85
  15. Steve Mocco- Iowa/Okie State- 85
  16. Jordan Oliver- Okie State- 83.5
  17. Isaiah Martinez- Illinois- 82.5
  18. Stephen Abas- Fresno State- 82
  19. Johnny Hendricks- Okie State- 82
  20. Jake Varner- ISU- 82
  21. J’Den Cox- Missouri- 80.5
  22. Troy Nickerson- Cornell- 70

30 Comments

Add a Comment
  1. I can’t believe you left off Cole Konrad? Undefeated his last 2 seasons. 153-13 is pretty impressive. You’re wrong.

    1. It is a tough list. I hear you.
      Cole Konrad-Minnesota
      2 x champion, (2006, 2007) 3 x finalist. Best win Steve Mocco- 4 x finalist-who isn’t on the list either. Generally weaker competition for the big guys didn’t let them do well in my rankings.
      Career Record: 155-13. 92% winning percentage

      1. I’m a sideliner person but I worked at the the university of Iowa you guys are the best when it comes to pain and winning, All you guys and females are good because Iam not going to ever do anything that hard, football, basketball, baseball, soccer, golf might have a chance

    2. No one is wrong. Be cool dude.

  2. Dud Kyle Snyder really have 5 losses? I only count 3. Freshman finals, JDen and Coon.

    1. On my way out the door to coach but off the top of my head Kyven Gadson x2 ,Morgan McIntosh and Adam Coon. I think that there is one more. I’ll follow up later

  3. Albert Alexander Jr.

    What about Pat Smith?? He’s the only 4Xer not on the list; not even honorably mentioned?

    1. Pat was a great collegiate wrestler but he is outside of the time frame that I used. I chose the year 2000 till today because I consider it the same era of wrestling style. Out of era comparisons are so subjective that I didn’t go there. Pat wrestled from 1990-94.

  4. Dave Taylor is in the top ten! Winning Percentage, top three points scored and his infuence on the sport is immeasurable…. Kids still wanna wrestle like DT.

    1. All of what you say is true and if he had won a 3rd championship he’d be on top of the 3 timers.His NCAA points scored is amazing in its own right. He lost to Bubba J who only made one other NCAA final and was ultimately dominated by Brent Metcalf in that final. As much as I liked to watch DT, I can’t put a two timer on the list.

  5. Bo “Who knows wrestling” Nickal will be there after this year.

    1. I don’t want to count my Nickals to soon but he should be near the top of 3 timers.

  6. Jones was 1,DNP,1,1

    1. Fixed it, thanks. Right years, wrong order

  7. Metcalf was only a 3x AA. Lost a year after leaving VT.

    1. That’s right. Fixed

  8. Mocco won at two different powerhouses!

  9. How about eric Guerrero? 3x ncaa champ!

    1. Guerrero was a great wrestler, 3 timer and was 117-13 during his time at Oklahoma State.
      But he is just outside my time frame of the year 2000. He competed 1996-99.

  10. Robert E Polashuk

    Where is Jason Nolf?

    1. I’m working through the edits give me a couple of days

  11. Great job on this! thank you.

  12. Gabe Dean, Myles Martin and Kollin Moore have 3 NCAA titles amongst them, not 4.

    1. Dean-2, Martin-1, Moore-1, so far.

      1. Moore hasn’t won one yet.

        1. You are right

  13. “Captain America”, Kyle Snyder was out winning GOLD for the USA! Beating the BEST competition in the WORLD! Lack of college matches? Really! 2,1,1,1! At unl he was always giving up 50 lbs or more to some of the world’s best heavy wrestlers. Otherwise good lineup. I would have added a couple others in place of other honorable mentions.

    1. I really like Snyder. I said that he’s in contention for being the best American wrestler (everything combined) ever but when I look at his college career the body of work isn’t as strong. Other influences: Kyven Gadson pinned him at nationals, the others above him may have losses but weren’t pinned in the finals of the championship tournament; I took that into consideration with David Taylor’s rank on my list. Snyder also has fewer NCAA team points than the guys above him, 4.5 less than Retherford. That’s worth an extra win at NCAAs.
      In case you are connected to Snyder I think that his strength coaches are doing him a disservice now in limiting his rotational flexibility and strength.

  14. Nice work. You back up your research. Thank you.

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