ST. LOUIS - The Missouri wrestling team finally has a NCAA wrestling individual national champion whose name isn’t Ben Askren.
Junior heavyweight Mark Ellis joined Ben Askren as the only wrestlers to accomplish this feat for Missouri with a victory in overtime of the heavyweight championship finals, defeating Duke’s Konrad Dudziak 3-2 on Saturday night at the Scottrade Center.
Ellis came in as the 2nd seed and Dudziak as the 5th seed. Dudziak was coming off an impressive victory over top seeded David Zabriskie in the semifinals.
It was the last match of the night, but the fans were in for a treat. The match didn’t look like your typical heavyweight match. Heavyweight matches are usually slow paced, but Ellis and Dudziak were constantly taking quick shots at one another throughout the match.
The match was tied at one apiece in the third period with both points coming off escapes. It appeared that either Ellis or Dudziak was going to score a takedown in the final 10 seconds. The two scrambled like 125-pounders, and crowds from both sides yelled in defense of their wrestler, but the referee said that neither gained an advantage and points were awarded.
The match went to sudden victory, where again there were several close calls on both sides, but again neither wrestler could score. Then, Ellis rode Dudziak for the first half of the tiebreaker, which meant Ellis only needed an escape to break the tie. He did one better, scrambling to get the reversal and two points. Dudziak scored one point with an escape, but it didn’t matter. An emotional Ellis had lived his dream and was now not only Missouri’s first heavyweight All-American, but its first heavyweight national champion.
“It’s winning a title and just from where I’ve came from and the people who believed in me and gave me every chance,” Ellis said as he tried to hold back tears in a press conference after the victory. “It’s just amazing. God’s so good to me.”
Ellis gave credit to a lot of people, including his roommate and coach, Ben Askren, and training partner, freshman Dom Bradley.
Bradley and Ellis both battled to be the starting heavyweight for the Tigers at the beginning of the season. Ellis won the job, but claims that Bradley is better than any heavyweight he’s ever wrestled and has benefited greatly from having such tough competition in the training room.
“We have another heavyweight in the room: Dom Bradley,” Ellis said. “I wouldn’t be able to do what he’s done. He’s the second-best heavyweight in the country. I don’t think he’s a second-string guy. He gets the best of me some days, I get the best of him some days. I’m so grateful for him.”
Ellis has lived with Ben Askren since his second year of college. With Ben Askren in his corner for the match, Ellis was reminded of everything he has learned from the two-time national champion.
“If it wasn’t for Ben, there’s no way I’d be here and be a national champ,” Ellis said. “He just pushed me and pushed me and pushed me. He never let me quit. He believed in me and loved on me. This is my dream come true.”
Like Friday night after his semifinal match, Ben Askren and Ellis embraced in a hug after the match. With Ellis not able to fight off the tears, Ben Askren said it was getting hard for him not to get emotional.
“It was awesome,” Askren said. “Coach (Brian) Smith was giving me a speech about how I was getting lonely. My poster is on a wall back home from when I was a national champion. He said we need to bring home some hardware and get some more national titles. We’ve got another picture on the wall. We’re going to keep cruising.”
Perhaps the most nervous person in the crowd was Ellis’ best friend, All-American senior Michael Chandler. Chandler said he was probably looking like a lunatic with his emphatic cheering during the match, but didn’t care. He was so excited for his buddy and said that the way Ellis wrestled is what heavyweight wrestling is turning into.
“The guys are evolving,” Chandler said. “The good guys that you see in the All-Americans are the ones who go after it. They’re not the lethargic, take-you-into-double-overtime heavyweights. These are guys going out there trying to get takedowns and Mark’s the poster child for that. Nobody in the nation wrestles harder than Mark.”
With Ellis’ victory, Missouri’s five All-Americans all finished their seasons with victories. Senior Raymond Jordan (174-pound) finished third, Chandler (157-pound) and junior Mac Askren (197-pound) finished fifth and junior Nick Marable (165-pound) finished seventh. Max Askren, Marable and Ellis will all return next year.
As a team, Missouri finished in seventh place with 70 points. Iowa won its second straight team title with 96.5 points.
Coach Brian Smith is confident that Missouri still can accomplish more and will some year soon get the team title it is craving.
“I was very, very happy with our five All-Americans,” Smith said. “Now, we can go up and see our fans now and a lot of our fans got to see us win a national title in St. Louis. Now, I can smile and relax. It’s been a long weekend.”