Although sophomore Nicholas Marable was ranked second in the nation at 165 pounds, he was on the verge of losing.
Facing Iowa State’s Jon Reader in Ames during Missouri’s final meet of the season, the score was tied at 2 with less than a minute left in the match. Reader, who was ranked No. 7 nationally, controlled the action.
“The whole place erupted,” Missouri coach Brian Smith said. “They thought the Iowa State kid was going to get that takedown, and the next thing you know, Nick’s putting him on his back and gets the takedown.”
That turn of events decided the match, which Marable won 4-3.
“I’m pretty sure the coaches thought I was about to give up two, but I somehow came out on top,” Marable said.
Neither Smith nor Marable should have been surprised. It was the 10th straight match in which Marable had not allowed a takedown.
The last wrestler to score a takedown against Marable was Pittsburgh’s Keith Gavin on Dec. 19. Gavin is ranked No. 1 nationally. Marable was also wrestling up one weight class at 174 pounds. He has given up only one other takedown, to University of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s Nick Davis.
“Those short, stubby legs,” Smith said about why opponents struggle to score takedowns. “He’s got some powerful hips, and if you look at his legs, they are short, so it’s hard to get in on him, and when you do he’s explosive.”
Marable also has a strong, competitive nature. Throughout the last 10 matches, there have been moments when it looked like an opponent would score a takedown or steal a victory, but Marable found a way out.
His match against Oklahoma’s Max Dean, who is ranked No. 20 nationally, was one of those moments.
The score was tied at two and Dean was in control late in the third period. After a stoppage, there were 48 seconds left and Dean needed nine more seconds of riding time to secure a bonus point, which would have given him the victory.
As the match resumed, Smith stood on the side of the mat, bent over and yelled at Marable to find a way to escape. After just six seconds, Marable twisted his body from Dean, earning one point for the escape, and then scored a takedown with three seconds left to win 5-2.
“He never loses his focus,” Smith said.
Marable credits his focus to practice.
“Even in the practice room I hate giving up points, so that’s one thing that helps me,” he said. “If I’m doing it in practices, I’m doing it in matches. When we wrestle in practice, it’s much longer than a match, and I just fight so hard not to give a takedown because I hate losing.”
Smith compared Marable’s ability to escape from harrowing situations to former NFL running back Jim Brown.
“He would make long runs and it would look like he would fall down, and he would get back to the huddle, and boom, he goes again,” Smith said. “I think that’s Marable. He looks like he’s about to get beat, and boom, he explodes out somewhere. He’s just a great competitor and hates to lose.”
This disdain for losing will be tested this weekend in Stillwater, Okla. at the Big 12 Championships.
“This is the toughest weight class we’ve seen at the tournament in a long time,” Smith said about the 165-pound class, which Marable is seeded first in.
Four of the five wrestlers are ranked among the top 10 in the latest coaches’ poll.
“That weight class could easily end up completely upside down or end up the way it’s seeded,” Smith said. “The fans down in Stillwater are excited for that weight class, every match will go down to the wire.”
Marable won all four of his Big 12 matches by three points or less. Two of them were decided in overtime.
Marable thinks that his close matches come from opponents changing their style to wrestle him.
“Against Reader and (Nebraska’s Stephen) Dwyer, all I heard was about how they attack and wrestle hard,” he said. “When I wrestled against them, they only took one or two shots, which is a disadvantage for me, because when people shoot I wrestle my best.”
Over the past three weeks, Marable has worked on wrestling more aggressively to counteract opponents who avoid shooting.
“Hopefully the second time around it won’t be so close,” Marable said.
For those that do not follow Missouri wrestling, Marable’s success might be a surprise. This is only his first year as a regular starter because Michael Chandler, who is a two-time qualifier for Nationals at 157 pounds, and Matt Pell, a two-time All American at 165 pounds, were already established as starters.
Still, Marable started seven matches last season, finishing 4-3. Smith knew that he would step in right where Pell left off.
“We saw him compete last year and do great things for us,” Smith said. “He’s maybe the most consistent winner on the team.”