COLUMBIA — To compete at the state wrestling championships, athletes must have solid technique, a strong body and a resilient mind. One’s focus must always be on the task at hand.
But Hickman’s 215-pound sophomore J’den Cox is not a conventional wrestler. He sat on the mats in the event level of Mizzou Arena and played his Game Boy.
“I brought it yesterday, and I didn’t get to play it,” Cox said. “Playing 'Ultimate Warrior,' story mode.”
Cox said he played the game to get his mind off of his match. So the fact that "Ultimate Warrior" is a wrestling game seems a little ironic. Most people focus on their match and block out any other distractions but not Cox. He prefers to stay loose and relaxed before his matches. He talks and jokes with current and former teammates, former members of his club wrestling teams and even the event staff.
“Everyone should know how they wrestle,” Cox said. “I don’t know if I’m going to win every match; I’m not psychic. But I do know that if I’m going to lose, I might as well put on a show.”
Cox seems to have a knack for that. During matches, he shuffles his feet and bounces around the mat. If an opponent is being passive, Cox turns his shuffle into a dance. Even during the final 30 seconds of his state championship match Saturday, he had time to sidestep a takedown by Lee’s Summit West’s Benjamin Poeschl.
Even though he is a showman, Cox knows how to win wrestling matches. Cox overcame a second period takedown by Poeschl and got back to his feet. Later in the period, Cox lunged at Poeschl, grabbed his right foot and tripped him. Poeschl tried to escape out of bounds, but Cox pounced on his back to secure the takedown and two points.
“Got to keep moving during the match,” Cox said. “Always moving.”
Cox’s showmanship cost him a point in the third period when one of the officials in the match showed his disapproval of Cox's repeated sidesteps. They awarded Poeschl a point, but it was too late. Cox held on for the final minute of the third period to earn a 4-3 decision.
Cox’s win Saturday gave him his second consecutive state title, and next year he will continue his quest to become the seventh four-time Class 4 state champion. If Cox makes it to the state tournament again next year, he will probably have the same routine. He will joke around, play his Game Boy and put on a show in his matches.
“Hey J’den, you’ve got like 100 people up there waiting for you,” said Hickman teammate Alex Shea after Cox's victory.
Cox smiled at Shea and grabbed Shea's head affectionately.
“You’re looking at a future state champion right here,” Cox said about his teammate with a big smile. “Is it all right if I cut this interview a little short? I got to get up there.”
Cox left with Shea to celebrate with the horde of people waiting for him in the stands. He is sure to put on a show for them once he gets there.